How To Learn Mandarin Chinese

I have been studying Mandarin Chinese, somewhat inconsistently for about five years. It all started went to live in China for a study abroad program. The program was supposed to be one semester, but turned into nearly a whole year of living in Chengdu, China, my favorite city in the middle kingdom.

When I first arrived in China, I had not learned any Mandarin, nor did a I plan on learning the language. I estimated I would be in and out. However, after a few weeks of partying non-stop, the exchange students were offered a Chinese class, it was once or twice a week.

To first learn basic Mandarin, we had to learn Pinyin, which is the most recent phonetic based translation of sounds into a Latin based alphabet. After learning all of the combinations of sounds that are used in Mandarin, we began focusing on the four main Mandarin tones: there is a long flat tone, a shorter upward tone, a tone that dips down and comes back up, and a tone that is short and quick.

Finally, after “mastering” our tones, we started to learn basic sentences and phrases. When starting out in Mandarin, and many other languages, you learn the basic introductions, such as “Hi, how are you?”, “where is the library?”.

After learning the Pinyin and tones, I found myself practicing the tones and sounds a few times a week to out compete my peers, and then I started to like it. That’s when I started to dig in to the language more, and tried to interact with students and locals. However, my Mandarin didn’t take off until my second semester.

During my second semester I attended a daily three hour class. I took learning Mandarin seriously, and ever since I have been addicted, but it is an incredibly hard language to maintain without practice. Therefore, I could be fluent by now had I stayed in China or figured out a way to speak it daily with a native speaker.

So If you want to learn Mandarin, it is incredibly rewarding and difficult, but start with Pinyin, tones, and then you can dive right in. However, to get the most out of learning, you need to find a language partner or tutor.

Good luck!

The Proper Way To Travel

I have traveled to many places throughout the world, from Ireland, Spain, and Italy, to Thailand, China, Taiwan, all the down to Argentina. Through all of my travels, I found the best method of traveling, at least for me.

The typical tourist going to Thailand, China, or most European destinations tends to plan a trip, similar to how they plan their regular work weeks. The travel itinerary is filled with many places to go, maybe a tour booked months in advanced to ensure a smooth scheduled experience, one which is totally divorced from reality.

The modern style of travel, which usually revolves around jumping from one unexciting monument or famous “tree” to another is like a zoo experience. You show up, take pictures, then it is on to the next one, all the while you never truly feel the country or place you are in.

After living in China, and traveling through multiple countries, I’ve determined that the best way to travel and see a country is to experience the country. Experience should be about walking around with nothing to do, developing friendships with locals, going to local hole-in-the-wall restaurants and getting what the locals love.

I understand some people do not have months to sit and absorb everything a particular destination or culture has to offer, but this can be done with only two weeks of travel time.

Next time you decide to travel, do not schedule anything in advance except your first destination. When you arrive, meet up with travelers, and talk to locals about fun places to enjoy, and the best places to eat. Once you get your bearings, just hang out for a bit, sleep in, go on long walks around the city, try to learn the language. When you start to get a little restless after a few days, pick a destination and go. Don’t over plan, go to a coffee shop, look at place you are interested, then decide right then to go. The experience is liberating, and will change your understanding of travel and vacations.

My way of traveling may not suit everyone, but I assure you it’s be the best way.

Moving To Taiwan

The last few weeks I was travelling through the fantastic country of Taiwan, formerly known as Formosa. From the beginning of my travel, I knew I was headed in the right direction. The first stop took me to Beijing, China. While there, I stopped off and got a temporary visa, then proceeded to run around the city on the subway system.

After playing around Beijing for a few hours, I embarked on my final destination, Taiwan. When I arrived in Taiwan, though exhausted and rigorously searching for my hostel, I knew it was the place I should be.

As I continued throughout my journey, there was a never ending feeling of energy, inspiration, and purpose. While walking around the streets, practicing my Mandarin with the local hostel staff, and playing around the train system, I felt invigorated.

Though I realize some of my rejuvenation was do to taking a vacation, the other part of me knows that is where I need to be, at least for a while.

My next move will be to buy another plane ticket to head back to Taiwan in January. Let’s see how this journey goes.