Mastering a second language: Chinese

This blog post is brought to you by Biblio Lotus team member Sharon. It is the first in a series from the team. Be on the lookout for future posts about learning Korean and Japanese!

Learn Chinese! 

你好 (Hello),                       

The Chinese language is the oldest written language in the world with at least six thousand years of history. Chinese character inscriptions have been found in turtle shells dating back to the Shang dynasty (1766-1123 BC) proving the written language has existed for more than 3,000 years! The Chinese written language uses single distinctive symbols, or characters, to represent each word of the vocabulary.

There are also two main languages—Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin is the official language of China and it is spoken in most large cities in China; Mandarin is also widely spoken in Singapore and Taiwan. Cantonese is largely spoken in Hong Kong, as well as in Macau and Guangdong provinces.

Don’t be daunted by learning this ancient language! Every language has its own distinctive patterns and many people can master a second language. My suggestion is try to have fun in the beginning, learn through dialogs, singing, and read simple stories.

Tones are very important part of Chinese language, as different tones will have totally different meanings. There are primarily 4 tones in Mandarin Chinese. For example, the word Ma:

  • First tone: ma1 or 
  • Second tone: ma2 or 
  • Third tone: ma3 or mǎ
  • Fourth tone: ma4 or 

Tones are used to determine which Mandarin Chinese word is being implied. For example, mǎ (horse) is very different from  (mother).Thus it is really important to practice both the pronunciation of the word and its tone. The wrong tones can change the meaning of your sentences.

Recommendations for children

My First Mandarin Word Book

Introduce young children to the excitement of learning Mandarin! Over 200 simplified Chinese words, English-Mandarin word list, and Pinyin pronunciation guide.

Speak & sing Chinese with Mei Mei

In this CD, Mei Mei takes seven language lessons and intersperses them with eleven songs to make learning Chinese easy and fun! Lessons build on Chinese words commonly used by children and parents alike. 

Gen wo chang Han yu

This book teaches basic Chinese vocabulary, grammar and idioms through listening to Chinese songs and engaging them in the fun of singing along to the song lyrics.

Recommendations for adults

Kuai Le Zhongguo--xue Han Yu

Conversational Chinese Dialogues

Learning Mandarin Chinese Characters, Volume 1

Enrichment Textbook for Students Learning the Chinese Language

Chinese: Learn Mandarin Chinese for Beginners

Other tips for learning a language

  • Find a friend who speaks Chinese to practice, or go to Chinese community Center to take classes. An actual Chinese speaker is usually better than any Chinese course, learning app, or online dictionary.
  • Get yourself familiar with the language, watch TV shows and videos, and listen to music.