In November of 2006 I visited Disney World’s Epcot Center. In the area dedicated to China we watched the most amazing small children perform incredible acrobatics. I wanted to communicate with the performers, but realized that I spoke Chinese. As I spent time pondering this subject I had a deeply powerful feeling that I should learn Chinese. I’ve been working on it off and on ever since. I have a LONG way to go, and so far have focused 100% on speaking and listening (I can only recognize about 10 characters). I’m frequently asked how I’ve learned Chinese and so I wanted to share a few ideas here.
My first strategy was to spend 30-60 minutes a day listening to the Pimsleur CDs. These were great because I could study while driving. If you do these, I think the major key is to repeat out loud everything the tell you to repeat. Note – I got these all from the library and saved a lot of money! In total there are 90 lessons so it took me almost a year to go through all 90 lessons two or three time. By that time I had them down!
Second, I practiced Chinese every chance I could. It was hard because I could say so little. But if I met somebody who spoke Chinese I would practice. I also traveled to China twice, which helped a lot.
After my second trip to China, I spent several weeks working on the Intermediate level of ChinesePod. While a subscription is required, the first 1,000 or so lessons have Creative Commons licenses that allow for legal downloads. During this time I took some intermediate speaking classes at BYU and this helped me level up. I also hired a tutor to come to my office once a week and let me talk with her for one hour. This focused conversation practice was extremely valuable. The next time I went to China I stayed there for five weeks; for four of those weeks I was living alone. During that time I met 1 on 1 with tutors for four hours a day and that brought the greatest increase in my speaking skills.
Aside from the above, the other key is watching movies in Chinese. On Netflix, YouTube, Tudou, and other sites you can watch lots of great movies in Chinese. I especially recommend the “Happy Chinese” series created by China’s CCTV. When I work out for 30 minutes each morning I’m always watching a Chinese movie, thus getting a double benefit from my workout time.
Recently, I blogged for the Utah Mandarin Immersion Parents Council with some additional suggestions for resources, including some Chinese Dramas I’ve really enjoyed. Read that post!
Learning Chinese has been a very special part of my life. I hope you will give it a try too!