Unless you managed to escape the global pandemic this year, you can't have missed how strained tensions between China and the rest of the world became at certain points. I heard first-hand of racist attacks and other difficult situations between Chinese living overseas.
As I saw all this unfolding, and as I am fortunate to have friends from all around the world, including Chinese, I could see so much tension and discomfort, especially in communicating.
While I observed all of this, I began to develop this belief:
It is absolutely essential for every country to have people who are able to speak Chinese at good levels.
This has been pushing me to keep teaching and creating more accessible resources for getting started with learning Chinese. To undo some of the hype surrounding how 'impossible' it is to learn. (If millions of people speak it in China, it can't be impossible. It just can't.)
There is nothing like a mental barrier to stop you from learning, which I've talked about in other posts.
But it also helps when you have tools to make the learning process easy.
There are, of course, so many resources and books and tools to help you learn a subject.
But after years of studying Chinese, I always come back to these three tools.
I use them nearly every time I am doing something in Chinese, especially when learning or teaching.
I also try to set any new student up with these three almost as soon as I meet them, if they don't have them already.
So this is a special post dedicated to any newer students who are fresh to studying the language, or existing students who want to make sure they’re using the best tools for this never-ending journey of learning Chinese.
Here they are:
Must-have tool 1:
This is the best dictionary for Chinese learners - and has been for a long time.
I’ve seen many dictionaries come and go over the years: this one has stayed.
I love that it’s powered by a long-time student of Chinese too, who understood well the struggles of learning.
My three favourite features of this dictionary are:
the stroke order feature
the fact that is available offline
the option to change the colour of the characters to any colour you want, according to their tone
Must-have tool 2:
Typing Chinese on a computer & phone
It is so important to get Chinese added to your phone and computer as soon as you can.
Being able to type Chinese on your phone will help you learn more quickly because you’ll use it more.
All of my students chat with me in Chinese characters on their phones, and it definitely helps improve language ability and confidence.
Side benefit: I also sometimes use it to check a character that I may have forgotten to write *ahem*.
Must have tool 3:
Fine tip pens & pencils, and *lots* of squared paper…
Unlike other languages, that you can learn digitally and online, or at least type, I couldn’t have learned Chinese without good old fashioned pen and paper.
And part of the reason I enjoyed learning Chinese was that it involved writing, and mastering a script that was so ancient and unusual.
When you're able to learn to write characters, this undoubtedly helps you learn to speak and read Chinese.
To learn Chinese well, you need to actually practice with your hands, to write and rewrite characters until you have them.
My first Chinese professor at university used to tell us our hands had muscles in them that will remember a character even when we forgot.
It was so true. If you write a character out enough times in correct stroke order, your hand will start to do it without thinking.
To put it simply...
Without these three tools, learning Chinese would have slowed down a lot for me.
So if you're learning, don't wait: they're all practically free - set them up as soon as you can.