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Learning Chinese

by Eric Kraus
Published: Last Updated on
chinese characters on paper

As I’m working through my 2019 goal to learn Chinese, I am planning to gather some thoughts on my preparation and progress throughout the year.

Like any foreign language, the key (and biggest challenge) to fluency, will be immersion. This is going to be especially difficult for a guy that doesn’t live in a native-Chinese speaking country, is not married to a Chinese woman, did not adopt Chinese children, doesn’t have any close Chinese-speaking friends/co-workers, etc. etc. I am working to mitigate a few of these (no, I’m not getting remarried or adopting). However, I am looking into resources like university classes, mentors, tutors, meetup groups, etc. Regardless, I am certain this single constraint will make/break the level of fluency I develop.

I have read online from several sources that knowing 200 Chinese characters/words will be enough to make someone “tourist aware” and knowing 500 or more words will allow someone to read 75% of Chinese literature. To be legally fluent, one needs to know 1,500-2,000 words…and most educated Chinese will understand 3,000+ words.

With this as a backdrop, I am setting my 2019 goal at learning 200 characters (also known as hanzi). I have no doubt I will exceed this from a pinyin/listening/speaking “word” perspective…but I also think it’s important to study Chinese characters (hanzi) along the way as well.

As much as possible, hanzi should be the preferred written form of Chinese.

The current plan is to learn as much as I can about the foundation of the language on my own. I now have a well established daily habit from working on my 2018 goal. So, I am hoping to piggyback on that habit for the first few months and work on learning “Newbie Mandarin”.

Chinese Newbie Resources

Ok, so if you know NOTHING about Mandarin (like me), you will literally be starting at Nǐ hǎo (hello). Here are some resource that I’m using and have found incredibly valuable.

I looked through a lot of online resources for learning Mandarin. A couple mentioned below. ChinesePod was recommended from several other English-native speakers and Ithought I would give it a try. It’s affordable given the amount of content that is on there. I also really like their style too. It’s not just the dry “this word means this word”. Instead, they leverage humor and natural dialog between people – very similar to how classroom or tutor learning would be.

Yoyo Chinese
I watched HOURS of videos on Youtube and learned so much from Yoyo Chinese. Yangyang’s delivery in her videos was awesome! I feel a bit guilty not subscribing to their service, but the ONLY reason is focus. I want to stick with one program and work through it. If there’s a chance I switch later – it’ll likely be to Yoyo Chinese.

I also highly recommend their pinyin chart.

Mobile Apps

Google Translate – phrase translation pronunciation
Pleco – dictionary and pronuciation.
AnkiMobile – flashcards. yes, expensive, but if you are serious about learning, spaced repetition and memorization will be a key
ChinesePod Pinyin Chart – quick way to validate pronunciations
HelloTalk – pairs you up with other people learning the language you are fluent in

Secondary apps (using for fun right now, not sure yet if they will be a core part of my learning).
Chineasy Cards – a fun, easy way to learn Chinese characters.
LingoDeer – a fun way to learning basic pinyin, vocab
WeChat – EVERYONE I meet on HelloTalk wants to chat on WeChat – only that my brand new acct is blocked for suspicious activity. *sigh*

Weekly Updates

Week 1 – 12/22 – Newbie stuff and pinyin

Week 2 – 12/29 – Radicals, tones and some basic sentences

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