How To Learn Chinese at Home

The best way to learn a language is to be immersed into it. Speak, use, dream and live it every day.

However, most students studying Mandarin online do not live in a Chinese speaking country or in a Chinese speaking environment, and getting on a plane to fly to Beijing is currently just not an option.

Yet immersion has been proven many times over to be by far the best way to learn in a language.

How to Learn Chinese at Home

  • Speak, use, dream and live it every day.
  • You can Learn Chinese at home
  • Create the perfect learning environment
  • Immerse yourself anywhere
  • Avoid all distractions
  • Surround yourself with Chinese

But there are ways to learn a language at home too. Chinese language Immersion is not about geography, but about being surrounded, breathing and living Mandarin.

This can be done anywhere as long as you create the right environment for it. Chinese language immersion can be achieved at home, it just takes a bit more discipline and effort to do so.

How to Learn a Language at Home – 10 Expert Tips

Here 10 steps for you to take to learn Chinese at home through language immersion.

Learn Chinese At Home – Post It Notes

Sounds old school doesn’t it?

How to learn a language at home - Post-It Notes are a good start

How to learn a language at home – Post-It Notes are a good start

Who in the 21st century still writes on little sticky yellow pieces of paper? Chinese language students do!

Stick a post-it note on every single piece of furniture, wall and window you can find at home. Write the Chinese characters on it in big letters and your best hand writing so it can be seen from far away. Then write the pinyin below.

One important step a Mandarin learner has to make in his learning journey is to start looking at characters first, instead of the more familiar pinyin.

So write the Chinese character on top, make it bigger and more visibility and the pinyin smaller and for reference only below. Put a big post-it on your window (“窗户 chuāng hu”).

Every time you will look out of that window wondering if you will ever be able to say those tones properly, you will be looking at it. You will never forget how to say window (窗户) again – and those tones will come, just give it some time.

In front of your toilet seat

Where do we spend a lot of time without much to do? Put a list of your current vocabulary in front of your toilet and read it while you are not doing much else anyways.

Change the vocab around a bit as you are learning new words, though it can be good to put up old lists again for review.

Important: don’t bring your mobile phone to the toilet.

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Learn Chinese At Home – Electronics

Mandarin Phone: Change your mobile phone’s operating language to Mandarin. Sounds scary?

It can be, but will not be as bad as you might think. Most of the buttons you know already anyways and you will click them automatically.

How to learn learn Chinese at home - Utilise your phone

How to learn learn Chinese at home – Utilise your phone

Just now every time you click a button you will also be looking at the character and start remembering them.

During normal usage you will get used to this very quickly. However, there will be some situations where you want to change settings or do something new where you will struggle.

You will need to look up endless characters, search and get very frustrated about not being able to do something, especially when in a rush.

Congratulations, you just achieved Chinese language immersion. Nobody said it would be easy.

Having to use the target language to do things that you cannot really do yet, struggle with dictionaries, make mistakes, get frustrated, angry, desperate, maybe cry a little, but in the end get there and taste the sweet fruits of success that made it all worth it. That’s what immersion it is all about.

Or if you cannot figure it out yet, cry some more, throw your phone in the corner, scream, get upset and want to never learn Mandarin again – and then pick the back up tomorrow again and keep going.

Tip: Don’t do this when you just bought a new phone and you are not familiar with the operating system yet.

Now do the same for your PC

This will be much harder because on PCs we usually do much more complicated things than mobile phones. There will be a lot more buttons, settings and options.

Struggle, fight, keep going and you will succeed at the end.

Learn Chinese at Home – Apps

Pleco: The ultimate Chinese learning tool on your mobile phone. However, it is important that you use it correctly.

How to learn a language at home - Pleco is your friend

Pleco is your friend

When you want to look up a character do not copy and paste it. Look at the character, try to identify the radicals if you can. If not, no worries, they will come.

Then try to write that character into the air with your finger, first while looking at the character and then with your eyes closed.

Repeat until you can confidently write the character in the air without looking at it. Then open your phone, open Pleco, go to the hand writing section and hand write it in there.

Chances are you will have forgotten how to write it by now. Close Pleco and start again. Repeat until you get it right.

You will be amazed how much your character recognition will improve just by changing the way you look up characters.

And never use google translate or any tool that translates whole sentences for you. You might know the meaning of what has been written quickly, but you will remember none of it. Going the harder and slower way is what will get you to fluency in the end.

How to Learn a Language at Home – Follow Us!

Learn Chinese at Home – Media

CHECK OUT OUR REVIEW - Learn Chinese with Netflix

CHECK OUT OUR REVIEW – Learn Chinese with Netflix

Chinese movies: Netflix and other platforms have a pretty decent choice of Mandarin movies and TV shows both from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. Start watching them.

Often soap operas are a good way to start, especially for beginners because the story lines are not very difficult to follow even if you do not really understand anything they say yet.

Switch on the Chinese subtitles to help with understanding and practice reading and listening at the same time.

And of course: No English subtitles ever!

Chinese Music: Often difficult to understand, but a great way to immerse yourself into Mandarin.

Listen to Chinese music at home and wherever you go. Spotify has a huge selection of Mandarin music, as do all the other popular music apps, just do a search in Chinese characters.

There is also loads of great Cantonese music out there, however that will not help you with your Mandarin, so leave that away for the moment.

Also, when singing there are no tones, so for anyone who isn’t that great with Chinese tones yet, you might not be able to speak yet, but you can sing!

Learn Chinese at Home – Social Life

WeChat Look around: Anyone who wants to learn something about Chinese culture needs WeChat, so make sure you get it.

How to learn Chinese at Home - Make friends

How to learn Chinese at Home – Make friends

WeChat has a “People Nearby” function, in the “Discovery” section. Because WeChat is the most Chinese software there is, wherever in the world you are, most of the people using this feature will speak Mandarin.

If you find them on “People Nearby” that means they are also in your area.

Send them a message, practice your reading and writing and if the person seems sane (be a bit careful, there are some strange characters around on there too) go and meet them for some Chinese food.

Chinese restaurants: Chances are that wherever you are there is a Chinese restaurant at least somewhere close by.

While not all waiters in Chinese restaurants are actually Chinese, most are and this is a great opportunity to practice your Mandarin.

Ask for the Chinese language menu – they will most likely have one. Speak Mandarin only.

If they say they do not understand you (probably your tones are wrong), just smile and keep speaking.

Sooner or later people will accept that they have to speak Mandarin with you. If you do not understand ask them to repeat.

If you still do not understand just nod and smile. You might not always get the food you wanted, but you will get to practice your Mandarin in very real life which is what it is all about.

And you will see how your speaking skills improve.

Note: Try not to always get the same waiter, as at some point that person will know what you want anyways and bring it to you even if you say it wrong.

Go and challenge yourself with different people.

Chat: There are endless platforms and opportunities to meet Chinese people online. Chat with them.

Make sure they do not want to practice their English with you and are ok to speak Mandarin only.

During chat you have plenty of time to look up characters you do not understand using Pleco (not google translate – see above). With some people it might be possible to use pinyin at the beginning, which is ok, but switch to characters as soon as possible.

Tip: Knowing Chinese characters is a required skill to get to speaking Mandarin fluently, so do not fool yourself thinking that you only want to speak and not read and write. You need them, if you like them or not – though of course its all about reading, not hand

Why is a Homestay a great way to Learn Chinese?

Learn a Language at Home – Final Words

Personal Note: I started learning Mandarin in Beijing at university, however in a very non-immersive environment as we were surrounded by international students, had no Chinese class mates or flat mates and the whole system at universities in China is set up to separate Chinese and international students.

I had a great time, but was very poorly immersed. I struggled for a long time until to improve my Mandarin until I actually started to immerse myself.

My whole apartment became a sea of post-it notes, I would write messages in Mandarin only – including to English speakers who had no idea what I was talking about – refused to speak English to any Chinese person and once even wrote an email to my parents in Mandarin.

My Mandarin started to improve very quickly after that. During my first semester at university I was refused a graduation certificate due to too low test scores. Today I am an HSK examiner. Immersion works.

Andreas Laimboeck, LTL founder.

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  • LTL Avatar Johan Brandal
    Johan Brandal, Student Advisor

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