When it comes to acquiring a second language, nothing will give you such an advantage in the learning progress as living in a native speaking environment. This is because for learning Chinese, the amount of input you receive is still king. Unfortunately, packing your stuff and moving to China or Taiwan might just not be in the loop for you because of work, family, money etc. We all know that.
So wouldn’t it be awesome if you could create the feeling of Chinese immersion right at home? Surround yourself with so much Mandarin Chinese that you can’t do anything but soak up the language like a dried out sponge? Well, look no further: Below we present you with 14 creative ideas to start your Chinese immersion at home.
1. Change your computer and smartphone to Mandarin Chinese
These are the places we (sadly) spend most of our time on and so it would seem, this is a great place to start. Doing this on your phone is especially powerful, as it will automatically change the language of your most favourite apps. This little hack alone will guarantee that you are (almost) constantly exposed to Mandarin Chinese. Once you have mastered your way to navigate your computer and phone in Chinese, your language proficiency will definitely have reached another level.
I mean, just look at this settings screen:
2. Change your social media and Google to Mandarin Chinese
Related to No. 1 this hack will complete your technological immersion. On your computer, you can change the language settings of most major social media sites (Facebook, Twitter) and Google. Changing Google settings will then in turn affect related services (Gmail, Youtube). It will also give you some Chinese results when you search for stuff, which is again good as it means more exposure.
3. Get involved in Chinese social media
We all know that because of China’s internet policy, the nation has developed its very own social media ecosystem. Instead of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, platforms such as WeChat, QQ and Weibo reign supreme. For instance, did you know that WeChat has a timeline like function where your Chinese contacts are constantly posting stories and pictures? If you like social chatter, why not try it the Chinese way?
4. Write a journal in Chinese
This one is incredibly beneficial. It teaches you writing in a coherent style, gives you the chance to practice your vocabulary and your Chinese character writing skills. Moreover, you will probably learn a ton of useful everyday vocabulary through this exercise, as most of the words you need will be connected to your activities and feelings.
Don’t get overwhelmed if this might seem hard in the beginning. Start with one sentence a time.
5. Label your home in Chinese
Another great way to get more exposure to everyday Chinese. The truth is, at most Chinese language schools, after the initial “hello, how are you”, textbooks will focus on complex vocabulary related to history or current events. The result is that you might be years into Mandarin Chinese and still not know how to say “oven” in Chinese (it’s kǎoxiāng 烤箱).
So pin a label to every object you can find in your home: lamp, window, mirror, wall, ceiling, furniture in general, cooking utensils and so on. This hack makes sure that every time you walk into your home, you will get a bombardment of Chinese and over time, these words will stick in your mind.
6. Talk to yourself (or even think) in Chinese
A lot of people have an ongoing inner dialogue about their thoughts and the things they are doing. So why not use this opportunity and try to have this talk in Chinese?
For example, while learning something new, I would often imagine a situation in which I would be explaining this topic to someone else. And when I study a foreign language, I would often have this conversation in my mind in my target language, including obviously looking up vocabulary I don’t know yet.
Using this technique, you can get actual speaking experience even if you are still a little bit shy about your language skills.
7. Fill your dead time with your target language
This one is from our friends at I will teach you a language: “Everyone has some dead time, no matter how busy they are. The key is to identify it and start to use it. Use this time to listen to podcasts, read a book, watch a movie – whatever is appropriate. Here are some classic points in the day when you can do this. You’ll notice that many of these activities would be positively improved by listening to something interesting in the background (who likes cleaning in silence?)”
- In the shower
- Getting dressed/eating breakfast
- Walking to the station
- On the train/metro or in the car
- Waiting for the bus Lunch break
- On the way home
- Shopping in the supermarket
- During your workout
- Cleaning the house
- In bed, before you sleep
8. Listen to Chinese music
One of the best ways to fill your dead time with Mandarin Chinese is to listen to Chinese music (think singing aloud in the shower). Spotify, Youtube and Chinese Youku all have tons of Chinese songs and they will surely meet your taste.
Besides, some Chinese lyrics (for example in a lot of Jay Chou songs) have almost poetic quality and studying those will give you an extra boost.
9. Watch Chinese television and videos
Another way to fill your dead time with Mandarin Chinese. Television and videos provide you with vast amounts of content for passive listening. Portals such as Youku and Tudou will satisfy all your needs. If possible, try to find content without English subtitles to get the best possible immersion experience out of it. Some of the Chinese shows like the notorious 非诚勿扰 are more than just hilarious.
And if you are just beginning to learn Chinese, don't worry about the adult Chinese shows being too difficult. Instead, start watching cartoons or movies for children which have a clearer pronunciation, slower speakers and easier vocabulary.
10. Do your everyday writing in Chinese
With everyday writing, I mean your to-do lists, your notes, your grocery list and other small pieces of writing. Again, this hack is particularly useful to study everyday Chinese vocabulary apart from just improving your writing skills.
If you do not feel confident about your handwriting, you may want to use your “note” apps but change the keyboard setting of your phone to Chinese.
11. Eat at a Chinese restaurant
This is really a no brainer for all foodies out there! Ask for the menu in Mandarin Chinese (in China, you often wouldn’t even have the choice) and strike up a conversation with the restaurant owner or other customers. Chances are that the restaurant also prepares some food that is solely meant for the staff and not for the public. If you are really good, you might get a bite of this exclusive stuff (often more authentic than what’s on the menu).
12. Follow a Chinese recipe
If you lack the cash for eating out, are generally just a cooking aficionado or enjoy eating at home more than in a restaurant, try cooking with a Chinese recipe! You won’t only improve your Chinese, but also learn some really handy cooking skills to impress your friends (or significant other) with.
If you have difficulties following an entirely Chinese recipe, you might want to get the same recipe in English (available for a lot of famous Chinese dishes like gōngbǎojīdīng 宫保鸡丁). Great recipes can be found here.
13. Connect with native speakers online
In language learning, nothing goes over personal face-to-face connections. Babies learn languages entirely through people talking to them and not much changes for adults. Luckily for us, you can connect with almost anyone from anywhere in the world without leaving your house.
With HelloTalk app for instance, you simply select which languages you want to learn and you can instantly start chatting off with a native speaker. Obviously you can not only connect to the average John Doe, but you can also directly reach out to professional Mandarin tutors online. A tool for this would be TutorMandarin.
14. Meet native speakers in your hometown
Last but not least, there are about a million ways to get to know native Mandarin Chinese speakers in your hometown. I mean, China is the most populous country in the world and lots of people have emigrated to other places.
If you live in a larger city, there is a good chance that there will be a Confucius center, which hosts many cultural events. If your town has a university, it probably also has Chinese exchange students. And if everything fails, there are probably lots of local Facebook or Meetup groups with native speakers.
There are many more ways to immerse into Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture so consider this the beginning! Comment below if you have any more suggestions! 加油
Kevin from Zizzle