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How to Learn Chinese By Yourself 

Mandarin Chinese is a wonderful language. It embodies the rich history and fascinating culture of China. Learning Chinese allows you to communicate with more than a billion people, giving you endless opportunities in your personal, academic, and business life. 

But what if your daily schedule doesn’t allow you much time to attend Chinese classes? Or financially, you can’t afford a private tutor? Don’t worry! You can still learn Chinese by yourself!

Many people have proved self-studying Chinese is absolutely possible. All you need is to find learning methods that work for you, create a proper study routine with targets, and stick to it! It’s not going to be easy, but you can do it! 

If you have no idea where to start, this article will offer you a basic guide with useful tips on how to learn Chinese on your own. 

Let’s go! 

What is so great about learning Chinese by yourself? 

Studying Chinese on your own can benefit you in a great number of ways. Here are the top 2 common reasons why people choose to self-study Chinese. 

Undoubtedly, it saves you money.

Learning Chinese by yourself can save you A FORTUNE in study fees. You don’t need to pay to join a language class or for a private tutor, which could cost you hundreds of dollars per month.

All you have to do is to get good materials and suitable learning tools. Many free online resources can help you learn and improve Chinese such as YouTube tutorial clips, blogs (like Pandanese!), or downloadable grammar worksheets.

Although you’re learning on your own, don’t hesitate to invest in good learning tools like digital dictionaries or flashcards apps, as they are extremely helpful to boost your progress. More importantly, any costs are still small compared to the fee for joining a Chinese class or a private tutor!

You can do everything your way.

Self-studying Chinese can give you a great sense of freedom that no other learning approach can. You get to choose what to study, where to study, and when to study.

Imagine having a hot cup of tea on your balcony while listening to a Chinese tutorial clip on YouTube after a long day at work. Wouldn’t it be so much more relaxing than having to drive to your language class, exhausted and unable to focus when you get there?

Plus, studying at your own pace allows you to progress, speed up or slow down whenever you want, instead of sticking to a fixed class syllabus. 

How to learn Chinese by yourself? A step by step guide

You may feel a bit confused and overwhelmed at the start. Should you jump in to studying grammar rules first or learn basic vocabulary? 

Don’t fret! Let us put all of your worries to rest. Below is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to learn Chinese by yourself from scratch. Check it out! 

Step #1: Know your goals 

Before anything else, answer this question “Why do I want to study Chinese?”. Everyone has a different reason for it, so what is yours? Do you want to study in China in the future? Do you want your business to join the Chinese market? Or do you simply just want to explore one of the oldest extant cultures in the world?

Whatever your reason, you have to determine your main purpose and what you want to get out of learning Chinese. Then you’ll have a clear picture of what you need to do to achieve that. 

For example, if you want to study Chinese for business, you would want to buy business-related textbooks, focus on studying business-related vocabulary, and watch YouTube channels dedicated to teaching business Chinese.

Meanwhile, if your goal is to be able to communicate in Chinese, it’d be best to come up with a study plan where you practice speaking and listening a lot. Instead of dwelling on Chinese textbooks, you may want to binge-watch Chinese dramas or TV shows, make friends with native speakers, and have as many conversations as you can. Knowing exactly what your goals are allows you to choose the right self-studying plan and strategies, offering you the quickest way to get what you want. 

Step #2: Listen to Chinese whenever you can 

In the first couple of months, familiarize yourself with the sounds of Mandarin Chinese by listening to it as often as you can. This is a key step at the early stages of learning any language, as a new language can sound like alien noise that your brain cannot relate to. So, immerse yourself in Chinese TV news, podcasts, movies, or dramas and get accustomed to it.

This practice will give you a sense of Chinese words, what they sound like, and how they combine. You would then be able to tell immediately if someone is speaking Mandarin Chinese or not. Gradually, you’ll have heard certain words and phrases repeated so often, they’ll be memorized in your brain. 

Tip: Be super careful with what you listen to as Chinese is a group of languages. There are many varieties like Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc. Getting mixed up with different languages and sounds right at the beginning will only make your learning journey tougher!  

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Step #3: Get to know what pinyin is 

As you may know, Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet, and its writing system is basically logosyllabic. It can be a huge challenge for anyone whose first language is romanized. 

That’s where pinyin comes in. Pinyin is the official system of romanized spellings for Mandarin Chinese. (If you study Cantantonese, you might want to check Jyutping out.) For example, 我是中国人 in original Mandarin is written as wŏ shì zhōngguó rén in pinyin.

Each Chinese character represents one syllable and can be spelled phonetically in pinyin. With pinyin, you’ll be able to pronounce any Chinese words properly, quickening your learning process of Chinese characters and speaking. Even native-speaking Chinese children learn pinyin at schools to grasp the language better! 

All you need to do is to master how the pinyin system works, as many don’t sound exactly how they look. The good news is there are plenty of YouTube videos and tutorials, along with many online articles instructing you how to use pinyin correctly. 

See also: A Chinese Pronunciation Guide for Beginners

Step #4: Devote your time to learning Chinese characters (Hanzi) 

Once you know the ins and outs of the pinyin system, you should start spending time learning Chinese characters. Characters are the backbone of the entire language. While pinyin can teach you pronunciation, learning characters allows you to read Chinese literature and differentiate a broad range of similar-sounding words. If you want to write in Chinese, you would, of course, need to learn Chinese characters as well.

Chinese characters make up words and phrases, so learning them can also really improve and broaden your vocabulary. To read and understand most Chinese daily texts, you need to know approximately 2000 characters (around 3500 – 4000 words). 

One tip to learn Chinese characters more efficiently is to learn radicals first. Simply put, radicals are smaller elements that repeatedly appear in many common characters. They can give you a hint of the meaning of a character or how it sounds. For example, the water radical 氵(Shui) is in almost every Chinese character directly & indirectly linked with water like 海 (Hǎi; ocean), 江 (Jiāng; river), 河 (Hé; stream), 游 (Yóu; to swim), and 洗 (Xǐ; to wash). 

Try out the Pandanese learning app to master 6000+ radicals, characters, and vocabulary in just one year! Pandanese‘s core method is to give you unique flashcards equipped with fun mnemonics so you can easily remember the new information. The app will continuously quiz you based on Spacing Repetition System (SRS) until the new items are fully encoded in your brain. These are all top-notch scientifically proven memory aids to help you learn and memorize more effectively. 

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Step #5: Make Chinese a part of your daily routine 

You should start with 15-30 minutes of studying Chinese per day. You want to have a fun and enjoyable time studying Chinese at the start, so it’s a great idea to combine your personal interests with your Chinese learning. For example, if you’re into reality shows, check the most popular Chinese shows out there. If you’re a fan of technology, find and watch a Chinese Youtube channel about the latest tech. This will make your study fun and motivate you to keep moving forward. Don’t make your study too serious at the beginning. It could stress you out and make you want to give up! Once you make a habit of learning Chinese daily, you can then get more serious and study more academic topics and words. 

Final thoughts 

You definitely can master one of the most difficult languages on earth with self-study! We hope that you found our step-by-step guide useful and it makes your learning journey easier and more exciting. 

Share your study stories with us in the comments section below if you have studied or are studying Chinese on your own!

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