Tired of using Mandarin Chinese language learning software, or books guaranteed to teach you Mandarin Chinese in as little eight days? What’s the point in learning Mandarin Chinese anyway if you don’t plan to move to China permanently. And no one in their right mind is going to put any real time into learning more than a few basic Mandarin Chinese phrases for a trip to China. The Mandarin Chinese learner who doesn’t plan on spending years in China needs a real incentive–an incentive that is simply not available in books or software– to sitting down to years of Mandarin Chinese lessons to perfect the language. And, yes, it does take years of learning to “get” Mandarin Chinese. Sorry, it’s not Spanish where you (Americans) already know hundreds of words before you even begin. Mandarin Chinese is all foreign and ridiculously hard to learn.
First, how hard is Mandarin Chinese to learn. You have over 50,000 characters, each one must be pronounced in a distinct way, using one of four special tones. And, even when you can pronounce just one Mandarin Chinese word, you’ll soon find out that it sounds like hundreds of others, so instead of learning one word, you have to learn two in order to distinguish it from the other sound-alikes. And even then, there are many other combination words that sound the same, so you’ll find out that almost no Chinese word or two words can stand alone, so learning set phrases and understanding context is critical. Let’s not even talk about how pronunciation of Mandarin varies from place to place (Beijing, Shanhai, etc.), and if you want to learn to read and write Chinese characters (which we recommend–it brings deeper understanding to the words you speak), then go ahead and prepare for years of learning.
Because of the difficulty of learning Mandarin Chinese, learners will want a local support system. What better support than a Chinese language club. For those not living in metro areas with high concentrations of native Chinese speakers– like New York, Atlanta, Washington, Seattle, LA, etc.–you’ll need to survey your area to find native Chinese speakers to practice with, or “start a Chinese club.”
While you might assume that finding Chinese in your area to practice conversation with should be easy, since everywhere USA has Chinese restaurants, usually at least a half dozen of them, it’s not that easy. Employees of Chinese restaurants are a shy and overworked bunch. We can say that many Chinese at restaurants don’t trust Americans for one reason or another, because of immigration issues, etc., but the truth here is that most Chinese workers in American based Chinese restaurants are working six or seven days a week, and will be unlikely to be able to join your Chinese conversation club project. There are exceptions and we have seen them, but just a forewarning. You might, though, consider holding your Chinese club meetings at a local Chinese restaurant, and that can complement the learning experience.
It’s best to locate native Chinese speakers in your area who are working professionals who have the time and interest in brushing up on their English, while helping others with their Chinese. Search your local college, international manufacturers,Confucius Institute, etc. If you can’t find these types, then you may have to assemble your Chinese club with those interested in learning Mandarin Chinese, and perhaps finding some Chinese students attending your local colleges to participate as well.
Structuring your Chinese club meetings and actually getting people to show up is the next step. Club meetings, depending on who shows up can be difficult mainly because once you start the learning process, everyone is likely starting out at different language levels, and any newcomers will be frustrated when they come in to find others are advanced beyond their abilities to keep up. It’s really best to bring a variety of lessons for club members to rehearse, and send these out to everyone to practice before they come to the meeting.
Lastly, promoting your Chinese club to the public can be done on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, etc. but don’t expect too much here. You’ll get more from social media once you have an established group–but email list serves work just as well. Your local paper may help with publicity, and you might find interested candidates within the business sector. Anyone in business in America today knows the value of learning Chinese for business.
We also suggest you charge a fee for Chinese club membership if you want members to perceive value, and so you can pay for any expenses and avoid the frustration of drawing funds from your own pocket. Also, make sure every meeting is very structured, to fit the needs of the group you have, otherwise your Chinese club will quickly become a social gathering with no apparent purpose, and will quickly lose steam and members.
Let us know what works or is working for you!