How to Speak Mandarin Chinese for Beginners

How to speak Mandarin Chinese for beginners lists resources, lessons and pronunciation tips for people who want to begin studying the Mandarin language.

Mandarin Chinese is spoken by an estimated 836 million people in the world, making it the most used language on Earth. This makes learning Mandarin very valuable, especially for doing business in countries such as Taiwan, where Mandarin Chinese is the national language.

Mandarin Pronunciation

You will need to learn the tones of Mandarin to truly speak the language. Do not get discouraged if you can't hear tones at first - tonal changes get easier to distinguish the more you study. This video provides a short tutorial that you can use to learn about using Mandarin Chinese tones.

Learning to speak Mandarin Chinese can be difficult. But do not be discouraged, you can learn how to speak Mandarin! Practice a few phrases and words each day, and the language will begin to make sense. It will take time and commitment, but if you follow the steps below, you too can speak Mandarin!

Step 1: Learn the Tones
Mandarin is a tonal language, which means if you say a word with the wrong tone or inflection, you can be misunderstood. There are four distinct tones. In Pinyin, tones are noted with numbers or tone marks, so pay attention to the marks as you read new words.

  1. Play sound clips to hear different tonal pronunciations.
  2. Repeat this to develop an ear for how the tones sound.
  3. Say the tones yourself as you hear them.

Step 2: Learn Basic Mandarin Phrases
You can easily learn a few basic phrases in Mandarin, like "Hello" and "Good-bye." Standard Mandarin has a short page of common phrases.

  1. Simply click on the arrow next to each phrase to hear it pronounced.
  2. Practice saying a phrase each time you hear it!
  3. If you're going on a trip, you might also get a phrasebook or electronic translator to carry with you. That way you can look up phrases whenever you're in an unexpected situation.

Additional Resources

  1. Wikitravel has online phrasebooks for both traditional and simplified Mandarin.
  2. McGraw-Hill's iSpeak lets you download 1,500 Chinese phrases for your iPod.

Language Guide Chinese Phrases
Language Guide has key phrases in Mandarin, arranged into categories like Greetings, Numbers, and Jobs. The categories are labeled in Pinyin and simplified characters. Hold your mouse over each category to see its name in English.

For example, click on the category Greetings.

  1. Move your mouse over each phrase to hear it in Mandarin.
  2. Repeat the phrase after you hear it.
  3. Other sections have pictures instead of words. Just move your mouse over each picture to hear it in Mandarin.

Introductory Mandarin Lessons
Each of these lessons has good information for beginning Mandarin students. The BBC and Times Online resources are particularly good for learning phrases for travel.

BBC's Real Chinese

The BBC's Real Chinese is a ten-part series of lessons in basic Chinese. Follow this series and you will learn key phrases and cultural insights necessary for a trip to China. This course's Mandarin is entirely in Pinyin, so you are not exposed to any Chinese characters.

  1. Go to the course's home page.
  2. Choose a lesson from the column on the right.
  3. When the lesson page loads, press "Start" to begin.
  4. The phrase initially appears in Pinyin. Check the English to see what it means, then choose "Sound Only" and repeat it yourself.
  5. At the end of the lesson, a summary appears.
  6. Click on "Useful Phrases" to review the lesson's key words once more.
  7. Watch the video to get some cultural background on what you've just studied.
  8. Take the "Challenge" and see how much you've learned!

Times Online

Times Online has an introductory course for Mandarin Chinese. These lessons will help you learn how to introduce yourself and hold simple conversations. It's another great course to use before you go on a trip where you'll want to speak Chinese. These lessons are also in Pinyin.

  1. On the course's home page, use the arrows to tab through the ten lessons until you find the one you want to work on.
  2. Click on the lesson to go to its home page.
  3. Follow the instructions to either download or stream your lesson.
  4. Each lesson has two parts: the lesson itself and a practice conversation.
  5. Listen to the audio lesson, repeating the Chinese when you are prompted.
  6. Go to or print out the lesson's home page, so you can read along as you listen.
  7. Then listen to the practice conversation. You'll be amazed at how much you understand!

California State University - Long Beach

This course from California State University, Long Beach provides audio files for conversations in Mandarin. Listen and then reinforce what you're learning with the practice sessions. These lessons have Mandarin written in traditional characters and Pinyin.

  1. First check out the pronunciation guide to practice the tonal differences in Chinese.
  2. On the course's home page, choose a lesson.
  3. Listen to the conversations from Part I: Listen and Learn. Just click on the speaker button to hear the audio file. Repeat each phrase after you hear it!
  4. As the audio file opens in a new page, it may be helpful to do this lesson in two browser windows. Keep the dialogue page open in one window, and use the second window to listen to your audio files.
  5. Part II is a dialogue review, so click on the page to read the sentences one more time.
  6. Then do the exercises in Part III to practice what you just learned. Say the words aloud in Chinese, and just click on the English words if you don't know an answer!


LiveMocha is an online learning community. You can follow their online courses, but also participate in the online community. You can ask fellow members for help with Mandarin, and offer help to those who are learning English. These introductory lessons are also in Pinyin. It's helpful to take this as a supplemental course, or take copious notes as you go through the lessons, because the course is vocabulary-intensive.

  1. Go to LiveMocha's home page.
  2. Click on "Get Started" to register for a free account, and select that you want to learn Chinese.
  3. You will receive a confirmation email; when it arrives click on the included link to activate your account.
  4. You have the option to upload a profile image; if you prefer click "Skip" to skip this step.
  5. Then choose the online course "Chinese 101."
  6. Begin with the section marked "Learn" on Unit 1, Lesson 1.
  7. Each lesson has four sections:
  8. Learn: Listen to words and phrases. Repeat the words as you hear them.
  9. Reading: Read words and phrases you just learned and select the correct image.
  10. Listening: Listen to the same words and phrases and select the correct image.
  11. Magnet: Now you must re-create the words and phrases. Choose from the presented words and drag them into the answer box, in the correct order.

Introductory Mandarin Podcasts
Podcasts are another great way to introduce yourself to Mandarin. You can listen to these lessons anywhere with your iPod or MP3 Player.

PeaceCorps Mandarin Chinese Language Lessons

These Peace Corps lessons are a valuable introductory tool. They offer pronunciation tips, as well as basic phrases.

  1. Go to the Peace Corps language lessons page.
  2. Click "Download the transcript of this lesson" to download a PDF file of the lesson vocabulary and dialogue.
  3. Note that the Mandarin is in Pinyin.
  4. You can listen to the lesson by clicking on it; the audio file will play in your web browser.
  5. Or copy and paste the appropriate xml code into your podcast software.
  6. In iTunes, click on the "Advanced" menu in the toolbar and choose "Subscribe to Podcast..."
  7. Paste the URL in the box that appears and click "OK."
  8. Your subscription is all set!

Mandarin Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk

This podcast offers comprehensive Mandarin audio lessons.

  1. Visit the list of lessons to choose an appropriate level.
  2. Listen to the podcast online by clicking on the arrow under "Listen Now."
  3. Or click "Download" to save the audio file to your desktop. That way you can import the file onto your MP3 player or iPod!
  4. Listen to the lesson. Repeat tones and phrases as you hear them.

If you want to, you can subscribe to the podcast for an additional fee. Subscribing means you'll receive transcripts and worksheets for each podcast.

ChinesePod Podcasts

ChinesePod is a popular podcast for learning Mandarin Chinese. You can listen to its podcasts for free, or pay a subscription fee for more learning tools.

  1. On the home page, click on "Get Started" to create an account.
  2. Fill in the requested information on the next page.
  3. Once you've completed your sign up, you can access lessons right away. Click on the "Lessons" tab to choose a lesson.
  4. The default level for lesson choices is "Newbie," which is a perfect starting place for beginners. If you want a different level for your lessons, just choose the appropriate tab on the lessons page.
  5. Listen to the podcast by pressing the play button to hear its streaming audio.
  6. The new vocabulary is presented slowly, so try to repeat each new word or phrase as you hear it.

New users receive a free 15-day trial period as premium members. Information about the subscription levels and prices is available as well.

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