Best ways to learn Chinese

By OptiLingo

Language is how people all over the world communicate with one another. It is how we express ideas, ask questions, and learn about the world around us. People assume that learning a new language is hard, and sometimes it can be, but the benefits of being able to communicate with those around you in a different country outweigh the negatives. Learning to speak Chinese is no different than learning any other language. Here are some tips to help you see how similar it is to other languages and not as hard as you may think.

This article will focus on Mandarin Chinese because it is the most familiar and most widely used in Mainland China. However, you should know that in different regions in China the dialect will be different. Others forms of Chinese spoken in China and other parts of Asia include Cantonese, Tibetan, Shanghainese, and Mongolian.

If you plan on visiting China in the near future having a good understanding of Mandarin will help you since it is one of the two most commonly spoken languages. Many people think learning Chinese is hard because it is a tonal language meaning that the words take on a different meaning according to the tone used in pronunciation.

If you think about it, tones are used in the English language to reflect feelings and emotion in a conversation. When used in Chinese, tones change the meaning of words similar to how some English words are the same but have different meanings and depend on the words before and after to determine the meaning. An example of this principle is homonyms. A homonym is two words having the same spelling and pronunciation but having different meanings. One of the best ways to learn Chinese tones is to listen to someone speaking in Chinese often.

How to Understand Chinese Tones

Most people assume that learning to speak Chinese is hard because of the tones in the language, but anyone can learn to make the tones perfectly. This comes from the practice in hearing it spoken, and speaking it yourself in repetition. In Chinese, the tones are in pairs similar to breaking a word into syllables with each syllable having a different sound.

There are 4 main tones with a neutral 5th tone. The pairs are 1&3, 2&4, 3&4 and similar combinations. Each word is a combination of the first tone plus a second (either 2nd, 3rd, or 4th). The inflection or tone is placed on the first or second part of the word to determine the meaning.

Ways to Make Learning Chinese Easier

As with learning any language, the best way to learn Chinese tones is to hear them spoken by native speakers and practice them yourself. You will not get far without mastering these tones. The good news is that it does not take a long time to learn them. There are ways to help you hear and say the tones correctly which will help you feel more confident and you’ll be less likely to make embarrassing mistakes when conversing with Chinese people.

Some ways to learn Chinese tones include:

  • YouTube Videos – video lessons, Chinese TV shows, and documentaries
  • Get a Teacher – hire someone to give you lessons
  • Chinese Pen Pal – can be a friend in a social media site or forum
  • Take a Test – online tests can help you improve
  • Record yourself – record yourself reading a few sentences in Chinese


There are some great resources online to help you learn any language. YouTube has some good programming that can help you learn Chinese by hearing it spoken in Chinese television shows. The Voice of China (Chinese version of The Voice), A Bite of China (a Chinese food and cooking show), Happy Camp, and China’s Got Talent are excellent sources of entertainment as well as documentaries, and video lessons made by native speakers. If you get in the habit of watching Chinese programming you’ll have an easier time understanding the language and your skills will improve much faster.

This video called The Most Effective Way to Learn Chinese Tones by Yangyang Cheng explains the tones and tone pairs used in the Chinese language and it will help you begin to understand how easy it is to learn the tones correctly. Another good source is Chinese 101 for learning tones and seeing them applied.

Hire a Teacher

The person you hire does not have to have a teaching certificate. A teacher can be anyone who speaks Chinese and any other language fluently. If you can hire them for a few hours per week it will give you a way to learn and someone to practice your pronunciation with before trying it out elsewhere. There are online courses you can take and you can find Chinese tutors at your local College or University. If you can find a pen pal on social media or through forums it will also give you a way to practice your speaking skills.

Take a Test or Record Yourself

Once you have been practicing a while you can test out your new skills by taking an online test or exam to see how well you do. It will give you a score based on your comprehension of words and will help you see where you are. Another thing that is helpful is to record yourself reading a few sentences in Chinese to check your tones and make sure your pronunciation is on point.

It goes without saying that the best way to learn Chinese tones is to immerse yourself in the language as many ways as possible. Hearing Chinese spoken is one of the best ways to master the tones because you cannot learn by just reading or memorizing the words. There are sounds and you have to be able to understand the sounds as well as repeat them to have an effective conversation.

No matter if you are going to China as a tourist or as a student at the University, you should have a few skills in conversational Chinese before you ever set foot on the plane. You don’t have to be an expert speaker because you will learn a lot by living with and around people who speak it every day.

You may feel a little awkward as a beginner but the more you practice your new language, the better your pronunciation will be, and you’ll be understood clearly by your audience. Everyone is a little apprehensive about speaking in a new language at first, fearful of making a mistake, but if you follow these tips and practice you’ll be speaking fluently in a short period of time.