MANDARIN CHINESE

The languages spoken in China are a collection of related, but also mutually unintellible languages. The most widespread is Mandarin, with around a billion speakers, but if you're planning a trip to China don't take it for granted that that's the variety which will be most useful. Check here for a list of all the different languages of China, and the regions in which they are spoken.

If you are thinking of learning Mandarin Chinese however, or if you've already started and want some extra practice, here are some good sites to start you off. You'll probably find you need to use more than one - some are great at providing useful dialogues, but don't explain the language adequately, whilst others have good explanations and examples but no audio. You'll need to switch backwards and forwards from one to the other.

One exception to this is Chinese-Tools.com - a nice slow approach, lots of useful dialogues and explanations. The site is available in a number of languages from French to Polish, which may be helpful if you're not a native English speaker - or if you want to practise two languages at once!

For more explanations try Wikibook's Chinese (Mandarin) course. Again, it's slow and the explanations are clear, but there's no audio. Good for reference and consolidation though.

The BBC's Real Chinese course is based on the TV programmes of the same name. The dialogues are realistic and there's a pronunciation guide, langauge notes, video clips and so on. It would need to be used as supplementary material to another course or, as intended, in conjunction with the programmes. If you're in the UK you can find out when they're airing by checking the site, or alternatively by looking at out section Language learning news, where the schedule is posted at the beginning of each month. But well worth checking out whether you can see the programmes or not.

The Ashcombe School only has one example of Mandarin in its collection of foreign language videos, but once you've followed a beginner's course, try it to see how much you understand!

hanyu.com's site to accompany the beginner's textbook book Learn Chinese with Me is intended for High School students but would be good for adult beginners too. It's a collection of short animations, moving from saying hello onwards. You can see the pinyin script or the hanzi characters, but there's no translation. Not a place to start but useful for extra listening and pronuciation practice - try shadow reading the text.

They provide similar activities for adult learners at their site to accompany a textbook called the New Practical Chinese Reader. Again there are some video clips for listening practice, but this time with no written support. Good supplementary practice though. This site also lets you learn to read Chinese characters. Each character is "translated" into pinyin, but there's no English equivalent. So again, you need to recognise the vocabulary.

Once you've done a few units from the sites listed above, you can start to get extra vocabulary recognition practice at the site of the University of Hawaii. You can practise vocabulary starting from the Chinese and recognising the English meaning or vice versa, and can visualise the words either in Chinese characters or in pinyin.

Berkley University also has an on-line first year course, to accompany the course Integrated Chinese. There's no English translation so you either need to be following the book or to use the online materials as consolidation after you've followed another beginner's programme.

Once you're past the elementary stage, the University of Oxford has a great video based course - probably the best online - with plenty of explanations and practice. Once you've had an initial look at the video, go to the Listening and Speaking section where you'll find the conversation in pinyin, hanzi characters and English. Then work on the Grammar and other exercises.

China.org.cn provides learning dialogues for lower intermediate learners onwards. It frightened the life out of me when I first went in until I realised that for some reason I was looking at Lesson 51. Click on the drop-down menu to get to earlier lessons. It's not a site for a complete beginners, and the dialogues are a bit stilted,but if you're past the elementary stage it could be useful.

As you progress and if you need help with pronunciation or characters, try the Harvard site.

The Defense Language Institute's advanced course is intended to be used with a tutor. But if you do have a Chinese speaker helping you with your learning, it would be one way to structure your course.



And if you're a teacher or home-schooling parent looking for tips on methodology, lesson plans and practical activities to use in the classroom, go to our section for Teachers and Parents.