Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Best of Hacking Chinese 2017

A new year has just begun and it’s time to look back at 2017. Overall, it was a good year for Hacking Chinese, even though i wasn’t able to maintain my normal posting schedule towards the end. Apart from my own articles, there were also several contributions from other learners and teachers of Mandarin, providing additional perspectives and approaches.

By way of summarising the year that was and to help you find good articles you might have missed, I present the best articles published on Hacking Chinese in the previous year. Since readers and I might not agree which articles were the best, I present two lists below: one based on my highly personal opinion (editor’s choice), and one based on visitor statistics (readers’ choice). There will be some overlap, of course.

What do you think? Was there a particular article that inspired you or taught you something that has been of great help? Please leave a comment below!

Best of Hacking Chinese 2017: Editor’s choice

7) This article was written as an answer to a question I received during a lecture about strategies for learning Chinese. It seems that sometimes, understanding what’s going on is essential, meaning learning materials should be easy, but sometimes a challenge is really needed to spur development. So which is it? Or does it perhaps depend on the situation?

Comprehension-based listening vs deep end immersion

6) Task-based approaches to language learning put the emphasis on real-world applicability, meaning that classroom activities are often actual situations where communication is necessary to complete a task, preferably taken from or at least inspired by real-world situations. However, this doesn’t mean that proper pronunciation, grammar and so on is completely neglected, it just puts communication first, which is how it should be.

Task-based Chinese learning and teaching

5) Hearing sounds in a foreign language is largely overlooked in foreign language teaching. When learning the sounds of Mandarin, teachers and resources often jump straight to pronunciation, without  checking for perception issues first. This can be a huge hurdle for learners who struggle to hear the difference between tones and other new sounds. 

Training and testing your ability to hear Mandarin sounds

4) Learning Chinese can be hard. This is in itself a problem, because it means it takes longer to reach a level where you can read anything that isn’t particularly written for you. Scaffolding involves clever ways of making reading and listening easier, in essence allowing you to access material that would otherwise be too hard. Essential reading for independent learners.

8 great ways to scaffold your Chinese listening and reading

3) By narrowing your listening and reading in some way can have great benefits for learning. Instead of reading ten articles about different topics, read ten about the same. You will feel the difference between the first and the tenth article. You will also be exposed to the language enough to learn from it, while still maintaining some variety to keep it interesting. This method should be used a lot more!

How narrow reading and listening can help you bridge the gap to real Chinese

2) I really love games and few things make me more enthusiastic than combining it with language learning. Not only is it fun, but it’s also great for learning! Not all people like all games, but there are many types of games and ways you can use them to learn and teach Chinese.

10 ways of using games to learn and teach Chinese


1) This game represents a lot more work than anything else published on Hacking Chinese this year. Of all the things I’ve written about, it’s the resource I would have liked to have most when I learnt Chinese myself. The cover art is a bonus too! My only regret is that readers who just started learning Chinese will find it too challenging.

Into the Haze: A new text adventure game for Chinese learners

Best of Hacking Chinese 2017: Readers’ choice

7) Comprehension-based methods for learning and teaching Chinese  are very different from more traditional methods. This article by Diane Neubauer is actually the second in a series of three articles about this approach and focuses on the benefits for students. You won’t find a better introduction to this!

The benefits of a comprehension-based approach for teaching and learning Chinese

6) Interactive adventure text games are awesome for learning. They are like graded readers, except they are also more engaging and makes learning much more active than just reading a story does. This is the first longer text game I’ve created with Kevin Bullaughey.

Into the Haze: A new text adventure game for Chinese learners

5) For people who haven’t read up on vocabulary acquisition, spaced repetition is often synonymous with flashcards. This is simply not true; there’s plenty of research that shows that the spacing effect is important in all kinds of learning, not just vocabulary flashcards.

Spaced repetition is not limited to flashcards

4) Lists of words, characters and components can be useful depending on what they contained and how they are compiled. Some are not vey good, such as lists of colours, sports or similar, but others can be great for learning… provided that you use them correctly!

Vocabulary lists that help you learn Chinese and how to use them

3) A common question among learners of Chinese is what you’re going to use the language for. Some have a clear goal in mind when they start, others do not. If you want something mostly related to the language (i.e. not n combination with another degree), translation is one of the few options you have, the other being teaching.

How to become a Chinese-English translator and what it’s like to be one

2) I’m not the only one who likes games! This is  an article that could really be expanded to a short book. It’s equally applicable to learning and teaching Chinese, as well as learning and teaching other languages.

10 ways of using games to learn and teach Chinese

1) It’s always hard to guess in advance which articles will be the most popular, but in hindsight, I think I should have known this article would be popular. It hints at a shortcut to sounding like a native speaker. It’s not just buzz either, it actually discusses methods that help you sound like a native speaker.


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