Is there a secret formula for learning Chinese? I think what comes closest to a guaranteed path to success is focusing on the actions you take on a day-to-day basis.
Find a mix of activities that you can sustain long term. In the best period of my (part-time) Chinese learning, I spent an average of at least an hour a day on classes and homework. Every week. For two years.
Should I tell you exactly how I did it? I don’t think that would be very helpful, because what worked to keep me going and engaged, might not work for you.
So you’ll have to figure out your own secret formula. Language learning activities are the “ingredients” to any secret recipe. Here are four ways to learn Chinese in Singapore, and four that will work anywhere, for you to experiment with!
- Pick up My Paper /我报 and attack one article. If you’re living in Singapore, My Paper, which is freely distributed at MRT stations, provides simple Chinese language articles. Depending on your level, you could try to read all articles, or if it’s daunting, attack one article and try to understand every word and sentence in it.
- Join a Chinese class. I deliberately did’t put this on top, because I find that the successful students in any class do more than just going to class every week. That said, classes have been an important ‘anchor’ in my own learning process. Check out our directory to find a large number of Chinese classes in Singapore.
- Make a Chinese speaking friend. There are plenty of Chinese from China and Taiwan in Singapore who aren’t that comfortable speaking English. Visit a language exchange at tete-a-tete or check out this post for other ways to find a language exchange partner.
- Subscribe to a postcast, like Chinesepod. Bring your headphones and listen to it when you’re on your way to work. They also have apps that you can use to do exercises when you’re on the go.
- Read a Chinese comic. If you’re not yet at the level of newspapers, comics make much lighter reading.
- Order your food in Chinese. Many hawker stalls are operated by Chinese speakers. If you normally order in English, make it a habit to order in Chinese. What better reward than a delicious meal?
- Use Anki to review your vocabulary. Whenever you meet a word in any of the above activities that’s new to you, add it to the Anki app, and take a few minutes every day to review what you learned.
- Use Skritter to review characters. You could argue that writing Chinese is very time consuming, but I have always enjoyed writing characters. It has a creative side to it, and is a good way to glue vocabulary and characters in your mind. Using Skritter, you can do it on your phone whenever you ahve a few minutes.
Whatever activities you choose to do regularly, look for balance. And balance comes in different forms:
Balance of time spent
Don’t plan on studying two hours a day if your schedule is already really full. Maybe you manage to achieve that for a week. If you can get in half an hour of practice every day and stay at it, that easily beats an ambitious two-hour-a-day schedule.
Balance of activity types
I found it very important to have activities that connect me to people, such as role plays with classmates or having a chat with friends and colleagues. My teacher masterfully gave us homework assignments that we could talk about in class. Writing stuff that would be entertaining for my classmates was a great motivation to keep go the extra mile on the writing tasks.
Which activities do you enjoy most? Do you love to write, but are insecure talking to people? Make sure you get a good much of fun, as well as challenge every day.
If you want to improve your Chinese, get moving. Pick three ways to learn Chinese from the list and see if you can come up with a balanced routine.
When you’re putting in a solid number of hours every week, you’ll see your own improvement. Which is the best way to keep fired up about learning Chinese!