1. Build a schedule
The most important part of learning any language is consistent practice. This goes without saying. However, many people undervalue the importance of consistency and routine. It might not seem like much to practice for a half hour, five days a week, but it’s twice as effective as practicing for two and a half hours once a week. No matter how busy you are, you can fit language learning into your everyday routine. Whether it’s during a commute to work, during your lunch break, or in a quiet space in the evening - make the time, make progress.
2. Set Realistic Goals
I know, I know. The whole idea is to learn Chinese FAST. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and no one is going to reach fluency in a foreign language in a week. Set realistic goals for yourself that you believe you can reach. Make them ambitious, but don’t set yourself up for failure. Space out your goals so that you have short term and long term objectives. Aim for a certain number of vocabulary words every week, and give yourself more exciting goals. Say to yourself something like "I will learn enough to order food in a restaurant this week". Shaping your goals around situations makes your learning more rewarding in the short term, because you really master something concrete.
3. Immerse yourself
Even if you only have a half hour a day, and even if you don’t know a single Chinese native speaker, you can immerse yourself in a language by reviewing things in your mind throughout the day. The more often you practice, even silently, the better you will absorb the language. Try posting Chinese phrases or words in places you’ll see them, and when you’re walking around try to name as many nouns as you can in your mind. When you say something in English, ask yourself - Do I have the skills to express this in Chinese?
4. Engage in multiple ways
The brain is a funny thing. If you learn something one way, you won’t necessarily be able to reverse it. For example, if you look at Chinese characters on flash cards and are able to name the word in Chinese and English, you may not be able to look at an English word and come up with the character in Chinese for it. Drill yourself multiple ways. Hear Chinese, and translate to English. Hear English and translate to Chinese. See pinyin, and try to come up with the character. See the character and try to come up with the pinyin. The more ways you practice it, the deeper and more solid your memory will be.
5. Memorize the hard stuff
Some things you can’t just wing. If you’re confused about grammar, or if you have a hard time with certain words or characters, just sit down with it and memorize. If you went to college, think about what worked for you then. It’s dull, but slogging through it will bring rewards when you’re confident about the way you build sentences.
6. Make games for yourself
If it’s not enjoyable, you’ll eventually stop doing it. You can find ways to make learning Chinese fun. Think about word games in English that you can replicate in Chinese. List all the words you can think of that start with a certain sound. Find exercises you like and make them as fun as you can.
This is the most important point. If you don’t have an opportunity to speak, you won’t progress quickly. This is the number one reason why text and audio based language programs fail. You don’t have to worry! In the age of information there are no problems finding people to talk to, especially when you speak English - a language in tremendously high demand.
Next, consult a language exchange program online. Do a google search to find a network where people are trading language lessons. You can arrange a schedule where you help a Chinese speaker with their English and they help you with your Chinese. If you’re really ambitious, make a couple of friends and chat with Chinese speakers a couple of times a week. The progress you’ll make will speak for itself.