Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Articles in the ‘Key study hacks’ category

  1. A minimum-effort approach to writing Chinese characters by hand

    Learning to write Chinese characters by hand is time-consuming. If you don’t need to write beautifully or quickly, but still want to be able to write by hand, you need a solid strategy. In this article, I offer my minimum-effort approach to learning to write Chinese characters by hand. It involves reading, typing, spaced repetition and communicative writing.

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  2. Focus on initials and finals, not Pinyin spelling

    Instead of worrying too much about Pinyin spelling and what sounds each letter represents, students of Mandarin should zoom out a bit and focus on initials and finals as whole units. There are only around 60 of them and focusing on them will pay off handsomely.

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  3. Study more Chinese: Time boxing vs. micro goals

    Time boxing and micro goals are both excellent strategies for getting things done, but which one is most suitable for learning Chinese? In this article, I discuss the pros and cons with the two methods and how that relates to learning Chinese. The short answer is that I use both a lot, but in different situations.

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  4. 7 ways of learning to write Chinese characters

    There are many ways of practising writing Chinese characters and they all have their pros and cons. In this article, I discuss seven different ways of practising and what advantages and disadvantages they have for you as a learner.

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  5. How to reach a decent level of Chinese in 100 days

    Scott Young has written a lot about how to learn more efficiently and this year he has turned his focus entirely on languages. He spent three months in China and managed to reach a very decent level of Chinese in that time, including passing HSK4. In this article, he shares his experience and the strategies he used. The article also contains two video interviews, one with John Pasden (Sinosplice) and one with me.

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  6. Sensible Chinese character learning revisited

    In a way, learning Chinese characters is very much like learning vocabulary in any foreign language and much of the efficient methods developed there works well for Chinese as well. However, characters are also fundamentally different from words in English and this influences how we should learn them as well. This article is a recap of how to learn Chinese characters in a sensible way. It is also a prologue for the upcoming character learning challenge.

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  7. How to learn Chinese characters as a beginner

    Writing Chinese characters for the first time can be very hard, mostly because it’s so different from writing letters. It feels more like drawing a picture than writing! This article is aimed at beginners and provides some essential tips, tricks and hacks for writing your first Chinese characters, making sure you avoid the worst mistakes.

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  8. Phonetic components, part 2: Hacking Chinese characters

    This is the second and final article about using phonetic components to hack Chinese characters and make it considerably easier to handle similarly looking characters. This article describes both the principles and gives plenty of examples that might resolve some of your current problems for you.

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  9. Phonetic components, part 1: The key to 80% of all Chinese characters

    80% of all Chinese characters are made up of one semantic component (meaning) and one phonetic component (pronunciation). The sheer number of characters formed this way means that these characters ought to be taught properly, yet I think this topic is largely glossed over. This is the first article of two dealing with phonetic components and how they can help you learn Chinese better.

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  10. Learning how to learn Chinese through self-experimentation

    Rigorous scientific research typically requires large sample sizes, otherwise it isn’t possible to draw any conclusions about the population at large, which is the goal of most studies. However, experimenting with yourself as the only participant might not be relevant for other learners, but it’s highly relevant for you. This article is about how to use self-experimentation to learn Chinese.

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