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Distinctively Chinese

The scope of most articles on this website reaches far beyond the Chinese language. They deal with strategies for language learning, or indeed other things connected to learning in general, such as planning, psychology and productivity. However, the website is still called Hacking Chinese and everything I write is related to learning Chinese in some way. This category is for articles dealing with topics that are distinctively Chinese. It might be about learning characters, tones or dealing with Chinese dialects, but all articles below contain information, tips or tricks regarding the Chinese language itself. Here are some examples:

How difficult is Chinese?

Many people have asked this question and many have tried to give an answer. Depending on the angle of approach, I think that it can either be argued both that Chinese is fairly easy and that it’s really hard. These articles are somewhat contradictiory, so I leave it to you to form your own opinion of the difficulty level of learning Chinese. The most important thing is that Chinese is not impossible to learn. It’s only weird, stupid and difficult if you regard it as such. A positive attitude will take you a long way.

Are there any special tricks for learning Chinese compared to other languages?

Yes, there are, and this is partly the reason why I think Chinese isn’t as hard as all that. The most important thing to realise when studying Chinese is that all words consist of characters and that characters typically consist of several components. In the short term, it will take you longer to learn each word if you also learn the individual characters, and likewise it will take you longer to learn the characters if you have to learn the components as well.

In the long term, however, all time spent on learning individual characters and their components will pay of handsomely. Since learning Chinese is definitely a long-term project, I strongly suggest that you start expanding your knowledge of the building blocks of the Chinese language. This knowledge is essential, regardless if you’re learning simplified or traditional Chinese (or both).

What about pronunciation?

Chinese pronunciation is perhaps the most difficult part for most learners. Mastering the tones is difficult and there are many sounds in Chinese that doesn’t exist in English. My best advice on this front is to be diligent from the very start (see my beginner tips here). You should avoid perfectionism in general, but pronunciation is an exceptions. Tones doubly so.

Here are some more articles dealing with topics that are distinctively Chinese (scroll down to see all of them in a text-only list):


All articles
Chinese is fascinating and exciting, not weird and stupid
Learning Chinese is easy
Creating a powerful toolkit: Character components
Creating a powerful toolkit: Individual characters
Creating a powerful toolkit: Characters and words
Learning the third tone in Chinese
Learning simplified and traditional Chinese
Understanding regionally accented Mandarin
Review: The Phonology of Standard Chinese
Kickstart your character learning with the 100 most common radicals
Extending mnemonics: Tones and pronunciation
The importance of tones is inversely proportional to the predictability of what you say
A guide to Pinyin traps and pitfalls
Is it necessary to learn to write Chinese characters by hand?
You can’t learn Chinese characters by rote
Towards a more sensible way of learning to write Chinese
Sensible character learning: Progress, reminders and reflections
How to create mnemonics for general or abstract character components
Don’t use mnemonics for everything
Horizontal vocabulary learning
21 essential dictionaries and corpora for learning Chinese
Learning the right chengyu the right way
Adding tone marks (w/o Pinyin) above characters to practise tones
Boosting your character learning with Skritter
Dealing with near-synonyms in Chinese as an independent learner
Do you really know how to count in Chinese?
Standard pronunciation in Chinese and why you want it
Phonetic components, part 1: The key to 80% of all Chinese characters
Phonetic components, part 2: Hacking Chinese characters
Reading aloud in Chinese is really hard
5 websites to help answer your questions about Chinese
How to learn Chinese characters as a beginner
Learning to read aloud in Chinese
25 books I read in Chinese last year
Wuxia, a key to Chinese language and culture
A language learner’s guide to wuxia novels
Focusing on tone pairs to improve your Mandarin pronunciation
Asking the experts: How to learn Chinese grammar
Sensible Chinese character learning revisited
Learn to read Chinese… with ease?
Handwriting Chinese characters: The minimum requirements
How to Approach Chinese Grammar
7 ways of learning to write Chinese characters
Learning to write Chinese characters through communication
Why you should think of characters in terms of functional components
Is Chinese difficult to learn?
Focus on initials and finals, not Pinyin spelling
How to find a suitable Chinese name
24 great resources for improving your Mandarin pronunciation


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