How to Start Learning Chinese

how to start learning chinese

How to start learning Chinese?

To many people, Chinese is a strange and exotic language that is supposed to be quite difficult. So, how do you go about approaching studying the language?

This is an article for those that want to start learning Chinese but have no idea where to start. Well, let us tell you right off the bat — learning a second language is never easy and will require a great amount of work and solid teaching. But it is doable and we will show you how.

The step-by-step guide below is for all beginners and those considering learning Mandarin Chinese but lost on how to get started.

The TutorMandarin Beginners Guide to Learning Chinese

Ok, so how to tackle the language of Chinese. Well, if you’re reading this article then you know English. Great. We have just the tool for you.

Foreign learners start to learn Chinese through a system called “Pinyin.” Pinyin puts the Chinese language into the English alphabet as best it can. This makes the language someone phonetic, and gives you a chance quickly learning is based on a language you already know. Pretty great, huh?

Step 1: Start learning Chinese with Pinyin

So, if Pinyin is just Chinese put into English, it should be easy right? Well, not so fast. Some sounds in Chinese can only be approximated by the English alphabet. Have you seen words like “Zhang” and “Qin” before? This is an example of English doing its best to make a Chinese sound, but it’s a little bit different. The “Zh” should actually sound like “jah” and the “Qi” should sound like “Chee.” This is the first part of Pinyin to learn — the correct pronunciations

Here is a video of all the pinyin sounds.


However, it’s best to learn them one at a time while SIMULTANEOUSLY learning tones (which is included in Pinyin!). If you’ve ever seen pinyin it looks something like this “Nǐ hǎo.” Those markers on the top of the words are the tones marker. Those markers start high, dip low, and go back up meaning it’s the third tone of Chinese. Luckily, the way the tone is pronounced is also how it’s drawn. PRetty, cool huh?

To learn the tones we have a separate video that will make it easy to remember. “The dentist story”

But just watching these two videos is an example of using various free resources that may or may not match up well. The best way to learn Chinese and get a good foundation is by learning the whole pinyin system step by step. At TutorMandarin this is a 6 lesson course that you can finish in just a few weeks! See the video below for an example.

Step 2: Start Learning the Important Words and Grammar

how to start learning chinese


Having learned Pinyin, you can now start learning fast. Beginner Chinese curriculums all use pinyin underneath the Chinese characters so you can read along with words you don’t know! So, it’s time to get started applying your pinyin to the cornerstone content of Chinese.

Chinese, as with any language, has a set of most important or common words and grammar to learn first. Once you know this, then you can start making the best sentences and interacting with real native speakers!

If you’re a vocabulary nut, then we have several lists of the most important words you should learn first

But if you want to learn these words in order, it’s best to learn them step by step through a curriculum. Our Beginner 1 curriculum will teach you these 250 most common Chinese words

Step 3: Build a strong foundation with a Chinese tutor

how to start learning chinese


Now. Stop. The problem with many new leaners is that they try to move too fast! Since you can already speak a language, it feels bad to be back at such an elementary level. However, this is a dangerous mindset. Really you should be thinking, am I building a strong foundation that can support my future Chinese learning?

If you’ve been self-studying up to this point, then you need to check in with a Chinese tutor right away. You need to make sure your pronunciation and tones are all correct. You need to make sure your words are intelligible. A real tutor will listen to all of your pronunciation and correct you on any individual issue you may have. This is pivotal. Having a good base like this will make sure that you are setting yourself up for Chinese fluency. However, if you have bad habits here, then no amount of vocabulary or grammar points will help you to become an advanced speaker. Your tones might always have problems and Chinese speakers will always struggle to understand you.

So, take the time now to check your progress! TutorMandarin will actually give you a free language evaluation from a real tutor if you sign up here. Why not give it a shot?

Step 4: Making Chinese Sentences

We fully endorse speaking from day one. Also, we know that learning is most effective when practical and in context. Memorizing a huge list of vocab is not as good as being able to use the vocabulary you already know in simple sentences.

Luckily, Chinese grammar is quite simple and similar to English! So, your next step is transitioning from saying simple words to making simple sentences. For TutorMandarin, we have step by step lessons that include 8-10 vocabulary words and 1-3 grammar points for each lesson. This lets you learn in a systematic way and apply immediately what you’re learning.

Our entire Beginner 1 PDF course is unlocked with sign up. Come check ’em out!

free chinese lessons for beginners

Step 5: Create your language environment 

how to start learning chinese


A language environment. A place where you hear, speak and interact with the language often. A place that requires you to use and apply your newly learned Chinese skills. This is the next step.

Foreigners learn Chinese faster in China…. because the language is all around them and pivotal to their daily life! You need it to order breakfast, talk to your landlord, or even watch TV. While not all of us can study in China, you can start listening to Chinese as much as possible! Listen to Chinese podcasts, listen to Chinese tv, listen to Chinese music and more. This will get you used to hearing standard Mandarin and give you a model for something to copy.

Here’s some of our blog posts with popular Chinese songs!

Step 6: Start learning Chinese Characters

how to start learning chinese


A lot of people think Chinese characters are difficult and unnecessary to learn. Wrong! Here’s our separate article on why you need to learn Chinese characters. But basically, pinyin is just a learning tool. If you want to be better than an intermediate learner, than you need to learn Chinese characters. Also, it will unlock SO MANY aspects of Chinese culture that are all just hidden behind Chinese characters.

Step 7: Stay motivated studying Chinese

how to start learning chinese


Regular study is the key to long-term success. Choose an amount of time to Chinese each day (30 minutes, 1 hours, 2 hours…) and stick to it. This will hopefully turn studying Chinese into a habit (usually this solidifies within 30 days) and make Chinese part of your life. This consistency will bring about your success. Once you find a method of learning, stick to it. By sticking to a regular routine, you are more likely to remember what you have learned and can expand your knowledge of Chinese with new content.

Sign up our free trial to learn Mandarin and download the Chinese App for more Chinese language materials and to learn Mandarin online.

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