Interested in learning Chinese? Curious what it’s like? A few months ago I decided to start learning Chinese. No practical reason other than just genuine curiosity and to see if I could do it.

How Did I Arrive At This Decision?

I’ve always wanted to learn a second language and I’ve always felt slightly inferior to bilingual peoples. I don’t know why. It just always seemed a very cool and useful skill to have. After all, Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world. More people speak Chinese than English. So if I’m going to play with learning a new language, why not shoot for the most useful?

It Begins.

I started by running a search for “learn mandarin” in the Google Play store. Several apps showed up, but I landed on one called HelloChinese. Overall, I’ve had a great experience with the app. It has a very user-friendly interface and I immediately felt right at home with it.

Lesson 1

I went in knowing that Chinese is a symbol-based language (there is no alphabet), but it didn’t fully realize what that felt like until I actually dove into my first lesson. There is no alphabet. My first lesson was an English explanation of what Pinyin is.

Pinyin actually answered one of my biggest questions about the language. If there are over 8,000 Chinese characters in the language, how on earth do you type? The thought of a single keyboard with 8,492 buttons on it seemed ridiculous.

This may be an oversimplification, but Pinyin is essentially the Romanized pronunciation of Chinese so you can type the character you want. On a desktop or laptop computer, you’d simply run a small program in the background that tries to auto-fill your Pinyin with the proper Chinese character.

For example, “Hello” is pronounced nĭ hăo. And when you type nĭ hăo, there’s a program that runs in the background that matches the Chinese character to the Latin letters you typed. Confused yet? Don’t worry, me too. Chinese is almost two languages rolled into one.

Here I’m using an input method called Fcitx available for Linux OS
On Android, you get Pinyin built into your keyboard after adding Chinese as a language option!

Why Only 6 Months?

In addition to other life events taking priority over a purely fun experiment, I simply don’t have any close contacts with whom I can practice speaking. Was it a total loss? Absolutely not. In fact, my interest in the language has grown even more! And at the very least, I can definitely tell the difference between Chinese characters and Japanese characters. Previously, I kinda had an idea, but would still run the risk of guessing or assuming incorrectly. Now I just need some Chinese speaking friends to stay sharp!