Something you wish you knew

Hello everyone. It is my first time ever taking any Mandarin classes. As a beginner I would like to ask you to give me any advice. Something you wish you knew when you were barley starting. Thank you.

Hi Corina!
So I’m not too far along in my Mandarin learning journey (about 6 months) but when I started I’m glad I was forced to focus on the tones. I tried my best each time to copy the sounds my language teachers made and really focused on the pinyin and the tone pronunciation. Also when studying I would listen to the pronunciation again and again and say it out loud to try and get my tongue and mouth to make the same sounds then I’d write myself a little note on a word in English that it sounded like. For example … the X in Mandarin sounds very breathy and not harsh like in english. Its more close to a “xsh” sound but it took me a bit to get used to the difference. I also watched native speakers mouths as they talk to see the motions.
Anyway hopefully that helps a little!


Welcome Corina (and also Sabrina) - it’s great to see the community here building week on week.

As a learner of Mandarin since 2017 I can only second @Sabrina-Mandarin-HSK_11 sentiments on the tones. They are vital. Don’t be afraid to take the tones classes 2-3 times over until you feel comfortable. It makes all the difference in the long run.

I don’t know if you’ve seen it but one of our students @Ben-Mandarin-HSK_5 made this amazing pronunciation trainer which is live for HSK 1 lessons. It might be really useful for you at this stage - Chinese Pronunciation Tool // Practice Your Chinese Speaking NOW

I’d also build up a portfolio of apps that you consistently use - by consistently I mean near enough every day.

Hack Chinese, Du Chinese, Skritter, HSK Online - whatever they are, I would pick 2-3 you like and slowly build a base for yourself.

Keep speaking - this is hopefully where Flexi will help you. There is no substitute for conversation with native speakers.

Change your phone to Mandarin when you feel comfortable enough (maybe not just yet but keep it in mind) - this is such an underrated way to force yourself into learning a new language. I did it for Mandarin and now my phone is in Italian for the very same reason.

I could type and type but I’ll leave it there for now and hope it helps :slight_smile:


Hi, Corina!

Wow, the pieces of advice above I totally agree with! Tones, tones, tones, are so important. A lot of people will tell you not to worry about them, but you should make sure you start with a good foundation and really can pronounce all the sounds and four different tones together. This is a great video that I did almost every day in the beginning, repeating after her : A Comprehensive Chinese Pronunciation Demonstration: Reading All Existing Pinyin Syllables - YouTube . Before I was using LTL, I had a private tutor who would stress this with me to the point of almost making me cry! Though she was a bit militaristic, I am so grateful for her because now Chinese people can actually clearly understand me when I speak lol. Coming from a non-tonal language, it can be very hard for your brain and mouth to connect on this. Practice it diligently every day and treat it like it’s important! My only other advice is to practice speaking as often as you can and don’t be afraid of making mistakes!


Thank you very much.

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Thank you. I was wondering if it was ok to repeat classes over and over if I didn’t feel confident yet to move on. I appreciate your advice.

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My daughter and I went to see a show this weekend about Ancient Chinese Culture and it was all in Chinese. I would have understood nothing if it weren’t translated right after. Thank you for the advice def. will keep in mind.

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I learned Vietnamese before Mandarin. If I had Vietnamese to do over again, I’d have studied a year of it BEFORE ever setting foot in Vietnam. Because, once you’re there, you’re on the streets, in restaurants, in all these different situations - you want to speak! Use it in real life! Then you have to sit there starting from “hello” and it’s much slower than you would like. So, I would have:

  1. learned the basics before arriving(But to be honest, I didn’t realize I’d be interested in the language, or that I’d stay 10 years!)
  2. been far more PATIENT. (I did eventually reach a nice Intermediate level and used the language in an infinite number of situation - but it took years, no matter how I tried to rush it)
  3. Though I lived in Saigon, I would have learned to speak the *Northern Accent first(it’s the standard, it’s what all the materials were in at that time, people see it as educated) and to “recognize” the Southern accent.
    *this is controversial I’m sure, but it’s what I would do with hindsight.

As for Mandarin, I’m Three years in and I’m pretty happy with my progress, though still a long way to go. Taking from both what I feel I’ve done right and wrong in both VN an CN, I’d offer the following advice:

1.Have a teacher demonstrate/show/help your train exactly where to put your tongue, lips, teeth, air, etc to make each initial/final/phoneme/tone for each pinyin and correct you on your imitation.
2.Have a teacher demonstrate/show/help you train tone pairs, and chunks of sentences and correct you on your imitation. Always make sure to think of the tonal aspect as just the pronunciation of the word, not an add-on.
3. Focus on Standard 普通话 Pronunciation .
4.Take in all feedback and correction without getting impatient, annoyed or discouraged
5.Follow a good textbook (with audio).
6.Get it a fuzzy understanding of grammar points/vocab in each lesson, but DON’T try to master everything in a lesson before moving on to the next.
7.Supplement with other listening/reading materials.
8.Practice speaking what you are learning with a teacher armed with something that gets you talking and using what you are learning.
9.Take every opportunity you are able to use the language with people who are not teachers.
10. keep expanding at a manageable pace. Continue working on gradually improving tones, accent, sentence intonation, speed, word choice, grammar structures, flexibility, cultural elements - for years.
11.Don’t stop being curious

**At the very beginning, with a language like Mandarin, I don’t think the importance of 1 and 2 can be underestimated.

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  1. Record yourself!! You will be astonished and discover that you are far from exaggerating tones or whatever you want to sound like or whatever you want to express. I am a professional musician and this is the way all professionals work, check how you really sound for others. You have to exaggerate, always much more than you would think in music or languages. You have to exaggerate the tones to get the words sound recognizable at all.

  2. Speak aloud, whenever you practise vocabulary or read, speak after listening, learn sentences by heart. And … record yourself. It is the quickest way to improve, check yourself how you really sound for others.

  3. My mantra is “just keep going”.
    Quite often I have thought I will never learn “it”. I needed to start from scratch a few times, but I think that is “normal” with Asian languages for Westerners. (I feel comfortable in HSK3 level now.)

  4. The tones themselves were not my problem. - If you have problems to remember which tone goes with which sound with which meaning, and terribly mix it up as I did: My life changer was the memorizing system of this app:

  5. My beginners’ tones advice:
    The first tone is your reference line - sing it. A looong vowel as if you start a song.
    The third tone: Go as deep as you can, think about a stop at the deepest point, before you go up. Don’t speak it like a “round” thing (going down and up), think about a “v”-line.
    The second tone: Feel it as if you say a question with this sound, astonishment.
    The fourth tone: Start far! higher than everything else, higher than the other tones, express a relieve.

For me it is easier if my reference line, the first tone, is quite deep, but a true singing line.
Then the third tone is really as deep as I can, going to the scratchy area, which really sounds Chinese then btw,
and also the fourth tone is easier to start really higher than the rest and let it fall down. Create your own system!!

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WOW thank you. definitely will start recording myself and also thank you for explaining the tones!

Wow, this is one of the best and most useful threads we ever had on Flexi Forums. Thanks so much for asking @Corina-Mandarin-Intro and all the great replies.
For me personally the one thing I want to say to little Andreas before he goes into his first Chinese class is: DONT RUN AWAY FROM THE TONES. You will regret it later to not have learned them properly at the beginning (oh yes, I did regret it a lot…). And dont get frustrated and disheartened. You really can learn Chinese. Seriously, its possible, even for you. Just keep going and enjoy the journey without worrying so much. As long as you study, immerse yourself and learn tones you will get to fluency. Just keep doing that and dont worry about all the other stuff.

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Something I wish I knew in the first few days of studying…

  1. Learning Chinese won’t be a straight line of constant progress. Ups and downs are normal.
  2. Making great progress one day and not so much the other day is also normal!
  3. I wish I didn’t put so much pressure on myself to learn, which inevitably led me to give up on Chinese for a good year and a half.
  4. Don’t forget to have fun in the process :relaxed: