The best way to learn Mandarin: Acquire the language, don’t be taught

The best way to learn Mandarin is to acquire the language, don’t be taught.

In this post, I want to talk about how to acquire the Chinese language for the purpose of communication.

Throughout this website, you may have noticed that I rarely use the word “teach”. I don’t actually consider myself a teacher, as much as I enjoy sharing my knowledge about the Chinese language here.

I am not certified in teaching Mandarin in any way. I don’t plan to get any certifications or get myself a Chinese teaching job. This website isn’t about me at all but it’s all about how you can use Peppa Pig Mandarin dub and other material to learn the language.

What I am trying to do is to build a resource to help you learn Mandarin.

I am sharing my knowledge from the perspective of a fellow language learner. From the perspective of someone who has been there, done that.

You can learn to speak Mandarin. I will show you the best way to learn it!

The best way to learn Mandarin

Teaching or learning grammar rules out of context is an archaic way of teaching or learning a language. And it is not as effective as most language learners would like it to be. Yet it’s the mainstream method used everywhere!

Ultimately, a language is all about communication. You need to acquire the language through hearing and seeing how the language is used, for communication, in contexts, like in the Piggie family!

The intention to communicate Mandarin

Think about why you want to learn the Mandarin language.

Are you a linguist trying to understand grammar rules of different languages? Probably not. (If you are, welcome!)

If you want to consume Chinese media or browse the Chinese net, there is not much point in learning Chinese because many machine translation apps would do a decent job.

(This is also why passively watching anime with subtitles doesn’t actually teach one how to speak Japanese.)

Chances are, you want to learn the language because you want to communicate in Mandarin.

It could be to establish a personal relationship with a Mandarin speaker, or to pitch a business idea to a Chinese audience.

Whatever it is. Any intention to communicate in the language is good!

My daughter didn’t show much interest in acquiring Mandarin until she started watching Peppa Pig in Mandarin because she wants to know what the Piggy family is saying.

She didn’t show much interest in speaking Mandarin until my mother moved closer to us and she had to talk to her grandmother who only speaks Mandarin. Now she uses Chinese words and expressions in her speech on a regular basis!

On the flip side, have you known foreign immigrants who don’t use English to communicate in English speaking countries? I bet they go to English lessons, and they may even know English grammar rules very well! But they still can’t speak English.

They did not acquire the language. They were being taught about English.

Similarly, if you’ve visited China, you know most Chinese are not competent English speakers, despite having been taught English for years in school before they even hit adulthood.

Well, most Chinese typically don’t need to communicate in English. So there is no need to acquire the English language. For many, it’s all about test scores on English language exams.

Being taught a language does not mean you acquired and learned a language.

If you have the intention to communicate in the Chinese language, you have to acquire the language, not just be taught the language.

How to acquire the Chinese language

Obviously, the best way to learn Mandarin is to learn as a child growing up in a Mandarin speaking immersion environment.

Duh, you say, that’s obviously impossible.

However, there is a lot we can learn why that is the best way to learn the Chinese language and try to adopt it for the purpose of learning Chinese as a second language.

Children can learn a language through actively acquiring the language: they listen (very) actively, they try to speak as much as they can because otherwise they don’t get what they want. (They can also cry and scream but that’s less ideal for everybody.)

Let me break this down for you and show you how it can be done. Even if you can’t learn Mandarin as a child, you can certainly learn to speak Mandarin like a child.

The initial phase and keep motivated

The initial phase of acquiring a specialized skill is usually difficult for anybody.

Children make plenty of mistakes when they first learn to speak, for years, but they keep going. They are not discouraged. They are motivated because they have a real use for the language.

I wrote about the first 20 hours of learning Mandarin. Children get past that initial 20 hours super quickly. For adult learners, it’s much harder to do.

Start, don’t stop!

The easiest way to not get discouraged and keep going is to have fun with your learning material. Don’t be like me when I attempted to learn French.

Try watching Peppa Pig. 🙂

Introducing the PPM, a method for acquiring Mandarin

The only way to prove you know a language is to be able to effectively communicate in the language through listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing.

I wrote the four components in that order because that’s what I believe a language learner should focus on, in that order. Not the other way around.

My daughter does not know how to read or write in English or Chinese, but she understands us and can get her points across. I’d take that over her scoring high on a language exam but unable to speak.

I built the language learning method to help you acquire Mandarin with a laser sharp focus on listening comprehension and speaking.

If you haven’t, read about the PPM.

Remember: Languages must be acquired, not taught.

Step 1 of PPM is to set you up for listening comprehension in Mandarin and put your brain to work.

Peppa Pig is a fairly easy show to understand. It’s full of real life situations and objects. Even without listening to any narration or conversation, you have a shot at understanding some of it.

By watching it without subtitles and in a foreign language, you put your brain to work.

Your brain starts to process and comprehend the story while mapping the sounds and phrases to the context.

Contexts are crucial for learning any language, especially for Chinese. The same sounds and expressions can mean a million different things depending on the context.

I segmented the episodes into short scenarios that can be interpreted on their own.

I did this partly because I don’t want you to forget you’re acquiring a language, you’re not just watching a show!

Shorter segments will help you focus. I want you to comprehend the story, but not just the story, also the language.

(I originally thought I’d do one full episode in each post, but it turned out that five minutes is way too long when I tried it out.)

Step 1 is crucial. Never skip it!

Over time, you will find that you can comprehend the spoken Mandarin more and more, with less mental effort! You brain gets used to the language.

I bet you’ll be amazed by how much you will understand.

In Step 2, you’re asked to actively listen, learn the sounds of Mandarin, and repeat after native speech.

This is to help you learn the sounds of Mandarin, and encourage you to mimic those sounds in Mandarin, so one day you will produce comprehensible speech in Mandarin.

Pinyin is only a means to an end. You should map native Mandarin sounds to pinyin, instead of trying to use English sounds to read pinyin. I wrote about this in my article on how to practice Chinese pronunciation and tones.

In Step 3, you can learn Mandarin by studying the material I prepared to accelerate your comprehension.

If you are totally immersed in Mandarin, like a Chinese kid growing up in China, you don’t need to be taught grammar rules. But it will take years to acquire the language.

But clearly you’re not such a Chinese child, nor do you have years of 24 hours spent on acquiring the language. That is why I write show notes to help you learn the language faster, the adult way.

I transcribe the show, translate the conversations into English, and write about grammar rules and vocabulary.

There is no lack of material on Chinese vocabulary or grammar rules. You can even just buy a dictionary.

(Imagine if acquiring a language is as simple as purchasing a dictionary!)

If you are really keen on learning Mandarin, you could do what I do in the show notes by yourself, through researching the meaning of words and expressions.

I did that when I translated one episode of an American sitcom. It’s a very good way to learn!

You are encouraged to do the same. But you probably don’t have the time. Here I make it easier for you.

I use my own words to explain Chinese grammar points based on my own understanding of both the Chinese and English languages. I come up with my own examples using my own real life experiences. I compare and contrast words and sentence structures to explain the nuances.

(You may notice my show notes tend to be longer for later espisodes I’ve covered so far.)

I explain words and grammar rules as a native speaker of Mandarin who is also very fluent in English. There are a lot of us out there but only one is building this website. 😉

I think some of my explanations are original enough that you will not find anything similar to them anywhere.

Also, my general goal is to tie everything back to a context. In my grammar discussion articles, I try to use examples from Peppa Pig as much as possible.

The hope is that you will be able to comprehend them in contexts and find natural opportunities to review the knowledge by watching more of the show (and learn at Kong Long Mandarin).

Unfortunately, just because you read about certain grammar rules and vocabulary, it doesn’t mean you’ve acquired them. You will have to find opportunities to interpret and use them, which leads to my next step.

Step 4 of PPM: Repeat. Repeat everything!

Repeat does wonders. By asking you to repeat over and over again, I am secretly asking you to recite. I learned English effectively that way.

By repeating out loud after native speech, you are training your brain and mouth to mimic the Mandarin sounds and improving your Mandarin pronunciation and tones.

Most importantly, you’re actively acquiring the Chinese language through active listening, active comprehension and using it through speaking!

Your brain is working hard to figure out how words are put together and what they mean in contexts, which is way way way trickier than learning a word by itself.

Your brain is getting ready for the day you can use those sentence structures and colloquial expressions in real life communication.

While you repeat, you consolidate all the points I’ve made so far and you’re acquiring the language.

Over time you will build a web of knowledge in the Chinese language.

And you will be able to use everything you’ve learned in communication. In Mandarin.

Acquire the language, don’t be taught

The best way to learn Mandarin is to acquire the language, don’t be taught.

No amount of Mandarin teaching can replace you being able to hear the Mandarin tones and use them, you being able to comprehend in contexts, you being able to speak and communicate in the Chinese language.

Mandarin is not harder than any other language, you just need the right techniques and deliberate practice.

You can acquire the Chinese language and communicate using it.

Have fun.

1 thought on “The best way to learn Mandarin: Acquire the language, don’t be taught”

  1. These hacks are fantastic and simple to implement. There are patterns in Chinese characters and language, and keeping an eye out for them will help you grasp your language study better.


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