I'm new on this website and my only objective is to get some answers. But the main question I have is How and where to start learning Chinese? How to begin?
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I could just assume you mean that you want to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese, but I'd like you to take a moment to share what you mean by "learn chinese." Since it will likely be the hardest thing you've ever tried to do, I'd recommend you consider the following:
You will likely want to review music, texts, and conversations. A common method of getting started is use of tourist books/apps/websites that focus on the most important phrases one needs. You can try to immerse yourself or take things very slowly. Eventually you will want to understand spoken Chinese in order to engage in a conversation. Without knowing your budget it would be hard to provide a precise plan. Generally, if you are looking for free help/products then you will be able to find these online by searching (just keep in mind that some of the resources may be hard to navigate). If your budget allows, you can look at buying a book or getting an introductory personal lesson (if you are near a big city or one with a large Chinatown).
Many of the questions/answers on this site actually end up providing good references to online resources. I suggest you start by reviewing this site for references to other online sites that have audio, visual, spoken, and written materials. Here's one such question. I recommend you review each answer and bookmark the websites. Many of the resources are free. You can also do a Google search. A used book on Reading & Writing Chinese can help, see my answer here for a good cheap source. You might also:
I believe in getting the right book and would encourage you to look for a book that is well organised. As an example, the book I mentioned earlier for Reading & Writing Chinese, introduces characters in a very logical order (with each character building on the next one). The result of this is that you will learn multiple characters that look similar at points where it is easy to see the relationships between them.
A quick example:
McNaughton & Li (1999), p. 35, presents these characters in sequence:
冂，囗，十， 田，厶 followed on p. 36 by
The right book can ease the learning experience if well-ordered.
Common Grammar Points
Chinese and English are both basically Subject Verb Object (SVO) languages so you will find many consistencies between the languages. This means one can take a basic sentence and simply replace with a Chinese synonym to have the same meaning. This is of course not always the case (meaning there are many variations) but I want to assure you that learning Mandarin is not only possible but can be easier if you think in grammatical terms.
A quick example:
Free Mac OSX Chinese English Language Guide
I have a Mac OSX Guide which details how to setup a Mac OSX system to enable Mandarin, Cantonese, and English speech, Pinyin Conversion, Chinese Writing, and Chinese-English Dictionaries (please check my profile for the links). Sorry that I don't have this for Windows but I've made everything one needs to get started for free. If I get a lot of requests for Windows setup then I'll pull together the material.
If you need more help, please edit your question further and I can refine this answer. I encourage you to jump right in and enjoy the journey.
Trying to find a local language exchanger would be a good idea, even if you are not living in China.
Many thought it is difficult to learn Mandarin Chinese. It is not quite true! It takes efforts and time to learn it well, but what doesn't? In our opinion, Chinese is one of the most interesting languages to learn in the world! Chinese is a picture language, which means ancient Chinese people draw different pictures as Chinese characters out of everything they saw in the environment!
Therefore, the best way to learn well the language is to learn the radicals of the characters first, which by themselves usually have hints from the writing (or drawing) and then forms the characters.
Here are some free tutorial videos about the basics of Chinese for you to get started: http://www.chinesehulu.com/2011/11/the-basics-pinyin/
Good Luck Learning Chinese!
I've been studying Chinese for several years using a variety of methods. I have two things to recommend without question:
1) Take a look at http://www.hackingchinese.com/ He has a ton of great learning tips aimed at the absolute beginner through the expert levels.
2) I highly recommend http://yoyochinese.com as a good place to learn pronunciation and grammar. You won't be drilled on writing at this site yet (though they plan to add that in the future at some point), but you will get really great explanations specifically geared toward native English speakers about how to pronounce Chinese words, train your listening skills, and learn how to form correct sentences, as well as learn some Chinese culture along the way. This is a Mandarin-Chinese-only site, and so they are completely focused on this one language. This will get you up into intermediate Chinese. I don't know if they have plans for more advanced levels or not yet.
Other good sites:
lang-8.com (for writing practice)
Don't buy books to learn Chinese, that will never helps. Try to find a Chinese friend and ask him to teach you.
Get up half an hour earlier every morning.
Choose 15 characters to learn that day, write one line of each of them whilst trying to memeorize the meaning.
Repeat those characters in the evening.
You are good if 5-7 will stay in your memory
After one year you shoul know 2500 characters ....
(Don't say learning to read is too difficult. 1 billion Chinese learn that by the time they are ten yeras old!)
And now for the easy bit:
There are only 214 components ("radicals") that make up ALL characters. Therefore all lou have to learn is combining them.
I've had a wonderful experience learning Russian at the website Russianpod101.com There is also Chineseclass101.com run by the same company. You can get a 1-month free trial with this website. Many of their video lessons are posted on Youtube. I've been studying Russian at this website for 4 years and am at an intermediate level. You can reach as high a level as you want on this website. They have all the bells and whistles--flashcards, dictionaries grammar bank, etc.
You will also need a very comprehensive Chinese grammar book, a concise grammar book (easier to lift) and dictionary (available at amazon.com). also a fat book of Chinese verbs. But don't worry about verb conjugations--these don't exist in the Chinese language. I recommend that you don't go cheap on the book purchases.
In addition to the website and the textbooks, you eventually will want to subscribe to a Chinese television website which would include Chinese movies, live tv, recorded tv shows and such. Good for improving comprehension
After a couple years of learning the basics, you will want conversation practice. Go to mylanguageexchange.com to match up with a Chinese person who is learning English and you can converse via Skype.
Also there is Chinese.stackexchange.com which is a storehouse of answers to questions about Chinese grammar, idioms and such. Be prepared for the long haul. I expect to still be studying Russian for many years to come.
I'm a beginner.
The Michel Thomas disks are an excellent way to start. They will get you moving.
Watch as many movies as you can, but make sure they're not Cantonese (unless you want to learn Cantonese).
I would recommend pinyin. If you want to start to learn characters, use memrise.
The grammar of the language is easy compared to Western European languages. Verbs are not conjugated. The word order is the same as English (these are both generalities).
Probably the best advice I ever got was concerning tones. I had learned the four tones of Mandarin and was showing off my scholarship to a Chinese friend. He then asked, "are you singing it or saying it?" If you listen to Chinese people talk, the tones are very subtle. Context is more important.
Finally, with respect to the characters, there is a great deal of misinformation and ignorance. Take for example, the long-accepted Western meme that the term "crisis" in Chinese is made by combining the characters for "danger" and "opportunity." This is to suggest the Chinese reader will hear the sympathetic notes of the underlying two characters to help explain the concept, a la Fenollosa. This is akin to claiming that English speakers treat bovines and felines similarly, because the word "cattle" contains the word "cat".
Learn the 1000 or so basic vocabulary words and you'll be off and running. But I can't recommend Michel Thomas highly enough.
I am an Chinese native speaker, and I can't shared with you about how to learn Chinese. But I have something to said about learning English.
I had a English course at high school, and really get into reading English article late at college. And I tell you that English I learned as a course is very different from English I read. Courses do help, they would build you a solid foundation**, but **you can always teach yourself, in your own ways.
So here comes the rules, rule one using it. Read a lot, or write a lot, or both. I would suggest you to begin with reading, because writing include word choosing, this depend on a fairly large vocabulary. As my writing in English is not good, this conclusion is coming from experience. To learn to write well, that is a long way to go from no-background beginning.
And in order to use it, there are two things you need to know: Grammar and Vocabulary. I am not aware whether there is a thing like idiom or phrase verb or anything like that which behave like a single word, that is, as an single semantic unit, in Chinese. Words in most case, is the element of semantic. And Grammar is how they compose into a more complex and specific unit, which is the sentence. Both of them are important. But I suggest to go first with Grammar and basic Vocabulary, this is what a course would provide, and is good at. And next you need to grow your vocabulary.
Because memorizing words is hard work, and you need to do it a lot, and in a long time. That's where rule two come in: using the language your are learning frequently, as long as you can. Because your going to forget faster than you can imaging without review. So having fun is also important, it keeps you going.
Here is the specific plan: First catch a course, video or text, what ever you like. Video is easier, but I suggest at least have a text book. Then you can take some book, either valuable or interesting, to read. That is actually the harder part. And then using the knowledge you learn to interpret the text, from beginning to end for one or two books that are short enough. After that, you can pick a book with both original and translated version to read. Read the Chinese version first, and if you have doubts, read the translated version, usually you would get it, if not, post a question here or any sort of site like this. Keep reading and asking and your Chinese will improve. For the writing part I am not sure what to do yet, hope I can figure out.
Last it would be better to have a partner who can speak Chinese, it will help a lot. That is part of the reason why I am writing this answer. I need a partner! Native speaker of English would be fine to help me with the question I meet while reading. For anyone reading this answer, if you want to learn Chinese, and you are a native speaker of English, and you wish to have a partner, please contact me, we can help each other.
And wish you learn Chinese well.