Let's face it: you've probably got a busy life. Between work or school, family, friends, errands, and just relaxing every once in awhile, there's never enough time in the day. And now you've decided to take on a whole new challenge by learning Chinese.
Whether you're learning Chinese to speak with your new in-laws, for an upcoming business trip, or simply because you love the sound of it, you want to become fluent and ready to communicate as fast as possible.
There are five basic ways to learn Chinese. These approaches include learning through complete Chinese immersion, learning through translation, grammar-based learning, communication-based learning, and vocabulary-based learning. In our online Chinese course Rocket Chinese, we make use of those approaches to guarantee a fun and successful learning experience.
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Every method has its own advantages and disadvantages. While it's important to note that what is fast for one learner is not always fast for another, there is one method that is often considered the fastest way to learn Chinese. Get your passport ready, because it's time for Chinese immersion.
True to its name, the immersion approach plunges you into Chinese language and culture. It involves traveling to a Chinese-speaking country, spending an extended period of time there, and living your day-to-day life in Chinese. An often-mentioned alternative to the travel immersion approach is the personal immersion approach, when you learn the language by dating or becoming close friends with someone who speaks Chinese.
For those who don't like formal study, have some time and money to spare, want to learn a language in its natural environment and are outgoing and ambitious, this is the perfect Chinese learning method! Immersion forces Chinese learners to use the language on a daily basis, helps them connect with native speakers, and teaches them valuable knowledge about Chinese culture. Not only that, but it does all of this within a very short period of time. Immersion is, without a doubt, one of the fastest ways to learn Chinese.
While there's no denying that immersion is probably the fastest way to learn Chinese, it's also arguably the most complicated. For many, learning Chinese through immersion isn't the best way to learn Chinese or the easiest way to learn Chinese. This method is expensive, time-consuming, and not to mention stressful. Although most native Chinese speakers are welcoming and will help you with your first contact with the language, the initial communication barriers and culture shock can be very stressful and even frightening.
But let's be honest here: We don't all have the time, money and freedom required to leave everything and travel to China to learn the language. Fortunately, however, there are some ways we can learn Chinese fast through immersion right from our very own cities.
1. Find a conversation partner. If you really want to immerse yourself without leaving home, you need to find a conversation partner to talk with on a regular basis. A conversation partner doesn't need to be a teacher, but should be a native Chinese speaker who is willing to help you practice. To find a partner, start by talking to family and friends to see if there's anyone in your network. If this doesn't work, consider posting an announcement on a local community list or searching online.
2. Join a conversation club. Much like a conversation partner, a club can provide you with the chance to practice your Chinese and learn from others on a regular basis. Check local listings to see if there are any Chinese conversation clubs or meetups in your area. If there aren't, consider starting one!
3. Go shopping in Chinese. Seek out any local immigrant community that speaks Chinese and find the shops they use. This might be an ethnic food market, a convenience store, a coffee shop, etc. Visit these places when you run errands and you'll not only be forced to read some Chinese labels, but you might also get the chance to practice with the locals and make some Chinese-speaking friends (and possible future conversation partners).
4. Volunteer in Chinese. Look for ways to get involved in your community with people who speak your target language. Schools, nonprofit organizations, libraries, places of worship, medical clinics, immigration services, ESL classes... These are all great ways to meet some native Chinese speakers to both practice and make a difference.
5. Label your home or office. Do you want to get organized and practice your Chinese skills at the same time? Put Chinese labels on the things you regularly use. Use masking tape or post-it notes to label as many items as possible, and before you know it your vocabulary will be better than ever! This is an excellent way to make learning Chinese a part of your everyday life.
6. Change your language settings. While you know that you're not living in China, your computer and phone don't need to know that! Immerse yourself in the language daily and learn technical vocabulary by changing your computer, phone, camera and/or TV settings to Chinese.
7. Watch like a local. Instead of laying on the couch watching reruns of an American TV show, find a movie, TV or program in Chinese to watch. Do some online research or ask native Chinese friends for some suggestions. You can even watch in Chinese with English subtitles (this is great when getting started) or add Chinese subtitles while watching your favorite English programs.
8. Keep up on current events. One of the best ways to sound like a native is to know what to talk about. Keep up on hot news and current events in Chinese-speaking countries and not only will you be able to start some great conversations, you'll also learn useful vocabulary and valuable cultural knowledge.
9. Keep a journal in Chinese. Write your way to a happier life while practicing your language skills by keeping a journal in Chinese. This journal can be used to take notes, write short stories, talk about your day, or simply keep track of your Chinese learning process.
10. Have fun in Chinese. Make Chinese a part of your hobbies. If you like to read, read books in Chinese (children's books are a great way to start for beginners). If you like to listen to music, download some Chinese hits. If you like to sing, sing in Chinese. If you like to play video games, search for games in Chinese or connect with Chinese-speaking players when playing. Play Chinese board games with fellow learners or native speakers. You can even look for Chinese blogs and videos related to your hobbies.
By doing this, you can go native without needing to go abroad. Before you know it, you'll be on your way to learning Chinese as fast as possible and having a great time while doing it. So what are you waiting for? 去吧 Qù ba! Get going!
一会儿见! Yīhuǐ'er jiàn!
The Rocket Chinese Team