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Most folks agree that to become a conversational or fluent speaker in Mandarin, you must immerse yourself in a Chinese speaking environment IN CHINA. Yet many of us lack the time, money, or desire to spend a significant time in China. Fortunately there plenty of ways to immerse yourself in Chinese in your home country.
In the five-step guide below, I outline ways and resources to immerse yourself in Chinese to help you fulfill your goals for learning Mandarin.
Step 1 to immerse yourself in Chinese: Sign-up for a Chinese Class
A formal Chinese course gives you an environment where you can cut yourself off from your native language and immerse yourself in Mandarin. Though you will still need to go the extra mile to speak as much Mandarin as possible when communicating with your classmates and teacher.
Other benefits of signing up for a Chinese class include accountability by showing up regularly and completing all the coursework. Not to mention you will be introduced to a community of learners that are likely as committed as you to Chinese language immersion.
Step 2 to immerse yourself in Chinese: Find a language partner
In addition to taking regular Chinese classes, you need to find yourself a language partner to further maximize your opportunities for speaking Mandarin.
Having a native speaker as a language partner is always ideal, but even someone else that is learning Chinese alongside you is suitable for steady practice. Remember the goal here is maximizing opportunities for you to use the language.
So how can you find yourself a language partner?
If you are a university student, check out programs offered by your school’s Asian Studies or International Education departments. Universities usually host frequent international coffee hours or plenty of events in China where you can meet potential language partners.
Since leaving school, I have had great luck searching for Chinese language corners in Meetup. There is likely a group in your area that meets regularly to discuss different topics in Chinese.
You can also consider doing online courses with a Chinese tutor. Not only is this the easiest way to find a quality language partner, but it is also the most effective.
Step 3 to immerse yourself in Chinese: Make your environment Chinese
Try posting sticky notes on all your household objects in Chinese characters and pinyin.
As an additional step, switch your mobile phone and computer’s default language to Chinese.
Not only does this strategy help you learn many practical words, but it also reinforces an immersive environment.
Step 4 to immerse yourself in Chinese: Consume Chinese social media and entertainment
How many times do you check Facebook or listen to music on any given day? One study suggests the average person checks 14 times a day.
Imagine if you were to do this for Chinese social media and how much benefit it will bring to your regular studies.
There are many Chinese social media platforms you can try, but WeChat is the most popular. Download WeChat and add your network of Chinese friends and classmates learning Chinese. Follow their stories on Moments, comment on them in Chinese, and post your own.
WeChat also allows you to follow news channels specific to your interests. Though this is primarily useful for advanced learners (however there are plenty of channels for beginners learning Chinese). For beginning to intermediate learners, try sticking to graded readers like the Chairman’s Bao as a reading resource to check throughout the day.
Apart from social media, further cut yourself off from your native language by listening to music and streaming Chinese media online. Youku is always great for music and other videos, but I always use Duonao to watch TV shows and movies.
Step 5 to immerse yourself in Chinese: Expand your relationships with Chinese
It goes without saying, that the more Chinese friends you have, the more opportunities you will have to practice Mandarin.
Start easy with frequenting a local Chinese restaurant, supermarket, hair salon, or anywhere you can practice basic conversations.
Once you develop some rapport with folks at these stores, they are more likely to help you further in developing your basic skills provided they won’t be too busy. So best go at off hours when they are not busy with other customers.
Yet practicing Mandarin with restaurant waiters and shop assistants will likely only help you develop proficiency in basic conversations. Your interactions will also be really short.
Therefore, try attending local events in China at museums, art galleries, university panels, festivals and anything else where Chinese are likely to be. It will take plenty of effort on your part to make Chinese friends, but you will benefit in having more opportunities to practice Chinese and learn more about Chinese culture.
One thing to remember when building relationships with Chinese are that friendship should be the primary goal and language learning comes second.
Chinese take friendships incredibly seriously and you should read more about the concept of guanxi to understand how relationships work with Chinese.
Learning Chinese in your home country is no easy task. But luckily for you, we live in an age where there are endless resources making it easier to learn Chinese.
Are there any immersive strategies you have tried that I did not mention? Share your experience in the comments below!