Where to Start Learning Mandarin?
3 Questions to Help You Begin
Learning Mandarin is like exercising. The hardest part is getting started.
Most of us don’t struggle with finding reasons to start exercising or learning Mandarin. Where we get stuck on the path to fluency or fitness is in taking the first step.
How can I start learning Mandarin? We ask ourselves or beseech the revered Google gods in search of the perfect way to get started.
Well, the answer to that question comes in the form of other questions (just like any important matter in life, like picking a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor—did I get Cherry Garcia last time? Do I feel more like Chunky Monkey or Brownie Core right now?).
Mainly, these three questions:
1. How long have you been (really) learning Mandarin?
While not a requirement, it’s helpful to have a rough guess of your initial Mandarin level to get started learning Mandarin.
This applies to those of you that started learning Mandarin for some time, then stopped for whatever reason (hey, it happens to the best of us!), and are now starting again.
Unless all the Mandarin you can manage is, “nǐ hǎo!” (in which case, if you’re a complete beginner, you can skip to question #2), figuring out where you fall on the beginner to intermediate range depends on your longest studying streak and not how long you’ve been studying Mandarin.
That’s because when you start and stop and start again, you’ll get a little rusty each time.
Beginner or Sorta Beginner?
I studied Mandarin on and off for three years. Now, you would think that’s enough time to be considered at least a lower intermediate student. But because I’d let too much time lapse between periods of focused learning, when I picked up Mandarin again recently, I had to review a lot of the beginner-level basics just to catch up.
Had I decided to jump into an intermediate level, I would have missed out on the refresher that I desperately needed to strengthen my understanding of key concepts. Or I would have mistakenly (and quite laughably) concluded that Mandarin is just too hard for me since I obviously can’t understand it even after years of studying.
Join the Begin(ner) Club
So, if you’re like me and are starting Mandarin again and not so much for the first time ever, keep in mind that it may be a good idea to start as a “beginner” regardless of how long you’ve been at it.
Even if you don’t need the review (and if you don’t, I humbly bow down to you), you’ll benefit by building an even stronger foundation of the Mandarin essentials. Besides, you probably didn’t really forget all that much and will breeze through the basics easy peasy.
At Mandarin Monkey, we aren’t huge sticklers on assigning you to a set Mandarin level because we know everyone’s story is different, but we do offer online Mandarin lessons that are geared for all Mandarin levels, including, yes, beginners that aren’t technically beginners (myself included) and real, actual, total beginners.
2. Are you a complete Mandarin beginner?
If your answer is yes, I won’t tell you what you already know.
That you’ll master the easy stuff first, then move on to more complex grammar that will first boggle your mind before it starts to make sense (sometimes, more sense than English grammar!).
Or that your mouth will feel funny (and even get a little sore at first) making all the wonderful new and unique sounds of the Mandarin language.
I just have one word for you: goals.
Goals Help You Build Momentum and then Some
Being a total Mandarin beginner is like standing at the bottom of a massive mountain, staring at the peak waaaaay up there. Can you even see the peak without squinting? Without straining your neck?
No wonder starting from nothing can prove the hardest. But by focusing on your goals, you’ll overcome the inertia of starting.
Your goals also serve as the foundation to creating a learning plan that’s right for you, with a little help from an experienced Mandarin teacher.
Goals + Free Lesson = Great Start
At Mandarin Monkey, your first free Mandarin lesson is an opportunity to meet with a teacher and talk about (you guessed it!) your unique goals. But you won’t just be talking about them. You’ll use the 30-minute session to set up some milestones so you can see yourself achieving those goals—not in a New Age-y, “visualize it to become it” type of way, but with a real action plan.
So, setting goals makes it easier to start as a beginner because goals help you see where you want to go.
And working with a teacher makes starting less intimidating by breaking down what feels insurmountable into smaller steps you can conquer over time.
3. How much time do you have to devote to learning Mandarin?
Have you ever wanted to start a celebrity’s “superhero” exercise program, only to realize you’d need a private chef, a full-time nanny, and oh, eight hours a day, to do it?
Unrealistic expectations about time can keep us from going after our goals. Or we quit once we realize we don’t have the schedule of a movie start training for their next Marvel role (or that chef and nanny!).
Start With the Time You Have
As with exercise, it’s better to start with the Mandarin you can actually fit into your schedule instead of trying to go all superhero from the get-go (with time, you’ll be able to enroll in our Intensive Course and learn at super speed, though.)
Plus, would you really want to work out (or study) 8 hours a week if I told you that you could get the same results in less time?
Our private and group lessons are structured like effective workouts so you can get in and get out fast. And they come with a Mandarin personal trainer, aka teacher. In a little less than an hour per lesson, we pack in the most learning per minute to get you results without having to spend hours upon hours (that you don’t have) trying to do it all on your own.
Have less than an hour a week for Mandarin? Lessons are a great place to start because the focused structure helps you get more bang for your buck. And if you have more time—just like with working out—taking more lessons will only boost your Mandarin fitness.
Plus, when you schedule your lessons, they’re already on your calendar (just like that fitness class), so you don’t have to try to make time for it. You just show up and “work out” those Mandarin muscles.
Everyone has to start somewhere
Whether you want to start learning Mandarin from zero or finally get serious about Mandarin, the biggest challenge you’ll face is the same: getting started.
But by focusing on your goals, working with a teacher to set a learning plan based on what you want to achieve, and choosing a schedule that works with your time, it’s much easier to take that first (or next) step.
See you on the way to the top!