Rocket Chinese Review—Learn The World’s Most Difficult Language In Minutes A Day
This is a Rocket Chinese review but let’s get one thing out of the way. It is called Rocket Chinese, but it teaches you Mandarin.
This is a common misconception about China, that everybody speaks the same language. With a country so vast, how can that be the case? In fact, different languages in China can be as distinct as the different European languages — so Chinese is practically a language family and not a single language.
You don’t say people in Europe speak European, do you?
Well, at least I hope you don’t, although I am sure there are those that would.
The Languages of Chinese
Anyway, there are eight major and several minor languages spoken in China. The major ones are Mandarin, Yue (which features Cantonese), Wu, Minbei, Minnan, Xiang, Gan and Hakka. They are all referred to as dialects.
Many say that this is mostly a political decision — i.e. speaking the same language has to do with the sense of national unity.
Whatever the case may be, there is also Standard Chinese (known as Putonghua), based on Mandarin and more particularly, on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, especially when it comes to pronunciation. Standard Chinese is the official language in the country (plus Taiwan and Singapore). It is also an official language of the UN.
Why are Mandarin (and Standard Chinese) so important?
The very name Putonghua means ‘common speech’ and as this suggests, Standard Chinese is the lingua franca of the country.
Most people in China speak it to some degree, albeit not perfectly, and they can understand it.
Education in China is in the standard language, thus younger people from urban areas are almost always fluent in it.
On top of all that, Mandarin is the most popular of all Chinese languages anyways. There are over 960 million native speakers. This makes it the most spoken language in the world. You should mind however that in Hong Kong and Macau Cantonese is still the native language. It is the de facto official language there.
Don’t expect people to be fluent in Mandarin in those regions, especially since they have a status that permits them to use Cantonese in schools and media.
So, what is the bottom line of this five-paragraph introduction?
There is more than one language to what is called Chinese. Standard Chinese is based on Mandarin, which is also the most popular of the Chinese languages. Rocket Chinese teaches you Mandarin.
With all of this cleared, it is time to take a moment and recognize how incredibly, utterly, unbelievably difficult Mandarin Chinese is.
For most Westerners, this would be their first tonic language.
Like most Asian languages, Mandarin is all about correct pronunciation and whether you elongate a sound or not can be the difference between being understood, and terrible misunderstandings. There are four distinct pronunciations for every sound—plus the language is rich in homophones that will further confuse you.
On top of that, the writing system will be another huge challenge. You see how Mandarin is a language that will frustrate you and has you thinking of quitting within the very first minutes?
This is where Rocket Chinese wins me over.
The main advantage I have found for this Rocket Chinese review is that the program is simply fun.
They have designed their course to be as recreational, easy to follow, and motivation boosting as possible. True, you can’t really say it is as entertaining as… well, actual entertainment, but it is fun enough and it does a great job at giving you a sense of accomplishment every time you sit down to study.
On the importance of motivation
Time after time, I have witnessed the importance of staying excited about any project you undertake. For me (and I suspect that also for most people), it has been a constant battle between desire and procrastination. And all those Instagram inspirational quote pages that I browse instead of working are not helping either.
To keep you motivated, Rocket Chinese gives you points and badges to work towards, it tracks your progress and displays it on top of every page (amazing to see how much you have already done), they can even send you a weekly email with a commentary on your progress and suggestions for improvement.
I know you probably hate spam and that you hardly ever check your emails, but come on, these are useful.
Most importantly, though, Rocket Languages give you access to a community of Mandarin learners and experts. They will be your support network when you feel like quitting.
Rocket Chinese Review: The Core Fundamentals
At the core of the program are (relatively) short audio lessons with transcriptions and some interactive exercises to go with them. There are 31 audio lessons plus 29 lessons on Language & Culture (one of the things I love the most about the Rocket languages system).
A typical online ‘class’ would involve listening to the dialogue a couple of times, reading the translation and explanation of new vocabulary, doing the exercises, and then maybe playing a game, or doing a culture lesson.
Practicing listening and speaking skills
The emphasis on audio gives you that focus on the conversation that learners outside China are usually deprived of. Unless you complete an immersion course, there are limited opportunities for you to actually practice listening and speaking. And you need a lot of practice to master those.
I am not saying that Rocket Languages Chinese is as good as the real thing (as good as daily communication with native speakers that leaves you no choice but to get over your fear of making a mistake and just speak). It is simply a more convenient and much cheaper version, which simulates immersion quite successfully.
One tip that I find myself giving time after time, is that conversation makes perfect, but you should never focus on the perfect. With a difficult language like Mandarin, it might take you tens or even hundreds of attempts until you get a word to sound as though it came out of a native’s mouth. Still, you have to keep practicing (a.k.a. speaking) because it is the only thing that 100% of the times makes you better.
This is why the interactive audio basis for the Rocket Languages system works so great (and why I’m stressing it in this Rocket Chinese review) — it gives you great listening cues and it prompts you to speak a lot.
Language exchanges (or the single most cool advice on language learning I can give)
Depending on your area, a great addition to the course would be doing a language exchange. This is something I only recently found for myself and regardless of the language, it has always had excellent results.
Look up Facebook groups for language lovers, for foreigners in your city (or country), or for travel enthusiasts. Chances are people are already using them to find natives, willing to help out with your studies of their language.
The way it usually works is you meet up and spend half the time speaking in your preferred language (that ideally is the native language of your partner) and the other half you practice his/her language of choice.
I have even heard that in some cities there are events for language exchange, but even if you don’t have that (it isn’t an option in my area either) there are still plenty of ways to find people online.
Another benefit of the member’s forum
The Rocket Chinese forums can also help you in finding a language exchange buddy.
The forums are full of people that are either native or much more advanced than you. If you get lucky, maybe even some of them will be physically around you and you could meet up for a beer and speak Chinese. If not, there is always the option of setting up a Skype conversation.
Give it a try, it will be enormously beneficial.
Writing is something Mandarin learners notoriously struggle with. Rocket Chinese has writing modules that help in learning to recognize the characters and to write them correctly. You get video tutorials on how to write (or more like draw) the characters. It is really helpful that they give you the full explanation on the strokes — step by step. This way it is much easier to reproduce them accurately (unlike other courses where they give you the character and you are expected to copy it).
You can’t have it all online
Unlike other Rocket Languages courses, Rocket Chinese will require you to keep a physical notebook. It does not say so explicitly, but you will need it. Preferably get one with blank pages. Also grab yourself some felt tip pens, which are much softer and lend themselves easier to the strokes — a.k.a. they behave similarly to a writing brush with minimal pressure required to leave a mark on the paper.
Why and how to practice
You will not necessarily be writing by hand all that much, once you start using Mandarin, but writing characters on physical paper will be the best way of understanding how they work. Of course, the downside to using an online course is that you will not have a teacher to check if your writing is any good. Still, with this method, it will quickly become obvious if you don’t know how to do a certain character. Refer back to the Rocket Languages video tutorial and try it again.
Some more tips on learning Chinese characters
Characters are also the one feature of Mandarin Chinese that you will truly have to practice daily if you want to get results. It is not necessarily a good idea to try to learn as many as you can, as quickly as you can, but you will certainly need daily practice to retain and improve your handwritten vocabulary.
One very comforting fact is that natives forget characters all the time and that they also rarely even write by hand. Does this mean you should ditch characters altogether? Of course not! First and obviously, because you will want to be able to read and write in Chinese. And secondly, because with a lot of characters, there are cool backstories that explain quite a lot in terms of the culture and mindset of Chinese people. Plus they help you learn faster.
Rocket Chinese and learning characters
I find Rocket Chinese maintains a very decent balance between learning the characters and not overwhelming you with them. It is a program with fluent speaking as the end goal, so I appreciate they don’t go in too deep with writing.
If you want to do so, though, you will have to find some supplementary materials. There are a lot of them on the Rocket Chinese forums and you can also read up on some software solutions to the character learning process on blogs. Generally, this should happen at a later stage of your Mandarin learning journey, since as we mentioned, it is completely unnecessary to overwhelm yourself at the beginning.
Rocket Chinese Review—Closing Thoughts
Finally, Rocket Chinese will get you from level zero, to say level six or seven out of ten.
In terms of conversational skills, maybe even higher. It is a wonderful option for the beginner, but as you advance you might have to do some complementary exercises. The perfect user would be one with little to no experience in Mandarin, looking to obtain practical communication skills.
At the end of the course, you will have a very strong foundation to advance to a near-native level.
In any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed my Rocket Chinese review—try it out! They have a free trial option and a 60-day money-back guarantee, plus the program is really worth it.
PS: You can get instant access to the entire course by clicking here or on the button below.