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Speaking is the fastest way to fluency

Practice listening, improve your pronunciation, and learn to speak a foreign language with native speakers – no matter where you are.

Why you should learn to speak Chinese

Learning Chinese can be a daunting task. The grammar and pronunciation bear little resemblance to any European language, and the writing system can seem far too complex to ever wrap your head around. However, as difficult as it may seem, plenty of westerners have learned to master the language, and the benefits of learning to speak Chinese are many. First of all, Chinese is the language spoken by the most number of people worldwide, around 1.2 billion. Obviously, most of these people live in China, but it’s not impossible to find pockets of Chinese speakers in almost any city and country around the world.

China is a country that’s fast on the rise on the world stage. Its GDP per capita more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, and it’s the largest exporter of goods in the world, as well as the second largest importer of goods. Due to China’s vast manufacturing output, many businesses have ties with China. Anyone wishing to work at a large international company would do well to learn to speak Chinese.

China is also a country with enormous natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage. There’s so much to do and see just within China that you could spend months traveling around the country and only scratch the surface of all there is to be seen. A trip to China can be a fantastic experience, however, outside of the major cities and tourist destinations like Beijing and Shanghai, little English is spoken. Being able to speak even a small amount of Chinese can help you get around on a day-to-day basis, avoid confusion, immerse yourself in the culture, and get the most out of your time in China.

Fast facts about Chinese

Nearly 1.2 billion people speak a form of Chinese. This is about 16% of the world’s total population.

There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese with Mandarin being the largest.

Cantonese is the language variety spoken in Hong Kong and Macau.

Chinese is one of the 6 official languages of the United Nations.

Chinese is a tonal language, using rising or falling inflection to distinguish words.

Only 8% of Chinese people (or 10 million people) speak English.

Learning to speak Chinese

Many people think that learning to speak Chinese is impossible, but it’s actually much more simple than you would imagine. In fact, it’s been argued that it might even be easier to learn than languages such as French or Spanish because it has no verb conjugation, no tenses, no cases, no plurals, and no gender. Additionally, there are no super long words, so you don’t have to suffer though words like honorificabilitudinitatibus in English, or Strassenbahnhaltestelle in German.
The writing system is where most English speakers run into trouble. First off, Chinese is traditionally written in vertical columns which are read from top to bottom, right to left, although this has largely fallen out of style in modern mainland China. Secondly, Chinese is not written with an alphabet, but rather through a series of icons which usually represent a physical object, abstract concepts, or pronunciation. Each one generally represents one syllable of spoken Chinese, and can be combined with other symbols to represent more complex ideas. These characters must be memorized, and it’s estimated that educated Chinese people know about 4,000 characters. The pronunciation is also very important. Chinese is a tonal language, so the way you inflect your words can alter their meaning dramatically. For example:

Mā - Mother Má - Hemp Mǎ - Horse Mà - Scold Ma - question particle

It’s even possible to construct an entire sentence from a single syllable just by changing its tone. There is a famous example of this called Shī Shì shí shī shǐ (The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den), which is a 92 syllable story written entirely with the syllable shi.

Ways to learn to speak Chinese

There are many different methods you could use to learn to speak Chinese, and a lot of them are even free thanks to the Internet.


The traditional way to learn a foreign language is in a classroom environment, and most people have some experience with this method. In the classroom, you can practice all 4 aspects of language learning (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) at once. However, it can cost a considerable amount of money, and be a large time commitment which not everyone can fit into already busy schedules.

Private lessons

This can be one of the best ways to get to know another language. By learning directly from a native Chinese speaker, you’re able to practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening to Chinese the way it’s actually used. Through this intensive method, you can master the language in the shortest amount of time, however, private lessons with a qualified language teacher can be quite expensive. Your best option is to pair up with someone who wants to learn your language and help each other out. As they say, the best way to learn something is to teach.

A/V and books

If you’re more of the independent study kind of person, you might want to try learning Chinese via audio, video, and books. This can be an effective method granted you have the willpower to stick with it. However, this method doesn’t provide you with any personal interaction with the language which you would you get from speaking with native speakers, and you’ll most likely only learn Chinese “by the book,” not the way Chinese speakers naturally speak.


One effective way of learning Chinese is with computer learning software. There are many programs which try to mimic natural learning processes to teach you to associate names of places, things, and situations directly with the target language instead of having to filter new vocabulary through your native language via translation. This method, however, can lack the personal interaction with other speakers of the language which makes learning more fun and exciting.

Travel and immersion

This can be one of the most exciting and rewarding ways of learning a new language. However, it takes a bit of a time and monetary commitment to travel to foreign countries which a lot of people simply don’t have. And unless you already have the basics of a language down before you go, you might find yourself scratching your head in confusion pretty often.


This might be one of the best options out there for beginners to get acquainted with the basics of a language. There are many websites out there which offer free or reasonably priced language learning programs for you to try out. However, if you’re a more advanced learner, you might not find these options very useful, as they tend to only cover the basic aspects of a language.


Apps are a great way to connect with native speakers and other language learners from around the world to practice speaking almost any foreign language. Now, you can log in and practice speaking Chinese whenever and wherever you happen to be, right on your phone or tablet. The world of language learning is getting a whole lot smaller.

Learn Chinese with Tandem

The Tandem app is the best way to learn Chinese online for free. With millions of members, Tandem is one of the largest language learning communities out there! With the Tandem app, you can connect with native Chinese speakers all over the world and practice by speaking via text, audio message, and video call. Master Chinese now and download the app!

Private lessons more your thing?

With Tandem Tutors, you can master the Chinese language even quicker. Our Tutors are certified professionals who offer one-on-one lessons anytime, anywhere. With Tandem Tutors, it’s easy to find someone who matches your style and works around your schedule. Your language learning journey begins today — Get started now!