Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin


Learn Chinese vocabulary fast and efficientlyIn my book, vocabulary is all-important, it’s the foundation on which all other skills are built. It doesn’t matter how good you are at distinguishing tones, sentence structure and character writing; if you don’t know the words, you won’t be able to communicate in Chinese. This page is about how to learn Chinese vocabulary.

Here are some questions relevant for this category:

  • Why is vocabulary so important?
  • How do I learn characters and words?
  • What words should I learn?

If you you’re new to Hacking Chinese and want more general advice, please sign up for my free introduction course. I will summarise and introduce the most important things to keep in mind when learning Mandarin:

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Many of the articles on Hacking Chinese deal with vocabulary in some way (see all of them at the bottom of this page), but there are a few which stand out as being more important than others. Here are five articles you really should read:

  1. The importance of knowing many words – In this article I talk about the fundamental question of why vocabulary is so important. Everybody knows that words are very important, but in this article I argue that it’s even more important than most people think.
  2. Creating a powerful toolkit: Character components – One interesting aspect of the Chinese language is that it lends itself very well to memory tricks. Learning characters by rote is extremely inefficient, so you should start building your toolkit early. Learn character parts, learn individual characters and then combine these to form powerful mnemonics.
  3. Memory aids and mnemonics to enhance learning – This article introduces the concept of mnemonics and memory aids, telling you how to study characters and words in a way that is both fun and efficient. The memory techniques I talk about here is useful for learning anything, not just vocabulary. Memory is a skill that can be practised.
  4. Spaced repetition software and why you should use it – This is perhaps the single most important tool to learn vocabulary (and other facts). It is many times more efficient that traditional vocabulary learning methods and something you have to check out if you haven’t already. SRS makes it possible to learn huge amounts of words without spending too much time.
  5. Holistic language learning: Integrating knowledge – Holistic learning means that we should integrate what we want to learn with what we already know, thus forming a giant web of knowledge. In this article, I talk about holistic learning and how it applies to learning Chinese, including how to improve your web and its infrastructure.

Apart from these articles, there are many more that might be interesting for advanced learners. Here is a list of all articles in the advanced category (scroll down to see all of them in a text-only list):