Learning Mandarin seems to be a difficult challenge for many people. As a result, many people mistakenly believe that it is a challenge that cannot be handled without living in China. However, many people learn Mandarin without living in China and do so successfully. Mandarin may seem complex, given its intonations, crazy grammar structures, and writing system consisting of thousands of characters. But learning at home and becoming fluent in Mandarin Chinese, step by step is doable.
What you mean by ‘alone’ is pretty important. If you mean literally “by yourself” by using textbooks and online resources, then no. Nearly impossible to even approach usability, let alone fluency, because you’ll never have someone to correct the plethora of mistakes or stylistic errors or grammatical failures or educate you in idioms or societal customs.
If you mean ‘alone' as in ‘without formal education or going to a Chinese-speaking country', it’s still very unlikely if you don’t already live in a Chinese area. For example, the vast majority of non-ethnic workers in the more modern Chinatowns choose to communicate in their native language (usually Spanish or English), because requiring them to learn Chinese would be extremely difficult.
Essentially, if you want to learn the language, you’ll need to immerse yourself among Chinese speakers or learn from a skilled teacher. Not to mention put in a lot of personal effort; skimming through won’t help at all.
Is it possible to learn Mandarin without living in China?
You won’t learn Mandarin simply by living abroad in the country. Even if it might be true that you speak the language more or less fluently after having lived in China for two years, this is not simply because you live there! Many foreigners have lived in China for a long time, but still only speak basic Chinese. Therefore, it’s perfectly possible to become fluent in Chinese without ever leaving home. It’s not about where you live, it’s about how much you expose yourself to the language and how much you study.
5 Ways to Immerse in Chinese Without Moving to China
There's a saying that trust is hard to earn yet easy to lose. The same can be said for learning Mandarin. Being proficient in Mandarin takes hours of practice and study but if you stop using the language, it will fade from your memory. To put it simply, if you don't use it, you lose it. That's why it's so important to incorporate the language into your daily life as much as possible if you're serious about learning, but how do you do that if you don't live in the country. In this part, we'll look at 5 ways you can learn Mandarin daily and immerse yourself in the language even if you don't live in China.
Number one: Live your digital life in your target language
A access to technology increases, people are living more and more of their lives on the internet. Use this lifestyle of constant connection to your advantage. Most devices, laptops, phones, tablets, or other connected gadgets have an option to put their operating system in another language. Why not put the devices you use in Chinese? Just scrolling through things on your smartphone won't make you fluent, but it will force you to interact with Mandarin every day in a small way. When it comes to foreign language acquisition, every little bit helps. You can even switch your social media platforms or web browsers to Chinese, then the time you spend on your devices now becomes study time.
Number 2: Relax in Mandarin
Everybody likes to kick back and entertain themselves in some way. Why not use this part of your day to learn more. Try looking for TV shows, music, or movies in your target language. You can use subtitles or follow along by reading lyrics if you're leveling the language on the lower side. It also helps if you approach Mandarin learning time as fun and not work don't force yourself to watch movies you don't like or listen to what kind of music you have no interest in. The point is to keep a casual relaxed study environment.
Number 3: Journal or keep a diary in your target language
It might not be so common to write out your thoughts as the events in your data journal anymore, but it can be a great language learning habit. You can do this by writing by hand in a notebook or on a laptop using a Mandarin keyboard. That way you don't have to worry about your hand right. And can even practice typing in Mandarin as you try to express your thoughts in the language, you might find gaps in your vocabulary. This is a good thing filling in these gaps is what will build your skills and increase your ability in the language. If you're not sure how to correct your journal entries, you might want to try finding a site online that will allow you to upload writing and have it corrected by native speakers.
Number 4: Language exchange with a native speaker
A language exchange is a classic way to learn a language. In a language exchange, 2 people who speak different native languages help each other practice. For example, if you are a native Cantonese speaker and are learning Mandarin, you would find a Mandarin speaker who is learning Cantonese. Partners take turns speaking their target language and the native speaker provides health and corrections. This is one of the most ideal ways to practice your speaking skills.
Number 5: Work with someone else learning Mandarin
Another great way to sharpen your language skills is to work with another person who is also learning the language. If your level is higher than theirs, you'll learn a lot by trying to teach them or help them understand difficult concepts. If your level is lower you'll be able to draw from their advice and experience. If nothing else, you have a new language partner to practice with.
How is it going to learn Mandarin without Chinese friends?
Are a dictionary, a textbook, and a smartphone app sufficient? They will be extremely beneficial, but they will most likely not be sufficient to help you achieve fluency.
True, a mobile phone app or an online video series can provide valuable, structured methods of introducing and practicing. They will not, however, be able to answer any questions you may have, which is where a native Chinese speaker comes in handy.
For example, a textbook or dictionary can give you the meaning of 动：
动 = move
An app can teach you how to pronounce, how to use, and how not to use the word. It can even give you example sentences and exercises, then tell you whether or not you completed the exercises correctly.
However, using this information to create your sentences is an important part of the learning process. And if you try to make your sentences in Chinese, who will tell you if they're correct or not?
Or suppose your curriculum hasn't yet been covered but you need to know how to say "动." So you open your dictionary app and search for "move." This is the page with your results:
Which "move" do you employ? And how should it be used in a sentence? A native speaker would understand the context of your question and provide you with an immediate response. After a few word searches, you might find yourself ripping out your hair if you rely solely on a dictionary app.
How is it going to learn Mandarin without a teacher?
If you don’t have a Chinese teacher or tutor, it may still be possible for you to reach your goals if you have Chinese friends. However, this requires a clarification: Your Chinese friend must be a real friend, and not merely a language exchange partner.
A language partner probably won’t be willing to help you with Chinese for free - usually, they want you to help them with your mother tongue in return. This will split your time with them in half (half speaking your language, and half speaking theirs).
If there’s no deeper friendship between you, you probably won’t be hanging out at their house on the weekends, going on road trips, shopping together etc. Your time together will likely be limited to your scheduled meet-ups. Moreover, relevant topics may eventually become scarce, and you can both easily feel awkward or lose interest in meeting up.
However, if they become your real friend, you can spend more time with them in more environments, with less need to schedule meetups. You can more naturally have conversations about the things you’re doing together, and ask “How do you say that in Chinese?”
How is it going to learn Mandarin with an online teacher?
Obviously, having an experienced Chinese teacher is monumentally beneficial, especially if you’re a beginner. They’ve studied the best methods for teaching those learning Chinese as a second language, and are better equipped to answer your questions. They’ll also be more adept at grading their language in a way that you can understand.
And while a Chinese person may want to practice speaking your native tongue with you, a teacher will be willing to speak with you completely in Chinese.
If learning Chinese is important to you, don’t be afraid to invest in a good teacher!
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