September 3, 2015

Start Chinese Learning By Listening: Advice for International Assignees

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Start Chinese Learning By Listening: Advice for International Assignees

It’s often said that Mandarin (Chinese) is one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn. It isn’t like English, whose alphabet is just used to spell out words. When speaking Mandarin, even students from our close neighbors, Japan and Korea, face big challenges, such as using the correct tone of voice and writing/drawing Chinese characters in the correct order. 

Despite these difficulties, however, learning Chinese is one of the best ways for international assignees and their families to understand the culture and connect themselves quickly to the local community. How can we start our learning journeys with an easy and “light” method?

Learning a language the “natural” way

If we look back to when we were still babies, how did we learn our own mother tongue? Did we start by reading? I don’t believe any parents teach a seven- or eight-month-old baby to speak by showing them words in a textbook. The natural way babies learn a language is by being spoken to, listening to other people talk, and absorbing how their parents use words to express various feelings and emotions. In fact, many seven- and eight-month-olds are already capable of understanding what their parents are saying; they just don’t have the ability yet to reply using the correct pronunciations.

How can learning Mandarin help our international assignees and their families? The answer is simple. Essentially, the first part of learning is listening to understand. According to Bettina Anagnostopoulos, manager of Curriculum Design at Cartus’ Language Academy: “Most assignees can quickly learn to say something in Mandarin; however, all too often, they become discouraged because they are not able to comprehend what is being said in response!” This can happen when language trainers and adult learners concentrate too heavily on activating vocabulary during the first phases of learning, and too little time is spent on passive understanding of the language in the “real world.”

The illustration and text below take a closer look at decoding a Chinese character and will help give learners a better understanding of a positive approach and attitude to learning Chinese.


Do talk to strangers!

Listening, speaking, reading, and writing are the four core elements of learning any language. But let’s learn from the baby: start your Chinese learning by listening to a teacher, taxi driver, ayi (housekeeper), or your Cartus International Assignment Consultant. Be brave, and ask about anything you don’t understand. A stranger on the street might become your best teacher when demonstrating tone and pronunciation. Between the questions and the answers, you will not only get the fun of learning pronunciation and grammar, but you’ll also understand the Chinese cultural foundation and philosophy behind each sentence.

So why wait? Start your Chinese learning by listening!

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