Chinese Notes

I’ve been studying Mandarin Chinese on a day-to-day basis for about 8 months now, and I’ve made some discoveries on good study practices. So today I’d like to share with you some of the methods I use for learning Chinese…

  1. I talk to myself in Chinese before going to bed. It’s awkward to say this but I actually take some time off before hitting the sack to talk to myself in Chinese. I usually try to use words and phrases I’ve recently learned. This refreshes my memory and also puts the vocabulary into proper context.
  2. I write random phrases. This is what I probably do the most out of all the exercises. I always have a stack of loose sheets of paper on my desk for jotting down random sentences in Chinese. I prefer to write stuff with a pen because then I’m simultaneously improving my handwriting as well as reminding myself how to construct the characters. The topics are totally random. I just write stuff that pops into mind.
  3. I read Chinese stuff online and look up new words. Although my skill isn’t high enough to understand articles written in Chinese, I try to read forum posts that use conversational Chinese. What I usually do is, I Google a bunch of keywords that I want to see in action, and see where it takes me. And whenever I stumble upon words I don’t know, I use the 有道詞典 dictionary to look them up.
  4. I post Facebook updates in Chinese. When I want to convey a message particularly to a Chinese-speaking audience (e.g. “Happy Year of the Dragon!” or “How much does bubble tea cost in Taiwan?”) I write it in Chinese.
  5. I watch Taiwanese dramas. I enjoy watching Taiwanese dramas regardless of their educational benefit. But it’s also a fun way to learn more words and expressions. Watching movies and TV shows is particularly effective for listening comprehension, because the more you keep hearing the same words, the more accustomed your ear gets to recognizing them. The experience is totally different when listening to an instructional track where the actors speak unusually slowly. Furthermore, Taiwanese dramas come subbed by default, so if you fail to catch what they’re saying, you can always analyze the subtitles and find out what they’re saying. I recently finished watching 命中註定我愛你.
  6. I watch videos on YouTube. Another thing I enjoy doing is watching random videos on YouTube. I can watch anything. I’ve watched variety shows, Chinese lessons, travel shows, music videos, etc. Remember, it’s all about learning. As long as you’re learning something, it’s worth your time.
  7. I try to put my thoughts into Chinese. To condition my brain to work in “Chinese mode” I often force myself to think in Chinese. This kind of simulation is very important, because in order for you to become a spontaneous speaker, your new Chinese brain needs to become familiar with as many scenarios as possible. This is to avoid freezing up in actual conversations.
  8. I ask myself how to say something in Chinese. When I find myself wondering how something would be put into Chinese, I give it a try. If I can’t think of a way (e.g. if the syntax seems too complicated) I look it up on Google or ask a friend.
  9. I write to my Chinese-speaking friends in Chinese. Unless I have to explain something that is too difficult or in danger of being misunderstood, I try to say it in Chinese. I find it fascinating how easily you can explain many simple things despite having a limited vocabulary. You might not be producing the most eloquent sentences, but you’re none the less getting the message across. The important thing is not to worry about making mistakes. No matter how clichéd it may sound, we learn so well from our mistakes.
  10. I listen to Taiwanese radio stations. I do this partly because I’m a fan of Asian music, and the great thing about Taiwanese radio is that they play all kinds of Asian music—Taiwanese, Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, and Japanese pop. When I’m at work I usually tune in to Kaohsiung Kiss Radio Taiwan or Taipei Hit FM.
  11. I use Google Search to organically look up words and phrases. A good way to find out out how to put something into Chinese is to input the phrase in English and add 怎麼說 (how to say) or 什麼意思 (what meaning) at the end. It should bring up pages where people have asked how to say something in English, thus allowing you to get the Chinese equivalent written by a native speaker. Google Translate RARELY works, so I recommend you look up phrases written by real humans.
  12. I use Google Translate to look up pinyin tones for characters. The sole reason I use Google Translate is because it has support for pinyin tones. This means that I can examine how words are supposed to be pronounced. You have to be careful though; Google makes mistakes too, especially when dealing with a preceding 不 or 一 in a compound word (such as 不是 and 一起). So before you use the tool, you should know the general rules on tone changes.
  13. I listen to Chinese music, and try to decipher the lyrics. Although songs often use expressions that wouldn’t be used in colloquial Chinese, there’s a ton of good stuff to be learned from C-Pop.
  14. I read Chinese textbooks. I don’t use textbooks as a primary source of study material, but I like to read ones that have colorful illustrations and useful examples. I’m currently using a textbook I bought in Taipei called Chinese Made Easy.
  15. I watch Chinese lessons on YouTube. I’ve particularly found Peggy’s Chinese lessons and these Chinese lessons (in Japanese) to be useful.
  16. I take notes, constantly. Whenever I learn something new, I write it down and save it in a file. The document that houses all my Chinese notes is currently 128 pages long! My word processor is starting to get laggy at times so I’ll soon have to think of an alternate way to record notes. By the way, the point of keeping an extensive collection of notes is not because you’d want to review them from beginning to end (that would be too laborious with a 128-page document), but rather to have access to a familiar set of searchable records that includes everything you’ve previously worked on.

If you’re learning Chinese, or any other language, I’d love to hear your input on what methods have yielded the best results for you. Please leave your tips in the comment section below. 謝謝!