CHINESE IN 18 MONTHS
- Months 1-6: PAVC 1 & 2
- Months 7-12: PAVC 3
- Months 13-18: 8000 Sentences
- 25 Essential Chinese Tools
Imagine learning how to use the four tones, how to read and write Pinyin, how to read Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, how to write and recognize Traditional Chinese characters, how to speak and understand thousands of common everyday Chinese sentences, and how to form common Chinese sentence patterns, all in a mere six months. If you are a beginner Mandarin Chinese student looking for the ways to start learning this beautiful ancient language, then this post will help you discover the best starting point for your satisfying journey towards speaking Chinese. Although learning Mandarin Chinese is difficult for beginners, getting to an intermediate level does not have to be such a painstaking task or even require that much time. In fact, in the first six months of studying Chinese you could have already completed two textbooks, giving you a solid foundation for future learning – especially important if you are following the Speak Mandarin Chinese in 18 Months course. I aim to show you how all this can be achieved through the use of a series of Mandarin Chinese textbooks called Practical Audio-Visual Chinese (實用視聽華語).
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese
Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, aka PAVC, released by the National Taiwan Normal University is taught in many language schools and universities within Taiwan and sold around the world. Its popularity comes from its method of using everyday situations to teach Chinese grammar, vocabulary, sentence patterns, and how to write traditional Chinese characters.
Learning Chinese Study Plan
PAVC books 1 and 2 contain 24 lessons altogether. You should aim to complete one lesson per week, allowing you to complete all lessons within just 6 months. Each lesson can take between two to three hours to complete, which you can split over two lessons either by yourself or with a tutor and then complete the homework given in the workbooks. To improve recall of what you have learned in each lesson, make time each day to go over the vocabulary and sentence patterns several times. No matter whether you plan on learning Chinese on your own or with a tutor, the following methods will ensure you get the best from your studies with PAVC.
Start Learning Chinese
PAVC book 1 begins with the absolute basics of Chinese, pronunciation. In this first section, you will learn:
- the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols (MPS), aka Zhùyin Fúhào (注音符號: ㄓㄨˋ ㄧㄣ ㄈㄨˊ ㄏㄠˋ), or more commonly known in Taiwan as bopomofo to mimic the sounds of first 4 symbols (click for more info on learning bopomofo)
- the Pinyin system of Romanization for reading and writing Mandarin without Chinese characters
- the four tones plus the fifth neutral tone
- common greetings and everyday language for use in the classroom
- numbers, days of the week, and telling the time
There are plenty of pronunciation drills to help you get used to using the four tones comfortably so you don’t have to worry about getting them right first time. Additionally, you will have plenty of practice at all of these things throughout your learning, so you should be able to finish the entire first section of the book as well as lesson 1 in your first week.
Tips on Learning the 3rd Tone in Mandarin Chinese
The 3rd tone in Chinese is the commonly the most difficult for students to master. You should practice using and listening for the third tone as much as possible. Here are some tips on learning the third tone:
- When a 3rd tone comes before a 1st, 2nd or 4th tone, it is pronounced as a low, falling tone
- When a 3rd tone comes before another 3rd tone, the preceding 3rd tone becomes a 2nd tone
- When a 3rd tone is in the final position, it is most often pronounced as a low, falling tone
- When a 3rd tone is in isolation, it is usually pronounced as a falling-rising tone (as stated in most Chinese learning books)
Mandarin Chinese Lesson 1
Before you begin each lesson, take the time to memorize each new character. In books 1 and 2, the number of new characters in each lesson is around 25-35. The student workbook that accompanies books 1 and 2 provide you with empty boxes to practice writing each character. Although other methods exist, the method that most people use to memorize characters, and one that is still used in schools today, is through repetition. Writing a character repeatedly until you can write it on command builds a solid foundation for the future and is a very rewarding practice.
Everyday Chinese Conversations
PAVC begins each lesson with a conversation. Therefore, if you follow the advice given above then you should have memorized the new vocabulary for this lesson already so that you can read the Chinese characters rather than the Pinyin. The conversation is followed by this lesson’s vocabulary and very useful sentences to go along with most of the new words. You will need these sentences later. After learning vocabulary, there is the grammar. Although the grammar gets progressively harder, it’s not difficult to understand. As you work through the book, it is essential that you speak every sentence out loud in Chinese, including those already given in the book and the sentences that you will make up in the exercises.
Included Audio CD
While the audio CD that comes with books 1 and 2 may be useful to some people, I found it to be impractical and time-consuming. Although you are still at a beginner level and need to hear Chinese spoken slowly and clearly, the Chinese on the included audio CD is way too slow to feel any benefit from real-world type practice.
Recording Your Voice
If you would really like to improve your Chinese quickly, then you need to record yourself speaking Chinese sentences after every lesson. Recording your own voice not only gives you more practice at speaking Chinese and helps to improve your use of the four tones but also gives you plenty of listening material targeted at your level. Don’t worry about speaking too slowly or making mistakes. When you get better, you can always go back and rerecord the lessons at a more fluent speed if necessary. This is a fantastic way to measure your progress and gives you that extra bit of motivation needed to continue your studies.
Chinese Sentence List
PAVC 1 and 2 conveniently provides English translations for many of the sentences within, and you should prepare the translations for the others. Your aim here is to improve your speaking and listening skills, so it’s not necessary to record vocabulary or grammar rules. With your sentence list at hand, grab your voice recorder or use a smartphone app and begin recording.
Recall Chinese Easily
You should listen and practice with your new recording within two days of making the audio file. This gives your brain the best chance of making lasting connections for easy recall later. It will also better prepare you for the next lesson.
Summary of Your First 6 Months Learning Chinese
By following this 6 month study plan you will be able to use the four tones correctly, especially the complex third tone, read Pinyin and then Traditional Chinese characters, and speak many handy Chinese phrases for use in daily conversations. What’s more, with daily practice you are building the perfect habit for future learning that will make it much easier and quicker for you to improve every aspect of using Chinese. This 6 month landmark indicates that you are now ready to move onto the next stage of the challenging 18 month course.
18 Month Chinese Study Plan & Timescales
Months 1 to 6
PAVC books 1 & 2
1 lesson per week
Months 7 to 12
PAVC book 3
1 lesson per fortnight
Months 13 to 18
8000 sentences book
45 sentences per day
Rich (author) from Gold Coast on May 10, 2013:
Hi Paul. Thanks for sharing
That's interesting that you were taught two methods of Romanization and neither are the one I learned, Hanyu Pinyin. I haven't seen Yale Romanization anywhere but obviously I have seen the Wade-Giles System around Taiwan on passports, street signs, etc. Even Taipei hasn't migrated to Pinyin, despite the best efforts of the Taiwanese government. Was there any confusion when you had to use one system or the other?
Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on May 10, 2013:
This is a very interesting and useful book. When I initially started learning Mandarin I had a 37 week aural-comprehension course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. Since the emphasis in that course was only on listening and speaking, we only learned how to write 300 characters throughout the course. The characters that we could recognize were maybe 600. From the beginning, we were introduced to Yale and Wade-Gales Romanization which represented the conversations (dialogs) we had to memorize each night and then recite the next morning. I didn't really get into reading and writing characters until I took some Chinese courses at the University of Wisconsin after leaving the Navy. Voted up and sharing.