Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin


On this page I collect articles I have written elsewhere, both in print and online. I also include projects that I have participated in or contributed to, but most things listed here are created or written by me alone. I have omitted some articles I don’t think is worth listing here, along with a myriad of small interviews and mentions. Note that this doesn’t include any of the articles published here on Hacking Chinese, those can instead be found in the archive.


Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
June, 2015 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. How to improve your Chinese during the summer vacation: Something is always better than nothing
  2. Learning Chinese with MDBG: A user-friendly free online dictionary
  3. Learning Chinese with Skritter: The best app for learning to write Chinese characters
  4. Chinese blogosphere digest #1: What you shouldn’t miss in the online world of learning Chinese
  5. Speak better Chinese by focusing on a single topic: Practice makes perfect
  6. Foreign place names in Chinese: Meaning or sound
  7. Learning Chinese with Victor Mair at Language Log: Interesting articles about Chinese language and culture
  8. Fun and useful tools from Chinese Tools: Create your own calligraphy, seals and Chinese paintings
  9. Using pop-up dictionaries to learn Chinese: How and why browser extensions make learning easier

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
May, 2015 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. Where to find the resources you need to learn Mandarin: Tools and resources for all occasions
  2. Learning Chinese with Pleco: The only app ALL Chinese learners need
  3. Mandarin Companion graded readers: Learner-friendly reading material
  4. Learn more Chinese through comprehensible input: The importance of understanding
  5. The importance of learning character components: Radicals and functional components
  6. 5 tips to make the most of your Chinese course: The dangers of a passive attitude
  7. Can you learn Chinese on your own? Yes, but it demands more of you
  8. Learning to count in Chinese: Basic information plus some tips and tricks
  9. Do you have to go to China to learn Chinese? No, but it makes it easier

How to find more time learning a language: Unlocking your true potential
May, 2015 – Transparent Language
This is a guest post written by me where I summarise my current ideas about how to find the time to study languages. This content has partly been published in different forms before, but spread out over many articles and in a somewhat unfinished state. This is the first comprehensive article I’ve written about the subject.

Dealing with font issues when learning Chinese
May, 2015 – Skritter
This article is about dealing with character variants and font issues when learning Chinese. It answers the most common questions about Chinese characters looking slightly different on computers, phones and in books. Sometimes the same character is written differently, what gives?

Think before you write
May, 2015 – Skritter
This article is about the importance of avoiding mechanical reviewing. When you use Skritter or any other flashcard program, the point is to learn and remember vocabulary, it’s not just to go through the motions. By stopping for a few seconds and visualising the character you’re about to write before you write it, you increase efficiency and avoid cheating yourself.

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
April, 2015 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. How to learn and remember more words in Chinese – The best tools and methods
  2. Chinese character simplification – Four methods making Chinese easier to write
  3. Why you should practise reading Chinese digitally – How modern technology will help you learn Chinese
  4. Using HanziCraft to learn Chinese characters – A quick way of breaking down characters
  5. Chinese characters vs. Chinese words – What’s the difference? How do I look them up?
  6. The second round of Chinese character simplification – What characters would have looked like if simplification went further
  7. Improving reading speed in Chinese – Tips and tricks for second language learners
  8. Introduction to the tones in Mandarin Chinese – What you need to know about the four tones (plus the neutral tone)
  9. The fourth tone in Mandarin Chinese – Common problems and their remedies

Hacking the most difficult Chinese characters (with examples)
April, 2015 – Skritter
This blog post is about learning difficult characters and brings up three examples based on which characters Skritter users have most trouble with. They all happen to be semantic-phonetic compounds, so this further stresses the importance of understanding such characters.

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
March, 2015 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. Using graded readers to improve reading ability: Going beyond your textbook
  2. Getting a Chinese character tattoo: 7 do’s and don’ts to consider if you want a Chinese-character tattoo
  3. Chinese characters: A basic introduction
  4. Common Mandarin learner errors: part 6: Not enjoying yourself
  5. Common Mandarin learner errors: part 7: Not knowing where you’re going
  6. Useful idiomatic phrases in Chinese: Yi mu yi yang: Expressing that two things are identical
  7. Chinese characters and stroke order: Why you should make sure to write characters the right way
  8. Learning traditional Chinese with the MoE dictionary: The best online reference for traditional characters
  9. Correct pronunciation and stroke order in Chinese: What does “correct” mean? What’s the standard?

Understanding Chinese characters: Components and radicals
March, 2015 – Skritter
It’s common for beginners and sometimes even more advanced students to lack an understanding of how Chinese characters are structured. This includes misconceptions about radicals and other types of components. In this article, I address some of the misconceptions I have encountered as a teacher and as the “Chinese Guru” at Skritter. What different kinds of character components are there? What’s a radical?

Can you pronounce these Chinese words correctly?
March, 2015 – Skritter
This post contains five words in Mandarin that are tricky to pronounce correctly. Sometimes the standard pronunciation is different from how many natives speak, sometimes including people from Beijing! Do you know how to pronounce these words: 背包, 打烊, 尽快 (儘快), 下载 (下載), 一模一样 (一模一樣)?

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
February, 2015 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. HSK – Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi: The Chinese proficiency test
  2. Standardised Chinese proficiency tests: Why you should take HSK or TOCFL
  3. Preparing for HSK and TOCFL: What to study and what to avoid
  4. TOCFL – Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language: Taiwan’s standardised proficiency test
  5. Rice bowls of iron and gold: Talking about secure and highly favourable positions in Mandarin
  6. Simplified and traditional Chinese characters: Which should you learn? Does it matter?
  7. Learning Mandarin through language exchange: Tips and suggestions to make it work for you
  8. Common Mandarin learner errors, part 4: Failing to organise your learning
  9. Common Mandarin learner errors, part 5: Not making learning communicative

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
January, 2015 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. How to learn Chinese grammar:Sentence patterns, particles and conjunctions
  2. The second tone in Mandarin Chinese: Common problems and their remedies
  3. Aspiration in Mandarin Chinese: What it is and why you want to get it right
  4. From big to small, background to foreground: Sorting information in Chinese
  5. Spaced repetition software and learning Chinese: What SRS is and why it’s good for you
  6. How to use spaced repetition software to learn Chinese: Spreading out your reviews, designing flashcards
  7. Common problems when using SRS to learn Chinese: Things to avoid when using spaced repetition software
  8. He – “harmony” – Chinese character profile: A closer look at the character He (“harmony”), its meanings and usages
  9. Common Mandarin learning errors, part 3: Learning on your own

Confusing Mandarin pronunciation, part 1: The final “-ing”
January, 2015 – Skritter
In this article, I discuss the final “-ing” in Mandarin. It’s a final that causes a lot of trouble for learners who focus too much on Pinyin and too little on the way this sound is actually pronounced. If you think that “-ing” is simply “-in” with an added “g”, you should definitely read this article.

Understanding the neutral tone in Mandarin
January, 2015 – Skritter
The neutral tone is difficult for many learners, partly because it changes according to the environment, but also because it’s seldom properly explained by teachers and textbooks. This is an attempt at explaining the neutral tone in Mandarin and how it works. What does “neutral” really mean? What’s the difference between a neutral tone and any of the other tones? Why doesn’t Mandarin have five tones?


Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
December, 2014 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1.  Learning intonation in Mandarin Chinese: Tips and tricks for learning intonation in a tonal language
  2.  One Chinese character, multiple pronunciations: How to learn the pronunciation of tricky Chinese characters
  3.  How to spell and pronounce Tai Chi / Taiji: One pronunciation, many spellings
  4.  Learning Mandarin? Start here! Suggestions on how to get started learning Chinese
  5.  Pronouncing the first tone in Mandarin Chinese: The basics plus some common mistakes
  6.  Four great dictionaries to help you learn Mandarin Chinese: All the dictionaries you need, both for mobile and computer
  7.  Learning Chinese with Zdic.net: Why Zdic.net is a great dictionary for learning Chinese
  8.  Common Mandarin learner errors, part 1: Staying in the classroom
  9.  Common Mandarin learner errors: part 2: Aiming for 100%

When small changes make a big difference, part 1
When small changes make a big difference, part 2
When small changes make a big difference, part 3
December, 2014 – Skritter
These three articles deal with Chinese characters that look almost the same and differ only in the slope or length of one single stroke. The first article contains a short quiz and the two following articles contain explanations of all the characters in the quiz. Beginners probably needn’t worry too much, but if you care about correct handwriting, you should know about these characters.

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
November, 2014 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1.  The neutral tone in Mandarin Chinese: How to pronounce the neutral tone in different contexts
  2. Four main types of Chinese characters: Learning characters by understanding them
  3. Pictographs – Chinese characters as pictures
  4. Chinese character type: Simple ideograms
  5. Chinese character type: Combined ideograms
  6. Chinese character type: Semantic-phonetic compounds
  7.  Zi – “child” – Chinese character profile: A closer look at the character Zi (“child”), its meanings and usages
  8.  How to pronounce Beijing, capital of China: Some quick and dirty tips and an in-depth explanation
  9.  How to choose the right Mandarin Chinese course: What to look for when choosing language courses

Tending your vocabulary garden
November, 2014 – Skritter
In this article, I use the analogy of tending a garden to explain what a healthy attitude towards vocabulary should look like. In short, it involves being active, regarding the words you learn and have learnt as an organism that keeps growing, but which also needs tending and trimming. More isn’t always merrier and what words you learn certainly matter more that how many you know sometimes.

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
October, 2014 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. Asking for directions in Mandarin Chinese: Finding your way in Mandarin
  2.  Learning Mandarin Chinese through immersion: Changing your environment to improve your learning
  3.  Music Mandarin: Eason Chan – “Ten Years”: Learn Mandarin by listening to music and studying the lyrics
  4.  Mandarin multitasking with “yibian… yibian…”: A sentence pattern to express simultaneous activities
  5.  Tone changes of the character “yi” (one): How the tone changes in different contexts, with examples
  6.  Tone changes of the character “bu” (not, no): How the tone changes in different contexts, with examples
  7.  Yi – “one” – Chinese character profile: A closer look at the character Yi (“one”), its meanings and usages
  8.  How the rule of three can help you learn Chinese better: Learning more by avoiding perfectionism
  9.  Youdao – An excellent free online Chinese dictionary: How and why to use Youdao to learn Chinese

What should you do when you forget a word?
October, 2014 – Skritter
We all forget words when learning a language, but what should you do when you forget a word? Ignore it? Take decisive action? There are numerous things you can and should do when you forget a word when using spaced repetition software, and in this article I discuss some of them. I also mention some things you should avoid doing when forgetting a word.

How to Speak Chinese Well: 5 Simple Tips for Extraordinary Fluency
October, 2014 – FluentU
Learning to speak Chinese requires a lot of practice, but it does matter how you practice and there are some tricks you can use to learn more and faster. The title of this post obviously isn’t chosen by me, but I still think the article’s main arguments are well worth sharing.

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
September, 2014 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. Learning Mandarin through music and lyrics: Why music should be part of your study plan
  2. Music Mandarin: Cui Jian – “I have nothing”: Learn Mandarin by listening to music and studying the lyrics
  3. Music Mandarin: Matzka – “Tears for my Love”: Learn Mandarin by listening to music and studying the lyrics
  4. Fraud-proof Chinese numerals: The banker’s way of writing Chinese numbers
  5. Chengyu – Chinese idiomatic expressions: What chengyu are and how to learn them
  6. Classical Chinese: What it is and how it relates to modern Mandarin
  7. Chinese festivals: An introduction to the festivals you should know about
  8. Shang – “up” – Chinese character profile: A closer look at the character Shang (“up”), its meanings and usages
  9. Xia – “down” – Chinese character profile: A closer look at the character Xia; (“down”), its meanings and usages

Shapeshifting characters: Alternate forms of radicals
September, 2014 – Skritter
Some Chinese characters change their appearance depending on which character it appears in. A few of the characters have very different forms as radicals and when they appear as individual characters. This is confusing for beginners and this article is meant to address that problem. Did you know that 心, 忄 and ⺗ are actually different versions of the same character?

How to tackle a large review queue
September, 2014 – SkritterI usually advice students to use some kind of spaced repetition program, but since Chinese isn’t the only thing in our lives, we all accumulate review queues sometimes. In this article, I talk about how to tackle these without giving up or burning oneself out. I have fought down queues of several thousand characters more than once, I know what I’m talking about.

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
August, 2014 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. Qixi Festival – Chinese Valentine’s Day – The story of the Weaver Maid and the Cowherd
  2. Improving your Chinese with podcasts – Three podcasts to increase your listening ability
  3. How to learn Chinese characters efficiently – Learning and remembering words
  4. How tone pairs can improve your Mandarin pronunciation – Mastering tones and tone changes in Chinese
  5. Improving reading ability in Chinese – Two reading strategies for language learners
  6. How to speak Mandarin fluently – Short-term and long-term strategies for increasing fluency
  7. English loanwords in Mandarin – Making sense of words borrowed into Chinese
  8. How to learn to understand spoken Chinese – Overcoming common problems with listening ability
  9. Learning to hear the different sounds in Mandarin – Distinguishing between Chinese sounds and tones

Using mnemonics to learn Chinese and Japanese, part 1
Using mnemonics to learn Chinese and Japanese, part 2
August, 2014 – Skritter
These articles are a basic introduction of why and how to use mnemonics to learn Chinese and Japanese. They are meant for students have little or now prior knowledge of memory techniques and want to know what all the fuzz is about and how to get in on it.

Learning with Native Mandarin Chinese Audio: A No-Nonsense Guide
August, 2014 – FluentU
It’s necessary to spend quite a bit of time listening to learner-oriented audio, but at some point you need to turn to real, native audio. In this article, I discuss this step in general as well as some steps you can take to make it easier and/or more enjoyable.

9 Bold Strategies to Improve Your Conversational Chinese
August, 2014 – FluentU
In this article, I go through nine strategies (which may or may not be bold) for how to improve your conversational Chinese, mostly while you’re in the conversation. In other words, these are things you should pay attention to while you practice speaking Chinese.

A Complete Guide to Learning Chinese with the News
August, 2014 – FluentU
In this article, I talk about learning Chinese through the news and I discuss various strategies to use when trying to understand news both in spoken and written form. I also bring up benefits of using news articles and broadcasts as learning material for advanced learners.

Various articles about Mandarin on About.com
July, 2014 – About.com
These articles were all published on About.com through my role as Mandarin expert writer there:

  1. The three DE particles in Mandarin: 的, 地 and 得 – How to tell them apart and use them correctly
  2. The third tone in Mandarin Chinese – Avoiding common problems and getting it right.
  3. Essential classroom Mandarin Chinese -Learning Chinese in Chinese.
  4. How to pronounce Xi Jinping, president of China – Some quick and dirty tips and an in-depth explanation.
  5. How to pronounce “thank you” in Chinese – How to pronounce 谢谢 (謝謝) ”xièxie” in Chinese without sounding like a tourist.
  6. Situational Mandarin: At the airport – Words and phrases useful when going to the airport.
  7. Learn how to pronounce Chinese names – Dealing with strange letters, tones and the problem of forgetting
  8. Vocabulary for using a computer in Chinese – Vocabulary for using a computer in Chinese.
  9. How and why you should switch your computer to Chinese – Switching your computer to Chinese is an effective way for learners to immerse themselves in Chinese and improve reading ability in a natural and meaningful way.

Improve your character writing by enabling raw squigs
July, 2014 – Skritter
Raw squigs is a function in Skritter which gives less support while writing characters and therefore closes the distance between writing characters in Skritter and in the real world. In this article I discuss why you should use raw squigs in Skritter and how the function works in general.

How to Keep Learning a Language when You No Longer Have to
June, 2014 – Smart Language Learner
An expert panel article about motivation after you reach your initial goal of being able to communicate in the language. I think the answer is heavily dependent on why you started learning the language in the first place. If your goal is to reach a near-native ability, you should be able to keep yourself busy for decades.

Interview with Olle Linge, Hacking Chinese’s founder
June, 2014 – Sapore di Cina
This is an in-depth interview with me where I don’t talk a lot about language learning, but rather about Hacking Chinese, teaching Chinese as a second language and life in Taipei. The interview has also been translated into Spanish and Italian, take your pick!

Skritter’s New Team Member: Olle Linge
April, 2014Skritter
I joined the Skritter team around this time and this is the first official post where I introduce myself and what I do (including Hacking Chinese). It’s a basic introduction with information about study background, current projects and what I’ve been up to until this point in general.

How Skritter Helped Me Stop Worrying and Love Writing Characters
May, 2014 –Skritter
I have tried various methods of learning Chinese characters and this article provides an overview with the ultimate goal of explaining why I think a program like Skritter is by far the most efficient way of learning Chinese characters. I also write about an experiment I conducted where I only used Skritter to maintain handwriting ability.

How Should I Learn Foreign Grammar? 20 Experts Show You How
April, 2014 – Smart Language Learner
This is an expert panel article with twenty different takes on how to learn grammar. My reply is somewhat lengthy, making me think that I should probably expand it to a proper article here on Hacking Chinese. If you’re curious about my general approach to grammar, this is a good place to start. There are of course also other interesting replies here as well.

Improving Foreign Language Pronunciation: Audio interview on Language is Culture
March, 2014 – Language is Culture
This is a 70-minute interview with me done by David Mansaray of Language is Culture. In the interview, we talk mainly about learning how to pronounce a foreign language as an adult. I share some of my own knowledge, thoughts and opinions and there’s probably something for everyone in this interview. Listen to it directly or download it to your phone for later listening! You can read my thoughts about the interview here.

An Easier Way to Learn Chinese: Comprehensible Input
February, 2014 – FluentU

My third freelance article written for the FluentU Chinese language learning blog. This time I talk about comprehensible input, scaffolding and offer some concrete guidelines for how to make immersion in Chinese a lot easier by making incomprehensible input more comprehensible.

Olle Linge on learning Chinese (radio interview)
January, 2014 – ICRT
In this radio interview that was aired on the Taiwanese radio station ICRT I talk a little bit about Hacking Chinese and learning Chinese. The interview is relatively short, but this is the first time I appear in mainstream media talking about learning Chinese. The interview can be listened to on ICRT’s website.

How to Learn Chinese Faster: Capacity Management
January, 2014 – FluentU
This is the second article I’ve written for FluentU and it’s focused on the topic of capacity management. The main ideas here are not limited to language learning, actually, but is part of the much bigger approach I have to doing almost anything. The key concept discussed here is your current capacity for learning and how you should structure your learning around this, neither overextending nor under performing.


Chinese Listening Practice: Why and How to Get Started
December, 2013 – FluentU
This article focuses on listening ability and is fairly comprehensive. I have written about most of this before on Hacking Chinese, but this is a better overview than anything else I’ve written previously. The article deals with why listening practise is important, as well as concrete suggestions for how you can improve your listening ability in Chinese.

38 Language-Learning Experts’ Favorite Methods for Learning Vocabulary
October, 2013 – Smart Language Learner
I made a small contribution to this article containing lots of interesting ideas on vocabulary acquisition. I think the question is too big and the format too narrow, but I still tried to describe my approach to learning words in a foreign language. A more interesting debate would probably follow if a specific scenario was chosen so that answers were more comparable. Perhaps something for an upcoming article!


Chinese Language Learner Interview Series – Olle Linge
June, 2012 – FluentFlix
This is an interview where I answer some questions about studying Chinese. Among other things, I talk about some of my favourite topics, such as attitude and motivation. There are also a few more personal questions about my own studying, including a few funny and/or embarrassing mistakes I’ve made.

Defining Language Hacking: Lessons Learned From Hacking Chinese
March, 2012 – The Mezzofanti Guild
This is my first official guest post, discussing both my own background and my approach to language hacking. This article contains quite a lot that I haven’t published anywhere else yet, so check it out.

12 Prolific Language Learning Bloggers You Should Follow
February, 2012 – 
The Mezzofanti Guild
This post introduces twelve language learning bloggers Donovan thinks are worth following, and I’m one of them! Be sure to check out the other website’s as well (including The Mezzofanti Guild).

How to Hack Chinese with Olle of Hacking Chinse
January, 2012 – Lingomi.com
This is a short interview focusing on some personal questions and some related more to learning Chinese in general. I also had the opportunity to talk to Steven over Skype, but the interview here is text-only.


Review: Benny Lewis – The Language Hacking Guide
July, 2011 – Interesting Times Magazine (issue 7, free download)
This is my review of The Language Hacking Guide by Benny Lewis. I’m quite positive to his book in general and think that he has a lot to teach about how to learn languages, mostly related to attitude. He has since tried to learn Mandarin, see my thoughts about that project here: Can you become fluent in Chinese in three months?