Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Chinese vocabulary challenge, July 2019

Chinese vocabulary challengeHacking Chinese Challenges are about building language skills through daily practice and friendly competition. By focusing on one specific area of learning over a limited period of time, you will be able to learn more!

This month’s focused challenge is about learning vocabulary, which includes Chinese characters, words and expressions. Without words, you can’t do anything in a language. It doesn’t matter how good your grammar or pronunciation is if you don’t know the words.

Lack of vocabulary is also a big problem for many learners when it comes to reading and listening ability. Too many unknown words in authentic input makes it impossible to understand. When reading, nothing kills reading speed like a word you’ve never seen.

So, let’s learn vocabulary together!

Chinese vocabulary challenge, July 10th to July 31st

  1. Sign-up (using your e-mail, Facebook or Twitter)
  2. View current and upcoming challenges on the front page
  3. Join the vocabulary challenge
  4. Set a reasonable goal (see below)
  5. Announce your goal in a comment to this article
  6. Report your progress on your computer or mobile device
  7. Check the graph to see if you’re on track to reaching your goal
  8. Check the leader board to see how you compare to others
  9. Share progress, tips and resources with fellow students

Please note:  The challenge starts on July 10th, so if you join before then, you won’t be able to report progress the challenge starts

Learning vocabulary in Chinese

There’s much to say about vocabulary in Chinese, and there are dozens of articles about this on Hacking Chinese already. In this article, I will not repeat all that, but will instead point you in the right direction. If I’ve missed something, please let me know!

  • Which words you should learn and where to find them – Perhaps you already know which words to focus on in this challenge and how to find more, but this article discusses this topic in more detail. Learning words is important, but learning the right words is even more so!
  • Zooming in, zooming out and panningThis is a series of three articles (the link goes to the first article) in which I discuss how to connect your web of words. Zooming in means breaking down things into their component parts, zooming out means putting the parts in context and panning means connecting units at the same level, though synonyms, antonyms or similar.
  • My best advice on how to learn Chinese characters – The title says it all, really. This is a summary of the most important advice I have to offer about learning characters. That includes learning them, reviewing them and understanding how they work. This covers words to a certain extent, too.
  • Focusing on radicals, character components and building blocks – This article looks at what you should focus on. Should you put the emphasis on small building blocks or larger compounds? The answer is that you need to do both, but how much depends on your goals and what time scale you’re planning on.
  • Spaced repetition software and why you should use itIf you haven’t tried spaced repetition software, you really should. It allows you to learn much more efficiently and is great for remembering most of the words you learn. It doesn’t matter that much what program you use, that’s more about what you’re after and how much you’re willing to pay (including nothing, of course).
  • Should you focus on learning Chinese words or phrases? This is an important question for a vocabulary challenge. Learning words in isolation is easier and faster, but with some words, you also risk missing the point. Learning phrases makes sure you know how the word is used, but is also harder to do. The short answer is that it depends on what word it is and why you want to learn it.
  • Should you learn Chinese vocabulary from lists? Many students are tempted to just bulk add or download hundreds or even thousands of words, especially for a vocabulary challenge! However, learning words directly from a list comes with certain problems and it’s not something you should just do without considering the alternatives. Moreover, some lists are more useful than others!

Setting a reasonable goal

Knowing what works for each individual learner is impossible, but you should try to set a goal which is as high as possible without feeling unreachable. It should definitely be more than you usually do. If this is your first challenge or if you’re not sure what you’re capable of, go for 7 hours or so (that’s about 20 minutes per day). If you know what you’re doing, you can easily aim for two or three times that much. That’s “only” one hour per day, which is not even a lot if you’re studying full time!

My challenge

I will actually focus on Japanese rather than Chinese for this challenge. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m learning some basic Japanese, partly to test the new Skritter apps, partly because I’ve always been curious about Japanese. Anyway, my goal for this challenge is to spend at least 20 minutes per day reviewing and learning vocabulary. I hope this will bring up my total to around 1000 items (from around 500 now), but we’ll see about that! I wrote a little bit about my Japanese adventure here if you’re interested to find out more.


Preliminary challenge schedule for 2019

In 2019, there will be monthly challenges throughout the year. The length and focus of each challenge will vary a bit, but those of you familiar with the schedule from last year will not see any major changes.

Since I believe listening and reading are the most suitable skills for challenges like this one, there will be more of these than last year. In between each listening or reading challenge, we will focus on something else for one month.

Here’s a preliminary schedule for challenges in 2019.

  1. February: Listening
  2. March: Writing
  3. April: Reading
  4. May: Translation
  5. June: Listening
  6. July: Vocabulary
  7. August: Reading
  8. September: Habit hacking
  9. October: Listening
  10. November: Pronunciation
  11. December: Reading

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  1. Tita Tuchinda says:

    Spend at least one hour per day learning vocabularies (goal: 100 words)

  2. Tanakorn Numrubporn says:

    My goal; to study vocabulary in skritter 15 hours entirely.

    Question; How can I log my daily study hour, I saw only goal setting but not log entering form?

    I set the goal at my mobile, but when I return to my account I can’t find my goal setting in ‘challenge’ menu. How can I return to goal setting page?

    1. Birgit says:

      desktop version:
      Q1: click on “report progress”
      Q2: find “Statistics” next to “Activities”

  3. Nirwan Goel says:

    To give at least 1 hour daily and learn maximum vocabulary, with periodic revision of the learnt words.

  4. David Gleit says:

    Goal is to spend an average of 30 minutes a day on vocabulary. I will use HSK Level 6 flash cards through YellowBridge.

  5. Steph says:

    Since this is my first Hacking Chinese challenge and I’m a little late to the show, I’m setting myself a goal of 5 hours (might bump it up if I find that’s too easy).
    I’ll be working on my HSK 4 textbook, vocab from italki lessons, and graded readers, with occasional children’s stories thrown in if I have time. 🙂

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