Ways of learning Mandarin

Hi guys,

I wonder how do you learn Mandarin?
What are the best methods of learning Mandarin?
I have been living in Taiwan for a while and found Mandarin pretty difficult to learn. I speak 5 languages and initially thought that I should not have problems with learning another language but it looks like I was wrong.
Can you share your methods of learning Mandarin?
Thanks a lot!

Aside from taking classes, the best thing for me over 2 decades ago was living with 3-4 local Taiwanese in their 20s in a shared apartment (separate rooms) whose English was not that good, or they were too shy to speak English with me.

What languages do you speak, and how did you learn them?

Comprehensible input. Massive, dense input that you understand (initially because I tell you what it means, later because you’re told what the new bits mean and put it together with the other stuff you’ve already acquired). Reading – initially following the vocabulary and grammar that’s been input very closely, with extensive amounts of reading at or below your level (no guessing, no unknowns). That expands later (obviously) to where you are able to deal with unknowns.

The acquisition through that dense input at the beginning builds a foundation like I’ve never seen before in students. Once you’ve got most of the major grammar (not having been taught it through rules, but rather having heard and read a lot of it that you understand, over time) you’re good to move to a more memorization-based approach to expand vocabulary.


I get the part about reading at or below your level. What do you mean by massive comprehensible input?

You need to hear a lot of things you can figure out.

This seems like a good approach. Are there textbooks or online platforms that use this method?

I took Chinese classes at NTNU, where I’d estimate it takes about a year to get through the first two textbooks. One of the teachers felt students should get that far before trying to learn through self study. But at NTNU they’re teaching readimg, writing, speaking and listening. Is that your goal? Or just conversational Chinese?

Disclaimer: this is not a referral link and I’m not earning any money on it, just suggesting based on my experience.

I learnt basic Korean from KoreanClass101 with video classes accessible from mobile via the Innovative Language app. They have tons of languages, including Mandarin (ChineseClass101). It’s the China one with simplified characters, but apart from that and maybe some different words (ditie instead of jieyun, or zixingche instead of jiaotache) it should be fine for Taiwan too. Quite cheap and with 7-day free trial, if I’m not wrong. @Taiwan202077

Are there any Mandarin immersion camps in Taiwan by the way?

Learning Pinyin first is very helpful as you can master your tones for speaking and listening.

Chinese Language Centres usually organise intensive summer camps, but they should be over by now, if they ever even started this year due to the lack of foreign students. Not sure about private schools.

Where are these Chinese language centres?

Sorry man :sweat_smile: I forgot to explain. There are a number of Chinese Language Centres (CLCs) within some Taiwanese universities whose classes are recognised by MOE. Here is a list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_language_schools_in_Taiwan_for_foreign_students

Keep in mind that Taiwan still teaches Bopomofo, a sort of Japanese Hiragana made of symbols, and not Hanyu Pinyin so if you take a class in Taiwan, prepare yourself to learn it on your own.


I know Pinyin already but would like to join an immersion camp.

By “massive comprehensible input”, I mean a little more than hearing htings you can figure out.

This means a LOT of language – recombined, twisted, turned around, repeated, tweaked a little and repeated again, so that it’s not just straight repetition, but making sure you hear new words and phrases and grammar patterns over and over and over but never just the same thing. You have to work that little bit to understand, but you will understand, and if you don’t, the teacher will stop immediately and make that happen. You cannot acquire language you do not understand.

People talking about learning Pinyin to master tones: that’s completely backwards, sorry. The language needs to be in the ear correctly, then we link written forms to it. You need that little “mp3” in your mind to drive Chinese reading and to avoid “pinyin accent”. If you don’t know how the words sound before you try to read Pinyin, you naturally use what you know about written systems (English) to “sound it out” with horrific effect. lol

@TroubleWithTribbles: I teach this way online (beginner and intermediates; for higher levels there are more effective ways to go about it IMO). I don’t know of any online platforms yet. I have a demo system online written in Javascript that does this that I wrote for a coding class, but I’m not good enough to bring it to a commercial level (or even usefully shareable, really).

Most language programs are now finally talking about CI (Comprehensible Input, not Confucius Institute, lol) but they are twisting the original meaning of it. Many are convinced that if there’s a story involved somewhere in the chapter, that makes it CI. (Shita, I’m looking at you. Did two workshops there, and the attitudes haven’t shifted.) It takes a loooong time to make 5000 glorious years of language teaching history budge.

I think in the future you’ll see more of it. If you want to have a lesson or two with me first to see what it’s like, PM me.

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There is no objective best way. There just isn’t. The best way is the one that looks the most fun to you. No one fails to learn a language because its hard, they fail because they get bored.

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Taiwan is one big immersion camp. Go forth and mingle.

Learner diversity and autonomy.