Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world with over 1.2 billion speakers. It is a tonal language and has four tones: high, low, rising, and falling. mastering the tones is essential to speaking Mandarin correctly. The following are some of the ways used:
1. Online classes
This is the most convenient way to learn Mandarin. If you are an American, you can learn online for free at chinesepod.com, which offers podcasts with both audio and video to assist students in their studies. You can also watch Chinese movies on YouTube or listen to Chinese radio stations on Pandora while reading along for quick practice sessions anywhere you have Internet access. It is advised to take 1-3 months of online classes to acquire a strong foundation in basic Mandarin before moving on to other, more intensive methods of learning the language.
2. Software programs
There are many software programs available that will help you get started learning Mandarin very quickly, including RocketLanguages Premium Trial (which has about 25 lessons) and Pimsleur’s Basic Mandarin (which has 30 half-hour lessons). With a little bit of practice every day, you will be able to speak basic Mandarin in about 3 months.
If you prefer to learn Mandarin face-to-face, you will need a tutor. You can find tutors on italki.com (which offers lessons online and over the phone) for about $10 per half hour of one-on-one instruction that way.
The most effective way to learn Mandarin is through immersion. This means living in a Chinese-speaking country for an extended period of time (several months to a year). While immersed in the language, you will be surrounded by native speakers who will help you learn the correct pronunciation and usage of words and phrases and it will help you to learn basic Mandarin. You will also be able to see how the language is used in everyday conversation. Although this is the most challenging and expensive way to learn Mandarin, it is also the most rewarding. After completing an immersion program, you will be able to speak and understand Mandarin at a near-native level.
5. Free resources
A great way to learn Mandarin for free is by reading books and watching movies in the language. The Harry Potter series (in both English and Chinese) and Kung Fu Panda (in Chinese) are good choices that will help you pick up some commonly used Mandarin phrases without too much effort. It is important, however, to understand the basics of pronunciation before trying to read or watch any movies in Mandarin. Even using a free online dictionary such as MDBG can be useful, especially with children’s stories such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
6. Intermediate classes
Once you have mastered basic Mandarin pronunciation and grammar, you will want to begin studying at an intermediate level. This is another great way to learn basic Mandarin. This means taking actual college courses or signing up for online intermediate classes, such as those offered by Chinese pod. Most likely you will already have a strong foundation in basic Mandarin before beginning these lessons, so it is important to grasp the more difficult aspects of the language (such as tones and sentence structure) well before proceeding to higher-level courses.
After completing an advanced class or two, you should feel comfortable speaking Mandarin fluently at a near-native level. Mandarin is not very similar to English, so be prepared for challenges when learning to speak the language. People who enroll in Mandarin courses at their local universities or community colleges generally take between 1 and 3 years to master basic Mandarin skills well enough to speak with native speakers on everyday topics using correct pronunciation and sentence structures.