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I want to learn Chinese Mandarin, where should I start ? Is it better to learn online or in a course ? Can I only get fluent if I go to China ? Should I get a tandem partner ?

Learning Chinese Online : Mandarin Online Courses

When taking online courses, the first thing to consider are the costs. Some online courses do not offer better content than books, but cost you more money. In this case you should have some discipline and go the old fashioned way. The feeling of paper is very natural for human beings and gets you more involved. You don’t know if the outcome will match your expectations, so you don’t want to overspend on something. Good digital material always offers good free material to help you to make a good choice The problem is that although everyone has devices like iPad or Cell-Phones, digital courses are still less portable than small books, that contain audio-files.

Learn Chinese Online
Learn Chinese Word Power 101

Phone Apps : Dictionary Apps

I wouldn’t recommend any cell phone apps to learn Chinese, unless you are looking for special tools. These may be dictionaries or tools that help you to practice certain aspects of the language like Chinese writing. In cases of dictionary, the probably best app out there is pleco ( Pleco gives you amazing tools that help you to translate Mandarin Chinese to English and vice versa. You can search up words either by typing or writing or translate whole Chinese texts by using a character recognition function. Another option is to use your camera to recognize characters or by uploading digital texts. According to my experience, the app does a seriously good job recognizing Chinese characters by using camera or a programmed function.You can upload an e-book or pdf document inside your app to translate it. It doesn’t matter whether the text is digitally typed, scanned or handwritten. Pleco goes so far, that it can even successfully recognize a lot of handwritten text. Amazing !

Pleco is a cell phone application for learning Chinese
Pleco Chinese Online Dictionary

Learning Chinese With Ebooks

Next to books, digital books with audio-files are the best way for me to learn Mandarin. The advantage is that you can transport your content in digital devices such as laptop, cellphone or tablet. Although paper is better than a display, it allows you to transport much more content than with books. However, some polyglots strongly prefer the feeling of paper and therefore never use tablets to learn a language. The sensual feeling of paper provides some extra stimulation to the learning effect. Another problem with digital devices is discipline. People fetch a lot of books with them in their tablet but never read them. They prefer to use features instead and compromise on discipline. If you decide to go out on a sunny day and to learn a language while walking, doing it with an old-fashioned book will certainly provide less temptation to do something else.

Ebooks to learn Chinese
Learning Chinese with Kindle

Learning Chinese Mandarin From Books

When it comes to books for beginners, the best books I can recommend is Assimil’s Chinese with Ease. The French company has desired a series of language books, following a certain method, where you gradually accumulate knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Assimil favors a smooth and almost subtle approach where the reader gradually dives in the complexity of language. It is the best book to avoid a beginner’s frustration, because you are not overwhelmed with content. Another great thing about Assimil, is that it provides the text to each lesson in both languages, so you can instantly compare the language structure from left to right. The book is relatively small, so you can fetch it in your pocket or bag, wherever you go and it also has audio-files. In my honest opinion, if you want to start with a book, then Assimil is probably one of the best way to learn Mandarin.

Learning Chinese With Books
Assimil Chinese with Ease

Going To Mandarin Classes : Chinese Lessons at Home or Abroad

As an independent and self-sufficient learner, I believe that traditional classes have one huge disadvantage. First is that you can’t choose your own speed of progress, the whole content is scheduled and you cannot chose the topics, that you use to learn the language. Many teachers still prefer boring and old-fashioned topics that are not contemporary, if you have bad luck, the teacher will choose a book according to his preference and follow it through with the class. You basically have no control over the media, that is used.


The second disadvantage is the traditional teaching style. If you do not like to have a teacher in front of you all time, or the method which is used, then the class has the potential of ruining it for you. I personally prefer to learn mandarin only through reading texts, i never like to practice sentence building with a teacher or pronunciation exercises. I pick up the language by consuming content. As a beginner I would choose an easy text, therefor i recommend Assimil books, then i would find random books that match my level and go from there. Sometimes watch and translate movies. The last thing i want to do, is to read about grammar and practice its application with a teacher, it is a very slow and boring approach.

Learn Chinese Through Language Immersion

If you go to China, you will have the advantage of language immersion, which is said to be very effective, but unnecessary in the eyes of polyglots who speak more than 20 languages or so. It is because these guys know exactly what they need to do, to really suck in a language as quickly as they can. Contrary to people’s belief, it is the approach that matters, not the talent. Again, China is very traditional country, so you will face a very traditional and old-school style of learning approach when you decide to go to China to learn Mandarin. It might be exactly what you need or not, depending on your personality.

Tandem Partners : Learning Chinese With Natives

Learning Chinese with a tandem partner is the last thing I personally would do. From my own experience and that of some other polyglots, one person usually tends to be dominating in the learning process, which means that there is no mutually beneficial situation. This is actually ought to happen, because one person has to assist the other when learning the target language. I find it quite inefficient and time-consuming because you have to focus on yourself first and then help out your partner.

I personally tried out, instead of improving my language it got me some new friends. Those were great people, but it didn’t last and it wasn’t really their fault either.

Learning Chinese with a friend of partner
Learning Chinese With Tandem Partner

Conclusion :

If your focus is put on efficiency, then books are still the best option in my opinion, whether it’s e-books or normal books. At the end of the day, the crucial factor is not only your approach, but your true desire to learn the language. If you have a true desire, then books would do it, if you don’t, then any method is going to fail.

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