Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Chinese vocabulary challenge, December 2022

Chinese vocabulary challengeThe information here pertains to the June 2022 challenge and will be updated closer to the beginning of the challenge.

Hacking 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 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.

Win prizes from Skritter!

This month’s challenge is sponsored by Skritter (read my in-depth review here), which means that some nice prizes are on the line:

  • Anyone new to Skritter can use the code HCVOCABCHALLENGE when signing up to get one month of free Skritter (only valid for the duration of the challenge).
  • Six participants, including those of you who already use Skritter, have a chance to win 3 months free subscription, worth $45 each

Naturally, you don’t have to use Skritter to participate, even if I will do so. Winners are selected randomly, but weighted by activity in the challenge. The time spent studying counts, but other types of participation counts too, such as talking about the challenge on social media (tag me), commenting on other people’s activities and generally contributing to the challenge.

Chinese vocabulary challenge, December 10th to December 31st

Tune in to the Hacking Chinese Podcast to learn more about Hacking Chinese Challenges:

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

  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 the 10th, so even if you can join before then, you won’t be able to report progress until the challenge starts!

Understanding Chinese characters and words

If you want to understand how characters and words work in Chinese, which will make them significantly easier to learn, the most accessible way to do so is via the character course I’ve helped create in Skritter. The video course consists of 16 episodes of roughly 6 minutes each, teaching the fundamentals of Chinese characters, including 150 common characters and components. All this is available in-app at no extra cost! If you use the code to get free Skritter above, this of course includes the character course as well. Here’s a trailer introducing the course:

If you’ve listened to the Hacking Chinese Podcast, you’ll recognise my voice in the course (not the trailer; that’s Gwilym James), because I designed most of the pedagogical content and recorded the audio. I hope you like it!

If you’re not interested in video content, I have also published a series of articles about the Chinese writing system that covers partly the same content, but from a different angle. These articles also have podcast episodes associated with them. I suggest you start with the first article: The building blocks of Chinese, part 1: Chinese characters and words in a nutshell

The building blocks of Chinese, part 1: Chinese characters and words in a nutshell

Learning vocabulary in Chinese

There’s much to say about how to best learn 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 you want to check all articles categorised under “vocabulary, just click here. Below, I have selected a few articles I think are extra important for this challenge.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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!
  • 7 mistakes I made when writing Chinese characters and what I learnt from them – I wrote this article after an earlier vocabulary challenge. I trace seven mistakes I made, which is something you should try to if you haven’t already, and explain what I did wrong, what I should have done instead and what I learnt from making these mistakes. Failing is not  a bad thing if you learn something from the experience!

Setting a reasonable goal

I can’t give one-size-fits-all advice about how to set goals, but try to set a goal which is high without being unreachable. It should definitely be more ambitious that what you’re used to, at least for this area of learning Chinese.

If this is your first challenge or if you’re not sure what you’re capable of, go for 10 hours or so (that’s about 30 minutes per day). If you know what you’re doing or study full time, you can double or triple that. 21 hours is” only” about one hour per day, after all.

There are different schools of thought about whether or not announcing your goals publicly is a good idea, but I tend to think that doing so is beneficial in most cases, hence my pledge in the next section. When you announce your goal and share your progress, don’t forget to tag me if you do so on Twitter!

Preliminary challenge schedule for 2022

Here is a preliminary list of challenges for 2022, but I’m always open for ideas. Based on user participation, surveys as well as my own opinion, reading and listening challenges are particularly helpful for a large number of people, followed by those focusing on vocabulary. These will recur more often throughout the year, with other, more specific challenges spread out in-between.

Challenges last for roughly three weeks. They always start on the 10th each month and last until the end of that month. Three weeks is enough to get a significant amount of studying done, but not so long that people lose focus. This also leaves ten days of breathing space between challenges.

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


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62 comments

  1. Flick Drew says:

    Thanks Olle for creating this challenge! I have just joined and my goal is to spend an average of at least 30 minutes per day (10 hours total) on Skritter. I’m new to Skritter and trying it out for this challenge.

  2. Cliff says:

    Finally doing this. I’m doing only 15 minutes per day for 21 days…. that’s a little over 5 hours. Not impossible, not too difficult. Plus, it gives me a good excuse to keep working on my mega list of 625 words. I found it years ago and right now I’m on #80. The idea is 625 of the basic words to learn a language…. I’m looking them up in Chinese, drawing a picture and then the pinyin and asking questions to my HELLOTALK friends. Especially all the words in Chinese for BUILD. Crazy. 建设 Jiànshè 修建 xiūjiàn 建造 jiànzào and 修筑 xiūzhù。

  3. Megan/艾珍 says:

    大家好! I’m keeping my goal on the low end at 15-20 mins/day (total goal: 6 hours) as I haven’t been in the habit too much lately of studying Mandarin. Like Olle, I’ve decided to clear my queue and I’ve decided to focus on the first 50 vocab in the HSK 1 deck. 加油!

  4. Michael Fitzhugh says:

    Looking forward to this one! I was doing pretty well in September’s Listening Challenge, then ran out of steam. Still, it was my best HC Challenge run yet. Hoping to level up this month! I’ll return to the “Remembering the Simplified Hanzi” list on Skritter. So far I’ve tackled 65 out of 1,500 words, so I think I’ve got a little ways to go!

  5. Pablo Sancho says:

    Ok, let’s do this! My first challenge. I will go for the 1-hour per day. That’s a little over what I usually dedicate for listening, speaking and vocab, so let’s concentrate on the vocab part, and see the results. See you guys out there.

  6. 笑天 says:

    The plan is at least 20 words per day. Feels like a lofty goal but the idea is to cover many words by reading. Good luck, everyone.

    1. 马笑天 says:

      Changing goal to 30 minutes to match challenge metrics.

  7. Daniel says:

    I am excited to start! I want to review the entire set of the most common radicals for 1 hour during the entire duration of the event. After this, I will move further into the HSK 1 Vocabulary list and maybe learning some common phrases! I will be using Skritter for this purpose. Cannot wait to start and I wish you all the best luck!

  8. Nova Stark says:

    I will try to see if I can become top 3. My goal will adjust according to leaderboard, but starting at 1 hour a day! Good luck all. Remember to have fun and don’t give up!

  9. jacenba says:

    I think I’ll go for at least 45 minutes a day, to reach at least 12 hours in total for the 18 days I have left.
    祝大家好運!

  10. Asia says:

    大家好! I have joined a bit late but am working hard to catch up! My goal is 10 hours. I am trying to prep for HSK4 exam in December while I am only at the begging of this level (aim high right?!). I have been on elementary level since forever and feel extremely motivated to finally make the jump.
    I focus on hsk1-3 in Skritter to know writing as well and hsk4 in Quizlet for more efficient review, skipping writing part for now.
    I am also doing additional classeses and reviews which I do not plan to track here.
    大家一起加油!

  11. Jasmine says:

    Joined a bit late (only started a week ago), but I’m finding both this blog and Skritter to be very helpful! Setting a goal of 15 hours (an hour a day), but also aiming to surpass that 🙂

  12. I “completed” my vocabulary challenge late (November 11), but just today finally reached 0 reviews in Skritter, where I had accumulated about 6,000 reviews due when I signed up in October. It took me a month, but I made it, and developed a habit, so that I will keep on reviewing and solidifying what I supposedly know, instead of letting it decay. Thanks for giving me an excuse to just do it rather than despair that I fell so much behind over the past year or so.

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Glad to hear you completed your challenge! Late doesn’t really matter, the important thing is that you did it. I have been able to keep my own queue down at zero since the end of the challenge, so it worked out for me as well. I try to clear my queue before getting out of bed in the morning, which has worked out well so far. 🙂

  13. Harmony says:

    First step is for me to come up with a consistent studying platform, which I haven’t had for quite a while. Considering that I may need to handwrite more characters soon, I’ll give Skritter a try. My target after that is 8 hours over the course of the challenge.

  14. Kevin says:

    I’m trying to sign up with the code HCJUNE21 but it tells me the coupon code is invalid?

    If I can get it running I want to try to do half an hour of Skritter per day (focussing on HSK Standard Course 5下)

    1. Olle Linge says:

      I’ll look into it! That should work and the code is right. Half an hour per day sounds like a reasonable goal!

    2. Olle Linge says:

      Did you use it as an activation code? I tried setting up a test account just now and it works for me!

      1. Kevin says:

        Ah silly me, I was trying to enter it as a discount code under the payment tab, I didn’t see that there was an altogether different “activation” tab as well, all good now!

        I really like Skritter so far, only option I’m missing is for disabling the “retrace character with stroke order indication” during writing learning — I feel like for anyone from intermediate upwards the stroke order is pretty self-evident, so unless there’s some other benefit from retracing the character twice it would be great to have the option to disable/automatically skip that step (at the moment I just have to double tap through it for every new character)

  15. Olga says:

    This is my first time participating, I think it’s going to be an interesting new experience for me:) I’ll try to do an hour a day, so my goal is 21 hours.

    1. Olle Linge says:

      I hope you find it helpful, 加油! 🙂

  16. Saraslaya says:

    My goal for this challenge: Review vocabulary flashcards for 30 minutes every day between June 10-30, aiming for 10 hours of vocabulary study as participation in the Hacking Chinese Vocabulary Challenge. Will review flashcards using The Chairman’s Bao, Popup Chinese, and maybe will clean up my Pleco and Anki flashcards for this challenge.

  17. Sofia says:

    Setting a goal of 15 hours in total! My goal is to get a solid head start with HSK 6 vocabulary. By the end of this challenge, I want to have familiarized myself with 220, which amounts to about 15 vocab a day. Let’s do this woooo~

  18. laura says:

    My first Hacking Chinese challenge! I set my goal to 10 hours (30 minutes per day). I’m going to use Skritter and the HSK decks starting from level 1 so that I can learn traditional characters.

    I can read simplified through HSK level 5-ish right now, but I really want to conquer my fear of traditional characters and develop a more comprehensive understanding of the characters’ meaning and history.

    1. laura says:

      Oh wait, I just realized I didn’t do this right. A vocabulary challenge means learning new vocabulary (Probably the goal I wrote should be used for a writing challenge)

      My new goal is –> learning the *new* words from the textbook I’m currently studying: All Things Considered. I’ll use Anki for this one. Hopefully I can keep up with my 3-chapters-per-week pace and not leave cards overdue.

      1. Olle Linge says:

        Anything related to vocabulary is okay! My goal in the previous challenge was to get my queue down to zero from around one thousand. I learnt hardly any new words along the way. You can see that my goal for this challenge doesn’t involve many new words either!

  19. Amber Wycklendt says:

    I am completely new to this and planning to start with 30 minutes per day (10 hours total). Very excited!

  20. Jamie Lee 晓利 says:

    This month I am setting the goal to focus on learning new HSK 5 vocab for 15 mins everyday, for a total of 5 hours over 20 days.

  21. Hamptot71 says:

    My goal is to study my current vocabulary list for 30 min everyday adding at least 10 new words a day. My current study routine is more than this but since it’s a vocab challenge, I am dedicating time specifically to this.

    Godspeed

  22. Coli says:

    This is my first time participating in a language learning challenge. My goal is to do a total of 15 hours using Skritter. I will be reviewing HSK 1+2 and adding new words from HSK 3. At the moment I’m about 1/5 in and I’m aiming to finish HSK3 by the end of the challenge.

  23. Bryan says:

    My goal is to average 40-45 minutes per day.
    I’m starting late so I set a goal of 12.9 hours.
    I’ll be using hellochinese, memrise, pleco, and anki.

  24. Elaine Gardner says:

    Ok, without going into all the details; my Son had been TRYING to get me to learn Chinese for the past 6 years. Due to health/medications, and generally my own ADD (my Son had literally immersed himself by traveling, living and working in both Taiwan and the mainland for over 12 years..I haven’t realized that dream..yet anyways); despite having a bookcase full of language texts, bilingual books including graphic novels, calligraphy and Chinese brush painting books (and supplies); I haven’t dedicated much quality time to these subjects. I HAVE picked up quite a bit just watching movies, videos, podcasts and talking with my Son and his friends…but no structured study and if you asked what level I am, 我不知道!
    In June, my precious Son had just received his VISA to return to China to live and work with his friends. He was SO excited and we talked for 4 hours the afternoon of June 18 as he prepared a large “fusion” dinner for friends. He’d started the call with “hey, Momma! Is it a sin if I put LaoGanMa in my Chicken Tikka Masala, and Tamarind in some steamed pork dumplings?” (He LOVED to cook and show off the cooking skills he’d learned in Nepal and China.)
    My dear Son, who’d led an extremely full life and his loftiest goal was getting Americans to better understand the culture, history and people of China; did not wake up on June 19th. He had contracted COVID in Dec and the coroner said he had blood clots in his 1 kidney from the virus. (We were both born with a rare genetic disorder which includes that we both had just 1 kidney) He died in his sleep, likely dreaming of returning to the country he’d fallen in love with, of a stroke.
    I want to carry on his legacy and his death has actually encouraged me to work harder keeping myself healthier, so that I CAN go to China one day. A part of that is spending more structured time learning the language. A friend of ours is going to help as he’s now a professional translator and works at BCLU..he’s also responsible for about half the books I have. Weiwei also suggested Skritter and I re-downloaded it..again. Jake had actually given me a 2nd chance of a free trial a few years ago..then I ended up in the hospital with a broken hip, another compression fracture of my spine..I was in rough shape and not very motivated to learn ANYTHING for awhile..but, I beat the odds, got back on my feet and despite numerous setbacks just in the past few months, (including a nasty wrestling match with COVID-hint: I WON!); I’m doing much better and am on a fairly structured schedule right now. I can do Skritter as long as I don’t have to pay anything till Jan 1. (It’s been a rough year for finances!)
    I’ll dedicate at LEAST 30min/day, probably more, and will start reading your suggested articles in a few minutes
    Thanks for all you do!

  25. Laura says:

    Let’s go December challenge!! I’m using Skritter to practice writing traditional and simplified characters from the HSK 7-9 handwriting deck plus the HSK 1-6 missed words deck (both premade so it’s easy). And then I’m using Pleco (premade HSK decks) to practice tones and definitions.
    My goal is 10 hours in 20 days, I think I can stick to it this time. I’m looking forward to working on my vocabulary so I can read more smoothly without having to look up so many words.

  26. Joséphine says:

    I will try Skritter and use my flash cards to learn new words, I will try to study 15 to 30 minutes a day, my goal is to study at least 3 hours in total

  27. 戴丽娅 says:

    大家好!

    The code does not seem to be working for me, it just says “Unknown error while signing up. Please try again.”

    This is the first time I’m joining a challenge, would be super fun to have it work!

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Hi! Could you please tell us a little bit more about what happens? I assume you mean you get this message when you try to sign up for Skritter? The error message itself doesn’t necessarily relate to the code, so maybe there’s something else going on. I’ve forwarded your question to Skritter to see what might be causing this, but more details would help! I tried signing up myself with the code and it does work for me, at least. Maybe try again to see if it works now?

      Update: You need to select “activation code” on the sign-up screen, then enter the code. I have updated the instructions to clarify this! Maybe that was what didn’t work before?

      1. 戴丽娅 says:

        Hi!

        Thanks for the reply! Yes, I did select “activation code” on the sign-up screen. Maybe it’s because I already have an account from earlier and it’s not working because of this?

        I get this message when I try and use the activation code yes, but that’s all of the information I have and can give unfortunately haha!

        1. Olle Linge says:

          As long as you set up a new account and use a unique user name and email address, it should work. It should say in red what the error is, though. If I try to set up an account using an existing email address, it will tell me that that address already has an account. Your error message seems to indicate there’s something else going on. I’ll check and get back to you if I find anything!

        2. Olle Linge says:

          I think the best way to solve this is to email team@skritter.com so someone can help you out!

          1. 戴丽娅 says:

            Hi!

            It works perfectly now! I had to create a new account, that seemed to be the problem!

            Looking forward to this challenge!!

          2. 戴丽娅 says:

            Forgot to mention that my goal is 10 words a day, I currently got accepted to an external course at Linköping University called “Chinese for Business Purposes” and we will be using the book “excel in chinese: better chinese, better business 1”, previously I’ve used the book “Integrated Chinese Level 1, 4th edition” for 2 different Chinese courses at university, so there will be plenty of new words for me to learn!

            Looking forward to this!

  28. PJ says:

    My goal is to study 25 minutes a day and achieve a total of 8 hours during this challenge. I learned mandarin in school a decade ago, but I never really memorized tones, so that is something I want to focus on for this challenge. I will be looking at HSK1-2 vocab on skritter for this challenge.

  29. PJ says:

    I am aiming for a total of 8 hours with 25minutes of studying per day. I learned mandarin in school a decade ago, but did not really memorize tones. For this challenge, I will use HSK-1 and HSK-2 to learn vocabulary.

  30. GrimTheElder says:

    I’ll take the default answer! 30 minutes a day. 10 hours. Let’s GO

  31. Sylvie says:

    shooting for 10 hours total between daily scritter and hackchinese reviews and learning!

  32. Olga / 乐佳 says:

    Thanks for this! This will be great additional motivation – I aim at getting to HSK 3 level before October. I will be doing both HSK and Boya vocab. Good luck to all participants! 加油!

    1. Olga / 乐佳 says:

      Oh, forgot to mention – I set 10 hours but I hope to do more!

  33. Yuli says:

    I set the default goal of 10 hours, hoping to do more though!

  34. Truc Ly Le says:

    Thanks for creating this challenge. I’m excited to try Skritter. My goal is 10 hours!

  35. Dan says:

    Thanks for creating this challenge. My goal is 20 hours.

  36. LuoShan says:

    Hello! Thanks for this challenge which will help me get back into tackling the HSK4 vocab. Currently at 176/999 words, so there’s a fair way to go. I’m going to aim for 40 minutes a day. Good luck, everyone 🙂

  37. Lindie B says:

    Thanks for this challenge! My goal will be 15 minutes of Skritter and 15 minutes of Grammar from a Traditional Chinese textbook. Through learning the grammar points I’ll definitely learn new vocabulary. I’m also planning on doing 15 minutes of reading Du Chinese if I have energy in the study session, and I’ll have one notebook for everything. Can’t wait to start!

  38. RikuMyku says:

    Hi there! Just joined the challenge with 10 hours but I’ll switch to 30 cause I usually do abt 50 minutes per day and my math failed me when I was signing up. I use several apps to diversify my learning so reporting will be a bit tricky but happy to be here!

  39. coryrenz says:

    Enrolled just in time! Going for 45 minutes/day on Skritter!

    1. coryrenz says:

      …for a total of 15 hours. Thank you for creating this challenge!

  40. Mitzi says:

    Thanks for this challenge! My goal is a total of 14 hours during the 21 days! I‘m looking forward to it!

  41. 白德任 says:

    My goal is 10 hours a week, so roughly 30 minutes a day! I’ve mostly been slacking recently, so hopefully this challenge will get me back on track in my Chinese studies

    1. Olle Linge says:

      10 hours per week would be 86 minutes per day! 🙂

  42. ceruleanxstar says:

    I guess I forgot to comment here with my goal when this started! My goal is 20 hours for the duration of the challenge, which is about what I have been doing (usually about an hour a day), but I’m extra busy this month so I already knew it’ll be a real challenge!

    I haven’t had as much time to learn new vocabulary at the rate that I’m used to, but I’m reviewing my cards and focusing more on reading and translating for these weeks.

  43. 乔丽婕 says:

    大家好!Hi Everyone, I’m joining this challenge on June 21. My goal is to reduce my Skritter review queue by 35 cards per day for the next ten days. This will leave me with 434 cards on June 30. (I currently have 784 cards in my review deck). My ultimate goal is to have zero reviews every day. Thank you to Olle for organizing this challenge.

  44. 乔丽婕 says:

    Update here: I believe I will meet my goal on June 30, which is to have just 434 cards left in my Skritter queue. I started this challenge with 784 cards to review. This challenge has given me the momentum I needed. Thanks, Olle!

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