Mandarin Chinese is undoubtedly one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn but there are various things that you can do in the crucial beginning stages to set a solid foundation for learning. The perfect move to make is to spend 3 - 6 months in an intensive study period at the beginning where you stand not doing anything but working on the word what and living in China or Taiwan. Obviously though, this is not practical for everyone to do so below I have included some generic suggestions that may operate in either a rigorous or casual study setting.
1) Learn the PinYin system and basic pronunciation
PinYin is basically the way the Chinese words and sounds are expressed within the western alphabet. When you are brought to pinyin you will also find out about the 4 tones of Chinese and just how different sounds are created. This is a logical good place to start and you will probably also get some fundamental words like ni hao for hello, wo ai ni for I really like you and also zai jian for goodbye.
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2) Word for getting around and straightforward dialogues
Some classes will start a long list of basic vocabulary words to memorize. I instead advise that you switch over to a China travel phrasebook and take out of there a lot of simple phrases and sentences to get around. These examples are usually rich with useful vocabulary and therefore are smart to memorize. Having many of these sentences when you need it will ensure that you could begin using Mandarin Chinese in your daily life as soon as possible. A good place to start is by using Chinese videos on sites like StudyMoreChinese.com
3) Focus on key 'sentence-making' words like "I think', "but...", "why", "because" etc.
It's upsetting in my experience the number of classes and textbooks wait to teach absolutely essential words and phrases for example those in the above list. Once you have more information on words such as this in your active vocab list you can start using them like building blocks to construct simple sentences. Although you will probably still have issues with grammar a few of these basic 'transition' words can be very useful while you try to communicate with others.
4) Discover the stroke order and basic radicals of Chinese characaters
Since there are many technologies available to learn Chinese on the ipad or iphone, so many people are tempted to skip the entire process of learning to write Chinese characters by hand. This can be a bad idea because the actual process of moving your hand and feedback in the paper and pen actually helps to keep the characters in your brain. It's quite strange that this type of simple thing as moving your hand can sort out memorizing the characters but there have been scientific studies which have done research on the subject, finding that writing things down does improve retention.
5) Study on a daily basis for 30 minutes
After doing all the above, you ought to get right into a consistent habit of studying Chinese every day. What for you to do is strive for a minimum of 30 minutes and that can even be just before bed. The important part would be to invest in doing it every single day to make certain that you have daily contact with the word what.
6) Look for a language partner or private tutor
As you continue learning at school or Chinese online, it's important to start expressing yourself by speaking the word what in in person conversations. There are great sites to help you find language exchange partners like italki where one can also find tutors. The key part here is to locate a situation which will force you to start speaking, even just in simple sentences, just so that all you learn can begin to form in your mind as real communication.
Should you follow up these pointers having a solid program and discover ways to pursue your natural interests, just in Chinese, then you need to find many ways to spice up your Mandarin language program. If you want pop music, then pay attention to that in Chinese. If instead you like to read fashion or news magazines, then find those who work in Mandarin. You will have no problem absorbing the language and learning faster than your classmates. And don't hesitate to learn some Chinese history because people always love to discuss that. Good luck.
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