Famous for its wide use and infamous for its tonal complexity, The Chinese language has proved to be a huge wellspring of worry for many native and non-native English speakers who want to learn the language for a plethora of reasons. However, it can become better when the right tricks and hacks are followed.

By popular opinion, the Chinese language is one of the hardest languages in the world one can learn, no thanks to the differences in the phonology of the Chinese characters as compared to other Latin-borne alphabets which is the source of major languages like English, French, and Spanish. As a contour tone language, which is also logographic and tonal, the Chinese language can seem very difficult for Nigerians to learn. Most of the phonological challenges which impede the learning of mandarin by Nigerian students arise from some speech sounds which are not part of Nigerian indigenous languages and the well-known English tongue.

The good news, however, is that given how different the Chinese language is from English, it can still be learnt within just a couple of years, depending on the efforts of the students and the competence of the instructor. In fact, some credible Nigerian universities teach Chinese up to professional proficiency in just 4 years.

A sheet containing Chinese writing
According to an African proverb, the person who decides to bathe with cold water will not feel the chill. Once you set your mind to learning Mandarin, there is no challenge on your path that you won't triumph. Source: Unsplash

Some Chinese tutors suggest that all it takes for average students to be fluent in mandarin is about 3000 -5000 hours of Chinese study. But it can be more or less depending on the style of teaching and how much time the student has for practice.

We have earlier written about the benefits of learning Chinese which include; compelling you to think outside the box, exposure to a new world of economic opportunities, and a better, stronger, more creative brain and reasoning strengths. Plus, with China's growing international influence in Africa, the grass can only get greener. Almost like if you don’t learn Chinese, you are blocking yourself off human information, culture, and values that are set to dominate the world.

So, rather than get intimidated, overwhelmed, and discouraged by the tones and characters of “payan” (pinyin), brace up for an exciting and rewarding endeavour. With scholarship programme, free education policies like the Guoji Dui, and numerous online resources designed to aid your learning journey, and some crème-de-la-crème Superprof tutors, the coast is clear.

Relax as we reveal to you an easy, fun route that you can take to learn the language of the present and future. Shall we? Good!

The Chronicle of Mandarin in Nigeria

While many have termed china’s blossoming popularity in Africa as an invasion on the continent’s resources and considered the relationship parasitic, the realities are too obvious to be concealed. The truth is, China is taking over the global economy and deepening its trade and economic relations with many countries, including Nigeria. This relationship includes providing free education in some countries and university scholarships in China to indigent students from other countries. Learning mandarin is equal to preparing oneself for the present and future opportunities in China.

Equally, the Confucius institutes are established in Nigeria to make Nigerian students and professionals take advantage of the growing ties between China and Nigeria. The first institute was established at Nnamdi Azikwe University in 2008, and it took another year before Lagos, the commercial nerve of Nigeria, saw the Confucius institute on its soil at the University of Lagos. Over the years, more institutes and centres have been established to cater to the increasing number of Nigerians who want to become Chinese tutors or want to learn the language for personal and business uses. 

In 2012, the Lagos state government also became the first state government in Nigeria to approve the learning of Chinese in its public secondary schools. The move was intended to increase the number of young Nigerian students taking Mandarin and tackle some of the reasons why is still unpopular among young Nigerians. 

A business area in Shanghai
China is fast becoming the leader in World trade and is building ties with many countries. A trade alliance with China is auspicious for many countries. Source: Unsplash

Estimates have predicted that by the year 2022, the number of unfulfilled Chinese related jobs will be well over 500,000. In 2018, to help Africa take advantage of these potentials, the Chinese government gave strong backing to Chinese language teaching giant, “Guoji Dui”, who announced that 2500 students from Africa would be selected yearly for study grants and government sponsorship to China to refine their skills and have a feel of the Chinese culture. Nigeria, being the most populous country in Africa, has about 40% of this largesse. 

Tricks to Mastering Chinese Pronunciation 

Learning pronunciation is considered one of the hardest parts of the learning Chinese language. Yet, the phonology of Mandarin is essential if you want to speak and communicate. Pronouncing a character the wrong way can be catastrophic in Mandarin. For example, “ma” in Chinese could mean ‘mum’, and with a different tone, it could mean ‘a horse’. Oops! You definitely don’t want to call your Chinese friend’s mum a horse. 

Some WWE Royal Rumble gonna go down!

Poor mastery of the intonations, highs and lows, and pronunciation is not what you want to contend with. That is why it is important to learn the right tones.

The mandarin has five different tones:

  • A high-level tone
  • A tone that rises a bit
  • A tone that falls before rising
  • A tone that drops from high to low
  • A neutral tone

Do you get it? Fine. So, how do you ensure a good grasp of Chinese pronunciations?

As a Nigerian who is unfamiliar with the accent of the Chinese mandarin, it behoves you as a learner to listen to every detail. Although you might struggle initially to grasp the Chinese intonations, you will improve with time. By listening to native speakers, you train your ears to aid your mouth while you speak in Chinese. While this may not be enough to master the pronunciation, it sets you on the best path to learning Chinese tones.

Then, you will have to practice every tone you come across. Sing them like musical notes. By learning standards, the role of practice cannot be overemphasised. To progress quickly in your study, you will need to review your lessons daily and be friends with an English-Chinese dictionary. Do you know about the rule of tiny gains? It says that if you make 1% progress every day, after 365 days, you will be 38 times better than you were on day one. So, set out some minutes daily to review your tones, sing them, and listen to a native Chinese speaker. In no time, your progress will surprise you. You will almost be sounding like a native speaker yourself. 

Do you know that learning Mandarin can wheel your business to the international market?

To Read and Write Mandarin, Learn Pinyin

On the busy streets of Lagos, you must have heard the slang ‘payan’. To a layman, it means ‘unintelligible, incoherent words’. But, it actually came from the Chinese ‘pinyin’. Pinyin which means “spell sound” is the Romanisation of the Chinese characters designed to help foreign learners like Nigerians learn the Chinese language. Formally recognized in the 1950s by the Chinese government, it has proved popular and useful in the teaching of Mandarin Chinese across schools. A faithful mastering of pinyin prepares you for reading, writing, and speaking in Chinese.

The pinyin is usually written in Latin characters such as “Xue xi Zhong wen”. This transcription, however, is not pronounced the same way as the Latin alphabets. Caution must not be thrown to the wind. You must recognise this crucial hint during your initiation into the learning of Chinese. What do you need to learn pinyin? A great teacher. Where can you find one? On Superprof.

Congratulations! You’ve learnt the basics. Now, you need to learn how words are formed in Chinese. This takes us to the next secret of learning the language of the dragon.

A Close-Up on Chinese Grammar

At this point, learning the Chinese language gets interesting because the Chinese language follows simple grammar rules, i.e there are no genders, verbiage, conjugations, and declensions which you are used to in the English language. This does not absolve the Chinese language of rules guiding its usage. As a foreign learner, you are advised to follow the patterns of usage at first in order not to get caught up in the web of grammar explanations.

Chinese writing
Follow the pattern and you won't be lost. That's the rule in Chinese grammar. Source: Unsplash

The plural, singular forms are mostly the same except for personal nouns or pronouns. Also, Chinese grammar has no tenses. The time of action is usually expressed through the inclusion of an adverb of time. Consider these sentences: Today, I sleep today; Yesterday, I sleep; Tomorrow, I sleep. ‘Sleep’ will always be ‘sleep’, unlike you have ‘slept’ in the English language.

You can bother less about the grammar. It is quite simple and follows a pattern. With the right instructor, you’ll cross that hurdle in no time. Let’s now consider another key component of the Chinese language, the Characters.

Want to be Fluent In Chinese? Learn The Characters

Ni Hao – Hello!  

If you’ve read up to this stage, you have everything it takes to learn the Mandarin Chinese language. You know what? This may prove overwhelming initially, but having the courage to learn the characters places you in a vantage in mastering Chinese.

The characters of the Chinese language are just like English alphabets. But unlike English alphabets, Chinese characters indicate meanings on their own. Also, there are over 50 thousand characters in Mandarin unlike in English where there are just 26 alphabets. However, you won’t need to learn the over 50, 000 characters. You need to know only about 2000-3000 characters to become fluent for daily conversation and be able to read a newspaper.

Chinese characters indicate the meaning of their own, unlike the alphabets that are used in forming a single word. A character is made up of strokes which are 6 in numbers and guided by rules referred to as the 7 rules of writing Chinese characters. Although there are variants, you only need to master the fundamentals and you will be good enough to learn any character in Chinese.

Each character has a peculiar meaning, pronunciation, and order of writing. You should have a diary wherein you practice writing the Chinese characters you have learnt. Also, try to create sentences with characters rather than learning words individually. Think of sentences to write, then write the Chinese characters of the sentences.

When you form this habit of regular practice, your learning becomes easier. You can also explore free online tools to supplement your physical classes in Mandarin.

So, that's it. Are you ready to kickstart your learning of mandarin? What challenges are you facing? Let me know in the comment section.

See you in China.




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A Nigerian freelance SEO Writer-cum-Editor and 2019 Writing Fellow of ALWF who blends creativity with rich content to produce sterling copy — persuasive, informative, or expository. He loves nature and trains in Karate, and he loves to help others grow — individuals and brands.