“It’s impossible!”, I hear you say.
Well no, it’s not. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it! However, if you want to learn Chinese in 5 minutes, by taking part in some simple exercises every day, you’re going to have to make sure that you have a plan and that your plan is effective enough to get you through even the toughest of times. There will be highs, there will be lows, but no matter what, there will always be learning Chinese.
So to help you get through those highs and lows, here are a couple of handy tips for how to get started and reach your language learning goal!
Start with Pronunciation
The best place to start is by working on your own pronunciation. That means finding yourself a high-quality Chinese pronunciation guide and vocab list (Luckily, we've already made you one). Next, focus on getting your tones right and developing your Pinyin skills – the rest can come later.
From experience, the hardest part is getting the sounds right. If you want to learn Chinese in 5 minutes every day, it’s going to take a while, but you’ll be able to start sounding right with the help of a good Mandarin Chinese word list. Make sure to listen carefully to the sample audio you’re given and try recording yourself and listening to it. Compare the sounds and find out where you might be going wrong. I don’t have to tell you this, but your voice in real life sounds different than the one inside of your head.
Develop a Learning Strategy
Aimlessly learning Chinese might seem like a good idea to begin with, but it quickly becomes a nightmare. Going into any language with such a limited time period to practice is hard enough. Without a strategy, you’ll quickly find yourself overrun and giving up. If you’re starting from the beginning, follow the suggestions above and start with pronunciation.
If you’re not starting from nothing, and already have a certain level of Chinese, organize your learning strategy according to what your abilities already are. Do you feel that you’re stronger in a certain area? Despite what you may think, this is where you should be focusing. By giving yourself more practice in an area you’re already good at (i.e. speaking), you’ll end up boosting your confidence and motiving yourself to keep learning. Vitally important for just 5 minutes for practice each day.
Make Sure You’ve Got the Basics Down
In following on from this rationale, make sure that you’ve got the basics down before you move on to the more advanced stuff. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of adventure, but knowing how to say hello, introduce yourself, and ask for some food is a lot better if people can actually understand you.
Writing and reading is the same. The basics (i.e. Stroke order) are your key to creating legible text. There are some programs and ideas out there which focusing on making the Chinese reading system as accessible as possible. Use them.
Use Secondary Listening as a Crux
Let’s get real for a second. 5 minutes of language contact per day will eventually get you somewhere, but it’s not going to be particularly significant. If you want to learn Chinese in 5 minutes every day, you’re going to have to bolster your direct learning techniques with a bit of secondary acquisition. By this, I mean listing to Chinese music or podcasts in the background. I’ve already talked about a couple of ways you can do this. Try incorporating a Chinese listening environment into your daily commute, or just spend your down time watching funny Chinese language videos (with English subtitles, of course!).
Ultimately, surrounding yourself with the Chinese language isn’t going to be as helpful or effective for learning Chinese as direct learning techniques are, but it will contribute. Remember, a lot of guides for learning Chinese recommend working on listening and speaking before you move onto written Chinese.
Don’t Set Unrealistic Goals
Probably the hardest thing for those learning a new language. Whatever you do, don’t set unrealistic goals. You are not going to be fluent in a week, nor a month, nor even a year. If you only want to learn Chinese in 5 minutes every day, unless you’re gifted in language acquisition, you’re probably not ever going to be fluent.
Learning a language isn’t as simple as learning something like mathematics. Language is about so much more, which is why I try to stress the importance of understanding culture. Why not incorporate a bit of cultural learning this February by taking the time to learn about Chinese Spring Festival?
Give Yourself Credit Where It’s Due
Learning another language isn’t easy, and Chinese just happens to be one of the harder ones – especially for native speakers of English. Give yourself credit because you’re actually trying to learn it. You might not be able to become a language master in a week if you want to learn Chinese in 5 minutes every day, but you should be able to communicate and express basic ideas within a couple of months. Then, you might just decide to invest a little more time in it instead.