If you want to get a solid base in Mandarin Chinese before you head out on a trip to Taiwan or China, and you don’t have time for in-person classes, you can get help from software. There are tons of Chinese language learning software options out there, but it’s not all the same. Below is what we at NaTC think is the most useful software suite out of all the various programs currently available.
The Best Mandarin Chinese Language Software
It’s extremely easy to get you started with the basics. You’ll be surprised how quickly it will get you feeling more comfortable with handling things like greetings and introducing yourself. The real bonus to Rosetta Stone is that it includes traditional characters and simplified characters. Taiwan uses traditional characters and China uses simplified.
Pros of Using Language Learning Software
Nothing can replace learning a foreign language by living and studying in a country that uses it natively, but that doesn’t mean you cannot benefit from some home study. Using language software is a great way to get started.
The main benefit that you get out of using something like Rosetta Stone is that it gives you a base from which to start from. Jumping into a class with a teacher who wants to progress rapidly while you have yet learned a few basic greetings can be frustrating. Having a minimal understanding of the most commonly used words in Chinese will help you both with your first days in Taiwan or China and also with the first couple weeks of Chinese class should you decide to enroll somewhere.
Another huge benefit with language education software particularly where Mandarin Chinese is concerned is getting a head start on hearing and understanding the differences of the tones in Chinese. Chinese is a tonal language, and if you have no experience with tonal languages, it takes awhile to get used to. Being able to hear the differences in the tones before you actually arrive in Taiwan can really speed up your progress.
What makes Rosetta Stoner really stand out from other software options is how the program leads you to think about why you are using certain words and not just force feeding you vocabulary and grammar to memorize. It’s an intuitive approach that yield benefits quickly.
Cons of Using Language Learning Software
As mentioned above, Mandarin Chinese software won’t replace the experience of total immersion that you’ll get while being in a Chinese speaking environment. It should be seen as a starting point and not as a total comprehensive system that will have you speaking like a local within a year.
Some drawbacks of using software as your sole learning method are that you’ll miss out on some nuances. It’s impossible for software to capture local dialects and while it can teach you some slang, it cannot keep up with allusions to popular music or movies.
Using technology will never replace hands on learning, but that does not mean is isn’t useful. It can take a long time to get a handle of the tones used in Mandarin Chinese, and having that under your belt before you arrive can save you loads of time and money. It’s also a great supplement to any actual classes you end up taking. Overall, most people who are dedicated and actually put a little time and effort into using the software will get results.