Mandarin can seem totally alien / complex / overwhelming to when you’re new to the language. When I visited Yunnan Province last year, I felt like I was being thrown off a language cliff. Unlike other countries that use the Latin alphabet, I couldn’t even guess at what things meant — the Chinese characters were totally new to me.

Well, like with any language, Mandarin developed into its current form over time. This means that the structure of Mandarin is underpinned by some logic that makes it a little more accessible… if you approach it the right way.

Focusing on the absolute basics until you’re fluent in them (a brilliant general learning principle) is the key… and it isn’t actually as hard as you might think. As this TED talk demonstrates, the logic underpinning Mandarin is found in the characters, with many basic Chinese characters actually resembling the thing they represent… making learning them a lot easier than you might think.

The ideas here don’t just apply to Mandarin – the same is true for any language. If you can figure out where words derived their meaning (e.g. by using the etymology section on Wiktionary), you can figure out the meaning of lots of similar words… and be on your way to mastering the language.