The Best Way to Learn Chinese is to “Start Wide”

The Best Way to Learn Chinese is to “Start Wide”

There is no way you can understand the detailed particulars of the best way to learn Chinese before you’ve started, but that’s just how learning works. If we were to explain to you how to properly use three words containing 补  (e.g., 弥补 – 补充 – 补救), it’s analogous to a using a microscope when you need a telescope. You’re going to need a wider lens. 

How Wide? Establish Your Levels of Interpretation

Imagine a documentary or movie sequence that starts with a shot of the smallest particle visible through today’s most powerful electron microscopes. Next, the camera slowly zooms out to see individual cells, the human looking into the microscope, outside to the city block, the city, the country, the earth, the solar system, etc. until to the point where you see the entire known universe.

This imagery should give you a sense of how many different levels of detail you can use to look for a solution to a question. It’s the question that drives which lens should you use.

If the question is “what is the size of the universe,” the widest angle lens is likely far more useful than the electron microscope. “What’s the smallest particle that makes up physical matter” would be just the opposite. The right level to start with Chinese is to establish the elemental steps that will lead to the acquisition cycle , i.e., not needing to make any more concerted effort above reading and listening to acquire language. 

The Best Way to Learn Chinese – Know the Path to The Acquisition Cycle

We now know a straightforward goal; get to the acquisition cycle. Another way to think about it is to reach the point where your knowledge of Chinese reaches a critical mass of understanding that everything you read and hear connects to something you already know. It doesn’t mean you know everything, quite the contrary, this critical mass happens when you still have a lot to acquire.

However, because everything you input has some connection to your past acquisition, a virtuous cycle starts to perpetuate. In the beginning, you can’t just look at a Chinese book (we say ‘look’ because you certainly aren’t ‘reading’ it) and acquire language, and thus you need to take concerted action beyond mere input to progress. Once you reach the acquisition cycle, however, all you have to do is get more input. It’s gloriously relaxing.

Wide Angle Lens – The Steps to the Acquisition Cycle

Pre-Phase – Learn Pronunciation (Check out our 8-hour course on this here)

Phase 1 – Get Familiar with character components & Chinese characters (keep practicing pronunciation)

Phase 2 – Put Chinese characters together & have a love affair with Chinese vocabulary (keep practicing pronunciation & expanding characters)

Phase 3 – Start reading sentences that have your vocabulary word lovers in them (keep practicing pronunciation while expanding characters and words)

Phase 4 – Expand to slightly longer texts like paragraphs and dialogues with comprehension close to 98%  (keep practicing pronunciation while expanding characters and words)

Phase 5 – Start reading full stories with close to 98% comprehension (keep practicing pronunciation while expanding characters and words) Somewhere in Phase 5 you’ll hit critical mass. 

“But that’s too simplistic!” – Non-Beginner Chinese Learner

Not for a beginner. Of course, each of these phases can be articulated down to the tiniest of details, but nothing makes people “miss the forest for the trees” or “miss the universe for the electrons” more than jumping into the details before knowing the elemental phases. That said, you certainly need a guide for the best way to learn Chinese at the more detailed levels. That’s why we made The Mandarin Blueprint Method. Check it out!