When you want to learn Chinese, you may not be sure about the best way to start:

  • Which textbook is right for you?  
  • Should you learn with a tutor?
  • Is it okay to learn by yourself?
  • How often will you take classes?
  • Is just once a week okay?


I’ve been a professional Chinese teacher for over 10 years, and people ask me these questions all the time.

But, there are really only two questions you should ask yourself:


1: Why do I want to learn Chinese?
2: What level do I want to get to?

If you can answer these two questions honestly, then you can start planning your Chinese learning.

People learn Chinese for different reasons. These could be to conduct business, get a university degree, meet boyfriends or girlfriends, follow certain cultural interests, or for a combination of all these.

If you learn Chinese for business, you’d better start with daily conversation and then turn to business Chinese. Once, a student asked me if he could just start with business Chinese at the very beginning without learning general Chinese. I said, no, he had to  learn the daily things first, then business, since he would be using words and sentences based on daily conversation.

A very important thing to decide is if you want to learn Chinese characters. The answer to this is related to Question 2: What level do you want to get to? Because, you could start learning Chinese with Pinyin (a system of learning to speak Mandarin Chinese without characters) only, and you can reach a good level -- Chinese speakers will understand you, and you will speak almost perfect Chinese.


But, if you want to go beyond this level, you need to read Chinese characters. There are very few books which are written only in Pinyin for higher levels. Even if you try hard to find one or two books, they are very limited. Some students read Chinese novels in  class; these are not written for foreigners, they’re for Chinese speakers. This is an excellent way of increasing your skills to a proficient level of Chinese. So, make your decision at the very beginning to determine what kind of studying you need to do.


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If you have a Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend, you are lucky and unlucky at the same time. Why? You’re lucky because she or he will motivate you to learn Chinese, and you can practice Chinese together. Fantastic!


But, here’s the unlucky part: If you’re in love, you may want to spend time being in love instead of learning. One of my students even quit my class since his girlfriend said she could teach him. So, he stopped his language classes, he learned a little bit more, but then never improved. If this happens to you, at least you can say you’re happy because you’re in love. Yes, you’re right, but love is not great for learning Chinese.

If you are a student in a Chinese language school, you may find a tutor here on italki once or twice a week to answer your questions or practice spoken Chinese with you. These are two things you can’t do very well in the class since your teacher can’t focus only on you.

If you’re interested in Chinese culture or you’d like to make friends with Chinese people, visit China or even do business in China as most of my students do. At first, you may not be sure of how far you want to go in Chinese or if you want to learn Chinese characters.


So, at the beginning level, you could just focus on spoken Chinese. But, when you get to the intermediate level, it’s time to decide. If you want to become proficient in Chinese someday, you must start learning the characters. The good thing is you can learn characters by yourself, no problem. There aren’t so many questions about characters; it’s just a time-consuming thing: memorization. Of course, when you have a question, bring it to an italki lesson. I’d like to answer it, as would any of the other Chinese teachers.

As you see, different people have different ways of learning Chinese. As italki tutors and teachers, we can help make your studying a little bit easier and more efficient.

These are my suggestions for beginners learning Chinese. I hope it helps.