There are three essential things that you should be familiar with, before taking up the language: tones, characters and sentence order.
Chinese is a tonal language. When we learn Chinese, most of us are more likely to learn to speak Mandarin, which is spoken by almost every Chinese. Mandarin is based on the major dialect spoken widely in the Northern part of China. Mandarin has four tones. Most of the other Chinese dialects are tonal as well. They can be even more complicated, as some of them have more than four tones.
It is crucial that you use the right tone when you pronounce a word or character. The change of tone can change the meaning all together. For example, the syllable ‘ma’ could mean ‘mother’ when it is pronounced in the first tone; but mean ‘scold’ when it is pronounced in the forth tone.
It is, hence, very important for you to master the correct tone. Otherwise, you’ll have difficulty getting the meaning the words across.
Many beginners of Chinese neglect the importance of tones, and focus on recognizing the characters and use of grammar. This can be counter productive.
There are only four tones in Mandarin, it is easy to get them right first.
2. Chinese Characters
It is good for you to learn the Chinese characters. Even if your intention is to learn to speak Mandarin only, somehow or rather, you should get yourself familiarized with the Chinese characters of the words you learn.
An important reason for you to learn the characters is that there are many words that share the same sound, but have very different meaning.
For example, the sound ‘ma’, when it is pronounced in the third tone can mean ‘horse’. It can, nonetheless, also be written in the characters for the the word ‘yard’ that means the measurement unit.
Chinese characters are pictorial. They are not easy for many English speaker. My suggestion is you should not put unduly pressure on yourself. Just to get an idea of the characters of the new words that you learn. You don’t have to master them immediately.
Having an idea, nonetheless, will make a enormous difference in the effectiveness of learning the new words.
3. Word Order
The word order can be quite inflexible in Chinese, so do not change the order if you’re not sure.
For example, ‘ni hao ma’ could suggest ‘how are you’. When the sequence of the words is changed to ‘ma ni hao’, the sentence could mean ‘Mother, you are great’.
These are three important aspects of the Chinese language that you would need to know. Knowing them would unquestionably help you to learn the language faster and more effectively.
Thanks GoodNCrazy for the picture