Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

5 things Chinese students should do on the winter vacation

The academic year looks different in different parts of the world, but for many readers, a semester has just ended or will do so very soon. For many others, the semester continues until the Chinese New Year, but this post is relevant for you as well.

As a serious and ambitious student, what should you do on the winter vacation, in the time between semesters? You probably have a few weeks off, but simply not touching Chinese for the entire time is a very bad idea unless you’re close to burning yourself out. As I’ve explained earlier, your slumps affect your study results more than your flows.

5 things Chinese students should do on the winter vacation

The answer to the question of how you should spend your time is going to be different for each student, but in this post, I’ll provide a few things you should at least consider doing.

In general, though, consider your energy levels before attempting anything too demanding. A gap between semesters should be a time to breathe and to recharge your batteries. Therefore, building motivation for learning is more important than learning itself. For some people, this will mean scaling back a lot on serious studying, for others it might mean doing even more.

With out further ado, here are five things I think you should consider doing during the winter vacation:

1. Put enjoyment above learning outcome

Normally, how much you learn should be the most important guide to what activities you engage in. Sure, you should try to have fun too (or else…), but that’s often regarded as a bonus and not the main point.

What I want you to do now is to put enjoyment at the very top. Find any activity you enjoy that involves Chinese in some way. This could be things that are only remotely related to language learning, such as playing Mahjong in English with friends who don’t even speak Chinese, listen to Chinese music or watch a film or documentary about China, even if it’s not in Chinese or you just read the subtitles in English.

The goal here isn’t to learn more Chinese, it’s to boost your interest in Chinese-related topics that can drive your learning for months and years to come.

2. Travel in China, socialise in Chinese

Travelling and socialising can either be very refreshing or very demanding, depending on who you are. For some people, it’s great fun and an incredible motivational boost; for others it’s exhausting.

However, if you’re studying in an area where people speak Mandarin, you should definitely take the opportunity to go travelling when you have some time off. It’s sometimes hard to be a tourist where you live, but don’t miss the opportunity!

It’s likely that you won’t have time off until the Chinese New Year, so be careful about transportation around that time. You probably have a longer winter vacation than the week everybody gets off, though, so make sure you take the opportunity to get out a bit.

3. Consolidate what you have learnt

Reviewing is important! Just because that exam went well, it doesn’t mean that you will remember everything after a few weeks of downtime. Sure, it will come back if you work on it, but why take those steps backwards in the first place? By reviewing, you make sure you have a solid foundation to continue building on next semester.

This is also a good opportunity to go through vocabulary and grammar you didn’t really understand when you encountered them in class. I bet there are many grammar points and words you sort of know how they are used and what they mean, but can’t use actively. By working with these again, after learning them more passively, it’s a lot easier to learn how to use them actively.

4. Wander outside the bubble; pursue loose ends

As I argued in a recent article, content matters a lot, meaning that what you study is at least as important as how you do it and how much time you spend. That’s almost always the case, but I want you to forget about that for now.

During the semester, you probably had some questions that didn’t make sense to try to find the answers to at the time. Perhaps it seemed to be a monster from outside the bubble, perhaps it just didn’t seem to be very important at the time.

Some of these things are terribly interesting, though, and this is the time to go crazy and follow your instincts! If you’ve kept a Chinese notebook, you should have plenty of loose ends to pursue.

5. Look forward to the next semester

This should come as no surprise, but if you have a demanding semester coming up ahead, you should spend some time preparing for it. This involves previewing texts, familiarising yourself with vocabulary and so on.

I put this last because it doesn’t feel much like relaxation at all and is actually a way of shortening your vacation. Only do it if you feel up to it! Previewing is important, but staying sane and maintaining motivation to learn is more important still.


The time between semesters should first and foremost be used to recharge your batteries. However, unless you’ve lost momentum completely, you should make sure you spend at least some time with Chinese, because you don’t want to start the next semester significantly worse off than you finished this one.

Try to spice things up a bit and find ways of learning and consolidating that don’t necessarily feel like studying!

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