Learn to Speak and Write Chinese by Chatting Online
posted at  2012-03-14 01:36  Craig Batts
When I tell people that I speak and write fluent Chinese, they usually respond, "That’s impossible. Isn’t Chinese the hardest language in the world?" I tell them that one thing makes Mandarin Chinese easy to learn: there are so many people to practice with!

China has probably already surpassed the US in Internet usage. One estimation says that around 200 million people in China are on the ’net (that’s more surfers than the US, but still only 1/6 of the Chinese population). Many of these Chinese Internet surfers are curious about the outside world, and eager to make friends with foreigners. All you need is a place to meet online.

Once you find Chinese friends, learning the language is a breeze. Since English is a required class through High School in China, the first barrier to communication is gone. If you are willing to help each other out, perhaps agreeing to split your chatting time half-and-half English and Chinese, you’ll both be improving your language skills.

Chinese writing is one of the hardest barriers to crack when learning the Chinese language. However, don’t worry about learning brush strokes and calligraphy--this is the Internet age. Most people use Pinyin, which is essentially the English alphabet, to input Chinese characters on their computer on a normal keyboard. It’s just a matter of remembering how to spell the words, and Pinyin is much simpler than English spelling! For example, type "ni hao" and the two Chinese characters meaning "Hello!" will show up. Most computers already have this input method installed as an option.

Recognizing characters is even easier, especially when you see them used in conversation. There are hundreds of dictionary websites where you can copy and paste Chinese characters, and see the meaning and pronunciation. Chinese characters are designed to be memorable, with different parts to indicate both meaning and pronunciation. It’s not as hard as it looks! And if you have any questions on the meaning of a character, ask someone online. Finally, if you don’t feel like learning any characters, just chat in Pinyin (writing Chinese with the English alphabet) and you can concentrate on conversation skills, vocabulary, and cultural exchange.