Hello and thanks for stopping by! In this article I want to share with you 5 tools that have helped me to improve my Mandarin; in reading, writing, listening and speaking. Although I started learning Mandarin China from the age of 11, there’s still a lot I need to learn and constant practice is key. I hope you find the below useful, and even if you’re not learning Mandarin Chinese I’m sure there’ll be at least a couple of tips below that you can adopt in whatever language you’re learning.
So let’s start with the basics. Every language comes with a myriad of textbooks written for beginners right up to the advanced and fluent. These books are great for improving one’s grammar and comprehension skills. What I like about textbooks is that each section is carefully constructed to be based on topics, beginning with an overview of vocabulary for familiarisation. This usually follows with a short story, article or dialogue to read through and understand. Language textbooks are often packed with lots of activities to help the reader cement what they’ve learnt and is a good way to test your grasp of new words and sentence structures. I find that sites like Amazon have a good number of books that you can buy – I recommend the HSK series (1-6) by the Confucius Institute and Boya Chinese for learning Mandarin.
Did you know that your local library possibly has a few mandarin textbooks? I know when I first started learning at the age of 11, that mine did and they were of tremendous help. Why not check yours out and let me know if they do!
Historically, a pen pal was someone, commonly a stranger who you interact with primarily via letters. Today this has expanded to online messaging, calling and more. Penpal sites allow you to create an account by adding a few personal details, country/city location, and hobbies and interests, which helps you to connect with likeminded people. There are some free websites and others that come with a subscription fee in order for you to message people. Now one needs to be careful when using this method, as there are strange people on the web. Such sites should not be used as a dating tool and should only be used to practice your language skills. Never give details that could put you in danger and as much as possible keep all interaction to an online setting unless of course all diligence has been carried out following an invitation to meet up in person. I recommend https://www.mylanguageexchange.com/ and the Tandem language app.
小红书 or Little Red Book is an app much like Instagram where users post pictures and videos of anything and everything. As the user interface is in mandarin, most of the post are written as so. I must say, using this app has really improved my food and cooking vocabulary. I like to use the app to find authentic Chinese recipes. When I started however, there were so many ingredients I didn’t know in mandarin, which took me such a long time to comprehend as I flipped back and forth from app to dictionary to translate. Now I’m much faster because I have a lot more food vocab in my repertoire. I also like using it for style inspiration and things to do in London and abroad because Chinese people know how to both dress and travel!
Now this is the pricier option of the bunch but just so necessary in getting you closer to fluency. I would encourage everyone to get some lessons at some point during your language learning journey. A teacher’s approach is usually one where they can help you fully comprehend the art of the language you’re studying. Taking language classes helps to keep you accountable. Because you’re essentially making an investment, psychologically you’d want to ensure you are making the most out of your lessons. So ask all the questions you want! Make sure you understand that sentence structure, idioms etc, and ensure you do your homework! If you’re based in London and are learning Mandarin, I would highly recommend Practical Mandarin. They are based near London Charing Cross station and cater to all levels of fluency. Classes range from 3 to possibly more than 10 so this is something to consider as it will affect how much opportunity you get to speak and gain correction. But on the flip side you can make a really good connection with your classmates, that even after you’ve left there’s still many arrangements for meet ups and dim sum!
Last but not least on this list is podcasts. We all love a good podcast, whether it’s whilst were on a bus/train journey somewhere or taking a walk. What’s great about podcasts is that you can listen to absolutely anything on a wide range of topics and genres.
Improving your speaking and listenings skills, in my opinion are much more important than getting into grips with reading and writing, so constantly listening to things in Mandarin is key. I would advise to listen to a podcast episode on a topic of interest. This encourages you to grasp the vocabulary in an area that interests you. You can search for podcast episodes by searching for keywords e.g 时尚, which means fashion. That way you can really listen out and try to make sense of what is being said. Most podcast platforms also allow you to reduce the speed, which will help increase your grasp of what’s being said.
I hope you try at least one of the five tools mentioned, and if there’s one not listed above that you’ve used please let me know!