Five Tips To Improve Your Chinese Vocabulary

sun-jun.jpgI was born and raised in New Zealand, and grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese. Although I learned to speak Mandarin first, I always felt more fluent in English. I have previously mentioned that English (and Music) have always been my best subjects. In my teenage years, and occasionally as an adult (depending who I’m talking to), I do feel that some people will judge others on their level and skill of Chinese especially if you appear Chinese and are expected to know the language fluently. I’ve had Aunties and family friends who have told me very directly what they think of my Chinese level. But, to be honest, you can actually use it as one of the positive motivators to improve and strive for fluency.

I think the most important thing is to focus on your own language journey. It was when I moved back to New Zealand in 2017, I began really wanting to improve my Chinese for myself. I felt so inspired when I saw so many foreigners picking up Chinese, and embracing the language. Language is a significant part of our self identity and a way of connecting with our culture. I think this touches in some senses with the culture of assimilation and growing up Asian in a Western country. This may not be similar for every Asian who grew up in a Western country, but I did find especially growing up in a school with not many Asians, I felt even more desire to just speak English. All my friends growing up were Caucasian.

Children who grew up in a Chinese or Taiwanese community, or had mostly friends at school who spoke Chinese might have more exposure to speaking the language. Children who were born and raised in China or Taiwan, and moved here in their teens, will have a good foundation of the Chinese language. An important way to retain the language is if you only communicate Chinese with your parents. I really feel if it weren’t for the fact that I only speak Chinese with my parents, I’d probably forget most of the language. Some of my motivations to improve are: Embracing your mother tongue and Chinese culture, beneficial if I ever want to live in a Chinese speaking country and staying in touch with my roots. Exposure and Confidence in yourself is key, and sparing time everyday can make steady progress.

1. Listen to videos, music, radio and podcasts. This is probably one of the daily ways I expose myself to Chinese. I listen to talks in Chinese that teach me something new and I love listening to Chinese music from artists I like. Sometimes I’ll listen to the Chinese radio to listen to the news.

2. Read articles, books, magazines and blog posts. Reading can help with visual memory of words. I find when you see the same words again and again, you tend to recognise them quicker the next time you read an article with those words.

3. Speak with a person fluent in Chinese and take lessons. You can take one-on-one or group classes if that is a method that helps with your learning, you could join a Chinese language club, speak with friends and family, you can do a language exchange or a course.

4. Practice writing and learning new grammar. You can use flash cards, or use a note book to write new words and practice your writing. Grammar is a big one, because there are so many words I know in English that I don’t know in Chinese and need to translate and practice.

5. Watch movies, shows, use language apps and textbooks. Watch a Chinese movie, find a television show you like or use language apps to practice or play games to learn Chinese. If you prefer using textbooks, you can find one suitable for your level, and learn new words and sentences from there.

It’s good to use all your senses from listening, speaking, reading, writing and even thinking sentences in Chinese.  Try to find opportunities to speak Chinese, because when you use a language more and more, the vocabulary sticks in your memory.

What are some methods you use for improving your Chinese?

Photography by Sun Jun

15 thoughts on “Five Tips To Improve Your Chinese Vocabulary

  1. Nice to hear about your motivation to the Chinese language.
    Speaking the language as often as you can is very useful. But listening can boost your vocabulary as well. During classes you can learn the grammar and deepen your understanding. All this is interconnected.

  2. Good for you Katie x learning multiple Languages is so good for the brain too!
    We’ve got little E in French lessons and she picks it up so quickly. It’s amazing. Inlove that I’m learning too and am slowly starting to be more confident with it.
    My partner grew up in Hong Kong so he’s keen to also get her exposed to Mandarin so maybe we’ll have a tri-lingual kiddo 😂

    1. Thanks Em! so true, and that’s wonderful to hear. From the sounds of it, she’ll be speaking beautifully in French in no time. I find especially when a language is picked up from a young age, the brain is like a sponge hehe. That would be amazing :)

  3. So encouraging to hear you learning Chinese, Katie. Sounds like it has been quite a journey. We can learn languages at any point, but as we get older it may be difficult as our brain becomes so accustomed to being fluent in one dominant language we use every day and don’t think twice about using. I like it when you say we should use all of our senses to immerse yourself in a language. If we can feel the language all round, speak it, hear it and feel it with our hearts, then the more likely it will resonate with us. I speak a bit of Cantonese to get along with my family, and growing up I picked it up just from listening to my parents speak it.

    1. Thank you Mabel. I really want to improve it so it can become more fluent. That’s good that you still have the language within you, I think language is so important. It’s so true, language can be picked up at any point. I remember my Mum (who’s a Chinese teacher) had some international students learning Chinese, and when I met them, I could really tell those who practiced a lot were great.

  4. These are some of the most useful and practical tips I’ve ever read on improving vocabulary skills in any language not just Chinese, Katie. I’ll definitely put these tips to use!

  5. Ooh what radio, music and podcasts do you watch/listen to?? I practice my Chinese through reading/writing/journaling, but listening is the one thing that I need more in my life!

  6. At the moment, I occasionally listen to 90.6 FM in New Zealand, they have the morning news and weather report. I tend to listen to Chinese/Taiwanese youtubers or Ted Talks from Taiwan. Music tends to be a mixture, from Rainie Yang, Hebe Tien to Jay Chou and Yoga Lin. That’s wonderful to hear, and they all add a nice variety of ways to learn.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I’m defiantly going to try them 🤗
    I can only understand Cantonese and both my parents spoke English at home.
    Trying to teach myself now and I’m useless lol

    1. That’s great that you are going to teach her Mandarin and English :) I think listening is definitely one of the best ways to first be in the environment of a language, and I know toddlers are very visual, so perhaps pictures may help too!

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