There is now an overwhelming excess of language learning products out there on the market. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff, the gold from the silver, the one dimensional from the multi-task? Doing the necessary research is a time-consuming process. Our buying guide is intended to highlight the most important factors that need to be considered when choosing a product. If this is used in parallel with our detailed product reviews, you should find it much easier to find a product that meets your specific needs and budget.
Language Goals and Motivations
Firstly you need to know what you want to learn, do you want simply to learn conversational Mandarin to equip your survival as you travel in China or perhaps you are working toward your Chinese proficiency exam and need comprehensive grammatical and syntactical hair-splitting analysis.
Either way, there is a package for you. Once you know what your motivations are this will help you select the product best suited to your needs. Each learner has their own style, and you will find the program that suits your style in order to Teach Yourself Chinese Mandarin.
In learning Chinese Mandarin, or any language for that matter, you must address the core skills of language learning which are speaking, listening, reading and writing. These are the core skills. Some may argue that grammar is missing but if you learn all four of these skills, grammar is implicit within all of them. Now it is entirely probable that you are looking for a package which focuses on one or two skills in particular. If you are traveling through China, you might only want to focus on speaking and listening and buy a package tailored to those ends.
If you are studying towards an examination or have to present a business plan, you may want to focus more on reading, writing and grammar based learning. Indeed, any permutation is possible. Perhaps you want merely to supplement your learning with another resource or find a program that allows you to refresh your memory in a language you are already familiar with. Teach Yourself Chinese guide should help you isolate what product suits you and what your language needs are.
Keys Skills and Learning Styles
Whether you want to learn a few words or phrases or learn conversational Mandarin, this will impact the choice you make. If you want simply to build up your vocabulary and spoken ability then you might not need to fork out for some of the more comprehensive courses. You may want only to focus on products tailored to Mandarin vocabulary and conversation. Likewise, pronunciation goes hand in hand with spoken proficiency, so it is highly likely that the product you buy will focus on these two areas specifically.
A lot of the products on the market now even include a few excellent technological features, for example, the voice recognition technology which allows you to record your voice and compare it with a native speaker's recording, or even have your pronunciation evaluated by the program's voice comparison technology. Some technologies even allow you to slow down the native speaker's pronunciation to help you perfect your own pronunciation. Equally, if you want a to understand not simply conversational words and phrases, but sentence structures and the complex system of Mandarin intonation, you may wish to seek out products that explicitly teach this aspect of Mandarin.
Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of language learning (particularly in Mandarin which uses a complex system of pictorial characters), is learning to read and write in that language. Sure, it's easy enough to listen and repeat words, but can you read a book in the language, can you write a quick note in an emergency, can you decipher the meaning of Chinese characters? If the answer is no then perhaps you need another type of program, or a course book.
It all depends on your learning style. If you prefer self-study, focusing on the syntax and grammar perhaps a writing course book with audio is better suited to you. If you learn better through interaction perhaps a program with an English speaking guide will give you the interaction and explanation you need. There is also the choice of learning the Chinese pinyin system based on the Roman alphabet or learning the Chinese traditional and simplified characters.The one which is preferable to you should be based on why you want to learn Mandarin.
Essential to all language learning is variety! Are you bored easily by book learning? Does staring into a computer screen give you a head ache? Does listening to audio while you walk engage you more than sitting still? You need to decide if variety is the spice of life or if a more focused approach will suit. There are so many different types of learning: audio-lingua, audio-visual, kinesthetic, instructional etc.
Perhaps a mix of these styles is more suitable. In this case a program that has a wide variety of activities is better - flashcards, listening activities, as well as engaging games and quizzes that check your knowledge - these all serve to keep you engaged in the learning process. Or are you an academic type who prefers to read books and can focus exclusively on one style for a long time - then a grammar course book would probably suit you better.
The important point is that you don't limit yourself. It might be the case that the product you buy will only supplement resources you are already using to study Mandarin. If that is the case, let that inform your purchase choice. Variety is important to engage the different areas of the brain in learning, but equally a focused curriculum can give you the discipline you might otherwise lack.
Ease of Use
Ease of use is also an important factor to consider. Will a host of cd's overwhelm you and end up lying on the shelf accumulating dust? If so, perhaps the interactive computer programs are more suited to your needs. On the other hand, will the computer drive you mad with migraines or do you work from your computer all day long? Then perhaps you need some down time reading a book or listening to some engaging Mandarin audio learning.
You must consider what ease of use means to you within the routine of your life, and make your choices based on these assumptions. You don't want to get caught up with incompatibility problems before you even start learning, like wise you don't want to fall asleep in your chair while reading chapter one. Remember, ease of use goes hand in hand with engagement.
All the products in the top ten list come with customer support assured. Indeed, all of them offer a money back guarantee if you are not completely satisfied. Some of the programs even offer contact with real language teachers so you can put your queries to them, get advice, or plan your own customized learning curriculum. The point is you want a product that won't simply leave you out in the cold. If you have problems or questions, they can help you.
Customer Support is another important factor in your choice. Indeed, in these days of intense social networking a lot of packages also have interactive online communities and even use Facebook and Twitter. This adds another dimension to your learning - the chance to meet other people using the same product and the chance to compare experiences, even test each others' knowledge. Additional resources, links and online communities are an attractive bonus and may well encourage you to go with one product over another.
The ultimate deciding factor in all of this is money. What can you afford? Hundreds of dollars or pounds or are you looking for a bargain basement alternative. Again, all budgets are accounted for. Some of the more elaborate courses, ranging from beginner to advanced, can be quite pricey but equally there are course books and audio courses that cover muchof the same language material at a much cheaper rate. It is important to scrutinize what the product includes in its package.
It is entirely possible to spend hundreds of pounds on a product that actually gives you as much language material as a much cheaper product. Most of these Teach Yourself Chinese products even allow you a free demonstration or a free download to test drive the material. Often you can even look inside books online to see their format and the areas they cover. So there really is no reason to buy blind. You can test what you're getting before you have even pulled out your wallet or bank card.
The Bottom Line
The sheer volume of choice can be daunting. Ask yourself some questions - what is your preferred style of learning? What are your language goals? What can you afford? Once you know the answer to these question you will be able to narrow down your choices. Ultimately language learning is a long process. It requires patience and determination. It requires planning and enthusiasm.
Yet don't see language learning as a one dimensional process, you can make learning fun and interesting, it doesn't have to be like so many dull classrooms. There is a plethora of choices for you. There is no need to be disappointed. Good luck with your language learning!