Let's be honest. Mandarin is a difficult language to learn. When you're in the midst of learning and can't remember the difference between le and de or chu and qu, you might be tempted to just give up.
However, it is not impossible. When you're discouraged, remember that more than 2,000,000,000 people have already learned to speak it. Granted, most of those 2 billion+ speakers learned Mandarin as their first language and began hearing Mandarin almost from birth but you need not despair. To learn Mandarin, it is helpful to borrow some language acquisition strategies from children.
First and foremost, it is important to have a qualified teacher who is interested in, enthusiastic about and invested in your success. This is extremely important. Who is usually baby's first language teacher? Mum, Momma, Mama or Mommy of course. Mothers make great teachers because they want their children to learn and are willing to be creative and to sacrifice to make it happen. At Hanbridge Mandarin, our teachers won't wipe your nose or make your snack, but they will cheer you on, be invested in your success and will be your biggest language learning fan. After class, what are some other ways to learn like a baby?
1. Listen, Listen and Listen some More:
Much of language is caught, not taught. How do little kids learn a language? By sitting in class? By reading a book? Of course not. They hear it. They hear it some more. They hear it some more and then they begin to make the proper sounds. It is important to learn grammar and proper vocabulary but there simply is no substitute for listening to the pronunciation and diction of a native speaker. Put yourself in places where Mandarin is spoken regularly. If you're in China, this is obviously an easy process. If you live outside the Middle Kingdom, you might need to be more creative. Find a Chinese owned restaurant or ask Mandarin-speaking students at a local universtiy if you can just listen in. Chances are, they'll be glad to share their language with you.
2. Be Brave Enough to Be Wrong:
Many students attempt to perfect their language ability before trying it out in public. This is nearly impossible. Have you heard a two-year-old speak lately? Their pronouns are mixed up, their grammar is probably wrong and they pronounce a multitude of words incorrectly. Guess what? They don't care. They aren't ashamed. So should it be with you. Mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. Humble yourself and be willing to sound a little silly. Your language ability will accelerate in direct proportion to your willingness to be wrong.
3. Find a Language Partner(s)
It's no secret that a language partner is a incredibly helpful resource in learning a new language. Children have built in partners in their parents, grandparents and siblings. You'll have to work a little harder, but with a little work, you'll find a native Mandarin speaker who will be glad to share their langauage. It can often be a fulfilling experience to "trade" languages with your new partner - many Mandarin speakers are eager to practice their English or another language.
4. Immerse Yourself:
The only way to learn to swim is to jump into the pool. As much as possible, try to avoid speaking, reading or listening to English. Little kids don't have a choice, but adults often opt for the most comfortable option (in this case English communication). Don't just dip your toes in the water of your new language. Dive in!
You probably began learning Mandarin with a specific goal in mind: travel, to communicate with a spouse/friend, or to better your business skills. As much as possible, try to shake this mindset. Be willing and enthusiastic about continual learning. Your language journey will continue for many days ahead. Rather than becoming discouraged that you don't know everything, embrace the opportunity to expand your mind, your friendships and your skills.
Good luck on your journey and remember: think like a baby!