How I Learned How to Speak Chinese

Last Updated on April 7, 2021

Eleven years ago, I was an innocent, little middle school kid with a big dream of teaching myself a whole new language.

After long days at school, I would go home, skip all of my homework, and take to the internet in search of a way to self-study a new language online. I wanted to learn a foreign language with shock value; I was hoping to teach myself a language other people would be surprised to find out I could speak.

Most importantly, I wanted to have fun learning a new language. I wasn’t doing great in my Italian classes at school and I was convinced there had to be a better way.

I grew up in an Italian family but I had always had a distinct interest in Chinese culture.

In middle school, I had taken three years of Italian classes. I struggled throughout them and believed it was too difficult learning a language in school with such rigid classes.

The content was determined by the teacher and the pace was set by the curriculum. I had no control over it. I had a wonderful teacher but I didn’t feel like I was actually grasping the language in a practical sense that would allow me to utilize it. Even though I frequently heard Italian spoken at home by my family, for some reason, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

I decided I wanted to study something else entirely. Something that was different in every way imaginable.

To tell you the truth, back then, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what made certain languages like Chinese and Japanese different.

Nowadays, I can tell them apart in a split second, but back then I was never exposed to them. Certainly not enough to recognize or even distinguish their characters.

Over the span of a few weeks, I learned the basics of Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese. I was certain I wanted to learn a language from Asia, I just didn’t know which one yet.

Initially, I began by studying the most simple words and phrases in each of these four languages. Things like counting from one to ten, common greetings, etc.

Here’s how to write hello in each:

Japanese: こんにちは
Thai: สวัสดี
Korean: 여보세요
Chinese: 你好

I was amazed by how different the characters looked across all the different languages. I don’t know if it was ingrained racism or pure ignorance but my ideas about the languages were entirely wrong. Each language was so beautiful and CLEARLY DIFFERENT.

They had all-around unique styles and really did not even resemble one another whatsoever.

After watching a ton of YouTube videos and weighing my own interests into the decision, I determined that the foreign language I wanted to learn was Chinese.

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world.

With limited resources available to me at the age of 13, I needed to figure out how I was going to do it.

I rented books from the library, browsed YouTube for free lessons, and asked my friends from school who knew Chinese for help. I wanted a software tool like Rosetta Stone but I didn’t have the money and I felt bad asking my parents to buy it for me.

That’s when I discovered this platform. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!

Learn Chinese Online – Free Trial

It is my favorite online language-learning product. It is a platform that is absolutely worth using if you want to self-study any language.

I’m extremely passionate about it because, over the last eleven years, their Chinese program has helped me learn how to speak, read, and write in Mandarin. I can’t say enough great things about it.

I ended up going on to study Chinese in high school (yeah, it was actually offered!) and thanks to this platform, I never once earned less than a 100 in the class on my report card. I share this not to brag about my high school grades in Chinese, but to show you that this tool works.

When I traveled to China in 2015, I was actually able to use what I learned!

In 2009, this was a newly launched product and I happened to discover it early on while I was looking up ways to study Chinese online. The website had just gone live and they were running a contest!

Here’s how the contest worked. Anyone could post a comment explaining why they wanted to learn Chinese. Three lucky winners would be selected to gain lifetime access to the platform for free. I wrote an entry explaining my story and asked my dad to enter it for me.

165 people entered the contest.

Middle school Rocky left this comment:

Rocky Says: May 21st, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Dear Staff,
As you can see above, my name is Rocky. I would absolutely love to have access to this tool to learn Chinese. I am not related to anyone who is Chinese but I do have many Chinese friends. I can’t speak the language, but I think it would be really nice if I could. With your platform, I could better improve the small amount of Chinese that I already know. I am determined to learn this language.

To get me started, my friend from China has provided me with a list of numbers explaining how to recognize them in Chinese and explaining how to pronounce them, as well as how to write them. This is a program that I first stumbled across a month ago. I absolutely love the idea of it. I completed your free trial and it has taught me about 90% of the only Mandarin words that I know. If I won a free copy, I think taking trips to China would be really fun. It is important that I feel comfortable walking around China on my own. I wouldn’t want to say something wrong and look unintelligent, or say something that is too literal of a translation from English. Oh, and don’t forget rude! I wouldn’t want to say an expression that might be considered rude there. I am younger and don’t have that much money to spare. I am not looking to earn a copy through pity though. This is simply an explanation as to why I am entering your contest today and why I haven’t already purchased a copy. Trust me, if I had money to spare, I would have bought this in a heartbeat. I especially love your audios. The cast speaks so clearly and slowly. This is my opportunity to learn a new language! Do you know how cool that is? I even introduced my younger sister to this platform because I found it so inspirational. Your website proves that learning languages is possible but it takes effort! It’s not easy but it can be done. And once more, thank you for this opportunity! -Rocky

Rocky Says: May 21st, 2009 at 4:22 pm

My sincerest apologies. This is the exact opportunity I have been waiting for so my heart was racing to enter this contest as quickly as possible and it appears I made a few spelling and grammar errors. Hopefully, you can still understand my explanation. You have no idea how important this generous opportunity is to me. Feel free to email me if you can’t understand some of my misspelled words.

Out of 165 entries, I was selected as one of the three winners!

In 2009, they posted on their launch blog, “Our first winners is Rocky! PS: Don’t worry Rocky, we fixed the spelling mistakes!”

I remember coming home from school that day, seeing their announcement, and freaking out. I wanted it so badly.

It didn’t seem real… The actually chose me!?

I won a contest!?

All I wanted at that point was a chance. Their generosity to offer me lifetime access meant my destiny was now in my hands. They had given me the tools I prayed for to be able to learn Chinese and now it was up to me to put in the work to get the results I wanted.

That made it possible for me to start learning Chinese while I was in middle school. Over the last 11 years, I have watched the platform grow and evolve. It has only gotten better and better.

Since 2009, I have continued to use this website to learn as much Chinese as possible. It has been an absolute pleasure listening to Dave (a native English speaker) and Lin Ping (a native Chinese speaker) in their interactive audio courses. I feel like I know them in real life, yet we have never met.

There is so much content but it is presented in such an organized way. I love it.

Learn Chinese Online – Free Trial

Nerding out in China to learn and practice my Chinese language skills.

In 2015, I finally went to China and put my skills to the test. You can read about that trip here!

It has now been more than 10 years since I first started learning Chinese and I can promise you I won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Learn a New Language

If you’ve ever thought about traveling somewhere one day and would like to start studying a new foreign language online, you can join in on the language-learning fun and use the button above to access my favorite online language learning resources. There are many languages, not just Chinese! Check out whichever ones interest you.


    1. Thank you! I had a friend once who tried to teach me some Cantonese. I don’t remember too much of it but it was interesting to see the similarities and differences with Mandarin. I believe Cantonese had more tones and I found that aspect confusing since I was used to only using four with Mandarin. That’s cool that you took that class though!

  1. This is such a cute post. I can hear your 14 y/o self’s enthusiasm and your present day passion for something that has been a part of your life for nearly half of your existence.
    Think about that. Most people don’t have relationships that last that long, even with their cell phone service provider. It’s quite a testimonial that you have been dedicated to this learning process with them so long.

    1. Thank you, Chris! Hahaha wow, you are so right! It has been a part of my life for nearly half of my existence. That’s pretty incredible when you put it like that.

      I hope this shows people both that I’m serious about it and that their product has held up over time!

  2. Years ago, I could read, write and speak some Korean but I couldn’t hear it well, a problem I have with all foreign languages. That probably explains why I did very well in high school Latin that didn’t have to be spoken but flubbed my way through French πŸ™‚

    1. Exactly! Pronunciation can be the hardest part when it comes to learning a language. You’re not alone on that one. Something I love about many Asian languages is that they’re tonal in nature so pronunciation and close listening are essential to understanding it. It makes it more difficult but it is a challenge too. The entire concept of “tonal languages” was new to me when I first started studying Mandarin. I’ve never tried to learn Latin.

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The Rocky Safari