Ni hao! We’re less than 72 hours from the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. And we know what you’re thinking…I haven’t learned any Mandarin yet!!! Don’t worry, we’re here to save the day with 8 free ways you can get learn the “language of the Olympics” fast. What better time than now? Enjoy!!!
#1 – Watch Movies – What could be a more enjoyable way to learn a language than by watching movies? Here’s the trick…find a bunch of movies that you want to watch that have Mandarin language tracks and English subtitles (Netflix is a great place for this). This way you’ll be hearing and immersing yourself in the language but at the same time you’ll be able to follow the movie and match up expressions. Then as you improve you can replace the English subtitles with Mandarin subtitles to improve your reading skills.
#2 – Build your Vocab on the Web – It’s never been a better time to be a language learner. In the last couple of years a number of free services have launched that help you build your vocab online (and often for free!). Some of the ones that we like include Confucius Institute Online, Internet Polygot, LiveMocha, Mango Languages, nciku and Zap Chinese. Also, make sure to check out free Mandarin Flashcards here at eduFire as well.
#3 – Music – Like watching movies, listening to music is a fun and easy way to improve your foreign language skills. Thanks to the Internet there’s a lot of music out there that will help you learn Mandarin. Some options include Groove|Asia, Mandarin Radio and this list from Wikipedia.
#4 – Podcasts – As with music, podcasts can be a great way to learn Mandarin while you’re driving to work, hitting the gym or just getting stuff done around the house. Check out Open Culture’s list, stream Mandarin podcasts from Odeo or search iTunes for “Mandarin” and subscribe to your favorites.
#5 – Reading – There are a lot of ways to brush up on a foreign language through reading. One simple way is to buy a copy of a book in English and another copy in Mandarin. Then read them side by side. Or alternatively, look for a book with animations so you can follow the story in pictures and try to pick up on the context of what’s being said (here’s an example). Search Amazon for “Mandarin” or depending on where you live and your familiarity with Mandarin, try Joyo, Amazon’s site for China. And of course, in sticking with the spirit of the post, remember that there’s a good chance that your local library will have some books you can borrow that will help you learn Mandarin.
#6 – Classes – Free Chinese classes online? Heck ya! As previously mentioned it’s never been a better time to be a language learner with high-quality free courses being offered by people like The BBC, The Foreign Service Institute and MIT.
#7 – Find a Partner – One of the quickest ways to learn a language (other than hiring a private tutor) is to find someone who knows Mandarin and who is willing to practice with you. There are a couple of approaches you can use here. First of all, you could post an ad in your local craigslist looking for someone who is willing to do a “language exchange” (someone who knows Mandarin and is looking to practice their English skills). Another option is to find someone online. There are a number of services that you can use here including italki, LiveMocha and My Happy Planet.
#8 – Travel Somewhere Where They Speak Mandarin – OK, this technically isn’t free. But if you’re already traveling to China then any additional practice you’re going to get is going to be free of charge. So take full advantage of that opportunity! Make friends in the pubs, chat up everyone you see and if you’re single, definitely fall in love with someone who speaks Mandarin. That’s definitely the best way to assure that you’ll learn the language quick!
Best of luck in your Mandarin studies and enjoy the Olympics!!!
UPDATE: A commenter on Reddit pointed out that we didn’t mention ChinesePod. It is linked from the OCulture list of podcasts but I wholeheartedly agree that it is a can’t-miss resource for learning Mandarin and should be highlighted!