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scorecard-smallI’ve found that pronunciation is one of the most neglected areas in Chinese language teaching. Teachers don’t have the time or don’t know how to teach it properly. This means that students are left with bad pronunciation, often without knowing it. The course I’m about to offer in this post is meant to address this.

I have written quite a lot about pronunciation on Hacking Chinese, but here are some highlights:

Of all the students that have hired me over the years, about half have done so to improve pronunciation. Based on the experience I have gained through this and through related research I’ve done and courses I’ve taken, I have created a small pronunciation course. It consists of four parts:

  1.  Identifying sounds and tones
  2.  Producing sounds and tones
  3.  Detailed and accurate feedback
  4.  Live practice and corrections

The course covers the syllable, word and sentence levels and also includes a short talk. After doing the listening and speaking parts, you send your data to me for analysis. You will then receive a score card (see pictures above and below) with detailed information about your pronunciation. The course does currently not involve actual tutoring, but if you’re interested in that as well, we can perhaps arrange something.

Only a handful of students have been through the course in its current form. For instance, this is what I used to help Scott Young improve his pronunciation. The first page of the scorecard looks like this (there are five pages in all):

ss-sample

Why you should take the course

Almost every learner of Chinese I have met have had some basic pronunciation problem. This is true even for intermediate and advanced learners.

The reason I think this course is useful is that it will tell you what you’re doing wrong, what you should be doing instead and highlight the difference between the two. Very few teachers have the ability or the time to do this for you. The first step in solving a problem is identifying it.

I have taken at least four master’s degree courses in Chinese phonetics and pronunciation pedagogy, I also do my own research in the area of tone production and perception. I know what I’m talking about and I can explain it to you. I can also apply a systematic and scientific approach to pronunciation.

To make sure I don’t miss anything, I also enlist the help of native speakers. Together, we are more than capable of identifying your pronunciation problems and help you to sound

Register in advance

I will offer this course to the first 20 students who sign up. It will take you about an hour to do the listening and speaking parts, and then it takes me about two hours to analyse your data. Remember, this is done by real people, not by a computer program. All 20 slots have now been filled, if you are interested, you can still contact me and I will get back to you later when it’s time for the next incarnation of the course, probably later this autumn. Sign up by sending me an e-mail!

I will identify problems with perception and production of sounds in Mandarin. The feedback will be systematic, accurate and explained in English with examples. Since this is a preview and the course isn’t perfect yet, the course costs only $45. In return for the low price, I only ask for feedback about the course so I can improve it.

If you don’t get a chance this time around, the course will most likely be available again later, but I can’t promise when. It all depends on how much time I have and what kind of response I receive in general. If you want my help to improve your pronunciation, send me an e-mail and I will contact you next time the course is open.


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Without going into too much personal details, I’ve had my fair share of language learning with a Chinese-speaking partner. Since this is a topic that comes up fairly often and I have a few words to say about it, this is precisely what I’m going to do. I think that many people, both native speakers and other learners, misunderstand what it means to learn Chinese from/with a loved one.

Image credit: sxc.hu/profile/Cieleke

Image credit: sxc.hu/profile/Cieleke

So that’s why your Chinese is so good!

One of the most frustrating statements I’ve heard (and keep hearing quite often) is that after someone learns that I have a Chinese girlfriend, they exclaim something like: “Oh, so that’s why your Chinese is so good!”

There are many ways of responding, but since most people don’t really care, I mostly just smile and nod. Yes, sure, that’s the main reason.

Of course, the real reason my Chinese is reasonably good is because I’ve studied like a maniac, lived in Taiwan for four years and taken academic courses entirely in Chinese half that time. In fact, the cause/effect relationship in my case is reversed, I would never have been together with my girlfriend now if I didn’t already speak Chinese when I met her!

The problem is that people somehow think that having a Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend means that you’ll learn the language by magic. This is just wrong. There are some real advantages, especially for daily conversation, increased fluency and (hopefully) a good model for pronunciation, but you improve mostly because  you practise a lot, not because of the nationality of your better half. In a sense, this is the same as immersion: you don’t learn Chinese simply by living in China.

Another potential problem is language choice. I think people in general tend to choose to communicate in whatever language is most convenient, which very likely isn’t Chinese if you’re a beginner. I know many mixed-nationality couples in Taiwan who speak almost exclusively English. This doesn’t make sense from a language-learning perspective (or at least not from your point of view), but it makes sense from a human one: Most people don’t fall in love because they want to learn a language, so they tend to use whatever language works best, not the language they are trying to learn.

Practice makes perfect

The main benefit of having a Chinese partner is that it’s a very fun way of exploring the language. We naturally feel a stronger desire to communicate with people we love and that means that we can keep at it for much longer and with stronger incentives to learn. A partner is usually (but far from always) more supportive of our language learning and might therefore be superior to random stranger or language exchange partner when it comes to helping you with your Chinese.

I often argue that learning Chinese needs to be fun and finding a Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend is definitely an awesome way to do it. I would personally never dream of finding one for this very reason, however, but I might be old and conservative. As long as everybody’s informed and is on the same page, I suppose it’s okay.

Another benefit with having a Chinese partner is that it increases your minimum daily study time. Just by managing daily conversations and discussions in Chinese is bound to teach you something, even if you’re an advanced learner. You gradually build up the feel for the language. Even if you’re too lazy to study, you still learn. This is harder without a partner, but can be managed in other ways, such as using games, sports or other everyday activities you don’t necessarily count as studying.

Some suggestions for how to learn with a partner

Don’t forget that your partner is a person, too. Just like friends, you can’t take them for granted and if you start treating them as your personal teacher or dictionary, you will run into problems very soon. I’ve found that the best way to equalise this relationship is by offering something in return. I do ask my girlfriend quite a lot of question about Chinese, but I also receive a fair number of questions in return regarding English or Swedish. This feels okay.

If both of you are very interested in languages, you could probably talk about that all day without feeling bored. If that’s not the case (I know, there are some strange people out there), I suggest limiting language learning to specific times. Don’t focus on your pronunciation 24/7, instead choose a time when the two of you try to fix your tones or whatever. If your partner is willing, s/he can then later correct you, but don’t push it.

What you won’t learn

Obviously, there are huge areas of the Chinese language that you won’t learn at all just because your special one happens to be Chinese. This includes character writing, reading speed, proper pronunciation (if s/he doesn’t speak Mandarin clearly), culture (unless you talk about it in particular) and writing in general. You will probably improve your ability to converse about everyday life and your fluency should increase quite a lot, but to reach an advanced level of Chinese, you need much more than that.

What if  I don’t have a Chinese girlfriend/boyfriend?

Even though there seems to be some advantages with trying to communicate with people you love (as opposed to trying to communicate with a stranger or a language exchange partner), I’m convinced that the main advantaged with having a Chinese-speaking partner is that it makes studying more practical and enjoyable. As I said above, it’s a little bit like living in China versus staying in your home country. Going to China will make a lot of things more convenient, you won’t need to try as hard as if you stay at home. Still, there’s nothing that stops you from creating an immersion environment at home!

Similarly, there’s nothing that says you can’t learn Chinese very well without having a partner who speaks Chinese, but it means you need to be more active and involve Chinese in your daily life as much as possible in other ways. This is not impossible, it’s just slightly more inconvenient. Try to find other things that motivate you to learn and that makes learning Chinese a joy, then make them parts of your everyday life to as high a degree as possible. In my article about the three roads to Chinese mastery, “having your social life in Chinese” is indeed one of the alternatives, but you can achieve that without a partner who speaks Chinese and there are two entirely different options available as well.

Conclusion

In short, learning Chinese with a partner is indeed very good, but it’s not a magic bullet that will solve all your problems. You will still need to study, you will still need to practice, it’s just that some of the things you need to learn will be more enjoyable and you will hopefully be more motivated to learn. That’s worth a lot, but you can find other fun ways to learn and other things to drive you forwards.


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Earlier, we looked at how and why to learn Chinese through television and we have also looked at a learner’s guide to TV shows in Chinese. In this article, Luke Howard will continue introducing several different genres of TV programs and explain why and how they can be used to learn Chinese. There will also be many suggestions for actual shows. If your favourite programme in a particular genre isn’t mentioned, leave a comment and recommend it! In part 1 and 2 in this little series, most programmes are Taiwanese, but I’m looking for someone to write follow-ups about Mainland shows as well!

cookLevel recommendations are just a guide

In the guide below, I provide a level recommendation for each genre. I’d like to emphasise that these are only a guide.

If you enjoy material that’s been recommended for a higher level of Chinese than you currently have, then you should absolutely keep watching it.

Likewise, if you’re still enjoying genres recommended for a lower level than you currently are, there’s no need to stop watching them. Keep it fun at all times!

Food and cooking shows

Level Recommendation: Intermediate – Upper Intermediate

Chinese language cooking shows can be really entertaining. Unlike many English language cooking shows that just feature a chef explaining his cooking as he goes, in Chinese versions there are usually several master chefs competing against each other.

fooodMany of the shows also bring amateurs onto the show for the master chefs to teach (with all sorts of constraints to keep things interesting). It’s a lot of fun watching the amateurs fumble around and makes me feel better when I try and cook new dishes and inevitably realise it’s not as easy as the chefs on TV made it out to be!

There are also Chinese language equivalents of popular English language cooking game shows like Master Chef, although I haven’t personally watched any of them.

A show to get you started: 型男大主廚

Homemade YouTube videos

Level Recommendation: Upper Intermediate – Advanced

In some respects, homemade YouTube videos should be the holy grail of television style media because they provide real language as it’s spoken on the streets. Unfortunately, that introduces some other difficulties, such as the fact the language will often be a mix of Mandarin Chinese and whatever the local dialect is, and they rarely have subtitles.

Of course not all homemade videos suffer from these issues, but it can be a mixed bag. Overall, the main reason to watch is that you get to be a fly on the wall and listen to very local language, which often differs from how Chinese is spoken on television, and is difficult to get exposure to if you’re living outside a Chinese speaking country where you can regularly interact with locals.

A show to get you started: “YouTube 熱門影片- 台灣” Channel (Has new content every day, usually at least some of it is interesting).

Quiz and game shows

Level Recommendation: Upper Intermediate – Advanced

Quiz and game shows are very popular in both the mainland and Taiwan. Many of the shows will be accessible for intermediate learners, but some of the shows have questions about Chinese history and the Chinese language itself (questions that are hard for even native speakers), and these shows are more suited for advanced learners.

A show to get you started: 歡樂智多星

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Anime and cartoons

Recommended Level: Beginner – Intermediate

Most cartoons in Taiwan are dubbed/subtitled versions of English language cartoons. Anime is mostly dubbed/subtitled versions of Japanese anime. Most cartoons and anime does get dubbed and aired on Chinese speaking television, so there’s never a shortage of material.

I’m not sure about mainland China, but in Taiwan the translation and voice acting of many cartoons into Chinese is done to a very, very high standard. For many shows, jokes are often not translated directly unless it would also make sense and be funny in Chinese. Often, the original script and meaning of an entire scene or episode will be altered to make it relevant and interesting to the local population.

Possibly the best example of this is the current instalment of The Simpsons been aired in Taiwan at the moment. Every episode I’m constantly amazed at the content, including statements about things like the controversial 22k minimum wage (an important issue in Taiwan at the moment), poking fun at president Ma (the current president of Taiwan) and many other locally adapted scripting.

In short, if you enjoy cartoons and anime in English, you’ll enjoy them in Chinese as well. The animation makes them enjoyable even for beginner students that can’t grasp all the language yet.

A show to get you started: 海綿寶寶/ Spongebob Squrepants (the version dubbed for Taiwanese audiences is well scripted and has very clear voice acting, making it very accessible for beginners)

Comedy

Recommended Level:Advanced

Comedy usually has many cultural elements to it. Understanding these requires a strong knowledge of both the language and the culture. It’s very different in style to Western comedy, and whether you find it funny or not (even when you understand it) is something you’ll need to explore for yourself. I don’t personally enjoy Chinese comedy that much, but it’s a highly subjective thing.

These comments only apply to pure comedy shows. Many dramas and other shows incorporate humorous script that is funny, even for cross cultural viewers.

Recommended Material:超級模王大道(this show is not strictly comedy, but rather about impersonating famous people, which is often very funny and more accessible than other comedies after you’ve been watching TV for a while and know many of the famous actors).

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 Conclusion

Take it slow, remember the FUN

Learning Chinese is a long journey. Remember to always keep it fun and enjoy each moment along the way. Taking it slow doesn’t mean to reduce the amount of exposure you get, but rather to not stress yourself with trying to understand everything at once.

Just go with the flow, enjoy the material in any way that’s fun for you in the present moment. Trust that your brain is processing all that information and that you are improving!

That’s all for now! Please recommend your favourite shows in the comments. If you feel you’re the right person to write a follow-up about Mainland genres and programs, let me know!


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challenge14-4When I launched this year’s sensible character challenge, some people told me that I was over-ambitious, I would never be able to keep people engaged for such a long period of time, 101 days. To be honest, I was a bit pessimistic, too, but I figured that at least I would be learning a lot of characters.

Even though of course I can’t know for sure when I write this article, I still think that I was too pessimistic. The number of learners who have stayed in the challenge from the very beginning is high and there are also lots of people who have joined the challenge along the way. Now the challenge has come to an end!

In this article, I want to talk about several things, some of which are similar to the previous milestone articles, such as how things have gone for me and what I have learnt, as well as opening up for you to report your progress and discuss your own learning. There will be even more prizes this last time, so make sure to report your progress below!

Before we go into that, though, let’s provide some background in case you don’t know what I’m talking about. Even though the challenge is over, each post contains a lot of information that will help students focusing on learning characters.

Here are all the articles; I recommend reading the first article (Sensible Chinese character learning revisited) as well as the “what have I learnt” sections of the other articles.

  1. Sensible Chinese character learning revisited
  2. Sensible Chinese character learning challenge 2014
  3. Sensible character learning challenge 2014: Milestone #1
  4. Sensible character learning challenge 2014: Milestone #2
  5. Sensible character learning challenge 2014: Milestone #3
  6. Sensible character learning challenge 2014: The big finish (this article)

Prizes for the big finish of the challenge

The prizes are the same as before, but there will be more of them:

  • Skritter extension - One week free extension will be awarded to all active participants. If you want your free extension, you need to have been active in the challenge, all you need to do is join this group and you should get your extension (provided that you have been active, of course, meaning a bare minimum of joining the challenge, posting a progress update for this milestone, along with regular use of Skritter in May).
  • Hanzi WallChart posters - Three sets of posters worth roughly $50 each will be distributed randomly among active participants. These posters aren’t only informative, they look cool too! You can see the posters here.
  • Glossika Chinese products – Glossika offers a range of products for Chinese learners and three participant in this challenge will receive one product of his or her choice for free. You can find more information about both Glossika and their products on the official website.

Winners are determined the same way as for previous milestones, i.e. randomly, but weighted for activity in the challenge (basically anything I have a chance to notice, including posts on Hacking Chinese, social media and so on), with a particular focus on progress updates.

I will announce the winners here on Sunday (July 6th), so you have a few days to post your updates. Note that only people who have officially joined the challenge are eligible.

Your progress update

There’s no fixed template, just write whatever you want to write in any way you see fit, but here are some examples:

  • Have you reached your goal for the second milestone?
  • What (if anything) are you going to change?
  • What have you learnt by participating in the challenge?

Note that activity in the challenge is completely unrelated to whether or not you have succeeded! Failing to reach your goal, thinking about why you failed and what you should do about it is perfectly acceptable.

My progress update

I have reached my goal, I now have more than 5800 individual characters in Skritter! Naturally, I spent some significant time learning the last few hundred this month and some of them haven’t really sunk in, but they have all been studied and learnt. his is what my challenge history looks like:

challengestats

How many characters do you need to know?

My goal for this challenge begs the question of how many characters one actually needs to know. The simple answer is that it depends on what you mean by “need”. If you mean to be able to read most modern Chinese texts without having to look up many characters, you need far less than the 5800 I’m close to here. In fact, you can get very far with around 3000 characters and 4000 will make you comfortably literate (I’m now ignoring the fact that literacy of course includes other things than knowing characters, such as knowing words, grammar and so on, but that’s not the point here).

So why did I think it was interesting to learn an additional 2000 characters if it isn’t very useful? I did it for two reasons. First, I wanted to feel what it was like learning characters again. I haven’t spent significant time learning characters for many years and this challenge was interesting because it made me realise some things I hadn’t noticed before. I will write about these things later (some of them are already mentioned in the milestone reports).

Second, it’s a mental challenge and quite fun. Even though I haven counted the exact time I spent on learning 1800 characters, I’m pretty sure the average is no higher than half an hour per day. That means about 50 hours or about two characters per minute. This might sound extremely efficient, but then keep in mind that most of the time, learning a new character is a matter of associating two characters that I already know with a new meaning. If it’s a perfect phonetic-semantic combination, it becomes even easier (learning a character like 浬, nautical mile, takes just a few seconds to learn). Also, spaced repetition is very efficient.

Learning characters is not like learning random facts

When I started learning Chinese, I remember being a bit confused by people who said it was difficult to learn lots of characters. I mean, learning a few thousand isolated facts isn’t that hard. What I didn’t understand back then was that learning 5000 characters isn’t like learning 50 characters a hundred times. The main problem when learning new characters isn’t to learn how they are written and what they mean, but to keep them separate from the other characters you already know. Thus, even though character learning certainly becomes easier in some sense, it also becomes a lot harder, but for different reasons.

Future challenges on Hacking Chinese

I’m working on something called the Hacking Chinese language challenge engine, which will allow me to run monthly challenges on Hacking Chinese, all with a different focus. There probably won’t be another character challenge for some time, but there will be listening, reading, translation and pronunciation challenges! If you want to help me test this out (it’s already quite ready), please leave a comment or send me an e-mail!

Stay tuned…

I will announce the winners on Sunday by updating this article, so make sure you post your progress report before then. Stay tuned!

…and the winners are

It’s now Sunday and it’s time to declare the winners:

  • Carla (both prizes for her wonderful graphics)
  • Doug Stetar (Glossika product of your choice)
  • Georges (Hanzi WallChart poster set)
  • Luke (Glossika product of your choice)
  • All active participants: Free Skritter extensions

I have sent e-mails to the winners. If you are an active participant and want your Skritter extension, please join this group on Skritter and tell me. Any prizes left over from this challenge will be handed out in future challenges, stay tuned!


Please consider supporting Hacking Chinese so that I can keep providing free content. Please also visit the site sponsors for high-quality Chinese products and services.


I have been inspired by many people in my life and in many different areas. When it comes to learning things, Scott H. Young runs one of the most interesting blogs I know I have kept an eye on his various projects and thoughts about how to get more out of life for at least five years, so when he said that he would now turn to learning languages, I was eager to see what would happen. When I saw that Chinese was one of the languages he had chosen to learn, I was thrilled!

scottvatandme

In this guest article, Scott shares some of his learning experience in a practical and easily applicable way. He reached a very decent level of Chinese in little more than three months, including passing HSK4 (yes, including reading and writing). If you want to evaluate his speaking skills, there are several videos in this post, one of them with Scott, his friend Vat and me speaking Chinese here in Taipei a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

In this post I’m going to try to dissect the specific methods I found most successful for reaching a strong conversational level of Chinese, after just a little over three months of private study.

First though, if you haven’t seen it, check out the mini-documentary Vat and I shot about the experience of living in China/Taiwan and learning Chinese. I owe a debt of gratitude to Vat for painting an excellent picture of what life was like and the Chinese we managed to reach.

Beyond that video, however, I want to go into more detail and give you the strategies I found worked best so you can use them yourself if you plan to learn Chinese or any other language.

Side note: I’m indebted to the many people who helped inspire and encourage this project. Benny Lewis, who first wrote about going up against Chinese in only three months. Chinese-Forums member Tamu, who wrote about challenging the HSK 5 after just 4 months in Taiwan. Additionally long-time Chinese learners John Pasden and Hacking Chinese’s very own, Olle Linge, offered a lot of advice in designing this project, and I appreciate the time they took for interviews, which I’ve included below.

What Level Did I Reach, Exactly?

In May, just a little shy of three months in China, I wrote the HSK 4 and passed with a 74% (Listening: 82%, Reading: 77% and Writing: 62%). For those unfamiliar with the HSK, it is the largest official exam for Chinese as a second language. It is divided into six levels with HSK 1 being the most basic elements of the language and HSK 6 as the highest level.

According to the organization that conducts the HSK, an HSK 4 is equivalent to the CEFR’s B2 designation. However, personally, I believe this is an inflation and it is probably more like a B1.

The HSK does not test speaking ability, but both Olle and John Pasden of Sinosplice.com were kind enough to sit down with me for an unstructured interview. I believe these clips are representative of my Chinese. I’m by no means perfectly fluent, but we were able to carry on a decent conversation in both cases with minimal friction.

Interview with Olle Linge (HackingChinese.com) from The Year Without English on Vimeo.

Interview with John Pasden (Sinosplice.com) from The Year Without English on Vimeo.

John’s interview was filmed in Shanghai, just before I wrote the HSK 4 and Olle’s was filmed three weeks later in Taipei.

Speaking more generally, I believe my level of Chinese is sufficient to deal with most basic necessities of living, travel, make new friends and have interesting conversations entirely in Chinese. I can also read most of simple emails, menus and signs, although my reading still lags behind my speaking ability.

I’m still not at a level where I could easily understand group conversations, movies, television or read books or newspapers.

Obviously, there is still a long way to go in terms of achieving native-level functionality with the language, but I feel the level I did reach has enormous practical benefits.

How Much Time Did I Invest, Exactly?

Before arriving in China, my studying time was exactly 105 hours. I’ve included this as an hourly amount, rather than a specific time period, because it was spread over a few months and I was also concurrently studying Spanish and Korean while working full-time.

In China, I studied fairly aggressively from February 16th when we arrived, until around May 10th, when I wrote the HSK 4. Although I went on to spend another three weeks in Taiwan, I did no formal study at that time and spoke in English with Vat (taking a break to finish the video before starting Korean).

My studying routine in China was to study six days per week with roughly the following activities:

  1. Private tutoring 1-3 hours per day.
  2. Anki (MCC Deck + my own deck for HSK vocabulary) 80 minutes per day.
  3. ChinesePod listening practice (last two months) 2 hours per day.
  4. Textbook study (first month) 2 hours per day. (Textbooks used: New Practical Chinese Reader, Complete Mandarin Chinese, Basic Patterns of Chinese Grammar and Side by Side Chinese & English Grammar)
  5. Skritter handwriting (last two months) 30 minutes per day.
  6. Miscellaneous drills 0-2 hours per day.

Once you include breaks, I’d say this amounts to a solid full-time schedule. Although, there are undoubtedly people who could have studied much more than I did.

Aside from minimal work to maintain my website, which is my full-time job, I was entirely focused on learning Chinese.

Beyond my studying, I also had a few good friends and many acquaintances in China with whom I only spoke in Chinese. Movies and television shows I also omitted from the tally of total time spent. I watched a number of Chinese movies, a few seasons of 爱情公寓 (English title iPartment), and some Chinese music.

If I had to do an estimate of total time invested, I would estimate around 350-400 hours of study in China (plus 105 hours prior to arrival), another 150 hours of actual Chinese usage outside of my full-time studying and perhaps another 100 hours of Chinese media of some kind (television shows, movies, etc.). However the hours of immersion are much easier than the hours of studying, once you’re past the hump of making friends in the language.

I believe the methods and schedule I outline is something anyone could implement, provided they are living in China and studying Chinese full-time (either in classes or privately). Obviously, if you need to work in English while in China, you may have to adapt these methods to suit your schedule.

Exact Methods I Used to Learn Chinese Efficiently

Chinese was a far harder and more interesting challenge than previous languages I’ve learned, such as Spanish. With Spanish, aside from some time with a tutor and light grammar study from an exercise book, I learned everything from immersion. Chinese, on the other hand, erected many barriers that made immersion in the beginning stages often frustratingly difficult.

My philosophy towards learning anything difficult is, if at first you don’t succeed, break it down into smaller pieces and try again. When I frequently hit frustrations in trying to learn Chinese quickly, I reverted to that motto and broke my sources of frustration into smaller units which I could set up drills for and improve in isolation.

Early in the challenge, when I found myself unable to correctly recognize and pronounce the 4 tones of Chinese, I turned to pronunciation specific drills. Later, when I found that my listening ability was hindering my Chinese much more than speaking, I spent a bulk of studying time doing targeted listening drills.

It’s important to note that these drills and exercises had immersion as a background. I don’t think I would have been successful if I had used them in isolation—that is without spending hundreds of hours having real conversations with Chinese people, listening to real Chinese media and living my life mostly in Chinese.

I won’t labor the point about immersion, because I’ve written about it before, but if you’re struggling with this half of the language learning process, see this article I wrote for John Pasden’s Sinosplice.com for specific steps you can follow.

Methods I Found Most Useful

I tried dozens of different methods for learning Chinese, from textbook study to pronunciation drills, vocabulary lists and grammar exercises. Ultimately, I narrowed down my studying to just a handful of methods I thought were the most broadly useful. They were:

1. Full-sentence, audio-included Anki decks

I opted for a set of Anki decks organized around learning characters. Although character-learning isn’t a necessity for reaching a conversational level, I felt the fact that these decks harmonized listening, vocabulary, sentence patterns and character recognition, made them the most useful resource I used.

I mostly didn’t create my own Anki decks, aside for a specific one to master HSK vocabulary prior to my exam. I also mostly ignored any decks that lacked audio or full sentences.

I also adjusted the studying parameters for the Anki decks. Normally a first-time card has a one-day “good” review and a three-day “excellent” review time. I adjusted these to three and ten days, respectively. I also reduced the leech threshold to three failures before a card was pulled from my deck. (Side note: I also increased the spacing between cards in Anki’s settings, but discussing it with Olle we’re not sure whether that’s good advice. In general, don’t change settings unless you have a good reason to do so. Nonetheless, I had 84.1% correct on mature cards which isn’t substantially different from Anki’s default goal of 90%)

The result of these tweaks meant that I was spending less time memorizing the cards and more time exposed to new ones. This exploits the 80/20 rule, by quickly eliminating too-difficult cards that waste your time and pushing too-easy cards far ahead.

Taking these decks allowed me to, using only 116 hours in China and 70 hours in Canada, learn roughly 1800 characters and see them used in a few thousand example sentences. Because the decks also separate listening/reading/production as well as single-character/sentence, I was also quizzed on each element separately.

My one regret with how I handled this part of the learning phase, is that I didn’t learn the radicals early enough. Probably my first 500 or so characters, I had only learned a handful of radicals. Once I learned the radicals, my mental model for chunking characters had changed and it became harder to recognize ones learned using previous mnemonics. My advice: if you’re serious about learning Chinese, learn the top 100 radicals as soon as possible, since it is the best foundation for recognizing them correctly down the road.

2. Listening drills

For listening drills, I started by just listening to ChinesePod episodes. My feeling was that these are nice passive resources, but they are too long to be easily used for improving your listening ability until you get to the upper intermediate level where both hosts speak almost entirely in Chinese.

Instead, what I did was download the dialog-only files for hundreds of episodes. These usually run around a minute or so, and I would listen to each one a few times, then go through the Chinese-character only text and try to read it, and finally go through the English translation. Then, any characters, words or sentence patterns I didn’t recognize, I would jot down in a notebook.

It typically took about 5-10 minutes to do each file, and I did around 250 in this way. The ChinesePod files are quite good because they use very natural sounding, conversational Chinese. Most other learner resources try to be overly clear and well-spoken, so when you listen to actual native speakers, you struggle to make a match.

This was my second most productive drill I used in China, and I’d recommend it to anyone who feels their listening ability isn’t top notch, and isn’t at a level to really get much benefit from native media yet.

3. Pronunciation drills

Pronunciation wasn’t the main focus of my time in China. Despite wanting to make it a large focus from the beginning, it wasn’t important enough relative to vocabulary and listening to make it a large amount of my daily time usage.

Despite that, I did find a small amount of pronunciation drills to be invaluable. I truly believe that getting even an adequate pronunciation in Chinese is quite hard, especially if you train poor habits from the beginning.

The first thing I did was look up anatomical charts which note tongue position for various sounds in Chinese that we do not have in English. These were very helpful because I got into the habit of moving my tongue into a different position for the q/x/j sounds than the ch/sh/zh sounds which mostly sound the same in English. It also helped me learn how to do the Chinese “r” differently from the English “r” which can be a problem for anglophones.

Next I worked on tone-pair drills. I made the mistake of doing these on my own in the beginning, which inadvertently had me pronouncing my second tone too much like a third tone. I worked with Olle to go through a specific pronunciation test to see if I could pronounce the sounds right, at least in deliberate isolation. The first time I had some tonal errors, mostly related to this 2nd-as-3rd-tone problem, as well as a couple isolated problems with the phonetics themselves.

After a few weeks with drills with tutors, I redid the test and got a good score. This hardly means my pronunciation is perfect. First, the test was mostly designed to see if I was making errors that would be large enough to cause confusion with native speakers, not accent reduction. Second, the test focused only on individual words in isolation, a much easier feat than getting all the tones right with unfamiliar vocabulary in a long sentence.

Pronunciation is probably one of the few areas with language learning that fixing mistakes as an intermediate or advanced learner is extremely hard. So even though Chinese can feel completely overwhelming and tones feel like a side concern, I completely agree with Olle that getting them right (even if just in limited isolation) is something beginners should allocate time for.

4. Conversational tutoring sessions

Tutoring was also very important, but not in the way most people think of tutoring. In China I ended up having three different tutors, two in-person, and a third via Skype using iTalki. My goal with tutors was to spend as much time as possible having real conversations with them, and a minimum of drills, exercises and the things tutors normally emphasize.

I bring this point up because many language teachers actively avoid using this method. Chinese teachers go through years of training teaching mostly passive students. As such, they’re used to guiding the student through exercises, grammar points and vocabulary. Many of the tutors I’ve encountered actually feel having conversations is a waste of time, and I’ve been interrupted in sessions where a tutor insists that we now “get back to work” after a conversational segue.

Therefore, if you’re an active student who is doing independent study for grammar, vocabulary, wasting tutoring time on such activities is going to hurt your progress, even if your teacher pushes you towards it. I suggest being upfront with your tutor from the start about what kind of class you want to have and don’t be afraid to get a new one if your tutor stymies your attempts at having conversational classes.

Other Methods

I emphasized the above four because I felt that they comprised (a) the most important studying I did in China and (b) they are activities many students do not do. I did use a textbook in the first month as well as a portion of my tutoring time in typical classroom activities, but my guess is that the average student spends too much time on these rather than too little.

What Can a Reasonably Dedicated Learner Achieve in Three Months?

Overall, I do believe that reaching a decent conversational level in a three months is possible for a reasonably dedicated learner, provided they follow the strategy I outlined.

Vat wasn’t at the same level of Chinese as myself after three months, but he could still have conversations about day-to-day topics without strain and deal with most issues related to living and travel in China. Vat’s approach was considerably less strenuous than my own, and he worked on other non-language learning projects at the same time (including the videography for our mini-documentary).

For learners who aren’t able to devote themselves fully, I think stretching the same strategy over a longer period of time could have a similar impact. If you’re teaching English in China, for example, and need to speak English for 8 hours a day, I imagine you could apply my approach to 2 hours per day in your spare time and probably see the same results in 6-8 months (given you also pursue immersion in your spare time as well).

Similarly, I believe someone learning in a classroom environment, but outside of China, could still arrange conversational exchanges via iTalki.com and the slowdown from not being within the country would be modest. The only challenge would be maintaining the motivation, since you have less pressure to learn Chinese.

Going Forward with Chinese

At the end of my stay in China, I was left with an impression that I really didn’t have enough time there. Not because my level was inadequate, but because the vastness of Chinese language and culture really deserves years of study, not a few short months.

Switching from a high-intensity period of study to a low-intensity, habitual, type of studying can be tricky. Now, my goal is to set up regular interaction with Chinese. Even if I have to return to real life and can’t devote myself full-time to learning Chinese, I feel I’ve established enough of a base that continuing progress can be done largely through real interactions with Chinese people and Chinese media, making it more enjoyable to keep learning.

A big thanks to Scott for this guest article! He is the author of Learn More, Study Less. If you join his newsletter, he’ll send you a free copy of his ebook detailing the general strategy he uses to learn more efficiently. This includes language learning, but certainly isn’t limited to it!


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It’s time for what might be the last Hacking Chinese meet-up in Taiwan for quite some time. I’m going to China this summer and then back to Sweden. If you haven’t joined any previous meet-ups, this is a good chance to do so! If you have joined earlier meet-ups, I’m looking forward to seeing you again before I leave!

Image credit: flickr.com/people/tylerdurden/

Image credit: flickr.com/people/tylerdurden/

If you want to join, please sign up via Facebook below or leave a comment to this post. If you’re going to bring your friend, partner or whatever, please let me know as well so I can book the appropriate number of tables. If you sign up and then realise that you can’t make it, please let me know.

Hacking Chinese meet-up Facebook event

Exact location will be announced later, but it will be within easy reach from the main station and probably close to NTNU (師大). The meet-up itself is of course free, but most restaurants and cafés have a minimum charge. See you there!


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By On June 20, 2014 · 1 Comment · In About Hacking Chinese
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I often stress the importance of making Chinese interesting and/or fun. This is why I’ve written articles about how to use computer games and sports to learn languages. The reason behind this is that learning a language takes an awful lot of time and if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it’s going to be hard to force yourself to study and you won’t learn as efficiently either. If you really like what you’re doing, on the other hand, accumulating hours is much easier..

If you watch the football world cup, you should watch it in Chinese

footballThis is an excellent example of when you should definitely convert an interest or a hobby to Chinese. If you like football, you probably know enough about the game to be able to follow what’s going on even if you don’t understand what the commentators are saying. You’ll understand enough based on context that you will be able to pick up lots of words and phrases without even studying if you watch a lot.

Naturally, the more advanced your Chinese is, the easier this is going to be, but just as Luke wrote in a guest article earlier this month:

The progress of a sporting match can be followed even with the sound turned off, making it an ideal starting place for beginners as you’ll never lose the plot.

Where to watch the world cup online in Chinese

I must admit that I’m no football fan myself, but if I’m going to watch any games, it’s going to be in Chinese. I did some research for this article and found a few sites where you can watch live games (and sometimes also recordings of old games). There’s also plenty of related news, discussions and so on, but I’m mostly interested in streamed matches with commentary in Chinese. I tried these links during the games yesterday and they worked well, but some of them might be region-dependent:

  1. 风云直播 - This is a sports channel in general, so when there’s no football, there will be something else (Formula 1 when I checked). There is a schedule in the top navigation bar (节目单) where you can see when matches will be broadcast. There’s a lot more going on than football here.
  2. 新浪体育台 - Live streaming, not only of matches, but also with a lot of analysis and discussions of earlier and future games. There seems to be a lot of football even when there are no matches being played, in other words. Seems to work outside China as well.
  3. Search on Soku – This is probably the best method if you’re not looking for live streaming. Many of them require you to be in China or fool the server into believing that you are. I have so far failed to find recordings of old matches freely available outside China, please leave a comment if you know where to find them.
  4. 凤凰网 - Portal site for coverage of the world cup, includes lots of news (list), live streaming, match schedule and information about teams.
  5. 搜狐体育 - Similar to the other sites, offers a wealth of news and general coverage. There are also old matches to watch, but you have to be in China to view them.
  6. 网易体育 – Contains lots of news, general coverage and live streams. You can also view old matches, but again, it requires you to be in China.

If you have any other suggestions, especially if you know some way of watching old matches outside China, do let me know and I’ll add it to the list! Any other useful sites would also be nice, such as those below about vocabulary for watching football.

Some links to help you with vocabulary

I did a quick search and found several sites that offers basic football vocabulary in Chinese:

You can easily find more using any search engine. Still, only focus on this if you want to. If you think it’s boring, just watch the game, you’ll learn common words soon enough anyway if you pay attention.

Focus on what you understand

If you haven’t watched sports in Chinese before, there will be a period in the beginning where it’s going to be hard. The more you listen, the more you adapt, though, so don’t give up just because you don’t understand much during the first match.

After a while, though, you should start recognising common words and phrases. Focus on these. Focus on what you understand. There will be plenty of things you don’t understand, but that’s not the point here. If you never expose yourself to real Chinese, you will never learn to understand it. Getting used to it takes time.

Beyond football

Personally, I’m not so much into football, so I’m going to watch StarCraft 2 matches in Chinese instead. The StarCraft 2 tournament in Taiwan’s E-Sports League has just entered the playoff stage and is starting to get exciting! Can the Koreans be beaten?

The point is, it doesn’t really matter what you watch, but if you like football, StarCraft 2 or something else, you really should make an effort and try to watch in Chinese instead of your native language. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot at the same time!


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Wouldn’t it be great if there was a place where you could find Chinese learning resources, blogs, tools and apps, all suitable to your level and preferences? I think that sounds great, so I today I’m proud to announce the launch of a new section of the site, simply called Hacking Chinese Resources.

weblogobanner21-short7-resources

The idea is very straightforward: You select what kind of resources you’re interested in and the site will generate a list of most popular resources that match your criteria. Below, I have provided a brief demo:

Chinese learning resources at your fingertips

Here are the ways in which you define what type of resource you’re looking for (you don’t have to care about all of them):

  1. What’s your proficiency level? (e.g. beginner, intermediate, advance)
  2. What topic are you interested in? (e.g. listening, speaking, vocabulary)
  3. What type of resource do you want to find? (see below)

The site is very broad in scope and includes five main types of resources:

  1. Information and advice (Hacking Chinese would show up here)
  2. Resource collections (where you can find collections of videos, articles, etc.)
  3. Resource highlights (particular videos, articles, etc. that are very good)
  4. Tools and apps (games, dictionaries and other apps and tools)
  5. Social learning (forums, language exchange, chatting and similar)

Here are some examples of how Hacking Chinese Resources can be used:

  1. You are a beginner who wants to learn vocabulary and want to find tools and apps that can help you achieve this. There are currently 15 resources matching your request.
  2. You are an intermediate learner who wants to find listening material suitable for you level. You can check either resource collections or resource highlights. The first tag is for sites that collect lots of material and the second is for individual files, clips, videos and so on.
  3. You are an advanced learner who wants to improve your speaking ability (pronunciation, perhaps), but you’re not sure how to go about it. The information and advice category is for you!
  4. You want to find Pinyin-related resources. You simply search forPinyin and find 16 resources that matches your query.

If you want to get updates on Twitter, I have set up a new account that posts new update regularly: @ChineseLinks.

Think this sounds cool? Want to participate?

Hacking Chinese Resources is run on an invite-only basis at the moment, so even if everybody can use the site like I have described above, you need to be invited if you want to post resources, discuss or vote. The reason is that I want to expand this section gradually and deal with potential problems as they appear. If you want to join the fun, please leave a comment to this post and tell me why you want to be invited (don’t forget to fill in your e-mail address).

hcrWhy Hacking Chinese Resources?

The motivation to create this section of Hacking Chinese sprung from a genuine need. Even though there are many sites where you can share learning resources, they are all mostly focused on the short term, usually in the form of discussion forums, social news sites or feed aggregators. I will continue using these sites myself and my aim is not to supplant them. Indeed, you can find all of them listed as resources already.

Even though Hacking Chinese Resources have similar functions, that’s not the main point. Instead, a carefully thought-out tag structure, filters and a search function are intended to create a permanent archive of useful resources that are easy to find whenever they are needed.

Still under development

Hacking Chinese Resources is still under development, but most things should work relatively well. If you have comments or feedback of any kind, you can just leave a comment here or contact me in any other way.Also, I don’t know about all cool resources out there, I need your help! If you want to participate in this project, contact me in some way and tell me why you want to join. I also need your e-mail address. If you want to read more about the tag structure, please check this document.

The future

Hacking Chinese Resources is still under development. There are lots of problems we know about that we want to fix in the near future, but please report any bugs or other things you would like to see on the site. When I say “we”, I mean myself and Stefan Wienert, who has helped me with the coding and is also hosting the new section (read more about the design process on his blog). I’m also grateful to Julien Leyre, who offered invaluable feedback on the tag structure, as well as to all the people on the Hacking Chinese feedback list who helped me with the site before today’s release.

I hope Hacking Chinese Resources can be a valuable asset to students and teachers of Chinese all over the world. In order to make that come true, I need your help. If you don’t want to participate yourself, then at least help me spread the word by sharing this article or Hacking Chinese Resources on social media or telling your friends about it!


Please consider supporting Hacking Chinese so that I can keep providing free content. Please also visit the site sponsors for high-quality Chinese products and services.


Last week, we looked at how and why to learn Chinese through television. In this article, Luke Howard will introduce several different genres of TV programs and explain why and how they can be used to learn Chinese. There will also be many suggestions for actual shows. If your favourite programme in a particular genre isn’t mentioned, leave a comment and recommend it! In part 1 and 2 in this little series, most programmes are Taiwanese, but I’m looking for someone to write follow-ups about Mainland shows as well!

Level recommendations are just a guide

In the guide below, I provide a level recommendation for each genre. I’d like to emphasise that these are only a guide.

If you enjoy material that’s been recommended for a higher level of Chinese than you currently have, then you should absolutely keep watching it.

Likewise, if you’re still enjoying genres recommended for a lower level than you currently are, there’s no need to stop watching them. Keep it fun at all times!

Sport

Level Recommendation: Beginner

The progress of a sporting match can be followed even with the sound turned off, making it an ideal starting place for beginners as you’ll never lose the plot.

Pick a sport that you already understand well and enjoy watching, and then learn some of the key vocabulary for that sport before getting started.

Commentator’s rate of speech varies widely, and there is usually some specialised vocabulary and phrases used. These can be easily self-studied beforehand as there’s not a lot of them for any given sport.

You’ll then be in a good position to start piecing together more and more of what the commentators are saying. And best of all, you can ignore everything you don’t understand without impeding your ability to follow the progress of the game.

scbroadThis also goes for E-sports as well. Large events with live broadcast and online streaming have become increasingly popular in recent years. Even when living outside Chinese speaking countries, it’s often possible to watch live streams of events for popular games like StarCraft with Chinese commentary (read more about how to use StarCraft to learn Chinese here). Not to mention all the videos on YouTube.

It should go without saying that if you don’t enjoy watching sport in your native language, you should avoid this genre in Chinese as well!

A show to get you started: Any sports match for a sport you enjoy watching that has Chinese language commentary.

Drama (and super idol drama)

Level Recommendation: Beginner to Intermediate

Beginners should start with Taiwanese super idol dramas. These are shows with a cast full of young, attractive men and women that are very famous (hence the name “super idol”).

There’s usually very little depth to the story, following very predictable plot lines of love triangles. Following the plot should be relatively simple even for beginners. But the charisma of the characters and plentiful eye candy (for both genders!) keep things interesting while you familiarise yourself with the sounds of the language.

Regular dramas are better suited to intermediate learners, because although the language used is still relatively basic (everyday language), the plots tend to focus more on familial relationships. Following the intricacies of these plots requires some cultural understanding, and a basic grasp of the many ways to refer to relatives in Chinese (of which there are many!).

A show to get you started: 痞子英雄 / Black & White (Super Idol Drama), 我們發財了 (Regular Drama)

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Entertainment / Talk shows

Level Recommendation: Upper intermediate – Advanced

Talk shows are very popular in Taiwan. There is a great deal of variation in the content and format. Many talk shows also incorporate a lot of “game show” elements.

Topics range everything from University students discussing make up, relationships and parties, through to parents discussing how to raise kids, political discussion, sports, running businesses, and even highly specific topics like North Korea observers having a debate!

The level of difficulty will depend on the subject matter. Usually it will require some preparation work learning specialised vocabulary if you’ve never watched anything on the subject matter before.
Participants can often get very heated during debates, so you might be surprised to find that even not so interesting subject matter can be entertaining for a while.

A show to get you started: 大學生了沒 (Although not a pure talk show, the mix of game show with topic discussion makes it more accessible for learners just getting into this genre.)

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News

Level Recommendation: Advanced

News is challenging for a few reasons. The news anchors speak very fast, they use formal language, and unlike regular TV programming, subtitles are not usually displayed word for word. Instead, the subtitles are usually highly abbreviated sentences of less than 10 characters that require a strong knowledge of the language to decipher, and are just a summary of the current news item.

Television news also has very little nutritional value outside the language learning aspect, so spending time mastering this genre should only be done if it’s something that really interests you (many people enjoy it just for the challenge of it!). This is true for news programming in Taiwan, but I’m not sure about mainland China.

A show to get you started: 台灣蘋果日報 (technically this is a newspaper, but there website has a video news section, with many new videos posted every day. The videos are often short and sometimes animated, with full subtitles, meaning it’s probably the only audio-visual news source that overcomes the issues learners usually face watching television news.)

Documentaries

Level Recommendation: Intermediate – Advanced

Many documentaries aired in Taiwan are just dubbed versions of English language documentaries (Discovery Channel etc). Still, this is one of my favourite genres as I can also learn a lot of really interesting things that are not directly related to the Chinese language.

A show to get you started: Anything that interests you on the Discovery Channel

Travel shows

Level Recommendation: Beginner – Intermediate

·Rª±«ÈTravel shows offer an interesting look at activities you can do as a tourist in other countries (or places inside your current country of residence). They are usually very similar in format to English language travel shows. While you won’t understand everything, there are usually enough visual cues for beginners to know where the show is taking place and what activities/local food is on offer there. Lots of eye candy to keep it interesting at the lower levels.

A show to get you started: 愛玩客 / iWalker

That’s all for now, keep reading part 2 here! Please also recommend your favourite shows in the comments. If you feel you’re the right person to write a follow-up about Mainland genres and programs, let me know!


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One of the most powerful ways of staying motivated is doing things with others, preferably during a limited amount of time with a clear goal. That is exactly what the sensible character challenge 2014 is about. Even though the challenge has now reach its last phase, it’s still not too late to join, just set a character-learning goal that you feel is achievable before the end of June and you’ll not only boost your own learning, you’ll also have the chance of winning some great prizes, including character posters, language learning products and free time on Skritter!

challenge14-3If you want to know more, please check the post that launched the character challenge. If you want to sign up, all you need to do is set your goal for this month and include that in a comment. The rest of this article will be for people who are already in the challenge. I will write a little bit about my own experience and also encourage you to write about yours. Once everybody’s had a chance to post their progress reports, prize winners will be announced!

 Prizes for milestone #3

Here are the prizes available for the third milestone:

  • Skritter extension - One week free extension will be awarded to all active participants. If you want your free extension, you need to have been active in the challenge, all you need to do is join this group and you should get your extension (provided that you have been active, of course, meaning a bare minimum of joining the challenge, posting a progress update for this milestone, along with regular use of Skritter in May).
  • Hanzi WallChart posters - Two sets worth roughly $50 will be distributed randomly among active participants. These posters aren’t only informative, they look cool too! You can see the posters here.
  • Glossika Chinese products – Glossika offers a range of products for Chinese learners and one participant in this challenge will receive one product of his or her choice for free. You can find more information about both Glossika and their products on the official website.

Winners are determined the same way as for previous milestones, i.e. randomly, but weighted for activity in the challenge (basically anything I have a chance to notice, including posts on Hacking Chinese, social media and so on), with a particular focus on progress updates.

I will announce the winners here on Friday (June 6th), so you have a few days to post your updates. Note that only people who have officially joined the challenge are eligible. Also note that people who join the challenge now will have to wait until the end of the challenge (June 30th) before becoming eligible.

Your progress update

There’s no fixed template, just write whatever you want to write in any way you see fit, but here are some examples:

  • Have you reached your goal for the second milestone?
  • What (if anything) are you going to change?
  • What have you learnt by participating in the challenge?

Note that activity in the challenge is completely unrelated to whether or not you have succeeded! Failing to reach your goal, thinking about why you failed and what you should do about it is perfectly acceptable.

My progress update

Again, I seem to have overshot my goal, but this time it wasn’t because of a bad goal, but because I spent a lot more time using Skritter than I thought I would. This is partly because I’ve been using the alpha test version of the Android app (which is working well enough to use instead of the online version for my own learning). It’s also because I went to 雲林 in southern Taiwan for a gymnastics competition and spent lots of time on buses and trains. Can you think of a better way to while away the time than learn lots of characters? I certainly can’t! As a result, I cleared my goal for May with relative ease:

  • Milestone #3 (goal): 5340
  • Current status (May 31st):5409
  • End of challenge (June 30th): +366 (5775 total)

I will also share some important insight into learning characters.

Lesson #1:Spread it out

One of the major benefits of using your phone to review characters and words is that you can learn Chinese or Japanese wherever you are, whenever you have a few minutes to spare. It only takes a few seconds to start and you can easily interrupt your learning with no ill effects if something more interesting happens around you. This is much harder to do with any of the major skills listening, speaking, reading and writing. For instance, if you just have two minutes to study, it doesn’t make sense to start reading a new chapter in a book or listen to a new podcast, but you can certainly clear a dozen reviews in that time!

Therefore, whenever you can, spread your reviews out through out the day. Don’t review tones if you can speak with a friend instead. Don’t write characters if you can read a book instead. Don’t practise definitions of words if you can listen to a podcast instead. If you want to learn a lot of characters, such as if you are in this challenge, this is even more important! This is about time quality, something I’ve written more about here in case anyone wants to know more. If you pay attention to your daily schedule, you will find that there are lots of slots to review characters that you probably weren’t aware of!

Lesson #2: Add context

Jake has written an awesome article on the Skritter blog about something he calls “list overdose“. He describes it as follows:

 List overdose (or simply LOD) describes the ingesting or constant studying of vocabulary lists in quantities greater than are recommended or generally practiced. LOD may result in very little actual linguistic improvement (emphasis added).

I personally have a somewhat ambiguous relationship to this, because I think that you can use word lists quite effectively, provided that you are combining it with real-world usage and large volumes of input. So, when I say that I’m adding so and so many characters from a list, that’s not the only thing I’m doing! I’m also reading tons of Chinese and listening to even more.

If you still want to add characters or words directly from a list instead of gathering them in the wild, I think it’s very important to put them in context. This is relatively easy:

  • If it’s a character component, add a few of the most common characters
  • If it’s a character, add a few common words it appears in
  • If it’s a word, add an example sentence that fits well with the word

This will make sure that you don’t end up with a brick yard instead of a house. Sure, knowing just one way of using a word doesn’t mean you know that word perfectly, but it is a lot better than not having any clue at all of how it’s used!

Stay tuned…

I will announce the winners on Friday by updating this article, so make sure you post your progress report before then. Stay tuned!

…and the winners are…

  • Hanzi WallChart posters: Lili Woodlight and Jeremy (I have forwarded your info to the company)
  • Skritter free extensions: Everyone active is eligible, join this group on Skritter and tell me
  • Glossika learning Chinese product: 愛美 (I have forwarded your info to Glossika)

Good luck everybody for the final stretch of the challenge!


Please consider supporting Hacking Chinese so that I can keep providing free content. Please also visit the site sponsors for high-quality Chinese products and services.