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Learning Chinese

Visit Hacking Chinese instead: This post about studying Chinese is partly or completely obsolete. A revised version, along with much more related to language learning can be found at Hacking Chinese. This post is kept here for the sake of consistency.

Visit Hacking Chinese instead: This post about studying Chinese is partly or completely obsolote. A revised version, along with much more related to language learning can be found at Hacking Chinese. This post is kept here for the sake of consistency.


Learning Chinese is not only a very complex subject, but it’s also one I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. This page has two main purposes, the first being to share my thoughts on how to best learn Chinese, the second being to organise various musing on learning Chinese that I’ve written. Even though I think it’s true that learning styles vary between different students, I’m also convinced that there are some methods which are simply better or more effective than others. The only way to find out what works for you is by trial and error. Sure, you can get the idea from someone else (me, for example), but in the end, it’s always up to you to see if it works or not.

Please note that this page is about acquiring language skills in Chinese, as opposed to my other page named Studying Chinese, which is about my own studying and related reflections, posts and so on.

Speaking and listening
Reading and writing
Learning languages in general


Overall strategy for learning languages: Still not published

Guide to learning Chinese – Beginner: This is a short introduction to learning Chinese and is meant for people who have just started (or plan to start in the near future). It contains tips and tricks to get started, as well as some questions you should ask yourself.

Guide to learning Chinese – Intermediate: Still not published
Guide to learning Chinese – Advanced:
Still not published

Learning Chinese isn’t as hard as you think: Most people think that learning even the most basic Chinese is really hard. They are wrong. Mastering Chinese is extremely difficult, but reaching a level where communication isn’t a problem and where you can understand everyday Chinese is actually fairly easy. Read this if you think Chinese looks interesting, but seems impossible to learn.

Learning Chinese is a lot harder than you think: Still not published. Most people think that learning Chinese is really hard. They are wrong. Mastering Chinese is extremely hard, a lot harder than anyone can imagine who haven’t tried to learn a language completely unrelated to one’s native tongue. Read this if you think Chinese looks easy, or after you’ve read the article above about how easy Chinese is.

Chinese regarded as a multi-layered web: An in-depth explanation why spoken and written Chinese are closely linked together, even though on the surface they might appear not to be. I discuss why I think learning to read Chinese is essential, even if speaking is your ultimate goal.

The benefits of using additional textbooks as complementary reading: The title is self-explanatory, I think, so this article is about why you should start looking for extra text books almost immediately. This is not about moving beyond text books, this is about using more than one text book at the same time.

Travelling to learn languages: Many people say that travelling is a great way of learning languages. I disagree, at least mostly. Travelling will teach you how to use what you already know, but it’s a very poor way to advance further in your language studies.

Learning Chinese using ZDT’s interval filter: If you don’t use any system that helps you sort your vocabulary into different categories based on how well you know them, you have to do so now. This article describes one way of doing this using a program called ZDT, but the discussion here is relevant even if you already use other programs.


The kamikaze approach to learning Chinese: This article is about a specific time in my history of studying Chinese, but it can be said to represent how I think I learn the fastest. It is a call to always strive to find more challenges and make sure that you maximise your learning opportunities. This attitude has served me very, very well, but it does take some willpower and fortitude.

Seriously, why Chinese? In this article, my goal isn’t to warn people not to study Chinese, but I think it’s in place to ask yourself this question, why Chinese of all languages? It will take you significantly longer to learn than any Indo-European language you care to mention and is it really worth the effort? It should be noted that I still study Chinese long after I wrote this article.

Speaking and listening

Learning how to pronounce Chinese, part 1 – Introduction: This article contains tips and ideas on how to learn to pronounce Chinese, things I would have liked someone to have told me earlier, but that I had to find out for myself. Hopefully you will make fewer mistakes than I did if you read this. This is the first article and I will keep on adding as I learn more.

Learning how to pronounce Chinese, part 2 – Attitude: This article is focused on attitude and some important things you need to understand about the learning process itself if you hope to achieve a high level of proficiency. Put briefly, you need to take responsibility for your own learning and you need to learn some theory.

Learning how to pronounce Chinese, part 3 – Identification: The first step in making any improvement in any area is to identify where you go wrong at the moment. In this article, I discuss the importance of doing this and a few way it can be achieved. This is of course a never-ending project, but paying attention is the key to success.

Learning how to pronounce Chinese, part 4 – Tones: All Westerners (and most other people) find the tones in Chinese to very hard. There are many foreigners who speak Chinese almost fluently, but still can’t handle the tones very well (or not at all). Don’t be one of them! It’s a myth that tones aren’t important. In this article, I present an ingenious way of spotting problems with tones!

Learning how to pronounce Chinese, part 5 – Analysis: Now we are starting to come down to actually changing one’s pronunciation (although a lot of change will come merely from paying attention). The last step before pure practice is to analyse all the data you have to see what you need to improve. This is my analysis, and even though I assume that yours looks different, I’m quite sure we will have quite a few things in common!

Reading and writing

Memorising dictionaries to aid reading ability: Generally speaking, memorising dictionaries is a very poor way of learning a language, but I’ve found that there is one exception. Going through a dictionary containing the 3000 most common characters in Chinese and making sure I knew them all, boosted my reading ability significantly. In this article I talk about why and how.

Learning Chinese characters – Attitude: This is an old article about learning to read and write Chinese, so some of the ideas brought up here are mentioned in other articles on this site. Even though this was written a long time ago, I still agree with what I said here and reflecting upon why and how to learn reading and writing Chinese is very important.

Learning Chinese characters – New characters: It is true that Chinese characters are ideograms, but mostof the time, they are not simply pictures and the should not be studied as such. That would make as much sense as learning English words without learning the alphabet first. You need to know the building blocks and then construct a logical system for yourself. Chinese is sometimes very logical, but it might not be obvious!

Learning Chinese characters – Revision: This is a partly obsolete article I wrote just after arriving in Taiwan. It deals with revision and is fairly primitive in that I hadn’t yet discovered the wonders of spaced repetition software (check this post for more about that).

Learning languages in general

Furthermore, I have also written a number of articles about learning languages in general, and most of them, if not all, pertains to Chinese as well. The most important article is the one about my overall language-learning strategy. Since the rest are not the main focus of this page, I’ll just give the titles and links to the articles.

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