How can I learn basic Chinese?

To learn basic Chinese, you should sign up for a course. Chinese is a tonal language and the writing system is completely different from other major languages (except Japanese). As a beginner, it’s confusing to try and understand these systems with only websites and videos to guide you. Once you’ve learned the basics of Chinese, it becomes easier to study on your own, and indeed, you can make quite a bit of progress memorizing characters and vocabulary using only free self-study tools.

Mandarin is increasingly popular as a foreign language. You may be able to find a beginner Chinese course at a school near you. If not, you can look for a Chinese course online or sign up for an introductory immersion program in China. Learning basic Chinese in China is not a bad idea. You’ll learn faster than at home, so you don’t wallow in the confused beginning stages of the language for long. You’ll have lots of opportunities to practice speaking. And exposure to both Chinese culture and language at the same time will prepare you to make further progress on your own using online or printed references.

For a beginner, a Chinese course in China for 4 to 6 weeks is about right. You’ll learn basic Chinese in that time (introductions, weather, directions, family, etc.) and get to know whichever city you study in. On that foundation, you’ll be able to return home and continue learning Chinese autonomously for a while.