Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Best of Hacking Chinese 2019

While the Chinese New Year isn’t here yet (January 25th, in case you were wondering), we have now left 2019 behind us. For the ninth time, I will be summarising the year here on Hacking Chinese, focusing on the year that was, but also looking forward to 2020. If you want to look further back than 2019, here are links to previous summaries:

How was your 2019 in terms of learning Chinese? Did you reach your goals? If not, what can you do in 2020 to improve?

While I didn’t write as many articles on Hacking Chinese as I planned, I still think 2019 turned out okay. I launched a new beginner course and wrote a number of articles that have been in the pipeline for years! Below, I share the most popular ones, as well as the ones I like most personally. Which articles did you like? If you read many articles, but seldom comment, this is a good opportunity to let me know what you think!

Resources and Challenges

Apart from articles, it’s also worth noting that Hacking Chinese Resources now has 451 entries (saving up for an article about it when it reaches 500) and that Hacking Chinese Challenges are still running every month. The blog isn’t everything!

Best of Hacking Chinese 2019: Popular vote

First, let’s look at the five most popular articles according to popular vote (or rather, page views, but that’s as close to a popular vote as we’re likely to get):

Over the years, I’ve accumulated observations about things taught in textbooks and classrooms that are just plain wrong. Not just simplified, but actually wrong without any good reason. It took a while to gather enough good examples for this article, but it seems to have struck a chord and perhaps I can expand it later with even more examples! Have you learnt anything you later figured out were wrong?

7 things you were taught in Chinese class that are actually wrong


I guess “free” and “easy” are buzzwords that will lead to more traffic on average, but in this case, the description is perfectly accurate. Setting up audio flashcards for Chinese in Anki really is quite easy. And free. Judging by the number of people sharing this article, I’m not the only one who thinks that’s awesome!

Free and easy audio flashcards for Chinese dictation practice with Anki


This guest article by Scott Young is about general principles learning anything, but here applied to learning Chinese. He’s probably better known to readers of Hacking Chinese because his article about how to reach a decent level of Chinese in 100 days, but Scott has kept learning Chinese since that article was written years ago. Some of what he’s learnt since then shows up here.

The nine principles of learning (and the mistakes from failing to follow them)

My goal with this article was to answer common questions as simply as possible, while still providing links to more information when necessary. Sometimes, people don’t want to read page after page of nuanced arguments, but simply here a “yes”, “no” and sometimes a concise “it depends”. This FAQ provides just that! It doesn’t cover everything, but it is as far as I know the most comprehensive FAQ about how to learn Chinese available.

101 questions and answers about how to learn Chinese


There are so many resources about Chinese words, characters and components out there, from dictionaries and frequency lists to corpora and specialised word banks. This is the one article to rule them all. If your looking for the answer to: “How common is X?”, this article is for you.

The most common Chinese words, characters and components for language learners and teachers

Best of Hacking Chinese 2019: Editor’s choice

Second, let’s have a look at the articles I think are the best. This is usually quite different from what visitors think, which is not strange. After all, most people interested in learning Chinese are interested in practical topics applicable to a majority of students (see above list), whereas I’m more interested in figuring out details in specific areas that are sometimes only relevant for a smaller fraction of students. Here are my top five articles from 2019:

It should come as no surprise that I care about pronunciation. I have run into the two problems this article discusses many, many times, both as a student and as a teacher. They often get lumped together, but since they have completely different causes and thus completely different remedies, being aware of this is crucial, whether you’re a student or a teacher.

Two types of pronunciation problems and what to do about them

Everybody who knows anything about Chinese pronunciation agrees that tones are important, but people sometimes use bad examples to illustrate this. While it’s true that changing the tones in the word “Panda” can make it sound like “chest hair”, this is extremely unlikely to cause problems for students. Some people who correctly note this then go on to draw the incorrect conclusion that context always makes up for bad tones. This article lists tone errors where context won’t help you and they are thus much better examples of why tones are crucial.

Tone errors in Mandarin that actually can cause misunderstandings

I choose this article to represent a series of articles about training your Chinese teacher, which in essence is a guide to teaching Chinese written for students, answering the question “how can you get the most out of the time you spend with a teacher”. The articles so far in this series cover listening and speaking. All articles are linked to from the introduction below.

Training your Chinese teacher, part 1: Introduction

Phones and computers are getting better and better at recognising our voices and understanding what we say (or at least transcribing what we say), but how well does it work for language-learning purposes? Given perfect pronunciation, how well does your phone recognise syllables, words and phrases? What about incorrect pronunciation? Can the feedback be used for improving pronunciation?

Using speech recognition to improve Chinese pronunciation, part 1

While strictly speaking not being an article, the launch of my course Unlocking Chinese in the autumn of 2019 was by far the most important milestone for me. I’ve worked on this course for hundreds upon hundreds of hours. It’s the first course I direct at beginners, which forced me to revisit basically all important questions that beginners face, distilling and presenting experience and knowledge I’ve gathered over the years. The course will open for registration again later in January and you can sign up for the waiting list here if you want!

New course: Unlocking Chinese – The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Looking forward: 2020

Since I have many other projects and obligations apart from Hacking Chinese, it’s hard to promise things for 2020, but here are some projects I’m working on that may or may not come to fruition in 2020:

  • A podcast about learning Chinese… in Chinese
  • A book club for reading books in Chinese together
  • More innovative and fun challenges
  • Hacking Chinese: Too long; didn’t read
  • More audio recordings of articles
  • An updated version of Unlocking Chinese
  • A new course for non-beginners

What would you like to see in 2020? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

And… 新年快乐/樂!

Tips and tricks for how to learn Chinese directly in your inbox

I've been learning and teaching Chinese for more than a decade. My goal is to help you find a way of learning that works for you. Sign up to my newsletter for a 7-day crash course in how to learn, as well as weekly ideas for how to improve your learning!


  1. Du Fei says:

    Happy new year to you, Olle! And thanks a lot for another year of quality content without ever being spammy or clickbaity.

    2019 for me was the first time I truly felt alienated from the Chinese sphere, putting a severe dent in my motivation. Even some of my friends started parroting Chinese propaganda and waving flags condemning the Hong Kong protests – without even asking why there had been protests in the first place. Trying to get a more nuanced discussion on WeChat produced such a backlash that I effectively quit the app for several months.

    I would like to transform this negative energy into something productive, like starting a debating club in Chinese. The effort and emotional costs have held me back so far, and sometimes I think it would be better to do it one-to-one with a good friend.

    Having just moved to another city I stuck mostly to self-study content. I have come to enjoy reading Chinese books (mostly imported as .txt files into Pleco) but still struggle to find good audio content, be it podcasts or radio stations. In that sense, I’m especially looking forward to the first two items on your bucket list 😉

    PS: It was your “habit formation” challenge that got me back on track after moving, thanks for that one!

    1. Birgit says:

      hi Du Fei, looks like you left the golden path of 包饺子 , just a quick note to tell you that you are not alone, I can totally relate to why you weren’t so motivated during 2019. Same as you, I’m also looking forward to audio/podcast content.

  2. 电猫 says:

    Happy new year!

    You have helped me during my learning journey may times so far, helped me to overcame plateaus, keep up my motivation, and made me learn how to learn! Million thanks!

    A podcast about learning Chinese… in Chinese… wow this will be awesome!

  3. Essie says:

    Hi Olle,

    Like someone said above I am most looking forward to your upcoming podcast. I’ve been following your blog for a long time, and I think venturing into audio format is a great move 🙂 Let me know when it’s live!

  4. Sam says:

    Audio is a great idea

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.