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The real question is; why shouldn’t you learn Chinese? by Damian

Dearest Readers,

Today’s article will be something different, though peculiar nonetheless!
JDS invited me – a guy called Damian – to write about the process of learning Chinese.
Similar to JDS, I have had the privilege to be selected for the Netherlands – Asia Honours Summer School (NAHSS), meaning I spent my summer in the mesmerizing China. Since I was a small kid, I dreamt of going to China, due to its rich culture, diverse landscapes, interesting food and challenging language.

Just two snapshots showing one of the many beautiful views and interesting sights which you can find in China

All participants of the NAHSS programme were offered Chinese culture and language lessons, in order to increase interest and decrease possible cultural shocks. To get an edge over other participants I decided to study the language (without spending any money!) prior to the given lessons and I had a lot of fun doing it, which is why I continued learning the language. So, in a relatively short amount of time, I was able to improve quite fast. The latter is the exact reason why JDS asked me to write this particular article. Herewith, I will describe why and how I learned Chinese, how I did it in a fast way, and how to keep engaged to learning the language. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the Chinese language, the following will likely be of relevance for learning different languages as well!

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People in a local park playing the GuZheng (a traditional Chinese instrument)

Why?
Well, the Chinese language is spoken by about 16% of the world population as their first language. Mastery of the Chinese language allows for interesting encounters with people, who are spread all over the world. In addition, China’s economy is growing rapidly, allowing for great career and business opportunities. Chinese is also not as hard as people might think; it does not contain words with genders and its grammar is rather simple. To be honest, the real question here is; why shouldn’t you learn Chinese?!☺

Some of the very photogenic individuals I encountered during my travels!

How?
Now you may wonder, how would one start learning such an unfamiliar language…
You can start with a simple quote for inspiration!

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千里之行,始于足下
(qiān lǐ zhī xíng, shǐ yú zú xià)
A thousand mile journey is started by taking the first step.

As for the learning process, unfortunately every person learns differently. Certain people learn well from books, whereas others might be better stimulated by sound. Though in general, I found that fun yet engaging learning tools work best for everyone for any language. Personally, I mostly used apps, an audio course and a flashcard system. Another advantage of these tools is that they can be taken with you any time, as every tool is available on your smartphone.

As for apps, I can highly recommend the following free(!) ones, which are available on both the Apple Store and Google Play Store. They are called: Pleco, Du Chinese, HelloChinese, Chineseskill respectively (from left to right in the picture below).

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Pleco is a rapid offline dictionary, whereas Du Chinese provides stories in Chinese with translation, teaching you how to read. Both HelloChinese and Chineseskill are apps to build up your basic vocabulary, categorized in themes. They are quite similar to the more popular language learning app Duolingo. HelloChinese and Chineseskill are definitely a must-have as a basic vocabulary is a necessity!

An audio course which I thoroughly recommend is the Pimsleurs series. Pimsleurs Mandarin Chinese will get you going when it comes down to following and pronouncing basic conversations to survive in China. The aforementioned guarantees surprised locals (and no, I am -unfortunately- not paid for saying this ;))
Pimsleurs has audio courses for many languages and are ideal for practising and improving your pronunciation.

As for good flashcard systems; there are a lot of sites which can help you make your own customized flashcards to remember new characters with pronunciations. As for me, I used the website www.cram.com.
On this site you can also import flashcards in a rather fast fashion, hence my frequent use of the site. Moreover, Cram is also found in app-format, and it is downloadable on the major app stores, which means that your flashcards can be practised everywhere as long as your battery lasts!
Anki (program and app) is also a good free alternative; the online community of Anki has made thousands if not millions of Chinese flashcards ready to be used. Almost all of them include pronunciation as well, improving both your speaking and reading ability.

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The logos of Cram and Anki, which can be used anywhere you are.

This wraps up my brief overview of my journey of learning Chinese in a free , yet fast manner.
I must say that I’m far from being fluent, but this does not discourage me in any way at all. Since I started learning the language, I have been able to meet plentiful people, survive in China and make loads of friends. Even today when I encounter Chinese people at my university it makes people smile to hear me talk Chinese phrases.

However, what I want to say is; even if you are not going to learn the language (even though it is totally worth it ;)) there are loads of free tools for any language waiting for you to be used. And because of our beloved internet many of those tools are accessible without effort. Studying a foreign language can truly be a wonderful learning experience, allowing for many potential opportunities. The latter is something that I wish for you all.

Cheers!

Damian

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JDS

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