I’m attempting to fast-track learning Mandarin. These are the resources I have found helpful.
I generally subscribe to the philosophy of All Japnese All the Time (which applies to any language, not just Japanese). Basically that language learning should be fun, and it should be immersive. If it’s not either, then you’re not going to learn very effectively (and that’s why those language classes at school never worked).
Pimsleur mandarin long course. This stuff is amazing and will have you listening and understanding mandarin in a very short amount of time. It is also pretty expensive, so see if you can get it at your local library. You can also try the short course they offer if they are still on sale for $10 to see if it is for you before you commit to buying it.
Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters – to start off reading/writing, I found this book to be really amazing. Rather than attempting to learn characters by writing them down hundreds of times, you learn the ‘building block’ characters, and put them together into stories to make up the other characters. Tuttle puts them into stories for you and includes pronunciation and tones into the stories as well as an option. These stories are called ‘mem’s (useful for discussing Memrise later)
A spaced repetition system (SRS) flashcard program – once you have learnt the characters you need to review them periodically. A SRS program will control when your flashcards come up for an optimised learning experience. I use AnyMemo on my Android phone but I hear Anki is very good.
Memrise – I only stumbled across this site about 9 months into my studies but wish I had found it sooner! It is a SRS flashcard program, but comes with a community who create courses and ‘mems’ introduces some gamification aspects, such as points and leaderboards. After quite a few months where my character learning had been slowing down, Memrise has allowed me to speed up my character learning considerably.
Saying all that, using Memrise and Tuttle together doesn’t work so well at the moment as there is no course following the same order of character introduction as Tuttle, and if you find the Tuttle mems useful you will probably have to write these in yourself on Memrise. But given a little effort they can work very well together, especially if you can install a Memrise app on your phone as your flashcard app. At the moment Memrise only have an iPhone app though, so not so useful for Android users!
General immersion – I watch Taiwanese drama on YouTube, but this can be painful sometimes if you are not really into the highschool/romance dramas. Saying that, they have kind of turned into my guilty pleasures which also allow me to snark. Googling ‘Top 10 chinese dramas’ will certainly help you find some, but if youeally want to know what I have been watching, it has been “Fated to love you” (the least teen of them all), “Meteor Garden”, and “Devil Beside You”. I hope to watch “Mars” soon.
Music is difficult – without proper language skills it is hard to find non pop/love ballady mandarin music. That said, I find Jay Chou very easy to listen to.
Movies – thankfully Chinese movies are of a much higher quality than their dramas and much easier to find without wandering through teen love/angst. It is easier to find Cantonese movies, but you can usually switch the language to Mandarin. I also try to leave Mandarin subtitles on english movies I’m watching if I can.