Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Best of Hacking Chinese 2022

Sparkler celebrating the best of Hacking Chinese 2022.2022 has come to an end and it’s time summarise the year that was and highlight things you don’t want to miss! A new year is also as good a time as any to review your learning goals and progress so far.

In this article, I will share some of the things I’ve done and my thoughts about them. I will present the best articles and podcast episodes of the year, both as decided by you (visitor statistics) and me (editor’s choice).

Tune in to the Hacking Chinese Podcast to listen to the related episode:

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!

Since I already talked about Hacking Chinese in general in last week’s podcast episode (Hacking Chinese reader and listener survey), I will focus mostly on the “best of” part here.

Hacking Chinese in 2022: Articles, podcast episodes, resources and challenges

Still, I want to say a few words about 2022 first. In general, last year was a year of stability. I was able to stick to a schedule of one article and one podcast episode per month for the whole year, without exception. This means that we are now up to 492 published articles and 126 podcast episodes. Not bad!

On the other hand, nothing out of the ordinary happened either. I didn’t publish any new courses or launch any new projects, mostly because I’ve been too busy with other things. Sure, I’ve opened Hacking Chinese Pronunciation: Speaking with Confidence  for enrollment a few times, but creating new courses takes concentrated effort over a long period of time, and I simply wasn’t able to find that time in 2022.

Other things that have progress incrementally are Hacking Chinese Resources, which reached the significant milestone of 500 links recently. This is not only due to my own efforts, of course, since other students and teachers also contribute. Another example of community effort is Hacking Chinese Challenges, which still run every month. I did not have the energy and persistence to invest time into my own participation this year, however, but we’ve still seen 50-60 people sign up per challenge on average.

How was your 2022? Did you reach any goals or milestones last year?

There are other things in life beyond learning Chinese and things over which we have no control happen around us and in the world at large, but I still hope that you were able to reach your goals for 2022. What were your goals? How did you do? Did you pass any significant milestones in the last year, maybe something you’ve been wanting to be able to do since you started learning and that you are now able to do? Or maybe you didn’t reach your goals, but learnt a lot anyway?

Regardless if your learning went according to plan or not, leave a comment below and let the rest of us know!

If you didn’t have a goal for 2022, that’s okay, but I do think that being aware of your long-term goals for learning Chinese is important if you want to make significant progress. There are other approaches, such as The Forking Path, but these are more about getting rid of short- and medium-term goals. If you don’t have a goal for 2023, maybe it’s time to reflect on your learning and come up with one?

The forking path: A human approach to learning Chinese

Best of Hacking Chinese 2022

Let’s have a look at the five best articles by popular vote (as measured by page views) and the five best articles (according to my humble opinion). It’s not uncommon that articles I don’t like myself end up being very popular, or the other way around, so this is a good opportunity for me to highlight articles I think more people ought to read! This year, I will also include the most popular podcast episodes.

Before we do that, though, here’s a list of previous New Year summaries on Hacking Chinese for those of you who want to see development overtime, which almost never goes according to plan. There are many things I’ve been wanting to do for years, but just don’t have the time for:

Best articles on Hacking Chinese 2022 – Editor’s choice

As usual, I rarely agree with visitors regarding which articles are the most interesting, but that’s okay. I also realise that search engines are strange beasts, and that you, the reader of this article, probably aren’t very similar to the average person who stumbles upon a single article through online search. I think you might be interested in what I think, so here are my top five articles from last year!

五   Analyse and balance your Chinese learning with Paul Nation’s four strands

Analyse and balance your Chinese learning with Paul Nation’s four strands

The more I learn and teach languages, the more I realise how badly skewed most students’ study routines are. Some people spend hours every day reviewing flashcards, but hardly read real texts in Chinese at all. Other people spend 90% of their time in textbooks, not realising that they only present a sliver of the language, and usually not the most important part either. Still others focus on the written language, probably because their courses and teachers require them to do so, neglecting listening, which is in my opinion the most important skill.

More importantly, most people don’t go beyond the four skills when thinking about their learning, but there’s a huge difference between reading a difficult text in your textbook and reading a graded reader at your level. Both are called “reading”, but they achieve different things. Paul Nation’s four strands model provides a framework for talking about these differences in a meaningful way, useful for both individual learners and language teachers. The four strands are meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning a and fluency development. Most students focus way, way too much on language-focused learning!

四   Learning the neutral tone in Mandarin

Learning the neutral tone in Mandarin

I normally stay away from basic descriptions of the Chinese language, not because I don’t think they are useful, but because Hacking Chinese has always been about how to learn, and there are myriad other websites that describe the meaning of words, the function of grammar and so on. Pronunciation is an exception, though, because there simply aren’t many reliable and easy-to-access descriptions online. This is especially true for tones! I’m slowly building up to one article per tone, although I have focused on the more interesting and challenging tones first. This year, we got to the neutral tone, which is probably more misunderstood than any other, except the third tone.

Here are all tone articles so far:

Of course, I have already done detailed videos explaining all aspects of Mandarin pronunciation in Hacking Chinese Pronunciation: Speaking with Confidence, but that’s a completely different format.

三  Beyond tīng bu dǒng: A guide to Chinese listening comprehension

Beyond tīng bu dǒng, part 1: A guide to Chinese listening comprehension

It’s often hard to know which articles will do well and which won’t, but I was fairly confident that this series of articles would’t get lots of traffic. All the bad stars were aligned: listening is not something people prioritise, in-depth discussions don’t generate buzz, and  theoretical articles don’t do well  in general. But I wrote the first four parts in this series anyway, and will finish the rest in 2023, because I know that they provide a lot of value for the people who do read them. I also find the science behind listening ability fascinating and enjoy writing articles like this. Once I’ve wrapped up the series, maybe I’ll try to write something that’s more palatable for search engines and maybe even get some traffic. Who knows?

Here are the articles published in this series in 2022:

  1. Beyond tīng bu dǒng, part 1: A guide to Chinese listening comprehension
  2. Beyond tīng bu dǒng, part 2: From sound to meaning in Mandarin
  3. Beyond tīng bu dǒng, part 3: Using what you already know to aid listening comprehension in Chinese
  4. Beyond tīng bu dǒng, part 4: Learning to process spoken Mandarin quickly and effortlessly

二   How to survive and thrive  in a difficult Chinese course

How to survive and thrive in a difficult Chinese course

An aspect that’s often overlooked in discussions about language learning and in second language acquisition research is who the learners are and what drives them. This becomes obvious when comparing student groups, because teaching a class of high-school students who’d rather be somewhere else, and teaching a class of highly-motivated engineering students at university who are willing to throw everything they have at Chinese, is not even remotely similar. In particular, it’s normal expect, ask or demand a lot more from the latter than the former, which means that there are some tough courses out there where just showing up is far from enough.

Then you can also ramp up the difficulty deliberately by enrolling in courses that are aimed at students above your level. In a prequel to the article we’re talking about here, I discussed whether or not this is a good idea; you can check it out here Is taking a Chinese course that’s too hard good for your learning? Regardless of how you ended up in a difficult Chinese course, how should you study to make sure you both learn a lot and pass the course? This is the topic of How to survive and thrive in a difficult Chinese course. I have done this many times myself and have also taught such courses, so here I collect my best advice! I also think this is the best cover image for any article this year!

一   How to become fluent in Chinese

How to become fluent in Chinese

The title of this article sounds like clickbait, but it’s not. In Paul Nation’s four strands model, fluency development is about getting better and faster at using what you already know. Fluency in this sense is not the dreaded F-word indicating some arbitrarily high level of performance. Instead, it’s something much closer to the original metaphor: language that flows like water does so with a certain speed and without interruption.

In this article, I discuss how to achieve this in Chinese, regardless if you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced learner. I think this is extremely important, because most students seriously neglect fluency development, especially at lower levels! If I could make all learners of Chinese read one article published this year, it would be this one.

Best articles on Hacking Chinese 2022 – Popular vote

Now over to you! Or to all visitors. I don’t know why these articles are popular, but I can hazard an educated guess. Did you like these articles, or were there others you liked more?

五  How to learn Chinese pronunciation as a beginner

How to learn Chinese pronunciation as a beginner

It should come as no surprise that I’m interested in pronunciation; it’s probably the one topic I write about the most in proportion to how popular the articles are. Of course, I don’t only write about pronunciation because I think it’s cool, but also because it really is very important. Thus, I’m happy that this article is as popular as it is! I guess that it’s because many people realise that their teachers and courses are not giving them enough support when it comes to pronunciation, so they turn to search engines, which happily serve up my article. I also link to it a lot, which helps.

四   Do you have to learn to write Chinese characters by hand?

Do you have to learn to write Chinese characters by hand?

If a civil war were to break out among people involved in Chinese language education for foreigners, it would be over whether or not, or how much, to write by hand. This question does not have one single, correct answer, but does instead vary depending on the situation, especially the goals of the student. In general, though, handwriting is less important than you might think if you’re enrolled in a formal course.

First, there is a strong case to be argued in favour of focusing on the spoken language first. Delaying character learning a bit does not have any significant downsides, whereas neglecting the sounds and tones early on can have serious consequences. As usual, focusing more on one thing means focusing less on something else, so if students spend two thirds of their time with characters, they won’t have much time left for acquiring the sounds and tones.

Second, handwriting itself is not very practically useful these days, as most communication is done digitally anyway. In the few cases where you need to write Chinese by hand outside formal education, you can often look up characters you’ve forgotten how to write. Learning a basic set of a few hundred characters is still useful because of what it teaches you about the writing system, but don’t stress it!

三   Learning Classical Chinese is for everyone (no, seriously!)

Learning Classical Chinese is for everyone (no, seriously!)

This is the only article published on Hacking Chinese this year that isn’t written by me. There are many guest posts on Hacking Chinese in total, but since I’m rather picky with content choice, there are fewer than you might think. This article is about learning Classical Chinese and is written by John Renfroe from Outlier Linguistic and is the perfect fit for a guest post. It focuses on how to learn Chinese and is about a topic I wouldn’t want to cover myself, in this case, because I haven’t taught Classical Chinese. John has, among other things, built a course called Introduction to Classical/Literary Chinese, which you can still check out and enrol in if you want to dive in.

I  think this article did well because there isn’t that much written about how to learn Classical Chinese, so anyone who it quickly climbed to the top of the search rankings for search queries like “learn Classical Chinese” and the like. The article itself is also meaty and contains everything people wanting information about learning Classical Chinese might want, including all the necessary resources. Well done, John!

二  How to learn Chinese characters as a beginner

How to learn Chinese characters as a beginner

If there’s a pattern to what articles become popular on Hacking Chinese, it’s probably those that summarise and distill the content of dozens of other articles I’ve written. This is not strange, because most people just want the main takeaways and can return later for the details if they need them. This is of course particularly true in cases like this article since it’s aimed at beginners. This article strives to answer the question of how to learn characters as a beginner, without going into too much detail. I still remember what it was like to get my first homework to memorise a bunch of characters, and this is the advice I would have given myself!

一   The 10 best free Chinese listening resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners

The 10 best free Chinese listening resources for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners

As I mentioned in last week’s podcast episode (#125), this article took at least 40 hours to write. I knew it would take an awful lot of time before I even started because the sister article about the 10 best free Chinese reading resources also took forever to compile. However, that article is the most popular article on Hacking Chinese and thinking that a similar article about listening ability would do well, albeit not as well, is not a stretch of the imagination of any kind.

The reason it took so long is of course that I checked hundreds of resources. I didn’t want to just throw together a list of random ones I found in half an hour, I wanted the best. For the beginner level, this was hard, because to be honest, most resources aren’t very good. They invariably consist of people speaking mostly English about a very short dialogue in Chinese. I had to look really hard to find listening resources that didn’t do that. At the intermediate level, it’s easier to find good content, but that also makes it hard to find the best content!

I’m happy this turned out to be the most popular article of the year, consider how much time and effort I invested into it!

Best podcast episodes on Hacking Chinese 2022 – Popular vote

The Hacking Chinese Podcast - all episodes.This year, I decided to check the most popular podcast episodes. I had just assumed that they would be the same as the most popular articles since they are closely related and are embedded in each other, but this turned out to not be the case. I don’t know why this is so, but it’s perhaps not surprising that the podcast lives its own life somewhat separate from the website. I wonder if there are people who only listen to the podcast and don’t ever visit the website. The Hacking Chinese reader and listener survey might give me the answer! Anyway, I’ve listed the most popular podcast episodes from 2022 below. Check here for all episodes.

五   Episode 78b — 文字冒险游戏及其在对外汉语教学中的应用


Text adventure games are one of my favourite ideas for practising Chinese writing. I used to play choose-your-own-adventure games as a teenager, often in connection with tabletop role-playing games, and one day I realised that it’s a perfect match for language learning! It’s a very active form of reading when you need the information in dialogues and descriptions to be able to make the right choices to make progress in the game. I’ve created several such games together with Kevin Bullaughey over at WordSwing, and I wrote about five of them here: Five text games for Chinese learners.

One of the most popular podcast episodes is also the only one in Chinese so far, where I read an article I wrote about these games in Chinese. There are actually two versions of this episode, 78a, which is in English, and 78b, which is in Chinese. I’ve embedded both below, but it’s the Chinese one that’s more popular! This could either be because I do address teachers and they tend to speak Chinese or because I normally don’t have podcast episodes in Chinese at all.

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!

四  Episode 89 – What to read to improve your Chinese and why

What to read to improve your Chinese and why

This is an interesting case of an, in my opinion, important article that did not receive much traffic, but still makes it to the top five among podcast episodes. I have no explanation for this, as the content is equally approachable in both formats. In the episode, I talk about why you should read more and what you should read depending on your goals. I also talk a little bit about the apparent conflict between reading authentic texts not specifically created for language learners, and graded content which is aimed at a specific level, something I then elaborated on in a separate article and podcast episode.

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!

三   Episode 99 — How to become fluent in Chinese

How to become fluent in Chinese

I’ve already summarised this article above (number one in the editor’s choice category), so I won’t say much here. Again, I find it interesting that this article didn’t do so well in terms of traffic, but did better on the podcast.

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!

二  Episode 88 — How to learn Chinese characters as a beginner

How to learn Chinese pronunciation as a beginner

This is the only case where popular articles and podcast episodes overlap! I already talked about this above at number five in the popular vote category. You can listen to this episode here:

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!

一  Episode 87 — Focusing on tone pairs to improve your Mandarin pronunciation

Focusing on tone pairs to improve your Mandarin pronunciation

Articles and podcasts do different things. Sometimes, articles are a more suitable format, especially when talking about Chinese characters. It is after all hard to write characters in an audio-only format. At other times, however, a podcast is the perfect format, and this episode about tone pairs is a good example. Instead of just describing what the tone pairs sound like and how you should use them to practice your Chinese pronunciation, I can speak and thereby show you directly!

This episode wins easily, but this is partly cheating because rather than being released alongside its companion article, the article in this case has gathered search engine link credits for years before the podcast was recorded. I do this when there is no regular content article on Hacking Chinese, such as when I announce courses, discounts or challenges. Normally, this means the episode gets less attention, but since this article is very popular overall, this boosted the podcast episode as well. Check it out:

Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, YouTube and many other platforms!

Popular pages

The above list only contains articles along with their podcast episodes, but there are also pages on Hacking Chinese that are much more popular than most articles. Pages are what I use to organise articles, so it’s one step up in the hierarchy. You can see most pages in the top menu or the sidebar (bottom on mobile). Here are the top five most visited pages (disregarding the front page, blog and archive pages, because those have many views):

  1. Articles for beginners
  2. Unlocking Chinese: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners
  3. Hacking Chinese Pronunciation: Speaking with Confidence
  4. Hacking Chinese: A Practical Guide to Learning Mandarin
  5. Articles about listening ability

Thank you and happy new year!

Last but certainly not least, I want to thank all of you who visit, read, listen to or otherwise engage with the content that I create. It’s feedback from people who find Hacking Chinese helpful that motivates me to keep the website and podcast going. So, happy new year, and let’s hope 2023 will be a good year for you and for Hacking Chinese!

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  1. Kristin says:

    Just want to tell you that I’m looking forward to the upcoming articles in beyond ting bu dong. Thanks for writing those (and many others)

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Glad to hear that! Like I said in the podcast, this type of article doesn’t do terribly well in terms of traffic, although how much value they provide should probably be evaluated after years and not weeks. Happy to hear you’re looking forward to the rest of the series! 🙂

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