In this article, I will provide some suggestions which have proven to be beneficial to me as I learned Chinese through immersion. The ideas provided here are by no means meant to be the only way of doing this, consider them as strategies which have been rewarding for me and which, hopefully, will be rewarding for you.
The People of China
I have lived in China for over three years and have noticed something which has proven to be true no matter in which province I visited: Chinese people enjoy helping foreigners to learn their language. If you so much as make a little effort, most people will be more than willing to help you out in your pronunciation and give you plenty of feedback. Although you’ll get plenty of the casual flattery: “your Chinese is very good” for barely mumbling a badly pronounced “ni hao”, you’ll find the Chinese generally willing to lend you a hand in your studies. Most also react very positively to foreigners trying to speak Chinese, regardless of the proficiency of the speaker. With this in mind, put aside your reserves about speaking your first words or sentences and jump right into it. You’ll find plenty of support among the people of China.
Optimizing Flash cards
Visit your local bookstore and look for flashcards for young children. It might be a bit embarrassing to browse along the younger kid section but you’ll find plenty of material there. There are plenty of flashcards with pinyin (how to pronounce the Chinese) available and most of them are fairly cheap (around 10 元 for more or less 100 cards). Depending how much time you have, browsing through those cards is a good way to progressively integrate the Chinese characters and their pronunciations. I would especially recommend 儿童全能卡片。
Constantly keep your eyes peeled as you watch Chinese television. Most shows (if not all) provide a written transcription of what is said at the bottom of the screen. At first, most characters will appear as weird little drawings, but you’ll soon identify your first Chinese character from the flashcard. Soon enough, you’ll pick up more and more of them and see how each one is used in which context and in which word. Eventually, you’ll be able to identify the characters of a whole sentence and understand its meaning. Those TV shows is also a good way to learn expressions which you can then use in live conversations.
Another good way to review the characters is to simply observe your surroundings as you go for a walk or take a taxi (or for the more daring, ride a bike). A lot of signs have the pinyin transcription underneath the characters which is a good way to learn (although the tones are missing). You’ll pretty much be bombarded with advertisements and all sorts of clubs and store signs, which will also provide plenty of opportunities to review.
A Journey of a Thousand Miles…
This of course, is only the beginning of a very, very long journey. Using this method, I have been able to learn (and remember) about 20 words on a daily basis. It might not seem like much but even this little progress quickly adds up at the end of the week. After just a few months, you’ll find that your vocabulary has sufficiently increased to the point where you can carry out (simple) conversations.
Once you’ve reached the point where you can communicate a little with other Chinese, you’ll find that you progress faster and faster as you learn the meaning of new words by using the context to identify the meaning.
Hopefully, this article has provided a good starting point for all of you who wish to undertake such a challenging task! 加油