There’s no doubt that living in China is one of the fastest and easiest ways to pick up Mandarin. You get to practice new dialects, listen to how it’s spoken on the streets, and use it every day. Since not everyone has the opportunity to get the first-hand experience, the next best thing compared to actual submersion is YoYo Chinese!

Yoyo Chinese is one of the most simply broken down studying tools for new Mandarin learners, or as they put it, “Chinese Taught in plain English”. We had the privilege of interviewing YoYo Chinese’s creator, Yangyang Cheng. Keep reading to enter to win a free year of Yoyo Chinese and get tips from a pioneer in language study on how to make the most of your practice before you step foot in China!

Interview: Yangyang from Yoyo Chinese

1) What’s the number one tip you’d give to foreigners before they come study in China?

Don’t go to China knowing no Chinese. The biggest mistake lots of people make is that they think they’ll absorb Chinese language just by going to China.

I really recommend having some of the basics down first: pinyin, tones, and sentence structures that are similar to English. Then you’ll hit the ground running as soon as you arrive in China, and you won’t be easily overwhelmed by the language.

We have a few awesome easy-to-swallow videos on YouTube that teach the basics here:

2) What do you believe is the easiest way to get started learning Chinese?

The easiest and most efficient way to get started learning Chinese is by mastering tones and pinyin pronunciation first. Doing it this way will help native Chinese speakers understand you better when you first start trying out sentences on them.

Learning pinyin doesn’t take very long, because Chinese has a little over 400 sounds. This number seems like a lot—until you compare it to English, which has thousands and thousands of possible sounds.

Helpful tip: once you can pronounce all of the different pinyin sounds, you’ll be able to say every single word in the entire Chinese language!

We made this really useful video-based pinyin chart to help Chinese learners get the right sounds down fast. It has video explanations of tough pronunciations and audio examples for each sound and tone. Check it out!


3) What would you say is one of the most common misconceptions about learning Chinese?

People think that learning Chinese means you have to learn characters right when you start. That’s not true.

I’ve found that learning characters and spoken Chinese simultaneously is like trying to study two different languages at the same time. It can get too overwhelming too fast.

Master the basics of spoken Chinese first before you approach characters. Then, when you start learning characters, you can build off of the core concepts of Chinese pronunciation that you already know.

4) Do you think it’s important to practice reading and writing when learning the spoken language?

Yes, it’s absolutely important, but not right when you first start learning Chinese. Also, learning how to hand-write Chinese characters should be optional, not mandatory. What will really help you out is learning how to type Chinese characters.

Here’s a secret: even Chinese people don’t know how to write a ton of characters these days.

This is because typing Chinese on a smartphone or computer is essentially the same as reading Chinese: you type characters using pinyin, and then choose the correct character from a list of options.

So, if your goal is to communicate with Chinese people, then learning how to read and write characters is not a daunting task at all.

See how easy it is to type Chinese characters with your own keyboard in this video:

5) What are some common mistakes the new Chinese learner will make?

In all my teaching experience, there are 10 mistakes that have come up quite often for new Chinese learners. So I wrote an ebook that helps Chinese learners understand these mistakes, and how to fix them.

New Life ESL readers can download it for free here:

6) Do you think private tutors or classroom environments work better, and why?

It really depends. There are great tutors out there who can explain difficult Chinese language concepts in plain and simple English. But from what we’ve seen, tutor and classroom quality can vary greatly. This happens because many teachers are simply Chinese people who can speak Chinese, but don’t understand the difficulties from a Westerner’s point of view.

When you have a tough question about Chinese language concepts, you need clear explanations in plain English that don’t frustrate or overwhelm you.

Our focus is to make it easy for you to really learn Chinese using the highest-quality video tutorials and resources out there.

You can definitely supplement Yoyo Chinese learning with outside classes and tutors, because you know that you don’t need to feel confused by alternative explanations of the basics that prevent you from improving efficiently.

7) How much time should a new expat in China focus on studying Chinese?

We see some students, excited to learn Chinese, start rigorous 3-5 hour daily study schedules. This level of enthusiasm is great, but unfortunately, it doesn’t last long. They burn out quickly.

Learning a language is not like learning other skills. It requires consistency, a devoted mindset, and curiosity.

Stay curious by consistently seeking out new opportunities to learn Chinese in real-life situations. These situations may seem scary at first, so you have to force yourself into them. Then you’ll come away well-practiced and hungry for another opportunity to test out your Chinese.

So you have to ask yourself, “How much time do I want to devote to studying and using Chinese?”

The basic answer? Use as much time as you can to work on what keeps you curious.

8.) What are some good movies or TV shows that foreigners could watch to improve their listening skills?

On YouTube:

YouTube has a pretty wide selection of movies and TV shows for you to check out. You can simply search YouTube for “Chinese movies with English subtitles” and find something you like.

On Netflix: 

-The classic Stephen Chow – 周星驰 (zhōu xīng chí) slapstick comedy, “Journey to the West”.

-“Empresses in the Palace”, which is one of the hottest TV shows in China.

Other recommendations:

-“Please Vote For Me” – 请投我一票 (qǐng tóu wǒ yí piào) – an entertaining documentary that shows what happens when democracy is introduced to an elementary school classroom.

-Any movie directed by Feng Xiaogang – 冯小刚 (féng xiǎo gāng), such as “If You Are the One” – 非诚勿扰 (fēi chéng wù rǎo). Many of his movies have English subtitles, and you can get a really great understanding of Chinese culture.

-Any movie starring one of China’s most famous actors: You Ge – 葛优 (gě yōu) like “To Live” – 活着 (huó zhe).

You won’t understand most of what the people are saying in the beginning, but you’ll get a feel for the tones, pronunciation, and other cultural elements.

Watching Chinese TV and movies will pique your curiosity, which is the ultimate driver for language learning. And when you find what keeps you interested, you will have a much easier time of staying consistent. You’ll still have to put in an effort, but your curiosity will keep you going.    

9.) Do you think it’s necessary to live in China to speak a very high level of Chinese?

I don’t think it’s necessary.

We’ve seen examples of both:

There are expats who live in China for years and choose to stay within their small expat community. They can utter only a few basic Chinese words such as hello and thank you.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are students who have never set foot on Chinese soil, yet they are fluent in Chinese.

Living in China is NEVER a prerequisite to become fluent in Chinese.

It’s easy to access authentic learning materials online these days. And you can develop your curiosity for Chinese language by surrounding yourself with Chinese movies, TV, and books.

It’s definitely more convenient to access Chinese culture and language while living in China, but— like the case for many expats—it doesn’t guarantee your success in mastering the language at all.

You can choose to live as an outsider. But is that what you really want?

Ask yourself these questions:

Do I want to only function on the basic level?

Do I want to be able to function in life without using a word of English?

Do I want to live a totally different life and expand your cultural horizons?

These are decisions that you have to make for yourself. 

10.)Tell us about some of your students ‘Ah-ha!’ moments when learning Chinese.

When many students first start learning, they don’t know that there are tones in the English language. The aha moment comes when they realize how quickly they’ve just learned Chinese tones using simple, fun English equivalents.

11.) What are 3-5 must-have Chinese phrases to learn?

1. 洗手间在哪里 (xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ lǐ) – “Where’s the bathroom?” Any phrase related to basic human needs would be a good idea to learn. 

2. 劳驾 (láo jià) “Excuse me”. You might get into some tight situations and feel the need to squeeze through.

3. “好吃 (hǎo chī)” – “Delicious!” You’ll make friends at Chinese restaurants when you point to your food and praise the staff for job well done.

4. 慢慢说 (màn màn shuō) – “Speak a little slower”. This will come in handy when you’re working on your listening skills out in public. Chinese people will happily speak a little slower for you so they can communicate with you!

5. 多少钱 (duō shǎo qián) – “How much?” – You’ll get so much practice learning Chinese numbers by using this simple phrase.

Bonus: 吃了吗 (chī le ma) – “Have you eaten?” – Asking someone if they’ve eaten is the way Chinese people show they really care. Use this and you’re sure to impress your new Chinese friends!

Follow our Facebook and Instagram to enter to win a free year of YoYo Chinese. You don’t want to miss out an this amazing opportunity!

Was this interview useful for you? How much did you learn? Test yourself by learning more at Yoyo Chinese!

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