First of all you'll need to set yourself some goals, do you want to learn to read, write and speak mandarin? Or do you just want to focus on the speaking side first before attempting trying to write? If you're planning a trip to China for travel or work, then this is a great motivation to keep you enthusiastic about studying.
The best available resources that will help you to progress are:
- Flash cards – In terms of learning to read and recognize characters a set of flash cards will be an invaluable tool. They can be downloaded from the internet and printed out or bought at a good book store for a relatively cheap cost; make sure they show the simplified character and not the traditional version, the pinyin translation and the English word. Your pack of flashcards should go everywhere with you, practice on the bus, train and with friends; you can also stick them to the corresponding objects in your home to learn vocabulary faster.
- Live practice and language swapping – According to research the number of Internet based language learners has exploded. You can use free video and audio chatting programs that link between your country and China, allowing you to speak in real time to a native mandarin speaker. There are two ways to approach this method of Chinese language learning, either join a language swap membership website, which connects you to hundreds of enthusiastic native Chinese people from around the world who want to swap languages with you. This may cost you a small fee, but there are other sites that offer a free service as well; alternatively you could join a chat site or forum and advertise a language swap.
- Internet – In general the internet is one of the most valuable tools for learning and practicing mandarin. If you do a quick search for resources online you will come across a long list of websites that teach you all areas of the Chinese language, from basic conversation skills to complex grammar rules. There are both paid for and free options available, but before parting with any of your hard earned cash do remember to check how genuine a site is and search for customer testimonials and reviews in advance.
To practice pinyin:
Pinyin Table with over 1700 individual sounds
Pinyin Tone Master
Pinyin Numbers Dictation
Free audio Chinese Lessons- Podcast
Learn Chinese Podcast
Traditional and Simplified Chinese Characters
Online Chinese Dictionary