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Studying a foreign language can be difficult and frustrating at times, but luckily, it can also be tons of fun. Of course, the best way to really study a language is to fully immerse yourself into it. As such, I’m here to help you plan a day full of the Chinese language. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, your day will be full of 中文, and you don’t even have to live in China to pull it off!
To start off your day, get a cup of coffee ready… or, wait, this is supposed to be a Chinese day – scrap the coffee and get a big ole’ cup of tea (茶 – chá). Seeing as how different people may be at different levels in their Chinese studies, a good way to begin building your vocabulary is to check out some awesome resources that we have for you, right at your fingertips. Start out with our Chinese word of the day page; if you do this every day, you’ll learn 365 words a year!
Writing Chinese characters is not easy, sure… but the ancient art of Chinese calligraphy (书法 – shū fǎ) is incredibly interesting. Plus, having an understanding of how to properly write characters will go a long way in helping you better understand the language. My advice on your Chinese immersion day is to sit down with a good dictionary, a pencil (you will probably make a few mistakes), and some post-it notes. For print, I’m a big fan of this Chinese-English picture dictionary, which is easy to follow and quite useful. If you prefer sticking to your computer, check out the amazing online dictionary at nciku, where you can click on individual characters and get a stroke-by-stroke tutorial on how to write them. Now that you’re ready to rock, practice your calligraphy skills by making post-it notes for the things in your apartment/house. It’s easy to forget the Chinese words for everyday things, like: refrigerator (冰箱 – bīng xiāng), cabinet (柜子 – guì zi), or mirror (镜子 – jìng zi). Having a post-it stuck there will reinforce the Chinese word every day!
After a few hours of racking your brain indoors, it’s time to step outside. Don’t leave home without your MP3 player, though, as it’s time to practice your listening and speaking skills. As you know, we’ve got you covered with a sweet audio course featuring over 40 lessons. If you’re on iTunes, you should check out Chinese Pod, which has plenty of useful, fun, and free lessons. So load up your iPod with Chinese lessons and take a stroll. Don’t worry about other people looking at you like you’re crazy when you say, “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?” (请问，卫生间在哪里 – qǐng wèn, wèi shēng jiān zài nǎ lǐ) in Chinese to yourself.
Food is a huge part of Chinese culture, and you can find a Chinese restaurant just about anywhere (I’m pretty sure they’ve got a noodle shop or two in Antarctica), so go practice some Chinese and get your chopstick skills up to par at the same time. In my experience, Chinese people living abroad are usually thrilled to speak their native language with a foreigner in a foreign country. Don’t worry if you’re just a beginner; they are very patient and encouraging as you stumble through the tones!
Find a coffee shop or any place with a good, relaxing atmosphere, and plop down with your laptop for an hour or so. However, instead of updating your Facebook status, create a Renren (人人网 – rén rén wǎng – lit. “everyone network”) account. Instead of having a brain-fart on Twitter, get yourself a Chinese Weibo (微博 – wēi bó); you can say a lot more in 140 Chinese characters, after all. Instead of watching “Fail” videos on YouTube, jump onto China’s Youku (优酷 – yōu kù) or Tudou (土豆网 – tǔ dòu wǎng – lit. “potato net”) and waste your time watching funny videos in Chinese. A full post on this topic from last year can be found HERE.
There are thousands upon thousands of Chinese characters to learn, so you’d better get crackin’ and build your reading skills. For beginners, there are plenty of basic Chinese textbooks or children’s books available, and if you’re a bit more advanced, try to snag yourself a copy of a Chinese newspaper (you’ll need about 3-4,000 characters to actually read one).
An important part of studying any language is understanding the culture. As such, it’s a good idea in your busy immersion day to take a break and try to relax – the Chinese way. Grab a friend and play some ping pong (乒乓球 – pīng pāng qiú), do some tai chi (太极拳 – tài jí quán), or fly a kite (放风筝 – fàng fēng zhēng). If you live in a place where there are lots of Chinese people, chances are you’ll find some of them doing these same things, which will give you even more chances to practice!
Go home and whip up a Chinese dinner. If you know how to make dumplings (饺子 – jiǎo zi), Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁 – gōng bǎo jī dīng), or any other Chinese dish yourself, you will wow and impress Chinese people. To challenge yourself even more, try following along with the recipe in Chinese, or try inviting some Chinese friends over for dinner and speaking only their language!
Chances are you’ll be pretty exhausted by this point in the day, so kick back, relax, and zone out to some Chinese TV. Watching something like CCTV News will be too difficult for most of us, so it’s best to go with a fun kids program instead. Try China’s most popular cartoon, “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf” (喜羊羊与灰太狼 – xǐ yáng yáng yǔ huī tài láng). It’s like a Chinese version of “Tom & Jerry,” only with a few goats and wolves instead. Oh yeah, and it’s all in Chinese! Or, for those of you who want more of a challenge, try watching “The Last Emperor” with the Chinese audio, subtitles, or better yet, both. Learn about China’s history and improve your language skills at the same time!