Want to Learn Chinese but don't know how? Let's get started!
Don't know how to get started with Chinese? Let me show you how.
Getting started in Chinese is tough. But it doesn't have to be.
Lots of people consider Chinese one of the world's hardest languages... I'm here to show you why this is wrong.
The real difficulty is that the first week of Chinese is difficult!
Don't fail before you start! If your first week in Chinese is hard you will likely give up before you've really started. Please don't fall into this common trap.
Chinese is front-loaded. Day 1 introduces a foreign pronunciation system, the tones and the Chinese characters. Trying to tackle them all at the same time, without guidance, is a recipe for disaster.
Chinese is "too hard"!
You've heard this one before. Everyone knows at least one nay-sayer who tried to learn Chinese and failed.
To protect their pride these people will claim that Chinese is "too hard!". If no-one can learn Chinese then their pride is protected!
The truth is that these people used the wrong methods. Their methods were inappropriate and they failed as a result. Claiming Chinese is "too hard" is just a way to save face.
In a week's time don't be the person saying "Chinese is too hard". I want you to be the person saying "Chinese is just another foreign language. No problem!"
With the right early foundation in Chinese it's possible to push through the first "tricky" week of Chinese and come out on the other side wondering what all the fuss is about.
I wish I had known how to learn Chinese when I started!
I struggled with my first week of Chinese. Just getting to the first "hello" takes time!
I managed to get through due to sheer stubbornness and a lot of luck.
But I saw a lot of people give up and decide that Chinese is "too hard"!
Hi, I'm Kyle!
I have a confession
The first time I tried to learn Chinese was a disaster.
I, like so many others, failed to get over the initial difficulty hump of Chinese.
After a couple of weeks of ineffective flailing about and rote memorization I quit.
To save my pride I would tell people that "Chinese is just too hard" and suggest that no non-Chinese is able to learn Chinese.
I was lying to myself so I didn't feel stupid.
But I didn't need to do this. The problem wasn't Chinese. The problem wasn't me.
The problem was the method I was using to learn.
In Beijing making dumplings for Chinese New Year
I lied to myself to save my pride - telling others that Chinese is too hard is one thing. It helps you save face. But telling yourself that Chinese is too hard is inexcusable - it is a self-limiting belief that limits you.
Thankfully I came back to Chinese and I conquered it. I realized that Chinese is not impossible for a foreigner to learn. Chinese is just like any other foreign language - there are easy bits and there are hard bits. And even the hard bits can be worked through with the right method.s.
I went on to set up a couple of companies operating in China and set up the Chinese language learning blog Sensiblechinese.com. Since then I've helped thousands of people crack Chinese.
Talk about over-compensating for an early failure!
If I were to start from Week 1...
The key to successfully learning Chinese lies in nailing down the fundamentals early in your study.
There are a number of key skills and methods that, if understood and implemented immediately, can make the pathway to Chinese much smoother and more enjoyable.
Start speaking with native Chinese speakers immediately - from Day 1! With today's (free) technology there's no excuse not to.
Don't stress the tones but instead focus on replicating native pronunciation and getting feedback ASAP.
Understand how the Chinese characters work before trying to brute force memorize thousands of them.
Common Week 1 Mistakes
Don't do these:
- Waiting to Speak.
Most learners think they need to wait until their Chinese is a certain level before trying to speak to a Chinese native speaker. Some people wait months or even a year before trying to speak to a stranger! When this conversation is a mess (as any first conversation should be!) they lose confidence and give up. Instead we need to immediately practice the skill we want to acquire.
- Hiding behind the textbook.
Textbooks and courses are safe, cosy places where we can't make mistakes. Even when we do make mistakes there's no-one to see our mistakes. Beginner's therefore tend to hide behind their textbooks, focusing on studying the language and not using it. But using a foreign language is a skill not a subject ; we've got to start making mistakes, getting feedback and learning from these mistakes if we want to progress rapidly.
- Spending too much time with the Characters.
Characters are often what draw us to the Chinese language in the first place. But it's very easy to become too engrossed in learning the characters too soon. Instead it's important to build a foundation of communicative spoken Chinese first. After that there is plenty of time to get lost in the characters - don't you worry!
- Focusing on Handwriting.
Learning to hand-write characters from Day 1 is a mistake. It takes up a huge amount of time and the payoff is very limited. This time can be better spent learning how to type in Chinese (which is SUPER easy) and using the written language to communicate with native Chinese speakers.
- Rote memorizing characters.
Brute-force rote memorization from vocabulary lists in textbooks is the most old-fashioned, wastefully inefficient way to learn vocabulary. It is this sort of activity that puts kids off languages in school. There are now better ways to learn vocabulary and Chinese characters that are faster, more efficient and not mind-numbingly repetitive. Horray!
How to set yourself up for success in Chinese from Week 1
By simply focusing on a small number of incredibly vital skills we can make our first week in Chinese a breeze.
The key here is focus.
Focusing on what is important means cutting out a lot of the nonsense that Week 1 learners normally participate in.
We'll employ the 80/20 rule here (also known as Pareto's Law) - 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort.
By focusing on the most effective 20% we can achieve 80% of the result.
Less work, Greater results
The common textbook and classroom approach to Chinese throws too much material at you in Week 1 and expects you to juggle it all.
As a beginner you don't know what is important and what isn't important so you have no choice but to learn it all!
Instead we can be sensible about how we approach the language. Instead we can focus on what is important for us, right now and discard the rest.
By doing so we can both reduce our Week 1 workload and achieve better results. It's this sort of sensible approach to Chinese that we need to help us get over the first week difficulty hump!
The key to success is not doing more. It's doing more of what works.
What is the key to knowing what works?
Here it is: WEEK 1 IN CHINESE
From years of thinking and writing about the best ways to learn Chinese I've distilled the perfect first week in Chinese. For the first time it is available as a step-by-step, day-by-day video course to give you the perfect foundation for your future study of Chinese.
- Start Strong: this is the only course of its kind - a course designed specifically to give you a strong foundation in the Chinese language during the critical early period.
- Step by Step: the course is broken up into short videos and exercises to be worked through each day. This isn't just theory but also actionable tasks to carry out during your first week.
- Skill focused: every textbook or course can give you the material to say "hello" in Chinese. Instead we give you the material you need and show you how to actually learn and use it immediately. We'll focus on the skill of using Chinese rather than just knowledge of Chinese.
What Learners Are Saying
Best possible start."
"I've been working through the course...and am so relieved that I found the course. Having a guide for the first week has been invaluable....I would highly recommend this course to anyone else starting to learn Chinese."
Simple, to the point...not too much."
"Thank you for the work you've put into the videos...it really shows... My wife and I have been watching together...we were surprised to be speaking Chinese this week. I never thought I'd end the week being able to talk to people in Chinese."
"I tried to learn Chinese in university...but to no avail. I agree that the textbook/teacher method is old fashioned... I like your novel approach, much more practical. Communication should be the goal but this is often forgotten."
Ready to start strong?
If you are just starting out with Chinese this course will give you the strongest first week possible. You'll gain the skills and knowledge required to push towards Chinese fluency fast. Most importantly you are less likely to give up after a few weeks!
Will this work for me?
I've never learned Chinese before."
"My friend sent me a link to the course and I've been using the course since the very first day of learning Chinese and I must say that the course is very very helpful...the explanations were very clear... I am happy that I did not have to experience not having the course. You say it is very difficult to start normally and I believe this!"
I have studied for a year."
"I am working in Beijing and take (sporadic!) lessons here... I never really "got" the language until I went through your videos and the blog... my teacher here is good but not great at explaining to Westerners about the language...even though I have been "studying" for so long the videos helped me move towards speaking and practicing the language more."
UK (now Beijing)
Will this work for me??
I don't have a free week right now
The course is structured over 5 days - Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 etc.
Each Day is set up to provide you with less than 1 hour of video lessons and exercises. Working through the days sequentially over a single week is very possible if you have an hour a day to dedicate to Chinese.
However, a lot of us are busy and don't have an hour a day right now. That's fine! It happens.
This course is self-paced so if you want to go slower that's not a problem. There are no time limits or restrictions so once you enroll you have access to all of the content immediately and forever.
If you want to work fast through the material and finish it in a day then you can. I don't recommend it because it'll be hard to internalize the skills but it's definitely possible if you have a full day free!
Alternatively if you want to spread the work out over a few weeks or even months that's also fine. You go at the pace that works for you!
I'm afraid of talking to native speakers
In this short course we start talking to native speakers on Day 1.
This sounds scary. And it is initially! But it's also the most effective way to learn a foreign language.
We can only learn to speak a foreign language by trying, making mistakes and getting feedback from native speakers.
One hour of focused feedback-driven practice with a native speaker is worth tens if not hundreds of hours sitting with a textbook learning grammar and doing exercises.
A textbook cannot correct your pronunciation. A textbook cannot tell you if what you are saying is right or wrong. A textbook cannot communicate with you.
Whilst talking with strangers in Chinese sounds terrifying it's important to do it early on in your study. If you wait until you feel "comfortable" then it is too late.
If you feel "comfortable" (because of your textbooks!) then any mistakes you make when speaking Chinese with a real person will crush your confidence.
Making mistakes on Day 1 doesn't have the same effect on our confidence. We're expected to make mistakes and should make as many mistakes as possible to learn as fast as possible!
I don't have the money for a speaking partner
It's not necessary to spend any money finding someone to speak to in Chinese.
You are lucky that there are hundreds of millions of Chinese speakers right now who want to learn English - a language that you are skilled enough in to be reading this at the very least!
On the flipside there are only a few hundred thousand people trying to learn Chinese.
This imbalance means it is very easy to find speaking partners to practice Chinese with.
I'll be showing you the best ways to do this for free using new apps and technology that are designed to make community fun and fast.
I'm NOT a total beginner
What if you've already been learning Chinese for a while? Is this course useful for you?
To this I'd have to ask a question: are you regularly speaking with strangers in Chinese?
There's a difference between having studied Chinese a long time and having practiced speaking Chinese for a long time.
If you have been practicing speaking and are comfortable with basic conversations then this course is NOT for you.
If you have been learning Chinese in a classroom or from a textbook but haven't yet started speaking with Chinese native speakers then this course WILL be very useful for you.
The course focuses more on skills and getting you to start communicating and using the language, rather than on textbook content. You'll learn how to really use the language rather than simply study the language!
I AM a total beginner
Fantastic - then I've caught you before bad habits can set in!
The way we traditionally approach languages is to study them as if they were a subject. In fact learning a language is a skill - it's not really as academic as we tend to thing.
The traditional approach is to learn the structure of the language through grammar. Then we start adding vocabulary to the basic structure. Only after we've got a grasp of the structure and the vocabulary do we try to speak!
Instead this course (and all of my work) flips this process on its head. First we start communicating. As we communicate we find out what vocabulary we need to be able to express ourselves. This directs our study so that we can focus on what is actually important and forget the rest. As we progress with communication and vocabulary acquisition we will also be learning grammar through our use of the language.
No learning vocabulary lists. No grammar books. Just structured usage and enjoyment of the language.
I've already got a stack of unread textbooks
You are not alone!
It's easy to keep buying learning materials and hope that the language will transfer from them to us through some magical process. Sometimes we even open up the books!
The truth is that the best textbook in the world is useless if you don't have the foundation skills required to learn a language. These are the skills we'll cover in this course.
This course is not a textbook. The actual language material ("hello","how are you"...) etc. can be found in every Chinese textbook. In fact it could be found for free online easily.
This material is not the focus of this course. I'm less interested in giving you this vocabulary and grammar and more interested in giving you the skills you need to learn Chinese from any source: native speakers, native audio and written material, the internet, classrooms, textbooks etc.
Content is not the problem - it's how we engage with the content and actually use it to learn a language that stumps most people!
This sounds like work! I just want someone to teach me Chinese!
No-one can teach you a language. Only you can.
It doesn't matter how good the teacher, it's up to you as a student to learn a foreign language.
Speaking a foreign language is a skill and like any skill it needs to be practiced.
Speaking a foreign language is not a subject; like the subjects we study at school. It's not just a bunch of grammar rules and vocabulary lists that you need to master. It's about the skill of bringing these elements together in communication.
And this is the skill that I want to give you a foundation in.
Each Day of the course has three videos: Characters, Knowledge and Practical. The first two give you information but the third requires you to actually act on what you've learned and put into practice.
Without doing so you'll simply forget everything and will have wasted your time. Therefore putting in a little extra effort completing the action points is the most important part of the course.
I can point you in the right direction and give you a (gentle) shove but from there it is up to you to complete the Practical elements. This is what language learning is - not passively listening to me talk!
Your First Week vs. Traditional First Week
Following this course your first week learning the language will be very different to most learners.
Your Week 1
- Saying "hello" requires listening to our native recordings, using a free tool to actually say "hello" to a native Chinese stranger and getting feedback.
- We'll start using written Chinese to communicate with Chinese strangers in Day 2. We'll shortcut to communication using typing of Chinese; which is the technique 99% of Chinese is written by people today.
- We'll learn the skill of working out unknown language so we can deal with communicating with native speakers. We'll learn to ask for explanations, use dictionaries and create our own vocabulary based on our needs. Usage organically dictates what we learn.
- You'll get a Chinese name that you can use to introduce yourself. We'll focus on what you actually need to be able to talk about yourself, which is what most basic communication will involve. We won't learn what you don't need.
- We'll look at the next steps and how to structure your study moving forward. I'll give you a roadmap to progress through the language to fluency.
Traditional Week 1
- Saying "hello" requires knowing about pinyin pronunciation, tones, tone changes. And then we only say it to ourselves or to a teacher.
- Written Chinese means handwriting the same character hundreds of times to learn the strokes & stroke order rules. And we are only writing for ourselves or a teacher - the writing is not communicative.
- Learning vocabulary means learning abstract lists from a textbook. Regardless of how useful the vocabulary is we spend time rote-memorizing it. Most of this language will never be used because it is irrelevant for us.
- Your textbooks will follow a set of characters (nearly always one of them is called David...) who probably don't have that much in common with you. The vocabulary these characters need is not the same as your language needs.
- You'll grind through textbook after textbook, hoping that at the end you'll be able to speak Chinese! The structure of textbooks set false expectations.
Here's what's Inside
- 5 Days of Step-By Step Videos. In total ~1.5 hours of video content.
- Each day has 3 videos: Characters, Knowledge, Practical. Videos are designed to be bitesized and focused - ranging from 3 to 12 minutes.
- Additional resources, articles, downloads and links accompanying lessons.
- Downloadable .mp3 audio recordings by both male and female native speakers along with a PDF script to guide initial communication
Here's the content of the first day's first lesson to get a feel for the course.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is the course delivered?
The course is all online, meaning you'll get immediate access.
Is this a recurring payment?
This is a one-off payment that gives you access for life as well as access to any future updates.
Can I access the course in China?
The videos are delivered via Vimeo, which is blocked in China. Therefore you'll need to use a VPN to see the video content. I recommend Private Internet Access or StrongVPN.
If you can see the sample video above you'll be able to see the course content!
Simplified or Traditional characters?
The course uses Simplified characters but all of the knowledge and skills are applicable to both Simplified and Traditional. At this early level the distinction between the two sets is not large.