Learning Mandarin Before I Arrive

I am planning to go to Taiwan in early/mid 2003. I have never taken any Mandarin lessons, and would like a little advice.

Can you reccomend any good Mandarin self-study CD’s, books, or software for a beginner? There are quite a lot to choose from, and I would like to gather some information first before I buy.

I have looked in the archives and found some discussion on dictionaries and Palm software (but if you have stumbled accross something better since then, please let me know. My Handspring runs Palm OS 3.1).

Thank you,

Does anyone have any recommendations for a beginner? I’m looking for some tutorial books, CD’s and/or software that will help teach me the basics of Mandarin, so that I’m not stumbling around too much with the language when I arrive.

What did some of you use to learn Mandarin before you arrived in Taiwan? Was it helpful?

Thank you,

Honestly, all the dictionaries, software, books or anything else are not going to be as beneficial as a native speaking teacher or tutor. As you have several months to prepare and begin studying you should seriously consider enrolling in a course with a qualified language teacher. Once you have a solid foundation on pronunciation, tones, and a basic, working vocabulary and grasp of simple sentence structures and grammar you might consider investing some $ on good dictionaries and learning tools. For now, find yourself a mentor and you’ll be far better off, and maybe even become a competent Chinese speaker someday! :wink:

The best idea, if you really want to self-train at home (it’ll take about 3 times longer than in the native environment, though) is an interactive CD rom, though like Mianbao said, there’s no replacement for a native tutor. And they’re very plentiful here; just do a language exchange and you’ll get for free what you’d pay lots of money for at home. And if you invest money in a quality course, you’ll probably do even better (I wish that were available here in the boondocks,
.) Or do a combination and just use your language exchange to practice your new vocab. In any event, it’s easier to just wait until you’re here.

Waiting is an option, although I have to disagree that waiting is going to be of benefit seeing as you have a number of months in which you could get some formal training done before arriving in Taiwan. If you can find a school or even a private tutor and get even a few months in before going you will have a bit of a headstart and at least the beginning of a foundation and basic understanding of sounds and tones, possibly even know how to speak some very basic phrases and sentences.

Can I ask where you’re leaving from? I may even be able to recommend some good programs and/or schools if I’m familiar with the area you’re in.

Good luck!

Thanks for your replies.

I am going to register for 3 months of Mandarin classes (I will try for 6 months, but that may be all my circumstances will allow), but they are only Sunday afternoons for 3 hours. I was looking for a self study course to supplement and accelerate my learning. I just want to make sure I’m prepared for when I arrive.

I’m sure the organizers of the class will have some suggestions, but I wanted to know what the people who were already in Taiwan could recommend.

BTW, I’m in Saskatoon, Canada.

Well, it sounds like you’re making a step in the right direction. If you have the power to do so, you might want to see if you have any influence over what you learn and try to focus mainly on speaking and avoid writing at first. The reason I say this is that you are most likely going to be taught the Simplified Form of characters (as most course in N. America lean towards the Beijing preference) and this is going to be of no use to you in Taiwan, in fact int may set you back and further confuse you. If they happen to inreoduce Traditional characters, then all the better. Study hard and learn as much as you can, and practice whenever possible.
For AT LEAST the first 3 months you should focus mainly on getting pronunciation and tones licked, while learning to make basic conversation with the vocabulary your instructor will be introducing. If you get over the hump of correct pronunciation, tones included, then you’ll have a much easier time learning from there out.
As for tools, I can’t recommend anything in particular. I tried a few tape methods in my first couple years of studying and found that they didn’t do much for me. I found actually using it every day and always having a native speaker I could call or visit when I had questions to be the most effective method for me. However, each person learns differently, so you may find that listening to audio tapes may be of great benefit to your learning. If you have Chinese radio broadcasts up there, you might even tune in occasionally. I know B.C. has a couple. Even if you don’t understand a word that is being said, it can have a great effect on training your ear to listening for the sounds made in Mandarin speech and in time you’ll begin picking out bits and pieces and really enjoy this sort of activity.

Best of luck to ya!

“The reason I say this is that you are most likely going to be taught the Simplified Form of characters (as most course in N. America lean towards the Beijing preference) and this is going to be of no use to you in Taiwan, in fact int may set you back and further confuse you.”

Of no use?! Really? It’s not like one can learn that many characters in the 3 months of study, and I can’t imagine it would be that confusing to switch, many of the most basic characters are the same anyway, and re-learning a few in Taiwan shouldn’t be that hard. When I first started learning Chinese, it took me forever to remember stupid easy characters like “ni” or just numbers 4-10. (Me being so clever and all, 1-3 weren’t too bad.) The thing is that it gets easier as you start to think in terms of radicals and stroke order and such becomes more natural. So, I think it would be still be helpful to start learning some characters.

Anyway, even if it is a bit difficult to adjust, it won’t be any more difficult than adjusting to all those nice “juanshe” sounds suddenly dissapearing.


Ohno…, I’m not saying it’s going to be impossible, but will most likely confuse the poor lad. I took one year of Chinese in my first two years of college, and in the first quarter alone had a base of 40 or 50 characters, both reading AND writing. Granted, I had an entire year but by the time I first arrived in Taiwan it was almost two years later and I’d forgotten nearly everything I learned previously and had merely a 3-4 months knowledge base. When I attempted to read anything I became so easily confued that most of the words I still retained were not written the same and had to relearn everything over again and put the stuff I knew aside is useless. It really had a negative effect on my first few months of learning in Taiwan as I often found character similarities and would become confused when I actually remembered the simplified forms yet tried to decipher the difference and write the traditional.

Anyhow, not that learning both is bad. Now I have a good knowledge of both, yet simply prefer the Traditional method of writing. But I do think anyone just starting out should stay with one system- if any at all for the matter- and focus on the more necessary aspects- pronunciation, tones, conversation practice.

Thanks for your input! :slight_smile: