Can I learn Chinese by self-study?

There are a number of reasons why you may wish to bypass Chinese teachers and group classes to study Chinese alone.  Perhaps you find classes too expensive.  Or perhaps you’re frustrated by the pace of classes and think you can do better on your own.  Or there might not be any classes near you that fit into your busy schedule.  Maybe you only want to dabble in Chinese, and aren’t sure if you’re serious enough to commit to real classes.  All of these reasons have applied to me at some stage of my Chinese learning journey.

I have tried beginner group classes, and found them too easy and poor value for money.  I have tried intermediate/advanced group classes and found that, even though there were only 2-4 of us in the class (people joined and left during the time I was there), we were all at different levels and had different strengths and weaknesses, making it difficult for the teacher to accommodate us all.  And I have also tried one-on-one classes with a native Chinese teacher too.  By far, these were the best classes but were also fairly expensive (well, I was in China at the time so they weren’t that expensive really, but I was also on a very tight budget as I was taking a year off).

Most of my Chinese progress has come about by self-study.  Now, “self-study” obviously doesn’t mean I learned Chinese completely by myself in a vacuum; after all, you need to practise a language with others to become any good at it.  Self-study can involve language partners, language meetups, practising with friends, and posting on forums.  I just use the term “self-study” to describe study that is done without a teacher or actual classes.

And, to answer the question posed in the title of this post: yes, you absolutely can learn Chinese by self-study.  Whether or not you should, however, is a different question.  In the next post, I’ll outline the things you should consider before embarking on a programme of self-study.  If you do decide to go it alone, I will help you on your journey by pointing out some useful resources (there are truly amazing ones out there) and give you some tips about the things I’ve learned along the way.  Good luck, and 加油!


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