Although one-fifth of the world’s population speak it, for the rest of us, Mandarin is widely considered one the most difficult languages to learn.
Whether it’s simplified or traditional Chinese, all those lines, dashes, intonations and exceptions, are enough to scare off any learner.
For me, learning Chinese has been an uphill battle.
And while I’ve heard countless tips about pronunciation and memorizing characters,
only one thing really works:
Problem is, parroting audio from podcasts or re-writing characters can be freakin’ boring.
So, looking to find a non-brain-numbing way to learn Mandarin, I turned to Wechat and never looked back!
Here’s how to hone your skills with Wechat, in a useful, engaging, and dare I say, fun way.
My 30-Day Chinese Challenge
One of the big hurdles I keep running into is, how do I get the massive amounts of information I’ve just learned to sink into my noggin’?
Practicing aloud to myself is not only boring, but I’m sure my neighbors see me as ‘that crazy lǎowài who’s always talking to herself.’
So, one day I began posting the new words and sentences I’d learned onto my Moments page (which is like Facebook’s ‘wall’).
It first started as a self 30-day challenge: writing a post a day in Chinese characters, pinyin, and English.
These 30 days soon turned into 60 days, then 90, and to this day I still do it.
This simple but effective challenge is an interesting way to practice, and also involves my friends, who add comments, corrections and reactions to my posts.
Find Chinese Friends
Let’s be honest, making Chinese friends as a foreign, non-fluent speaker like me, is tough.
Most of my Chinese friends have either insanely impressive English (crazy to think, as many have them have not traveled outside of China).
Or they have actually lived overseas and only want to speak in English.
The remaining Chinese people I meet are friendly and curious, but by the same token can be shy, or scared of me (I’m guessing, terrified they may have to speak English with me).
So, I started to look for virtual penpals on Wechat’s Message in a Bottle feature, and I was inundated with new friends wanting to chat, in Chinese!
Message in a bottle
This is an awesome feature that once you enable will give you hours of practice with Chinese speakers or other learners.
In the app, you stand by the virtual shoreside.
Here, you can send voice or text messages – usually something along the lines of, “I want to practice Chinese with you”.
This e-message gets popped into a ‘bottle’ and thrown into the sea, for someone to find and respond.
Within moments, I’m positively swimming in people wanting to chat!
However, be wise who you choose to chat with as some people haven’t got the memo that Message in a Bottle is not a dating app!
(Meaning, there is a lot of lonely losers out there with the hey-kid-I-have-a-ton-of-candy-in-my-van vibe. So be aware).
Other Wechat features ‘Shake’ and ‘Find friends’ act much in the same way.
Shake is an application whereby you physically shake your phone to find people to chat with.
Similarly, one click on People Nearby and a whole list of potential new friends will pop up, as well as the distance they are from you.
Find and Follow
Another easy, yet interesting way to learn Chinese with Wechat is by being curious aka nosy. This includes scanning every QR code in sight, following news sites and famous peeps.
I am not ashamed to admit it, but I have a scanning problem.
Whenever I visit a new place, meet a new person or simply pass by an advertisement, chances are, I’ll scan their QR code.
This will send me to their account where I can follow updates, try to translate their posts, images, memes, and links.
This is a great way to keep me in the loop about trending topics (did someone say #WangBaoqiang’sdivorce?) – as well as upcoming events and festivals.
Follow news sites
Sure, I’m not reading in Chinese but I am understanding much more about the culture, which goes hand-in-hand with learning the language.
For when I do want to attempt to read a news article in Chinese, I can simply “favorite” them, which adds them to my read later list.
I also do this on my Moments feed – reading, translating and learning all about Chinese people.
There is a ton of official celebrity QR codes for you to find online and among the best are famous singer and actors.
Not only do celebrities update all the time but they also post video and audio clips.
This is a great way to boost your listening skills while practicing all the latest hits, which you can take with you to karaoke!
My favorite Wechat power couple to follow is actress Angelababy (You can spot her in the new Independence Day blockbuster), as well as her famous singer and model hubby, 黄晓明 (Huáng Xiǎomíng).