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Lesson 1 Things to know before you start to learn Chinese language

Posted by Grace Feng on November 20, 2011

Hi everyone, my name is Grace. I’m here to help you learn Chinese language. I truly believe you could progress much faster if you have a sincere friend to help you. Let’s work hard together … and have fun together! Chinese language is not rocket science, learning it is an exciting adventure into a new eastern world.

I’ve seen so many educational web sites that teach online mandarin Chinese in a way that is so hard to follow if you don’t have any background in the language. Especially for people that come from an alphabetic language mother tongue. In my blog, I’ll try all my best to lead you through the journey of mandarin Chinese  language learning even for people that have zero knowledge of the language. Based on your level, you can move faster or slower on the lessons. But one thing you’ll be assured of at least – you’ll be able to follow.

Another thing you need to know is that the whole mandarin Chinese lesson series is FREE! And will stay FREE forever! That’s my intention and my promise. The lessons start from beginner level towards advanced level.

First of all, may I ask a simple question? What is Chinese?

Don’t laugh. The reason I ask is because that is the most important thing you need to understand before you start. Especially for those of alphabetic language background, you need to know the answer to be able to switch your mindset to Chinese while you’re studying it.

Now, let me explain:

Chinese is a language that is built on characters, instead of alphabet. Chinese characters are a big group of mini pictures that have single-syllable sound each. Two or more characters combine together into words or phrases. These words and phrases in turn form sentences.

Please remember, some characters are words themselves!

Then, you might want to ask: “Exactly how many Chinese characters in total?” Honestly, it’s close to 90,000, but you don’t need to know that many characters simply because most of them are obsolete and even native Chinese don’t need to know them. For a well educated native Chinese speaker, like me ( :-) ), the total I know that I thoroughly counted from online dictionary is only about 3800. According to the published numbers by Chinese government, frequently used Chinese characters are about 2000. There are another 1500 were quoted as “less frequently used” characters. So to add up, the total of “currently used characters” are about 3500. The rest of the 90,000, are all obsolete, or close-to-obsolete.

When you start your Chinese learning, I’d suggest you to set up a few milestones on your vocabulary progress, such as 500, 1000, 1500 and so on and so forth. You could always work your way up to the level of a native speaker one day.

Don’t worry, you don’t necessarily need to remember the exact strokes of each character. Being able to recognize them (they’re pictures, aren’t they?), being able to pronounce them should be sufficient for you to use them freely via speaking, reading and writing. By “writing”, I mean typing on computer or digital devices.

If you’re wondering about conjugation rules, tense changes etc. of those characters. Then be rest assured that there’s no such needs.

No change of forms for Chinese characters! Period.

Now let’s have the very first Chinese sentence to get started. I’ll repeat three times from slow to normal speed in the recording. Translation of each character and word follows:

wǒ ài Zhōng wén

我爱中文.

I love Chinese language.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

ài zhōng wén
(I) (love) 中 文 (Chinese language)

Please repeat with the recording for at least 10 times. Try your best to follow the tones. Have you notice the letters on top of each character in the table? They are “pinyin”. Just like International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in English. They are symbols to help you pronounce. The little “ ˇ ” “ ˋ ” on top of them are the “famous” tones. There are five of them:

 ˉ  ˊ  ˇ  ˋ  
First tone Second tone Third tone Forth tone Fifth tone
wēn wén wěn wèn wen

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

They are not difficult, believe me. If 1.3 billion Chinese can learn it, you can too :-)

“我”needs 7 strokes to write it out. It’s not a very simple Chinese character, but is definitely among the highest frequency characters. Get a pen and paper now, and write the character on the paper for five times. You might not be able to remember how to write it tomorrow, but you have to be able to recognize it from now on (at least that’s my requirement for you to follow through the whole lesson series). “爱” is the Chinese word for “love”. “中 文” means “Chinese language”. Please do the same practice to “爱”, “中”and “文” as well. You can copy and paste each character into the small blue edit box below and press ENTER. You will see the stroke order from the big mesh box:

  • You can copy and paste a few characters together into the box. They’ll show in the animation window one by one.
  • Once the stroke animation stops, click in the animation window and hit ENTER to replay it.
  • You can use the sliding bar to control writing speed of the animation.

… …

Are you done with your writing practice?

Yes? Good job. Now look at the following pictures. Can you recognize the four characters you just learned without looking back? Try…

     

 

If you are able to recognize them all, you’re on the right track. Otherwise, please go back to practice more. I’ll explain more on how to memorize the look of characters in the lessons to come.

Remember, being able to recognize them is your key goal!

Now, let’s learn how to type them. Typing them out has become a necessity if you need to communicate in Chinese using today’s digital ways. It’s also an alternative if you can’t write them out by hand. All the prerequisite you need for typing a Chinese character is to know how it pronounces and how it looks. Now click on the follow link: http://www.chinese-tools.com/tools/ime.html. It’ll open a new window to a free online Chinese input tool site. Bookmark this site please.

In the big input area, type in “wo” in the box. Right away you’ll see a list of Chinese characters appear in the right column. Did you see “我” as numbered 1? Type “1”, then you’ll see “我”appear in the input area where your mouse was. Use the same methods to type in “爱”. When you type “中文”, type the pinyin of the whole word. Before you finish typing the whole pinyin, you might already be able to see “ 中文”displayed in the list. Type the number of that word, then add a period to the end of your last character.

Very well now, you’ve typed out the whole sentence! You can copy the sentence to wherever you want.

This is the very first lesson for you to warm up on your learning journey. I urge you to repeat after the recording for as many times as you could. Keep practicing and memorizing. That’s the fastest path to grasp a language.

When we meet in our next lesson, I assume you’ve already known these four characters.

See you next time!

 

Related posts:

Lesson 13 How to say “What about it?” in Chinese
Lesson 22 How to express "why on earth did this happen? " kind of questions in Chinese
Lesson 28 How to express "used to do ..." in Chinese?

 

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30 Responses to “Lesson 1 Things to know before you start to learn Chinese language”

  1. nothing

    Layinka:

    12-21-2011 6:47 am

    Great first post. Please continue your blog, as Chinese language learners we need Chinese language natives that love teaching their language.
    xx Layinka

    Reply

  2. nothing

    Grace:

    12-22-2011 4:41 am

    Layinka,宁藍瑛,你好!

    你的博客很漂亮!我多希望我也能象你一样画卡通! 如果我的博客能帮助你学好中文,我会非常开心.

    让我们一起努力!

    Your blog is beautiful! How much I wish I could create cartoons like you do! If my blog could help you improve your Chinese, I’ll be so happy.

    Keep it up!

    Grace

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace:

      01-10-2012 4:21 am

      To build a free sharable online learning center for Chinese learners worldwide is my ultimate intention. I want to let people know that everyone can pick up Chinese language quickly as long as they do want to learn.

      Welcome to my blog :-)

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        Cliff:

        11-12-2013 8:39 pm

        I really love learning Mandarin, but I would like to have suggestions on the best way to begin learning and increasing my vocabulary. Right now it is kind of a scattered approach. What is a good way to begin?

        Reply

        • nothing

          Grace Feng:

          11-13-2013 6:29 am

          Hi Cliff,

          There are many ways to start learning Chinese. It really depends on learner’s goal, learning habit, age, interest etc.

          That being said, generally I’d suggest the following steps for adult learners:

          1. Learn a few very basic characters (100 ~ 200) first to get your feet wet. Pay attention to how they sound , look and mean.
          2. Learn a few basic grammar rules so you know how to construct a very basic sentence. Use some drill sentences to practice your listening and read out loud with the audio. Don’t worry too much about your pronunciation at this stage.
          3. Fine read very basic Chinese texts and figure out the meaning of each word. Pay attention to word order. You don’t have to memorize how to write each single new character you read. But it really helps if you review them in the following few days.
          4. Be able to recognize Chinese characters is your goal. Memorize the commonly used radicals will help you learn much more characters later on:
          http://justlearnchinese.com/all-chinese-radicals-from-chinese-radical-show-on-one-page/
          5. Keep reading and memorizing characters (better within a word) on a regular basic. A daily schedule does help.
          6. In parallel, work on your pronunciation with the help of audio and pinyin.
          7. Learn more grammar, read more, listen more and read out loud more – gradually pick up your learning speed.
          8. Read things that you’re interested in. Read at your level. If there are too many new words and new grammar rules you’ll get frustrated easily.
          9. Try to write or type. Writing (or typing) a simple journal, or writing down simple sentences whenever you feel like to. Writing helps you express your own thoughts. That’ll help you to talk too.
          10. Keep reading, listening and speaking to develop in parallel.
          11. Use Chinese songs, broadcast, TV, or movie to practice your ear even if you can’t understand much what you hear.
          12. Read more, listen more and express yourself in Chinese more.

          Again, there’s no short cut. Keep at it, you’re sure to make big leap.

          Grace

          Reply

  3. nothing

    Layinka:

    12-28-2011 11:18 pm

    Hey Grace,

    Happy New Year. I came across this tool: http://www.slideshare.net/
    a way of sharing presetations. I don’t know if it will be helpful to you.
    Just in case, have a look.
    bai bai

    Reply

  4. nothing

    Doug:

    03-28-2012 1:53 am

    Hi Grace,
    I’m just starting to learn Mandarin so I was very pleased to find such a wonderful site, it should make my study more fun and looks very helpful! :)
    It always seems such a long journey at the start but I love your easy to understand lessons, one step at a time.
    Thank you very much!
    Doug
    (New Zealand)

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace:

      03-28-2012 2:22 am

      Doug, I’m very happy to know that you just set out on your Mandarin learning journey.

      I’ll try my best to help you with your study through this blog.

      Feel free to ask questions whichever post you’re learning on, just leave your questions in the comment area. I’ll respond within 24 hours.

      Cheers,

      Grace

      Reply

  5. nothing

    kassem:

    07-24-2012 8:37 am

    hello Grace

    thank u for this blog and i would like to be a good friend of yours and i really want to learn chines
    i am now in china and i hope u can help me….thanks a lot and take care

    kassem

    keqiao,shaoxing county

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace:

      07-25-2012 1:48 am

      Hi Kassem! Welcome to my blog!

      I’ll be more than happy if I can help you with your Chinese learning one way or another, my friend :-)

      Don’t be afraid to ask any question that bothers you while you’re learning Chinese, I’ll try my best to respond as fast as I can. Usually you’ll hear me back within 24 hours unless I’ll out of town.

      Keep in touch, my friend!

      Grace

      Reply

  6. nothing

    Wendy Purdie:

    08-06-2012 2:03 pm

    Hi Grace,
    This is the best website I have seen so far to study Chinese thank you I have already learnt a lot this evening just browsing around the site. It is fantastic
    I wonder if it is possible to download the listening parts to practise offline?
    Thank you Wendy

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace:

      08-07-2012 9:03 pm

      Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for your kind words! I actually have enabled the “download mp3″ function from the very beginning. However, it seems it’s not working on this media player. Please give me some time, I’ll figure out a way to let my readers to download those mp3s.

      Grace

      Reply

  7. nothing

    月光:

    03-18-2013 3:37 pm

    谢 谢, Grace, for this 太 好 了 website! I 能 等 to go and check out the rest. I do know a few Chinese words, but I’ll admit that 太 好 了 and 能 等 were looked up. I have this book by Yi Ren and Xianyuan Liang called ‘Chinese for Beginners’ and your blog totally reminded me of the book. Keep it up.

    再 见!

    月光

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      03-18-2013 4:51 pm

      月光,你好!谢谢你的留言。Welcome to my site, hope you do enjoy your language study here. :) Feel free to ask me questions if you have any.

      Grace

      Reply

  8. nothing

    Lily Woodlight:

    10-06-2013 11:57 pm

    I am wondering what the difference is between Zhōng wén and Putonghua? I started to try to learn chinese and learned that Putonghua is the word for Chinese. Did I learn incorrectly?

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      10-07-2013 3:28 am

      Hi Lily,

      Generally speaking, “Zhōng wén” refers to Chinese language. It could mean Mandarin (Putonghua), Cantonese, or any other dialects in China. However, when “Zhōng wén” is mentioned in sense of learning Chinese, most likely it refers to either Mandarin (Putonghua) or Cantonese. If the people mentioned it were in China mainland, it should mean Mandarin, or, in another word, Putonhua. If it’s mentioned outside of China, usually it needed clarification on whether it’s Mandarin (Putonghua) or Cantonese.

      Mandarin (Putonghua) uses simplified Chinese. Cantonese uses traditional Chinese. If you want to know more about Mandarin and listen to the difference between Mandarin and other dialects of Chinese, you can have a look at this post:

      Fun Chinese dialect ear test – see if you understand what they are talking about

      Hope this helps … :-)

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        Lily Woodlight:

        10-08-2013 10:14 pm

        我爱中文!

        Thanks Grace! Yes, it did help. Also, I am so excited to have find such an extensive and beautiful Chinese resource! Thank you for doing this, I hope to pick my Chinese back up and actually get somewhere with it this time!

        Reply

        • nothing

          Grace Feng:

          10-09-2013 3:24 am

          You will get there, Lily, if that’s where you truly want to go. :-)

          I’m with you, together with other diligent learners.

          Grace

          Reply

  9. nothing

    name Charica:

    03-03-2014 7:40 pm

    Dear Grace,
    My husband and I have been studying Chinese for one year with a semi private tutor, but it has been very challenging. She uses a children’s text book and she is not fluent in english. We have learned a solid basis of characters and are ready for something more directed towards adults. I am very excited to find this amazing resource! I really appreciate the time and effort that you have taken to create this site. I plan on using this to self-teach myself and my husband. Our goal is to become fluent so that we can teach our son (adopted from China) Mandarin Chinese.
    Thank you so much!
    Charica.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      03-03-2014 9:04 pm

      Hi Charica, it’s definitely a great pleasure to hear from you about your learning experience and your family!

      I’m just so happy that my blog could help you and your husband to learn mandarin. Your little one is so blessed to have parents like you. :-)

      I’d suggest to use Grammar lessons as a guideline to learn and enhance your ability on constructing sentences, and Short Stories to apply and re-enforce what you’ve learn. The feel of language can only be obtained by lots and lots of reading and listening. There’s no other way around. Most of the short stories come with audio that I recorded. So hopefully they’ll be of help.

      If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I usually respond in 24 hours, or no longer than two days.

      Grace

      Reply

      • nothing

        name Charica:

        03-05-2014 3:12 am

        Hi Grace!
        Thanks for your prompt reply! Grammar and Short Stories were exactly where I planned on focusing our attention. I’m very excited to move forward! Thanks again!
        Take care,
        Charica.

        Reply

  10. nothing

    J-Lyn:

    03-21-2014 9:22 am

    Hi Grace
    Finding your website was a lovely surprise!
    Excellent website, thank you so much for your effort.

    from j-lyn

    Reply

  11. nothing

    Thiru:

    04-26-2014 3:13 pm

    Grace, ni hao. Wo shi Thiru. Wo shi xin de xue sheng. Ke shi, wo hen kai xin wo you zhao ni de ‘site’. Wo xi wang wo ke yi xue hen duo zai ni de ‘site’.

    haha…

    Must have a lot grammar errors above. Just wanted to say:

    I am Thiru. I am a new student. However, I am really happy I have found your site. I hope I could learn a lot from your site.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      04-28-2014 7:27 pm

      Hi Thiru,

      Welcome to JLC! I’ve decoded your pinyin message in brain, not hard to understand though. :-)

      Hope you have a good time learning Chinese on the site! Feel free to drop questions.

      Grace

      Reply

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