How about someone visiting China in the next few months, who does not understand their language? Is there a way to learn common words and sentences with the correct pronunciation quickly?
Thanks in advance.
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It's difficult for westerners to master the four tones in a few days, but if you have a few months, you can try! It's also difficult to learn how to read Chinese characters, but you can memorize some common words in a few days, such as restaurant, hotel, supermarket, museum, park etc, so that you can know where to go (most places have English signs in Beijing & Shanghai). In Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, you don't need to worry about the language barrier because most young people there can talk with you in English.
There are several books that are aimed at travellers with a short time to learn some basic words before they travel. I'm pretty sure I used a book called, I Can Read That before my second trip to China, and it had things like the characters for man 男 and woman 女 so you can find the right toilet. My big triumph on that trip was that I read a sign that said 天安门, and I recognized that it was pointing the way to Tiananmen square.
Good luck on your trip.
A combination of things worked pretty well for me. As early as possible, download "Chinese Lite" phone app. It's free and 6 categories of basic words, phrases, questions and answers are free, including "General Conversation," "Numbers," Directions & Places," "Transportation," and "Eating Out." At first, it will seem that the speaker talks way too fast, but if you keep playing them over and over, you will catch on to a few before your departure. Also download "Chinese Radicals" and start learning to recognize the radicals. It's a free game that will test your memory of them with multiple choice answers. Play the game during your flight: learn simple signs that you see around you, like "Exit" (2 stacked mountains + a mouth). On arrival, imitate the sounds of words you'll say a lot (hello, excuse me, tasty). I fell in love with street dumplings, so I learned "Jiao zi" the second day! I think the keys are repetition & imitation, and feeling free to write down your own phonetic clues.