Being that I am pretty much an ABC, I have found that although I have been surrounded by Chinese my whole life, I (unfortunately) wasn’t able to just miraculously absorb the language by just listening to it… So as per usual, in the case of typical Chinese kids growing up in a foreign country, my parents sent me off to Chinese School. Little did they know that they were just allowing us ABCs to congregate and muck about – we were just more interested in socialising and having fun than studying.
I never really understood why my parents pushed us to learn our ‘mother tongue’ in those primary years. I was always told, “It’s for your own good!” just like in the Singaporean movie I’m not stupid (小孩不笨). Did they really think that saying “It’s for your own good“, their child would jump right into that pile of study??
It only happens when we finally decide to ‘grow up’ and realise exactly how important understanding Chinese is in our lives, not only to communicate with our relatives but also the competitive edge it gives us in life. For example, when you are within listening range of a bunch of FOBs talking amongst themselves, you have the ability to evesdrop & check if they’re talking behind your back Priceless!
Now that I actually WANT to learn Chinese and I am actively studying it, I wished someone had come up with some kind of cheat sheet to make it easier than it is. So below are a few tips that I found worked for me.
- For me, there is no way I can learn a single thing without a good dictionary. The digital version is a lot better than flipping through pages and pages, and it’s a lot faster to navigate. There are quite a few online dictionaries around the web but my personal favourites are: Zhongwen.com , Hanban.com and MDBG. And after my exchange to Beijing, I bought myself an electronic dictionary which is quite handy (when the batteries don’t die).
- When I have time (or whenever I remember) YellowBridge.com flashcards and memory games are good too!
- Other than that, I use the method my Beijing teacher uses when our class gets lazy… ‘抄课文’ just copy pages and pages of characters in the hopes that something will stick. This method doesn’t quite work because those pages soon turn into just one page and then the next thing you know, I’m struggling to finish just one line!
The most entertaining ways to work on improving your Chinese is:
- Travel to Chinese speaking countries as much as possible unfortunately can be quite pricey
- Watching Dramas (Korean/Japanese/English etc) with Chinese Dubbing and Subtitles
- Watching Programs on China Satellite
- Attempt Karaoke in Chinese
- Attempt to read the Chinese on the Chinese Restaurant Menu