The Best Way to Learn Chinese

Ní hǎo! From traveling to textbooks and speaking to software, there are now more ways to learn Chinese than ever before. With all of the options out there, it's also more difficult to choose the best method for you. So what is the best way to learn Chinese? There are five basic approaches to learning Chinese each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. In our online Chinese course Rocket Chinese, we make use of those approaches to guarantee a fun and successful learning experience.

  1. The Immersion Approach
  2. The Translation Approach
  3. The Grammar-Based Approach
  4. The Communicative Approach
  5. The Vocabulary-Based Approach

1. The Immersion Approach

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 the language. Often cited as the fastest way to learn Chinese, the Immersion Approach forces Chinese learners to use the language on a daily basis and is a great option for those who don't like formal study and have plenty of time and money to spare. It helps Chinese learners 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. However, this method is expensive, time-consuming, and not to mention stressful when it comes to breaking the initial communications and dealing with culture shock.

2. The Translation Approach

The translation approach involves finding a book in Chinese and using a bilingual dictionary to translate between Chinese and your native language. It's the "old fashioned" approach to language learning. While this is a very cost-effective approach to language learning that can bring results to those willing to invest time and energy in studying, it's not a very good approach for those who wish to learn to actually communicate in Chinese. The translation approach is a very difficult and tedious way to learn a language, and it doesn't teach speaking, listening, or writing. It's often best left to dead languages such as Latin or Old English.

3. The Grammar-Based Approach

The grammar-based approach is the language learning method typically used in most Chinese-learning textbooks and "teach yourself" language books. The emphasis is placed on learning the grammatical rules of Chinese and being able to read and write in that language. For learners who like to know the rules of a language and want to be able to apply these rules to their speaking and writing, this is a great and cost-effective method. However, students who use this method do not get many opportunities to actually speak or listen to Chinese and must memorize a lot of grammar rules. This can be very frustrating and sometimes a little boring and may prevent students from being able to use their knowledge right away.

4. The Communicative Approach

The communicative approach is the approach most commonly used by schools that teach Chinese as a second language. The communicative approach involves a teacher who gives lessons to a small group of students. Lessons are usually divided into reading, writing, listening and speaking activities. Students who learn Chinese with the communicative approach are given a well-rounded education. If the class is planned and taught well, students can learn quickly and can start holding conversations in Chinese a few weeks after they began the language course. However, this method depends greatly on the quality of the teacher and classroom materials and often involves studying in expensive language academies.

5. The Vocabulary-Based Approach

Finally, the vocabulary-based approach is used by many language-learning software programs. This approach involves learning Chinese by associating words with pictures of the objects they represent and is often considered both the easiest way to learn Chinese and the best way to learn Chinese online. Traditional grammar rules are not taught, but are naturally learned by students as they progress. Chinese learners can improve their vocabulary very quickly with this method because of the use of repetition and images. They can also save travel time and money by using this method instead of a traditional class, and can progress at their own rate in any location. However, the vocabulary that is taught is often not the most practical. Since grammar is not directly taught, students risk sounding a bit like Tarzan when they try to speak. Finding a good vocabulary-based program can be very difficult and expensive.

So what is the best way to learn Chinese?

The best way to learn Chinese involves aspects of all of these approaches.

Every method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and every method has a slightly different focus. In order to choose the best Chinese learning method, students must decide what they want and which method is best for their unique situation. If used alone, a single method like the vocabulary-based approach or the communicative approach can be very effective for most people to learn Chinese, but each method also has its drawbacks. The key to being a successful Chinese learner is incorporating as many different methods as possible.

Ideally, the best way to learn Chinese includes:

  • Interactive lessons that teach Chinese vocabulary, grammar and culture through reading, writing, listening and speaking
  • A period of daily Chinese immersion
  • The ability to study at the student's own pace
  • Professional guidance from a native Chinese speaker trained in education
  • The ability to interact with both Chinese native speakers and other non-native Chinese language learners
  • Occasional translation activities between Chinese and your native language
  • The ability to study vocabulary in a colorful, visual and interactive way
  • Reinforcement testing of skills learned
  • Motivational performance incentives to encourage daily practice

This may sound like a lot to ask for, but several new programs like Rocket Languages can provide language learners with many of these features. It's also easier than ever to supplement your studies with other programs either online or in person.

There are great language learning resources everywhere, and we're here to help you discover the best way for you to learn Chinese. So what are you waiting for? Nǐ qù ba!

Yīhuǐ'er jiàn!

The Rocket Chinese Team