Are you ready to make 1.3 billion new friends?

A busy street in a Chinese city. Photo by Javier Quiroga on Unsplash

Speaking Mandarin can open up different worlds with new opportunities for you.

Why Mandarin?

One in every six people in the world speaks a dialect of Chinese. If you already speak English, learning this language lets you connect to the highest number of people.

Chinese temple with skyscrapers in the background Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

If you're not into the numbers game, there are still many reasons you can learn Mandarin. Most learners jump in because they want to:

  • Build business connections with China or other Chinese-speaking areas.

  • Dive deeper into some aspects of Chinese culture (traditional Chinese medicine, food, art, etc).

  • Learn a language that is very different from their native language.

  • impress others (maybe not the greatest motivation, but it's a start!)

The main characterisitics of Mandarin

Mandarin is one of the 8 main dialects of Chinese, but it's by far the most spoken.

I's also the official dialect in China, Taiwan, and Singapore.

While the dialects can sound completely different, the writing system is mostly similar among all varieties.

A Chinese city street with many old signs. Photo by Chi Lok TSANG on Unsplash

Here are some things to keep in mind about Mandarin:

  • It has no phonetic writing system and no alphabet.

  • Each word is represented by a character, so you'll need to learn each character's sound individually.

  • Since there are no letters, so there is no conjugation or verb tenses — words can't change their forms.

  • It's a tonal language, so a change in your pitch can change the meaning of what you say.

  • Mandarin has 4 tones (other dialects usually have more!)

Chinese writing and speaking

The language might look challenging at first, but it's not harder than any other!

A close-up of Chinese calligraphy being written. Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash


Thanks to technology, almost no one needs to write by hand anymore. You can still learn it for fun, but as long as you can recognize characters and know their pronunciation, you'll be fine!

Tip: Learn to recognize the elements that make up the characters, and soon you'll start seeing the similarities among them! The more characters you know, the easier it will be to learn new ones.


You need to be able to hear the tones before you can say them. Your ear will need some training to pick up the differences, but you'll get there with practice!

Tip: Listen to recordings of complete sentences, and try to imitate them. It's good ear training, and will help your pronunciation too! Look up "shadowing" as a learning technique.

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Pro tip: Learn the tones of each new word. It might feel like extra work at first, but it will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

What would you do?

A Chinese night market with red lanterns hanging along the street. Photo by Norbert Braun on Unsplash

Imagine this: you want to learn some Chinese characters for your upcoming trip to Beijing. What are some techniques that can help you to get started?

A: Think of useful words you might need on your trip (like "pharmacy" or "restroom") and look up the characters for them.

B: Buy a dictionary and try to learn as many characters as you can.

C: Pick three or four words to learn each day, and regularly review the old ones. Focus on topics like food or transportation.

D: Get a phrasebook to focus on sentences you can use immediately.


Select the option(s) that would be the right way to learn Chinese charatcers:

Is it for me?

Are you still not sure? Consider these factors:

You'll love this language if you:

  • Found conjugation difficult when learning other languages.

  • Enjoy visual learning.

  • Are willing to train your ear to hear the tones correctly.

  • Love to explore a culture though its language.

It might not be your cup of green tea if you:

  • Love the intricacy of complex conjugations and verb tenses.

  • Prefer a familiar cultural environment.

  • Expect strict logic and clear rules from a language.

  • Don't handle ambiguity well while learning new things.

How do I get started?

  1. Pace yourself! Don't try to cram into your brain too much at once! Make learning a regular habit, small chunks add up overtime!

  2. Find the right resources. Find something that is good quality, right for your level, and interesting!

  3. Enjoy the ride! It's easier to stick to it long term if it's fun!

A pretty female teacher smiles in slow motion in front of a blackboard.

Start with a teacher or on your own? Let's look at some pros and cons!

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Working on your own is great because:

  • It can be free!

  • You decide when, what and how to learn.

Working with a teacher is awesome because:

  • You have someone to guide you.

  • You won't pick up bad habits

  • Someone is there to keep you on the right track.

Working on your own is hard because:

  • You have to keep yourself motivated.

  • You might learn things wrong without feedback.

  • It can be hard to find someone to practice with.

  • It might take much longer.

Working with a teacher is challenging because:

  • It can be expensive.

  • You might not always learn what you're most interested in.

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Take Action

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Some ideas for your next steps:


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