The U.S. State Department's Foreign Service Institute rates Mandarin a "Category III" language, meaning it is one of the most difficult languages to learn for a native English speaker. The institute specifies that Mandarin competence requires 88 weeks of study, or 2,200 class hours, and says that half that time should be spent in a country where it is spoken. By contrast, Spanish, a Category I language, can be learned in 23 weeks or 600 class hours, according to the institute.
Here are some places to get you started:
- Rosetta Stone: By far the preferred choice among corporations, as well as the U.S. military, this software is not cheap — the three-level Mandarin course runs $458.
- Foreign Service Institute: For a cheaper alternative, try getting your feet wet with courses developed by the U.S. government that are in the public domain and thus free. The site has a complete set of workbooks and MP3s.
- Confucius Institute: The best way to learn a new language is live, in person. Short of taking the trip overseas, signing up for a class is the next best thing. The Chinese government has set up language institutes across North America (and the globe) in affiliation with existing universities. There are currently 56 centers in the States. Course offerings and prices vary.
- Your company’s human resources department: Chances are your company has an education program that will reimburse you part of the expense of learning a new language, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your job. Ask your HR rep for information.
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