Chinese is radically different from any Western language. As such, it is not easy to learn as a second language. It is even harder to learn without exposure to native speakers and Chinese media. Perhaps the best advice is to take the time to study in China. However, even that would not be enough on its own. The tips below are not Chinese lessons, but good advice for anyone interested in studying Chinese. They are based on the real life experiences of people learning Chinese as a second language, and the expertise of professional teachers.
Read Every Sign
Read Signs in English and Chinese to increase your speed and vocabularyOften in China, and in places outside of China that have large Chinese populations, signs will be printed in both Chinese and English. If a sign is printed in Chinese and a English, then your instinct will normally be to simply read the more familiar language. You may even laugh at how awkward the translation sounds, but you will move on without taking note of the original Chinese. Step outside of your comfort zone and read the sign in Chinese as well. Maybe you only recognize eighty percent of the characters, and maybe it takes you a long time staring at the Chinese to figure out what it says. That’s OK! Reading signs in Chinese provides a number of benefits. First of all, you have a translation right in front of you, so you can check to make sure you understand the characters. Second of all, you will note unfamiliar characters and maybe be able to figure out what they mean. Finally, the next time you see the same phrase on a sign that doesn’t have an English translation, you will know what it means. Here are some common signs seen around Beijing:
爱护环境 Love the Environment
禁止停车 No Parking
欢迎光临 Welcome I haven’t written the Pinyin for these examples because you probably won’t see the Pinyin on a sign. Nevertheless, you can learn what the characters mean. Take the “No Parking” sign for example. Let’s imagine that you know the characters 停车 mean “stop car” or “Parking.” You have never seen the first two characters before, but you can deduce that they must mean “No.” Now, the next time you see a sign with the characters 禁止, you will know that something is prohibited. You may go to a tourist sight and see the sign 禁止进入, and you will know that you are not allowed to enter a particular area. Reading signs is a quick way to build a vocabulary of characters that you will commonly see in everyday life.