For the past month or so I’ve been learning Mandarin Chinese from three sources: a Mandarin Chinese course for beginners on YouTube (taught in Japanese), another set of excellent Mandarin lessons on YouTube, and by watching a Taiwanese drama called 海派甜心 (Hǎipài tiánxīn), which is viewable on YouTube as well.
I’m going to Taiwan in November so I’ve made it my top priorty to learn how to speak Mandarin. It’s also a personal experiment for finding the best approaches and techniques for learning a foreign language.
I started off with Pimsleur Mandarin I—an audio-based self-learning program composed of thirty 30-minute lessons. If you’re a complete beginner I highly recommend you try the program. I’ve completed 27 of the 30 lessons, and can honestly say that it really wires the stuff into your brain. I think it’s the best tool for learning conversational Mandarin without having to struggle with grammar or Chinese characters. It wouldn’t be the first time as I’ve had a lot of success with Pimsleur Spanish I as well.
Despite Pimsleur Mandarin’s efficiency, it gives me the feeling that I’m not learning all the kinds of words that I’ll most likely put into use when talking with friends. Since the audio program focuses on basic conversational Mandarin, you’ll only acquire a limited number of words particularly useful for encounters where you need to ask for directions or when you want to buy a drink. You don’t gain access to a variety of words like apple, black, green, happy, girlfriend, music, angry, hobby, running, embarrassing, etc. You need secondary materials for that.
So what I’ve done is, I’ve tried to learn Mandarin Chinese from a variety of sources. I used Pimsleur for building a foundation, after which I moved on to materials that are available on YouTube for free. I’ve also used some free text-based materials, such as this set of Mandarin Chinese lessons on About.com. The Internet is full of awesome language learning resources. Use Google to your advantage.
You don’t have to stick with one resource (teacher, course, textbook, video lessons, audio program) from start to finish. Some grammatical rules or nuances may sound awfully complex at first by just by switching resources you might find an enlightening explanation.