Gifting someone the means to learn the Chinese language is one of the most valuable, long-lasting, life-changing and door-opening gifts you can possibly give.
Chinese is spoken by over 1.2 billion people (yes, folks, billion with a "B" - that's 16% of the entire population of our lovely planet) in the world as their first language, making it the most spoken language on Earth.
Incredible places to travel, fun and vibrant people, exciting cultures, incredible business opportunities and a huge variety of cuisines all await the Chinese speaker...
But how can you be sure you are giving the exact right Chinese learning gift?
These days the options are boundless: podcasts, apps, games, software, lessons, audio, video, tutoring, books, online courses and more all compete for attention in the Chinese education space.
But - taking into account their specific needs and goals - which one is the right Chinese product to give someone?
This article will explain:
1) How to work out exactly what kind of Chinese gift to give someone
2) The various options available for gifting Chinese
3) How to select the perfect match amongst the host of options
* How to take into account the person's ideal learning style when selecting Chinese language gifts.
* An incredibly valuable native Chinese pronunciation course that compliments any of the recommended products below.
So let's get started!
1) Find out exactly what they will use Chinese for
When answering inquiries I receive from Chinese learners about what method or approach will work best for them, I first get them to think about why exactly they want to learn Chinese.
What will they use Chinese for? Travel? Work? Studies? Relationship? Research?
Surprisingly, many people overlook this massively important step, not realizing that selecting the right materials is actually the vital first step on a path that will lead to real results the fastest.
As a Chinese gift giver, you need to first determine what the specific needs are of the person receiving your gift.
Let's compare some examples to help illustrate this:
John the Backpacker
John wants to learn Chinese because he is planning to backpack through China for a few months and needs to know the local lingo to get by, to negotiate and avoid overpaying in markets, to understand the gist of what's happening around him, to ask for directions and to meet locals and engage in basic conversations.
John the backpacker needs to be able to speak as fast as possible and have a basic understanding of how Chinese is written. He would benefit best from an approach that focuses on listening and conversation first with some basic overview of reading and writing.
Jane the Student
Jane is preparing for a semester abroad in Beijing, China, where she will be learning Chinese language and culture at a university. She has very basic knowledge of the language and needs to get acquainted with the basics and get as much of a head start as possible before landing on the ground running.
Jane needs to develop a solid foundation upon which to build while at university in China. She needs to understand some of the basic language used in the classroom, have good knowledge of the writing system and be able to engage in simple conversations both in the classroom and while out and about in the city.
Jane would best benefit from a complete Chinese solution that covers all the bases completely, from reading and writing to listening and speaking.
Pat the Business Traveler
Pat heads the marketing department for a US company that is opening operations in China. Pat will be moving to Shanghai for a year to take charge of this expansion and work out an effective marketing campaign for the Chinese audience. The actual work is in English, but having a basic knowledge of Chinese will give Pat greater confidence and also allow for life to be enjoyed more fully and easily while living abroad.
Pat needs to achieve basic competency in speaking and listening for both everyday life and the business world.
Pat would best benefit from a business-focused approach to achieving basic conversation and listening comprehension.
Unique Chinese needs require unique Chinese solutions
John, Jane and Pat all have different reasons for learning Chinese.
They all three have different goals and, therefore, will benefit from unique solutions that best match their immediate concerns.
If you don't know, ask the person why they are learning Chinese
The person you are gifting Chinese to will certainly have a unique need for learning the language.
If you don't already have a good idea of what it is, the easiest way to find out is simply to ask the person why they want to learn Chinese.
This can easily be done without alerting them to the fact that you're looking for gift giving hints - simply show interest in their desire to learn and ask them about why they want to learn and what they will use Chinese for.
Asking questions about their planned use for the language will give you great insight into their motivations for wanting to learn.
This, in turn, will help you home in on the best choice of for a Chinese present!
The next section outlines how to work out the best materials to match individual needs.
2) Familiarize yourself with options for Chinese learning gifts
Now that you've got a solid idea about why they want to know Chinese, let's explore general learning materials and what kind of goals they are good for.
Apps for learning Chinese cover an enormous amount of ground in terms of what kind of learning experience they offer.
Apps are great for learning Chinese basics in a convenient, mobile way. The options are huge, and some apps go deeper into the learning experience than others, offering additional means for learning such as podcasts and lessons.
Podcasts for learning Chinese are growing in popularity fast and there are more and more of them showing up on the scene everyday.
This makes deciding on a Chinese learning podcast somewhat daunting, but I'll make it easy for you as there is one system that has become hugely popular and continues growing quickly.
Some of the things podcasts are great for:
- improving Chinese listening skills
- learning Chinese vocabulary
- Chinese cultural insights
- easy repetition of important material (just listen again)
- learning can be taken anywhere
- learning can be happening while doing other things, like cooking, commuting and exercising
Also mentioned in the app section above as it covers that ground as well, this innovative Chinese podcast is my go-to recommendation for anyone interested in learning Chinese with podcasts and apps.
Simply put, there is really nothing better for individual focus and speedy progress than a well-trained Chinese tutor.
Professional tutors also provide a level of accountability that apps and podcasts cannot offer, despite their incredible convenience and portability.
There is a great option for online Chinese tutoring which has a vibrant community of both professional teachers as well as free language exchange partners.
Think Chinese books are dead? Think again!
There are a few Chinese learning books worth considering if you want to place a physical item in a package and gift that.
(You could also wrap any box in nice paper and put the info inside about any digital product you decide to gift in order to make it possible to give a "physical" present!)
If you'd like to know more about these, check out my review of Colloquial Chinese.
These days "Chinese courses" exist in a wide variety forms - text, audio, video, online, etc.
By courses, I mean specifically a learning tool that is designed to take you on a guided journey from zero to Chinese - not just random unconnected lessons, but a format that starts with the basics and builds up to fluency in steps.
Chinese audio can be very useful for people who commute, love to cook and/or exercise as they can turn these activities into Chinese learning time as well.
Audio is specifically good for people who want to have good Chinese listening comprehension skills and practice pronunciation through repetition of the audio.
The good thing about both of these options is that audio is one aspect of their system and is supplemented by texts and other materials.
Watching videos is a great way to learn Chinese, especially when the videos are intentionally geared toward learning and include enhanced tools to improve the experience.
But there is one video gift option that goes way beyond simply watching and engages learners in the process, provides awesome video learning tools and offers structured paths to learning: FluentU Chinese.
Simply put, for learning Chinese with videos nothing compares!
Chinese Language Exchange
Language exchanges have simply blown up online, the Internet being such a great way to meet and communicate with people around the world.
Typically, language exchanges begin by searching for someone who wants to learn your native language and speaks your target language.
This process can be hit or miss, and language exchange partners vary widely in how effectively they can teach you.
Keep in mind, these are not professionally trained educators, just people interested in learning languages and helping others to do the same.
Language exchanges are free, and there are many social language learning options.
But there is only one that lets you also opt for professional teaching alongside language exchange, and that is iTalki.
iTalki is a very popular language exchange platform which also offers paid trained teachers.
3) Decide which kind of Chinese learning materials best match their needs
Now you know what your giftee's motivations for learning are.
You also have become familiar with many of the possible gift ideas for Chinese learners.
The next step is to decide which gift will best meet their exact needs.
A few guiding thoughts for this:
- If they need Chinese for travel, lean towards gifts that offer a fast path to speaking Chinese (Glossika Chinese)
- If they need Chinese for business, there is a specific Glossika course for Business Chinese
- If they are keen to learn to read and write, lean towards more textbook materials like Colloquial Chinese (US/UK)
- If they've got a lot going on in their lives and want to fit Chinese learning into commutes, cooking and exercising, opt for podcasts and audio (Innovative Chinese, Glossika Chinese)
- If they are more likely to get motivated to learn with videos, definitely go with FluentU
- If it's for a relationship or family, I'd suggest any of the above keeping in mind the way the giftee best learns (see next section)
Keep in mind the person's best learning style
Knowing what kind of learner the person you want to gift Chinese to is can also be a massive help in choosing.
It's a big misconception that there is one best way to learn languages - quite the opposite.
What matters most is how we each best learn! (Not just languages but anything.)
Do you know if the person is an audio, visual, reading/writing or kinesthetic/tactile learner?
To massively simplify:
- Audio = people who learn best by hearing
- Visual = people who learn best by seeing
- Reading/Writing = kinda obvious
- Kinesthetic/Tactile = people learn best by doing things hands-on
You'll want to select a gift that is appropriate for the person's learning style in addition to their motivations for learning.
Keep in mind: almost everyone benefits most from a mix of different styles, not just 100% one kind!
If you don't know what style of learner the person is, there are tests like this quick quiz that can help figure this out. Of course, you will have to either answer the questions as you think the person would, or better yet, get them to take the quiz for fun and tell you the results.
Don't worry overmuch about the style learner, as many of the above-mentioned resources actually cover many learning styles. But it's definitely worth considering when making the final decision on what to get them!
Note on learning Chinese pronunciation like a native
If you're into the idea of combining two or more of the above-mentioned options, I'd like to throw in there another unique course that is specifically designed to get learners to sound like native Chinese speakers: Mimic Method Mandarin.
This is truly an added value to any Chinese gift as it will train them in exactly how to overcome the most difficult hurdles in pronunciation and sound as much like a native speaker as possible.
(Often students of this method are confused with native Chinese speakers!)
Go gift Chinese!
Now that you've got a good idea about how exactly to find the best Chinese learning product for anyone, you're well on your way to giving the gift of a new language!
Again, just check my curated list of top Chinese learning products and select the best fit.
Have you ever given the gift of language before? How did you choose and how did it work out for the person? Please answer below in the comments!