Friday, October 17, 2008

How to Learn Chinese in 6 Months

Learn A Foreign Language in 6 Months?

When I was asked about proposing a program for an executive that would develop conversational fluency in Chinese in 6 months or less, I was intrigued - and accepted. Many feel that to develop any proficiency in such a “difficult” language requires years at a minimum. But this is not necessarily the case – with Chinese or any other foreign language for that matter. Basic fluency in the majority of foreign languages could be achieved in as little as one to three months, and certainly in 6 months, following some carefully-chosen guidelines and a rigorous, intensive, full-immersion program of foreign language learning.

Essential Foreign Language Vocabulary for Conversation

In his book, “Using Your Memory”, author Tony Buzan says that a mere 100 words comprise nearly 50% of the vocabulary used in everyday conversational speech in most languages. Learning the equivalent of these words in a foreign language will help to quickly develop essential vocabulary for everyday conversational use.

You can function at the most basic level in a foreign language with a core vocabulary of around 1000 words according to Dr. Michael Gruneberg who formalized the “LinkWord” technique. He claims that, using this technique of linking a word in your own language to a word in the new language, you can acquire a core vocabulary in a foreign language in as little as 10 hours.

Estimates by other linguists postulate that that social or otherwise meaningful conversation can be conducted using in a foreign tongue using with a working vocabulary of around 600 words. Personally, I hold to a somewhat higher standard of vocabulary level than these. For me it’s around 1200 words minimum, so you don’t sound like a child saying something like, “Mommy, me want cookie”. Sure, it will get your message across, but what self-respecting adult wants to deliberately sound like a pre-schooler?

Chinese - A Very Difficult Foreign Language

In response to my article post, “If you Think English is Difficult, Try Mandarin” reader Gary Eiber, a frequent traveler to China from Silver Lake, Ohio once wrote, “I wanted to offer what I believe is correct on the pronouns. You have Wu, ni, ta for singular, then ta, ta, nin for plural. I am quite sure it is Wo, ni, ta singular, then women, nimen, tamen for plural. Actually theta is for both male and female, same spoken "TA", whereas the characters are totally different. It is why the Chinese, even teachers who know English quite well, make the mistake of saying "he did this" when it is a female, or "She did that" when it is a male, as in Chinese both are TA.

He continues with, “I have gone to China about 50 times now and find it a remarkable country, and a VERY DIFFICULT language. I am not fluent in Chinese, but am quite certain on the above points. I speak about 1000 words, but read only about 50 characters. The spoken and easy to read Chinese for foreigners is called Ping Ying, and is phonetic in nature…”

Mandarin Chinese, Anyone?

My own Mandarin Chinese class experience ended without my having achieved much in the way of additional language, but with an added appreciation for the beauties and subtleties of other languages and a desire to deepen my understanding of how this language family “works”. For foreign language learning to be most successful, it must be undertaken in a useful, practical manner which will allow for regular practice and use.

How to Learn Chinese in 6 Months – Part Two

In the next part of this series, we’ll continue with some necessary information on the Chinese language itself; starting with the fact that it’s actually multiple languages and NOT just ONE foreign Language. We’ll also be looking at some useful and practical suggestions for quickly and easily learning Chinese – or almost any other foreign language in a matter of weeks or months – not years or a lifetime.

See you then.

Note: My complete, self-learning system for quickly and easily learning any foreign language can be found at:

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 125 countries worldwide. Get your FREE, pdf format report on CD or via e-mail, "Can You REALLY Learn a Foreign Language While You Sleep?" by requesting the title at:


Anonymous said...

I've studied and taught Mandarin for more than 20 years. I am a Chinese to English translator and interpreter and have done business in greater China for the past fifteen years. I live in Taiwan and Mandarin is my daily language of commerce.

I can say, with absolute certainty, that a native English speaker could achieve only marginal fluency in Mandarin in 6 months, but nothing more. You may be able to hold a very simple conversation, but you will not be able to do anything really useful with the language (e.g. conduct a business meeting, make a telephone call) until you've studied it and used it on a daily basis for about a year.

There are several problems with learning Mandarin to communicate in Mandarin fluently (e.g. grammar, tones, writing). All can be overcome, but not in six months.

If an executive wants to learn some basic Mandarin prior to coming overseas, I'm all for it, but he won't make much progress until he/she is actually living among Chinese speakers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the method with us. Have you thought about Play, learn English and feed the poor with

Mama Rachael said...

I studied Chinese full time, in mainland China, for a year, and then part-time for two more years. I reached a "limited work proficiency", which means I can carry on a friendly conversation that doesn't have much specialized vocabulary. And I worked hard, and learned faster than many others that studied along side me.

Learn Chinese in 6 months? To bargain successfully in the market place, yes.... but not much beyond that.

Anonymous said...

does anyone want to learn chinese, i can help you if both of us are free. contact me

Anonymous said...

Hi! I've read your post. Actually, I'm sort of teaching chinese online. I post lesson online. It is really nice of you to share your tips online. Thanks! My blog is

Anonymous said...

I have just visited your blog, read your posts, and would love to revisit, as I liked the simple manner in which you narrate the things.