I'm about to start learning mandarin chinese myself, without any teachers but with a help of textbooks and video (audio) lessons. My question is: where do I start, I mean, is it better to start with pinyin or with Han characters? What words do I need to start with? What about grammar? Maybe someone can recommend me a good book to start with?


Regarding starting with pinyin or characters: It's funny, I recently asked this question myself. In your case, I would recommend:

  • Starting with basics of pinyin... getting the hang of pronunciation. TalkBank provides a pinyin chart that pronounces each for you given the selected tone. It's really cool. Just choose a tone, and click on a vowel/initial.

  • Learn the 4 tones.

    Mā: 妈 = mother
    Má: 麻 = hemp
    Mǎ: 马 = horse
    Mà: 骂 = scold

  • Start pairing characters with pinyin. Learn the basics/greetings.

    Nǐ hǎo: 你好 = hello
    Xièxiè:谢谢 = thank you
    Bù kèqì: 不客气 = you're welcome
    Zài jiàn: 再见 = good bye

  • Solidify what you've learned by practicing in a chat room. I recommend Zhongwen.com > then go to LiaoTian! (chat). Informal chat rooms were hugely helpful for me to get started.

  • Once you have some basics of chatting down, maybe head over to a Chinese restaurant and try ordering in Chinese (most speak Mandarin or at least some Mandarin that I've encountered). Or find a local Chinese market, or anything... Anything for you to go and practice speaking Mandarin. This will get you comfortable speaking. But you need a foundation with the words first. So keep practicing them.
  • For a book, Stumpy Joe recommended this one. Also look at the community wiki for Chinese learning resources.

Good luck! If I think of anything else I'll let ya know.

  • Your answer is just what I was asking for. Very thankful for book, chat room and TalkBank recommendation. – Bohdan Oct 23 '13 at 20:16

Start with PinYin. Don't worry about writing and grammar at this stage. Find a native speaker to correct your tones. I have used chinese-bootcamp.com practice session several times, very useful to practice with native speakers.

  • Pinyin is difficult and illogical for people who don't already know Chinese. And it makes it easy to ignore tones until it's too late. I suspect learning through pinyin is a reason so few otherwise fluent foreigners have good tones. – hippietrail Feb 16 '14 at 7:56

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