Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Best of Hacking Chinese 2023

Which were the most popular articles on Hacking Chinese in 2023? The most popular podcast episodes? It’s time to summarise the year that was and highlight the things you really shouldn’t miss!

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!

Hacking Chinese in 2023: Articles, podcast episodes, resources and challenges

In 2023, I was able to stick to my publishing schedule for the entire year, which means that I’m now up to 179 weeks straight with one article and one podcast episode every week. In total, I’m up to 510 published articles and 179 podcast episodes. Not bad! The reason the article count doesn’t increase as quickly as the podcast is that while each podcast episode is unique, I rewrite, merge, replace, upgrade and otherwise rearrange articles to consolidate content on Hacking Chinese.

While things have been stable, I haven’t published any new courses. This is not because of a lack of interest from readers and listeners or a shortage of ideas on my part, but rather because I’ve been incredibly busy with my other projects, something I wrote about at the beginning of the year in the seventh part in the story of how I learnt Chinese. However, a few ideas for new courses have crystallised, and just because nothing has been published doesn’t mean that nothing has happened under the surface. I don’t want to make any promises yet, but stay tuned!

I’ve also kept updating Hacking Chinese Resources, which reached the significant milestone of 500 last year. I think this is probably the largest curated collection of links for Chinese learners. I’ve also run one challenge per month over at Hacking Chinese Challenges and participated in many myself. Most notably, I listened to 100 hours of Chinese in three weeks during the September listening challenge, something I might try to repeat this month!

How was your 2023? Did you reach any goals or milestones last year?

What were your goals for 2023? 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 2023, 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 2024, maybe it’s time to reflect on your learning and come up with one!

The forking path: A human approach to learning Chinese

Previous Best of Hacking Chinese articles

Best articles on Hacking Chinese 2023 – Editor’s choice

As the author of almost all articles on this website, I have expectations and opinions regarding the popularity of my articles. Some I know will be popular before I publish them, some I know won’t have a broader appeal but I consider the topic important enough to write about anyway.

Let’s have a look at my picks for the best five articles from 2023. I will link to each, summarise it briefly and explain why I chose it. These are articles that I think are important, as opposed to popular, so you can read it as my pick of articles I’d like students to rather not miss.

Listen more than once: How the replay button can help you learn more Chinese

Listen more than once: How the replay button can help you learn more Chinese

Listening to the same passage in Chinese more than once can do wonders for comprehension and will also ensure that you learn more from your listening practice. It’s also incredibly cheap and convenient, yet I encounter a surprising number of students who only listen once and complain that most listening content they find is too hard for them. Listening more than once not only boosts your comprehension of what you’re listening to, but it’s also great for long-term retention and language development.

I chose this article because I know that students struggle in their listening practice, both when it comes to understanding the Chinese they listen to, also when it comes to practical aspects, such as finding suitable audio to listen to. Listening more than once is a key component to solving both issues.

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

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

Why travelling isn’t the best method to learn Chinese

Why travelling isn’t the best method to learn Chinese

People have wildly unrealistic expectations of what travelling can do for your Chinese and also underestimate the downsides of being on the move. Yes, travelling can be a great way to learn to use what you have previously learnt, but that assumes that you speak mostly Chinese when you travel. Travelling is also expensive and time-consuming. Naturally, it also has benefits, not least a positive impact on motivation, but I think most people are already aware of this.

I think this article is important because people need to stop thinking that geographical location is critical when learning a language. Yes, living or travelling in China has benefits for language acquisition, but you learn a language by engaging with it, not by being physically located in a country where people use it. The most important lesson here is that if you can’t or don’t want to go abroad to learn Chinese, you can still reach your goals.

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!

Is Chinese difficult to learn?

Is Chinese difficult to learn?

This is one of the most common questions about learning Chinese, and most of you have probably received it yourself many times. This article is not about trying to quantify how hard the language is to learn, but in what ways it’s difficult. Some say that Chinese is easy to learn, it just takes some time to get used to, others say that it’s several times harder to learn compared to other languages. The issue here is not that one is right and the other wrong, but that people have different ideas of what “difficult” means. Yes, Chinese is hard to learn, but not in the way you might think.

I picked this article because I’m tired of hearing both that Chinese is as easy to learn as any other language (it’s not) and that it’s impossible (it’s not). I think it’s important to have realistic expectations of how difficult a project is when you embark on it, though, and in particular, it’s important to understand what t types of difficulty you will face, which is what this article is about.

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!

Improving your Chinese pronunciation by mimicking native speakers

Improving your Chinese pronunciation by mimicking native speakers

If I were to choose one method that has the highest potential to improve your pronunciation, it’s going to be close mimicking of native speakers. It’s not only one of the best methods available, it’s also completely free to use. In this article, I go through my favourite way of mimicking so you can use it to improve your pronunciation in Chinese or other languages. Not only that, I also include one complete lesson from my pronunciation course, where I show how to mimic using Audacity. The video is also available on YouTube:

I think it should be clear why I chose this article. It didn’t receive as much attention as I had hoped despite it containing a video that took more time to record than half a dozen articles combined. Including it here hopefully gives it some more attention and helps you improve your pronunciation!

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

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

100 hours of Chinese listening in 3 weeks: What I learnt and how to apply it

100 hours of Chinese listening in 3 weeks: What I learnt and how to apply it

I often stress the importance of comprehensible input in general and vast amounts of listening practice in particular, but I also try to live as I preach. I don’t normally listen to a hundred hours of Chinese every three weeks, but I did so in September and wrote about my experience in this article.

A problem with this type of article is that many people will think “that’s insane” or “I could never do that”, and then don’t listen to the actual advice in the article. I chose this article so I could point out that you can apply what I talk about in the article almost regardless of your situation. I also have a full-time job and don’t study Chinese in any formal sense of the word, so this is something I did on the side, as it were. You might not want to listen for five hours a day, but anybody should be able to get to one hour!

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

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

Best articles on Hacking Chinese 2023 – Popular vote

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

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

Students just love lists! They make learning Chinese feel more manageable and offer measurable progress. Sure, there are more than 11,000 words in the HSK, but if you learn five words per day, you’ll be super advanced in six years, right? Not really, because knowing the basic definition of words is just a small sliver of what is required to use Chinese proficiently. This article is therefore not about the HSK vocabulary lists, but about other lists that I recommend that you study.

It’s interesting to note that the article preceding this one is about why you shouldn’t use vocabulary lists to learn Chinese, yet this one focusing on the edge cases where lists can make sense was still more popular!

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!

Using the HSK as a roadmap to learning Chinese

Using the HSK as a roadmap to learning Chinese

The HSK is a proficiency exam, not a roadmap to fluency, yet many people rely on HSK more than they should. I hypothesise that this is because it offers well-needed structure and rigour to otherwise flimsy, independent study plans, giving students a sense of purpose and progress. This is good, but there are also many downsides to using HSK as a roadmap to learning Chinese.

Here, I might have been able to subvert the algorithm and students’ unquenchable thirst for HSK content. The article is actually about why you should not take HSK and other proficiency exams too seriously, but I suspect that people who want to do just that search and find this article. Good!

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!

Skritter review: Boosting your Chinese character learning (2023 edition)

Skritter review: Boosting your Chinese character learning (2023 edition)

I’ve worked with Skritter for almost a decade now but didn’t write a proper review until a few years ago. To make sure it’s up-to-date, I rewrite it once every year or so, adding new content and crossing out things that have been fixed or implemented since last time. There is still much room for improvement, but it’s getting smaller! This year, I interviewed Jacob Gill, the CEO of Skritter, which you can listen to below.

This article is popular because it ranks very well on various search engines when people want to learn more about Skritter. I’m a bit surprised it ranks this well among my other articles, though, but I’m not complaining!

If you want to listen to me talking about Skritter instead of reading about it, tune in to the Hacking Chinese Podcast:


Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, Overcast, Spotify YouTube and many other platforms! You can also check out my interview with Skritter”s CEO, Jake Gill:

Learn Chinese by playing Mahjong (麻将, májiàng)

Learn Chinese by playing Mahjong (麻将, májiàng)

Learning Chinese by playing games is great, and no game is more quintessentially Chinese than Mahjong. On a beginner level, you can use it to master basic numbers and some other basic words and phrases, and on more advanced levels, it’s a great way to socialise with Chinese people. The article contains the rationale for using Mahjong for learning Chinese, as well as the language needed to play the game in Chinese.

I think this article ranks well because it appeals to a wider audience. To appreciate the other articles listed here, you need to be actively studying Chinese, but this article can be useful if you’re interested in Mahjong and have some background in the Chinese language.

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!

一 Beginner Chinese listening practice: What to listen to and how

Beginner Chinese listening practice: What to listen to and how

Most beginners spend too little time listening and then complain that they don’t understand when people speak  Chinese with them, even if they’re using familiar words and grammar. This article goes through how to practice listening as a beginner, including which resources you should use.

I’m delighted that this turned out to be the most popular article of the year. I can think of a few other articles I would wish beginners to find. If beginners read it and apply some of the concepts described, the article has the potential to make a huge positive impact on their learning.

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!

Best podcast episodes on Hacking Chinese 2023 – Popular vote

The Hacking Chinese Podcast - all episodes.

As I discovered last year, the podcast sometimes lives a life on its own, which is still surprising, considering that I think a majority of listeners come through either the website or the newsletter, which both point to articles and podcast episodes. I understand that some content is better suited for the visual format of a written article and some is easier to access in spoken format, but seems to bear little correlation with the popularity of episodes.

Still, there is some overlap, so below, I have presented the top five podcasts from last year. In case I have already summarised the article above, I’ll simply note that fact to avoid making this article too long. Enjoy!

Episode 140 – Should you learn Chinese vocabulary from lists?

Should you learn Chinese vocabulary from lists?

On the surface, lists offer many benefits for students of Chinese, but most of them are only superficial and turn out to have severe drawbacks that, when taken as a whole, make using lists a bad idea. In this article, I go through the main benefits and show that they all have caveats or are outright misguided. This doesn’t mean you should never use lists for learning vocabulary, but it means you should at least read this article before you do.

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!

Episode 148 – How learning some basic theory can improve your Mandarin pronunciation

How learning some basic theory can improve your Mandarin pronunciation

One important difference between first and second language acquisition is that children typically learn to pronounce their language perfectly (as defined by how people around them speak, not an abstract government standard), whereas adult foreigners certainly don’t. Children don’t need any theory or explicit knowledge about pronunciation to master it, but having worked with adult learners for more than a decade now, it’s my conviction that most adult foreigners do. Theory in itself is never enough, but it can help you overcome the unique hurdles put in your path by the fact that you’re no longer an infant.

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!

Episode 128 – How I learnt Chinese, part 1: Where it all started

How I learnt Chinese, part 1: Where it all started

This is the first episode in a series where I tell the story of how I learnt Chinese. It’s only natural that the first part is the most popular one, so I’m not too surprised that this episode ranked well. The articles this series is based on are much older, but all the podcast episodes were recorded in 2023, so that explains why the article itself isn’t even included in my count for 2023.

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!

Using the HSK as a roadmap to learning Chinese

Using the HSK as a roadmap to learning Chinese

Topics related to the HSK always seem to attract readers and listeners alike, as is clear from the fact that the written version of this podcast episode also made the top five in the popular vote for best article of 2023. I already wrote about this above, so please check number four in the popular article category if you want my comments.

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!

一 Beginner Chinese listening practice: What to listen to and how

Beginner Chinese listening practice: What to listen to and how

While there are discrepancies between what’s popular on the website and the podcast, the most popular articles are almost guaranteed to generate many podcast downloads, and this is indeed the case with the most popular article of 2023. It’s perhaps not surprising that people also like listening to an episode about listening. Regardless, I’m happy this episode did well!

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!

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

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 2024 will be a good year for you and for Hacking Chinese!






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