Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Hacking Chinese 2011/2012: What was and what will be

2011 just ended and it’s time to look back and see what happened last year, but this is also an opportunity to look ahead. Hacking Chinese was officially launched in June 2011 even though there was activity on this website much earlier than that. The project is now running roughly the way I want it to, although I’m constantly evaluating different ways of expanding (more about this below). In this post, I will first highlight some important things from 2011 and then talk a little bit about what might happen in 2012. If you have comments, wishes or ideas, this is the perfect opportunity to voice them!

Image credit: sxc.hu/profile/piotrmatla

Hacking Chinese in 2011

Going through the list of published articles (44 in all), it’s difficult to choose just a few articles and say that they are the most important ones. Since 2011 was the first year Hacking Chinese has been available online, most articles written last year were essential in some way. Instead of just listing important articles (there is a category for these), I’ve instead chosen a few articles I like personally.

My personal 2011 top 10:

  1. Achieving the impossible by being inspired
  2. Tones are more important than you think
  3. Is taking a Chinese course that’s too hard good for your learning
  4. The Chinese-Chinese dictionary survival guide
  5. A smart method to discover problems with tones
  6. Learning the third tone
  7. You won’t learn Chinese simply by living abroad
  8. Learning by making mistakes
  9. Take responsibility for your own learning
  10. Spaced repetition isn’t rote learning

Which posts did you like? Why? Leave a comment!

During 2011, Hacking Chinese also expanded to incorporate Twitter and Facebook, even though I’m still not sure how to use these tools properly (if anyone has any ideas or comments, let me know). There is also a newsletter that has been received much more positively than I imagined. I’m still experimenting quite a lot with all these media, sometimes with positive outcome, sometimes with more ambiguous results.

Hacking Chinese in 2012

It is of course difficult to say anything certain about the future, but I can tell you a little bit about what dreams and ambitions I have right now and that I might try to implement in 2012. I’m also very interested in hearing what you would like to see in 2012, this is just what I’m thinking:

  • Guest posts by other learners and/or teachers
  • Expanding Hacking Chinese to YouTube with mini lectures
  • More articles on specific topics (such as tones)
  • A link register with useful tools and resources online
  • More reviews of interesting books about language learning and Chinese

Is anything missing from the list? Let me know!


Before concluding this article, I’d like to say that I’m satisfied with how Hacking Chinese has developed so far, but that I still think there are many ways to improve. I’m especially pleased to see that visitors are starting to interact with each other, because after all, I’m just one guy. I might have thought a lot about how to learn Chinese myself, but I don’t know everything and what I know might be more true for me than for others. Thank you very much, Hacking Chinese would probably not have lived to see 2012 if it weren’t for you!

Happy new year! 新年快樂!

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  1. Harland says:

    Twitter and facebook? You do know those are…blocked in…China, right? How about weibo and renren instead?

    1. Olle Linge says:

      Good idea. Of course I know that they are blocked in China. At the moment, I’m just experimenting with using other media, I haven’t really figured out what I want to do with them. Collecting interesting people and sharing insightful links about language learning is all I’m doing currently. On Facebook, I do even less. As soon as I’ve figured out what I want, I’ll heed your advice and start using the Chinese counterparts as well.

  2. Alan says:

    Hey Ollie,

    Just wanted to say love your feedback oriented approach to your blog – I’m sure that’s served you well in your Chinese studies.

    And my favorite post was kamikaze. You had me with combat diver vs. aircraft carrier.

    Wish you the best in 2012!

    1. Olle Linge says:

      @Alan: Thank you! I must admit that I’m quite pleased with the combat diver and the aircraft carrier myself. 🙂 All the best to you as well!

      @Sara: Thank you for the suggestion. As Vermillion points out, I think practising is the obvious answer. I’ve somehow managed to learn English this way and even though that’s not the same thing, perhaps, I do think that a large passive vocabulary combined with lots of active practise will slowly activate that vocabulary. Focused practise on specific words or constructions is also a good idea, such as writing sentences with words you don’t know how to use or discussing vocabulary-related things with native speakers.

      @Vermillion: I agree with what you say and I will try to do that. I do think quite a large numbers I’ve written so far apply to advanced speakers as well, but more focused articles would indeed be a good idea. As for resources, that’s harder to accomplish simply because I don’t like watching TV and I’ve only read a dozen novels in Chinese so far. Also, everybody’ has different preferences, so asking for resources is probably best done in a forum.

      @Erik: Glad you like the idea! I will probably start out with beginner-oriented content, probably something like “ten common mistakes I see students make” (related to how they study, of course, I’m not going to teach people to put time adverbials in the right place or how to use 了). What do you think? Do you have any other ideas?

  3. Sara K. says:

    I would appreciate a post (or a series of posts) about your thoughts about turning passive vocabulary into active vocabulary. Right now I am focusing on the passive language skills, so when I turn my attention back to speaking, I expect there will be quite a gap between my passive vocabulary and active vocabulary, and I would like to know if you know of any hacks 😉

  4. vermillon says:

    @Sara: I can confirm what you say. I’ve spent 2011 mainly expanding my passive knowledge of Chinese (but I’m not on Chinese ground, so I’m a receiver mostly), but plan to spend 2012 turning a good part of it into active knowledge.

    My ideas about it at the moment are starting to blog in Chinese (though I don’t know what to talk about), write short stories, write technical stuff… it all depends on what area of vocabulary you want to activate: if you don’t plan to speak like a book, then you probably don’t need to spend time activating all those adjectives and adverbs that make novels so “flowery”.

    Also, even if your goal is speaking, writing is a great way to enhance your active knowledge: you have more time to focus, to choose your words… and after you can learn the text. I’ve done that in the past for the university, had to present topics related to Chinese history in Chinese, made me progress very fast.

    @Olli: for 2012, I’d like to see more topics for advanced learners. Every blog teaches you how to work on your tones, just like every website tries to sell 1-to-1 classes to teach you 你好, but the really tough stuff is obviously passing intermediate and advanced. If you have thoughts about it, I’d be glad to hear about them.

    Related to that, rather than links to tools, I’d rather see links to resources: if people are watching “good” Chinese dramas (I’m yet to find any good one…), reading nice novels (and please, not Lu Xun), then that would definitely be interesting. After all, if my English level is good enough, it’s mostly because English is everywhere, forums, movies, tv series, books, music… while for Chinese, you can easily remove movies, tv series and music… there are exceptions of course, but unfortunately too few, sharing them cannot hurt.

  5. Sara K. says:

    I’ve only seen a few Mandarin-language TV shows, but I liked all of them (most likely because I’ve screened them via reviews). Here’s an overview:

    Mars (戰神) – This is probably the best in terms of quality, but the worst for practising Mandarin. There are many sections where the characters are not talking, and sometimes when they do talk they are … laconic. Though the dialogue-less sections definitely show off the actors’ abilities, it is not so great for learning Chinese.

    Meteor Garden (流星花園) – I wouldn’t exactly call it *good*, but it is fun. It was also hugely influential, so it’s worth watching just to experience a milestone in East Asian TV history. I have no intention of seeing Meteor Garden II, mainly because I’ve read that it’s terrible and that, unless you are a major Meteor Garden fan, you should just stop at the end of the original Meteor Garden.

    Hana-Kimi (花樣少年少女) – out of all of the Mandarin-language dramas I’ve seen, this one had the most boring moments … but when it’s fun, it’s very, very fun.

    The Outsiders (鬥魚) – This is what I’m watching now, and I’ve only seen a few episodes. However. so far, it’s very promising. I’m always surprised when an episode is over, because it felt shorter than it actually is.

    I plan to see all of the dramas recommended by this blog post:


    Even though Hana-Kimi is not on the list, I watched it because a) I had seen multiple recommendations b) I already knew the basic story (though I had forgotten the details) and c) I had read that, language-wise, it was not particularly difficult. I would say that, language-wise, it helps that the characters tend to say the same things over and over again in Hana-Kimi – towards the end, I could occasionally accurately predict word-for-word what the characters were going to say next.

  6. vermillon says:

    @Sara: thanks for the link and the comments. I’m somehow not surprised that none of them is Chinese and instead are Taiwanese (and even Japanese..). I’ll have a look at them anyway, as it can’t hurt to hear some Mandarin, but of course, if anyone knows of good Chinese (=中国大陆) dramas, I’d be even happier.

    As we’re in recommendations, I really like listening to Radio Free Asia (RFA) in Mandarin. Lots of talks, lots of different accents (some of them I cannot understand a word of) and various topics on politics, society and news in general.

  7. Erik says:

    YouTube mini lectures could turn out to be incredibly useful and interesting. It’s not easy to come by good-quality video lectures on language learning, at least in my experience. And if advanced learners are involved in making up the stuff of those mini lectures, they could draw on learners’ experience in a way that native speakers cannot do.

    I guess the difficult part is deciding what kind of content those mini lectures should deal with. Creating a good discussion about it might help.

  8. Sara K. says:

    There are actually a number of *Chinese* TV shows which I am very interested in trying. I cannot say whether they are any good or not because I have not, yet, actually seen them. I am restraining myself because I want to work on Taiwan-Mandarin, not China-Mandarin, but each time I end a TV drama I am tempted to pick up a China drama instead of a Taiwan drama.

    I would like to note that Chinese TV is quite popular in Taiwan. The Chinese TV sections in stores / rental shops is almost always bigger than the Taiwanese TV sections, I see more posters for Chinese TV shows than Taiwanese TV shows, and so forth. Considering that Taiwanese people have excellent access to American, Japanese, Hong Kong, and Korean TV (holy moley. Korean TV is super popular in Taiwan), as well as their own TV shows which, in my opinion, are no worse than American TV, I do not think Chinese TV would be popular in Taiwan if it sucked (or rather, if it sucked more than TV in general – I am also one of those people who finds most TV boring).

  9. Sara K. says:

    Sorry for the double comment, but one more point – one of the reasons that I am tempted to watch Chinese TV instead of Taiwanese TV is that Chinese TV tends to address topics I find more interesting. Most Mandarin-language TV dramas in Taiwan are on the contemporary romantic-comedy/soap-opera spectrum, and while I like contemporary romantic comedies / soap operas, it is not my favourite type of television. There are some Taiwan-Mandarin TV shows which are not on the contemporary romantic-comedy/soap-opera spectrum, but according to the reviews I’ve read, they are not very good. Based on the reviews I’ve read, if I want to watch really good, say, sweeping historical epics in Mandarin, I have to turn to Chinese TV (or Mandarin dubs of television originally in other languages, but I don’t like dubs).

  10. Vermillon wrote: “I’d like to see more topics for advanced learners. — but the really tough stuff is obviously passing intermediate and advanced.”

    I agree with Vermillon, getting from intermediate to advanced is an difficult change to make and I feel like stuck at the intermediate level. It’s easy to get here, but now it requires some serious work to get to advanced level. Any posts helping us with this stage are more than welcomed.

    As I’m very interested in different ways of learning, your blog have been great read for me. Even more now when I have some 对外汉语教学 courses at the university.

  11. ichigolin says:

    TV Shows: http://sugoideas.com/

    Vocabulary – You have to consciously seek out and/or put yourself into a situation which allows you to use the vocabulary you wish to activate. The other thing you can do to help w/this is to write sentences using the word(s) you wish to make a part of your active vocab and having a teacher or native speaker give it the once over for usage and grammar. Writing sentences sounds horrible to most, but it is very effective. If you can use the word properly in a sentence, then you understand the meaning of the word and its usage.

    @vermillon @sara
    The jump from intermediate to advanced is slow. This is where many people will get stuck for a while and/or just quit. At this point you have to forge ahead and believe that you’re going to get there. From a testing standpoint (level 6 HSK or level 5 TOCFL), I think this transition is all about expanding vocabulary and reading. For testing purposes, you have to be able to read fast. In order to read fast, you need to read often. You also need to have the necessary vocabulary such that you’re not pausing too often or skipping too many words which costs you time and comprehension.

  12. Marie says:

    All your posts have been both entertaining and instructive to me, you really have very good teaching and writing skills.

    For 2012, an interested post could also be a selection of non-related to language learning Chinese reading material – press, blogs, novels – particularly appropriate to accelerate the reading speed.

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