Another blog post in my back-to-school special! If you’re trying to learn Mandarin, try McGraw Hill’s Chinese Pronunciation with CD-ROM. In my experience as a non-native speaker of Mandarin, the hardest thing is the different tones. Chinese is a tonal language, so it’s really important to get the tones right, and this book is wonderful for that.
I’ve also found The First 100 Chinese Characters by Alison Laurence Matthews (and the follow up The Second 100 Chinese Characters) to be extremely helpful in learning to write Chinese characters. These books are great, because they are indexed well (in Chinese and in English), and they show stroke order stroke by stroke with directional arrows (instead of just a character with numbers next to it, which I’m not that crazy about). There is one character per page, and several common words made from each one. I love these books, and I refer to them ALL THE TIME. I love them. Seriously.
You can’t beat actually using the language in terms of trying to learn it. I am shameless in my attempts to speak Mandarin (as bad as my accent is, and as limited as my vocabulary and understanding is). Just talking to people is great, as is checking out youtube videos of people who speak Mandarin wonderfully, as well as people who are just learning. Also, most Chinese television (that I’ve seen, anyway) is subtitled, and I love to watch it to see if I can pick out characters and actually match them with speech (quite challenging!).
Another great book to get more of a broad overview of the language from the personal anecdotes of a non-native learner is Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows. It’s a short little book that I found very quick and easy (and enjoyable) to read.
Lastly, a great way to learn any language is to actually take a class and/or visit a country that uses it, but you didn’t expect me to start out with something that obvious, right?