I’m an absolute beginner. Where do I even begin to learn Chinese?

Characters, pinyin, pronunciation, numbers, phrases, or grammar?

Do I need a tutor? How do I know if my tutor is teaching me the right things? Aren’t the tones hard? How am I ever going to remember this?

Slow down! Self-study is possible. If you can top-up with a tutor for exam practice and get some recommendations for simple Chinese TV shows, then you’re well on your way to victory.

You need audio if you’re a beginner so you can practice and get your pronunciation right. These all have CD’s so you can listen to local Chinese people and copy their accents.

Start with these Chinese books geared toward beginners:

  1. 1 Easy Peasy Chinese

    Pros: Simple everyday language for beginners. Perfect to slip in your bag and use when speaking with locals in the market, asking for directions or brushing up on your Chinese culture. The language is simple yet local, exactly what you’d expect when speaking in China.

    Cons: The audio comes on a CD. Did we slip back into the 90’s when computers still had disk drives?

    Bottom line: Fantastic words and phrases that you’ll actually use in everyday situations. Easy to digest chapters, bright colors, and audio, albeit it on a CD. Thumbs up from us!

  2. 2 Get Talking Chinese

    Pros: Pictures, phrases, grammar, vocabulary, characters, audio CD, and more. Everything inside this book is pure, pretty gold. They only teach you the useful day-to-day language you need to know in China. My new favorite!!

    Cons: Does this eye-candy have any drawbacks? I can’t find any flaws. Every chapter is packed with useful information.

    Bottom line: Let’s call this a phrasebook plus. I haven’t felt as excited about a book since Integrated Chinese and you guys know that is my all-time favorite book. Remember if you’re on the UK store it’s called Easy Peasy Chinese.

  3. 3 Talk Mandarin

    Pros: 10 units, audio CD’s – great for pronunciation – covers a lot of everyday language. But, there is something missing ..

    Cons: Where on earth are the Chinese characters in this book? Looks like you’ll just be learning pinyin with this book.

    Bottom line: This book is created for super beginners. You won’t get beyond HSK 3 without learning Chinese characters. What’s HSK?

    If you’re interested in listening to more reviews, I’ve gathered the best Chinese textbooks for self study, best Chinese textbooks in general, best books to learn Chinese characters, and the best Chinese books just for fun. These are aimed at beginners, intermediate, and advanced students, inside and outside of China.

    Read my super guide here.

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One Comment

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  1. Yes, we need to understand Chinese from different perspectives, and generally listening, speaking, writing and reading for learning a language. The listening and speaking is not difficult personally, but the reading and writing is really hard as Chinese characters are a form of ideogram.

    Finally I took the online lesson to learn it by tuition of native-Chinese teachers (eChineseLearning).
    As a result, not bad. Do you have any advices? or sharing some useful method to me? Thx

Kwadwo [QUĀY.jo]
Kwadwo [QUĀY.jo], creator of Elementary Chinese, helps expats in China learn the day-to-day Chinese they need – to communicate what they want. He lives in Tianjin, China. Follow him on elementarychinese.com, Instagram or YouTube to learn the kind of Mandarin you can actually use right away in everyday China life.
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