Stewart Lee Beck represented China Simplified in today’s Shanghai AmCham Future Leaders Committee Event on “Language Learning – Approaches, Strategies, Tips and Tools.” Joining Stewart on the panel were John Pasden, Founder of AllSet Learning, and Kevin Chen, Co-Founder of italki.com.

Stewart shared these five language learning tips with the audience:

1. Be clear on your goals

Do you plan to focus on speaking & listening, or also reading & writing? For some, it may make sense to start off using Pinyin, then learn characters later. Will you have time and resources available to study full time, or part time around your career? This decision will impact your approach and which goals are achieveable in the short term. Most of all, learn what you need and use what you learn. Don’t waste time studying vocabulary you’re never going to use! Are you clear on your own language learning goals right now?

2. Use digital tools to save time

Which tools? Pleco dictionary, Zhongwen Chinese Popup Dictionary for Chrome and other browsers, plus Chinese podcasts and other recordings. According to David Moser, “The critical skill in the 21st century is recognizing characters, not writing them. digital tools help you quickly do that.” Dashan (Mark Rowswell) adds: “These days, with dictionaries and reference materials you can easily access from a smartphone, people who want to learn a foreign language should throw away their textbooks as soon as possible and just throw themselves into the language.”

3. Manage your time and energy

Olle Linge of Hacking Chinese taught me the key to maximizing output is being able to find something suitable to study for any given mental state. Choose a task to match your energy level then timebox it to promote greater efficiency.

4. Strive for perpetual immersion

I like to listen to Chinese podcasts and recordings, then press pause, and repeat back what I’ve heard. I’ve become “that guy who talks to himself on the subway.” If you’re not already doing so, find and speak with native language speakers. When you’re not in Chinese speaking environment, use tools like italki and skype to stay connected. In the words of Khatzumoto, “You don’t learn a language, you get used to it.”

5. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes

Dare to go outside your comfort zone. If you’re not taking risks than you aren’t advancing in life. Always keep your sense of humor no matter what’s happening around you. Mistakes aren’t social landmines, they’re social fireworks!

For more entertaining language learning insights, check out China Simplified: Language Empowerment, a book co-written by Stewart and Katie Lu, a successful language teacher and entrepreneur