How-to Guides, Languages, Mandarin Guide

InternChina – how to improve your Chinese language skills

I have lived in Qingdao for almost 5 months now and although my Chinese is still not at a good level, I am trying to improve my basic Chinese language skills day by day. The nice thing about being in China is that there are so many opportunities to improve your language skills, even if you don’t have a lot of spare time to study it.
Of course, the most efficient way of getting to a decent level in Chinese is to do a few hours of one-on-one language classes after work. With a nice teacher it can be lots of fun and as it is a private lesson you can immediately acquire new vocabulary by asking your teacher to teach you the vocabulary you were lacking during that day/week.

If you aren’t interested in studying after work or want to take a break from your usual Chinese lessons, there are lots of different ways of improving your Chinese language skills.

The first and I guess most convenient way is to improve your Chinese is online. There are hundreds of different courses available to choose from. Just type it in into Google and get started!! A famous website to study Chinese is http://chinesepod.com, which offers audio lessons, written examples and exercises from beginners to advanced.

Another way of improving your Chinese language skills is to watch a Chinese movie or TV show with English subtitles. Some of you might not like to read along whilst watching a movie, but this method can really improve your feel and grasp for the language. You can learn a lot of daily phrases or slang, which won’t appear in your usual exercise books. I think it is quite important that you get used to listening to the Chinese language, because in my eyes Chinese people tend to talk way too fast, which I find happens a lot! At times I do know the vocabulary to ask a question or give an answer but I become so overwhelmed by the speed at which they speak that I start to stare at them with a puzzled look on my face and no Chinese passing my lips. But since I started to watch some Chinese movies, I feel that I am now starting to get used to the speed. My confusion has decreased rapidly and after a few seconds I am actually able to give an answer to what I think the question is.

For some Chinese movies and TV shows, have a look at www.youku.com, which is the Chinese version of YouTube.

InternChina – Chinese Movie House of Flying Daggers

But of course it is not enough to only be surrounded by the language. In order to learn a language you always have to make some kind of effort to sit down and learn some vocabulary. Even though I have learned a lot of vocabulary I find it hard to construct sentences with newly acquired vocabulary. This is why instead of learning single words; I have now started to learn sentences as a whole. It might take more time to memorize a whole sentence but I think it is much more useful as you immediately learn how to structure your sentences. For example, the words “nuli” – diligent and “xuexi” – study, if I was to put the words in the wrong order and say this to a Chinese person “ xuexi nuli”, they might just start to grin and think “if she would make an effort with her Chinese studies she’d know that it is “nuli xuexi”.

Hence my advice for you is to have a look on YouTube for Chinese sentences, and combine your vocabulary with memorizing whole sentences. My current favourite podcast is  “3800 useful Chinese phrases”.

Another way of improving your Chinese is to use the mobile app “Pleco”. Whenever I am walking around in Qingdao I will add random words that I come across into my Pleco dictionary and then I will try to memorize it.

Unfortunately, in the Chinese language some words are used only in certain situations and therefore it is quite easy to choose the wrong word. During my first months in China, I was convinced that “wo bu mingbai” means I do not understand and I was quite generously throwing this sentence around. Unfortunately “wo bu mingbai” is not “ I don’t understand”, instead it means “I do understand your Chinese, but I do not understand the context”. Which is why there are probably a bunch of Chinese people out there who think that I am too dumb to understand that there actually is a connection between coffee and sugar or that I simply do not know where I am from.

InternChina – Wo Ting Bu Dong / I don’t understand

Another method I have to share with you is to listen to some Chinese music, but unfortunately for me I need to be in the right mood to be able to cope with one hour of super romantic Chinese love songs. Whenever I do feel in the mood and start listening to it, I could not be more proud of myself when I actually recognize some of the words!

When you are in China on your internship, the best way of all to learn Chinese is to get your nice Chinese colleagues to teach you 3 words everyday during your lunch break! There is no better teacher than a Chinese native friend.

InternChina – Leo teaching us new words during our calligraphy lesson

Hence, even though you might not be interested in studying Chinese at a school or after work, there are enough possibilities to improve your skills day by day without making a big effort. Give it a try! 🙂

Apply for an internship now and come to China to improve your Chinese language skills with your Chinese colleagues!