From Beginner to Fluent: My Journey in Mastering Chinese

Embarking on a journey to learn Chinese is both challenging and rewarding. As someone who recently passed the HSK5 exam, I can attest to the importance of a strategic approach in achieving proficiency. I would like to share the methods and experiences that have propelled me to fluency, surpassing the challenges many language learners face.

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Back in 2019, I decided to start learning Chinese to better connect with my Chinese friends. I began by searching for basic Chinese phrases online and practicing them with my friends. They praised my pronunciation, but I found it challenging to understand them when they spoke in Chinese. It became a common scenario where I’d say something in Chinese, but once they replied in Chinese, I’d struggle to comprehend, leading us to switch back to English conversation.

I’ve come to realize that simply memorizing the pronunciation of Chinese phrases isn’t enough. I can mimic the sounds, but I lack a genuine understanding of the language’s meaning and structure. Eager to become proficient in both speaking and writing Chinese, I decided to start from scratch and build a strong foundation.

At that time, I heard about the HSK exam, so I thought it would be a good starting point. I went online and found HSK Level 1 vocabulary lists and an HSK dictionary. I began memorizing the HSK words, which was beneficial because I could understand the meaning of each character and hear their pronunciation. I felt satisfied with my progress and made it a daily habit to study HSK vocabulary. However, the more I studied, the more I realized there were many things I still didn’t understand.

Similar to English, a Chinese word can have different meanings in different sentences. Take “方便 fāngbiàn,” for instance; it can mean “convenient” but also refer to using the restroom, which can lead to awkward situations if used incorrectly. Moreover, Chinese has many characters with multiple pronunciations, which is quite confusing. Consider the character “行,” for instance. Initially, in HSK Level 1, I learned it as “银行 yínháng (bank).” Then, in HSK Level 2, there’s “行动 xíngdòng (action).” During chats with friends, I found “行 xíng” used to mean “okay” or as praise in “nǐ zhēn xíng 你真行 (you are great).” I have to keep track of all these nuances, and there are many words where I’m unsure of their meanings and pronunciations at times.

I typically use the Chinese I’ve learned to chat with friends. However, there are times when they correct me, but I don’t quite understand why I’m mistaken. They often say it’s just the way it’s used and tell me to remember it, but it doesn’t always make sense to me. I’ve tried downloading Chinese apps and watching Chinese TV shows and movies to see how native speakers talk, but there are still many things that puzzle me, and I struggle to understand them.

Later on, by chance, I stumbled upon some Chinese teachers on YouTube, so I decided to seek out a tutor for help. I found one on Xiaohongshu who regularly shares the latest Chinese vocabulary and phrases, which intrigued me. After contacting her, I took a free trial lesson. During our session, I asked her many questions that confused me before, and she provided explanations starting from the basic meanings of characters and delving into the reasons behind expressions. The tutor’s expertise significantly bridged gaps in my understanding. After the lesson, she created a customized study plan suited to my needs.

So after that, I decided to have a Chinese tutor to help me in my Chinese learning. Committing to two lessons weekly, my tutor systematically dismantled linguistic challenges. Addressing vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, our sessions became immersive experiences. The tutor’s knack for quizzing, correction, and practical exercises enhanced my comprehension and retention.

When we talk about my Chinese learning experience, my tutor pointed out that starting Chinese with HSK was a smart move as it laid a solid foundation for me. HSK’s vocabulary and grammar progress gradually, making it easier for beginners like me to understand. Besides, I’ve been increasing my vocabulary through independent word mining in daily life. I feel like my Chinese skills are improving rapidly now. With my teacher’s help, I can better grasp areas where I’m unsure. She guides me on how to use specific language points and assists me in integrating new knowledge with what I’ve previously learned, which helps me remember things better.

Another standout feature of my tutor’s assistance is the creation of tailored learning materials. Drawing from Chinese news, videos, and even novels or TV shows, she curates content aligned with my interests. Post-lesson discussions provide valuable feedback on my progress, reinforcing and clarifying any areas of confusion.

After more than four years of learning Chinese and passing the HSK5 exam, I’m now keen on exploring more aspects of Chinese culture. That’s pretty much my entire journey of learning Chinese! If you’re considering learning Chinese yourself, I suggest starting by consulting with a Chinese teacher. Click here, this is where I took my free one-on-one Chinese trial class, and I highly recommend giving it a shot. The teachers here are truly professional and can make you a personalized study plan.

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