Over the past 10 years I have used all of the below resources in my quest to become a Mandarin translator and interpreter fluent in Mandarin and these are the tools I recommend above all others. Most of them are free.
Before digging into these awesome resources I use and trust, an important disclosure:
Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. Please understand that I have experience with all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.
Listening is the most important part when first learning a language and should be emphasized as much as possible. For those interested in listening to the right sentences and words from the beginning and then building from that, this is the best tool I have found. Each level builds upon the one before and constant review is built right in.
ChinesePod is a series of audio episodes teaching Mandarin. The background information is valuable for anyone traveling to China who wants to learn about the Chinese culture, business practices, and what daily life in China is like. There are also great forums and a great community, as well as teachers availability to help you with your studies. Enter the code “CLIFE” to get $50 off an Annual Premium subscription.
Video Lessons taught by the Chinese teacher and TV host, Yang Yang. The videos are great for a beginner.
The Pimsleur method is based on timed repetition of phrases, spaced out just right to increase memory connections. Each phrase is repeated right around the time you are likely to forget it so that you will remember a particular phrase for longer and longer. There is a lot of repetition of similar phrases so that you remember. You can pick these up for free at a library.
This is the material that the US Foreign Service uses to train its employees. They also have lots of other languages. It’s worth a look and a listen.
Phrasebooks and Textbooks
Chinese phrasebooks are a great source for learning grammar and relevant Chinese words. Many of them have a dictionary that includes the most common words. Some names include Lonely Planet, Berlitz, and At A Glance. At A Glance was my first ‘textbook’ and I got a lot of milage out if it. This is especially good for learning pinyin and basic grammar.
Integrated Chinese textbook is used by universities all over the United States and makes a great beginning textbook. There is also an accompanying workbook for each level.
Boya Chinese textbook is used by Chinese universities for teaching foreigners Chinese and while it is a good resource for advanced learners, it might not be the most intuitive book, which can make learning slow when first starting. There are about a dozen books total.
If you could only have one resource listed here, Pleco would be it. This electronic dictionary, which is compatible with most smart phones will be a valuable asset when in China as you navigate business and social living. I use it daily no matter where I am in the world.
Apps for Practicing Chinese
Although I really stress listening, actually using the language is a close second when first starting and quickly becomes the most important part once you get better. Messaging apps and texting are one of the best ways for using Chinese.
WeChat is the most popular phone messaging app in China. I never text with friends in China anymore and only use this. It’s like Facebook on your phone and everyone has it.
While speaking with people is good practice when first starting out, it can be difficult to understand what the other person is saying and you won’t have much time to react unless they are very patient and you don’t get nervous or embarrassed easily. Texting back and forth is valuable because it gives you time to figure out what the other person is saying and time to craft a response.
Momo is like WeChat but it is geared towards meeting members of the opposite sex. You can use this to meet and message new friends.
QQ is the most popular instant messaging app in China. Many people in China do not have email and some companies just use QQ to communicate.
Tantan is a copy of the dating app Tinder. It’s layout and function is exactly the same. When two people swipe right, indicating they like each other, they match and then you can begin messaging back and forth.