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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.

Tags: ,

Some of you might have noticed that over the past weeks, tags have been added to the posts on this website. I’ve done this gradually and over quite some time, so even though I’ve used more than one thousand different tags, it really wasn’t that tedious to do (besides, most of the tags are simply paste/cut from the post content). Doing this, I listened to audio books at the same time (No Country for Old Men and Use of Weapons), so even though I think it should be mostly correct, I’d be grateful if you report any inconsistencies you might find. Suggestions for how to improve tagging are also welcome.

I view tags as a freer form of categories, further specifying and categorising the post. Previously, I’ve been forced to use the search function to group things together. For instance, if I wanted to link to my reviews of Stephen R. Donaldson‘s Gap Cycle, I had to make a link to a search query, which would return any results containing the words “Gap Cycle”, thus returning a lot of posts (such as this one) which mentions the Gap Cycle, but contains no information about it whatsoever. Now, I can link to a tag called the Gap Cycle, and, voila, the five reviews are displayed properly. This is of course just an example, there are lots of other advantages, such as making it easier for the visitor to find similar or related posts.

Going through old posts, I also noticed that pingbacks were disabled for a large majorit of the site’s content (I’ve no idea why), so enabling them lead to a huge increase in comments (pingbacks count as comments). This means that the recent comments is cluttered for now, but that should be back to normal as soon as people comment on new articles. The idea is of course that pingbacks should be updated when they appear, not one thousand at a time.

The tags can be used in two ways. First, in the Archive, they are displayed as a cloud containing the 50 most popular tags, and as an alphabetical list containing all tags (1069 at present). Second, in the footer of each post, the dags attached to that post is listed, making it easy to find other posts using the same tag. For instance, in order to view other posts like this one, find and click the tag “Site related” below. Third, I hope that there will some day be a powerful search function in WordPress, which would allos the visitor to combine various categories and tags, this enabling a display of, say, all Reviews, In English of Hugo-award winning novels written by Lois McMaster Bujold. Alas, that is yet in the future, but tags are here now and they are here to stay.

Tags: , ,

Since my studying tends to be computerised, the amount of useful material concerning Chinese has been proliferating rather fast during this autumn. Combined with the fact that I have wholeheartedly adopted the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s motto “share and enjoy”, I hereby present you with a new section on Snigel.nu, devoted to the study of the Chinese language. You can access it by the brand new link in the left-hand menu or simply by clicking here.

I hate when other people link to sites without telling me in advance what I will be able to find there, so here is some sort of comprehensive list of the yet humble features of my Chinese section:

  • Useful links to programs and web sites I use in my everyday studying
  • Resources for the text books I have
  • Exams and assignments written by me
  • A collection of blog entries related to Chinese


Tags: , , , ,

In updating and reorganising Snigel.nu, I have completed two tasks on my 101-in-1001 list, namely:

Reorganise Snigel.nu
Complete the missing sections on Snigel.nu

The first one does not need commenting, since I have already talked about it at length (post structure updated and WordPress upgraded). The second one merits some illumination, though. It was written at a time where I intended to have a separate page for role-playing. Instead of doing that, I now have performed a two-stage solution, the update of this week being the second stage. The first one was completed when we launched Kaleidoskop.se (in Swedish) as joint website for promoting our (me and my friends) role-playing related output.

In addition to this, the site lacked a functioning about page as well as decent introductions to the various categories. This problem has been alleviated as of this week and I therefore consider the missing parts of Snigel.nu completed. This means that I have “only” 80 tasks still to go.


I have now reorganised all 611 posts into a new category system. Posts can now reside in multiple categories at once, thus avoiding problems with entries fitting into many different sections of the page. What was previously called “book reviews” may now be found in the categories Literature, Reviews, Recommendations and Swedish/English, depending on the language of review. A brief check reveals that this is working as intended, but please notify me if there are any troubles (e.g. misplaced posts).

I still need a system to browse multiple categories, so the user can search the site for posts which are in Education and Review, for instance. Language is another issue at the moment, precisely because it is not possible to browse entries which are tagged as Reviews and in English. However, the page ought to be navigable as it is today, and I am honestly surprised it did not take more time to accomplish that. I still have things to fix, but now I am at least under way.


Det har blivit dags att omstrukturera den här sidan. Först tänkte jag att jag skulle passa på och ändra design och liknande när jag ändå är igång, men jag har ändrat mig. Det går utmärkt att strukturera om sidans innehåll utan att ändra designen och om jag vill göra det efteråt är det inga problem.

Jag har också funderat på att göra förändringarna på en offlineversion av sidan, men nu väljer jag att göra det direkt istället. Saken är den att ni som besökare inte borde lida speciellt mycket, eftersom huvuddelen av sidan kommer att fungera precis som vanligt. Det som inte kommer att fungera är listorna som finns på respektive sida i vänstermenyn. Det kommer till exempel bli svårt att bläddra bokrecensioner, men om det är något speciellt ni vill åt går det fortfarande bra att använda “Arkiv” och leta rätt på inlägget den vägen.

Målet med hela det här projektet är att byta från ett system där alla inlägg har en kategori till ett system där ett inlägg kan tillhöra flera, allt för att göra det lättare att hitta saker. Dessutom känner jag att kategorierna jag använder nu inte är de bästa och behöver ses över. I samband med detta kommer jag också att byta ramverket på sidan från svenska till engelska, vilket jag hoppas inte vållar några problem för någon. Det kommer i förlängningen leda till att jag skriver mer på engelska, men också det är ett senare steg.

Det är förstås svårt att gissa hur lång tid det här kommer att ta, men några veckor är nog inte helt orimligt. Till dess kommer det alltså att gå utmärkt att besöka förstasidan precis som tidigare, även om det kan bli svårare att hitta gamla inlägg.