It’s been almost three months since I started my career break from my branding career to learn Mandarin. I thought I would have more time to relax and do all those things I have been putting off like writing more frequently on this blog. However studying Mandarin six hours a day in class, (one-on-one with a teacher) as well as homework has turned into more than a fulltime job.
I have joined the 40 million other people around the world who are learning Mandarin. It is the world’s most spoken language and probably the hardest to learn, especially if you want to read and write it. But I do have an advantage that I live in China and have a Chinese wife. Although it doesn’t make the process any easier, but it does mean you can practice in everyday life.
My first experience of branding in China was over fifteen years ago when I lived in Hong Kong. Since that time I have worked with many of China’s leading brands. However, I have always had to present with my colleagues translating or through the use of an interpreter. Having lived and worked in Beijing for the last four years I became tired and frustrated of this situation. After all there is only so much you can contribute and communicate through this method.
So I decided to take the plunge and invest a year of my life to become fluent in Chinese. My ultimate goal is to be able to present and discuss design and branding in business situations. Though I realise now, that it is a Himalayan Mandarin mountain to climb. Therefore it will take much longer than a year to be able to speak fluent Chinese at a high business level.
However, like any uphill journey you just have to take it one step at a time. And try not to look up to often otherwise you will be discouraged by how far you still have to go. Learning Mandarin is not a straight upward climb. It is made up of many smaller hills and valleys punctuated with plateaus. On a good day, you feel like you have made some progress and on a bad day, like you are walking downhill backwards.
With this in mind I wanted to share with you my top five tips for learning Mandarin. I have accumulated these from my studies and extensive reading and research online. As well as talking to many teachers and other long time language students and Chinese speaking expats. I am sure many readers will have there own, but these are my fundamental ones.
1. Learning Mandarin is a constant journey and not a destination.
I use to hope (and sometimes still do) that one day I will be able to speak fluent Mandarin. However, I realized that you can’t wait for that one day to come along. As it never will, unless you start speaking it today. It doesn’t matter how little you speak. You can start with one word or one sentence but you have to speak it everyday. If you take it one step at a time you’ll make small improvements everyday. But you’ll make big gains over the long term.