Eric Kraus


Chinese – Week 12

I am starting week 12 of my New Year’s Resolution to learn Mandarin Chinese and a lot has changed over the last 10 weeks since my last post.

Quick update on current status:

-currently studying lesson 10 (the last lesson) in the Integrated Chinese Level 1 book. I have been pacing at about 1 lesson per week which was aggressive, but comfortable given my time investment.
-by the end of lesson 10, I will know and be able to recognize over 600 Chinese words/characters
-in addition to individual words, I have learned many basic grammar structures and sentence patterns

Some reflection on the first three months of study:

-the biggest key is to find a rhythm and stick to the routine. my routine: wake up at 5:30am, study listening/pronunciation practice until 7:00am. before bed 30 min of practice listening and/or reading sentences from TCB app (more on that later)
-find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. for me, learning new vocab has been very easy, but becoming quick in translating English or fluid in speaking full sentences has taken more effort. this awareness has given me direction in what to focus on when I am practicing.
-reduce the noise. you can quickly become overwhelmed trying to learn every new word possible. stick with learning new vocab with context – this is why a good book/study course is invaluable. here’s what I’ve been using.

-find some way to practice what you are learning outside of your coursework, but make sure it is appropriate for your level. I do two things: every week participate in a meet up group that speaks Chinese for 2 hours, read Chinese news on The Chairman’s Bao (TCB) app. I absolutely love this app. It allows you to filter the news articles to just those written to your level, you can listen to someone speak the text and there is an easy way to search on characters your don’t know to look them up.

Chinese – Week 2

Quick update as I’m wrapping up my 2nd week of formal Chinese study.


I drastically narrowed the mobile apps I’m using to the following:
-Pleco – dictionary, stroke order, Live OCR add-on
-Translator app: Google Translate or Microsoft Translate
Anki – spaced repetition, flash cards

If you don’t have a tutor or course book, I would highly recommend both first. YouTube and “Learn Chinese” mobile apps are fun and entertaining, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed quickly without a lot of structure. I’m finding it more valuable to master the basics than to expand widely without understanding the foundations.

Words and Characters

I had originally set out a goal to learn 300 words for the HSK1 exam. More complex words are often 2 or more characters, so it’s reasonable to estimate this goal would be 500 or so characters.

I’m a few weeks in to studying and Anki tells me I already know 230 characters. This blew my mind. This also doesn’t include all the combinations of characters for numbers, months, days of week, etc.

I don’t think I’ll have any problem hitting my original goal. Measuring the number of words or characters is a fun fact, but in reality doesn’t really directly map to one’s ability to use words correctly in sentences. So, I’ll continue to monitor, but definitely no longer targeting a specific number goal. It could be 1000 by the end of the year.

Listening first

Per advice from my tutor (this is why you get a tutor), I have shifted my primary effort from word/character recognition learning first to building listening/speaking muscle memory first. For example, I had previously been approaching learning by mastering words by character recognition and then using those individual words to make sentences. For this reason, my reading/writing Chinese skill are actually pretty good. But when it comes to speaking, this tactical approach has been slowing me down.

Instead, I’m now working from the other way first: listening for “chunks” of sounds that are common phrases and learning to say those together well.

It’s important to do both, but starting bottom up has been more difficult for me for speaking skills, so this change has helped a lot.

Practice Practice Practice

I’ve been practicing speaking a lot by myself (early mornings and late nights) and listening to audio recordings that came work my coursework. But to get some more natural listening skills, I joined a local Chinese Language Study Group that meets weekly.

The group consists of varying degrees of fluency. Most people have been studying over a year, so I am by far a newbie. My vocab is massively limited compared to them, but everyone has been great about talking down to my level. It’s also good practice for hearing chucks of sentences you do recognize and trying to infer the remaining context.


All in all, making great progress. I am planning to make a video of myself soon, reading and speaking so I can measure progress. I can’t believe it’s only been 2-3 weeks of studying and can’t imagine what the next 4 weeks will bring! 再见!

Chinese – Self Study Week 2

I’m two weeks into my Chinese study and have made a lot of progress. I’ve also gathered a lot of useful tips and some lessons learned over my studying during my first week.


For starters, I’ve landed on an objective goal for 2019. I want to pass (minimally) the HSK 1 and hopefully the HSK 2 exams by the end of the calendar year. The HSK Chinese Proficiency exams are given to non-native Chinese speakers to evaluate their depth of understanding of the language.

There are 6 levels to the HSK. Each test involves listening and reading comprehension as well as writing in the later levels. It is stated that after passing HSK 4, someone is fluent Chinese.

HSK 2 will require that I understand (and can use) 300+ words characters in common sentence structures. Words in the Chinese are often made up of more than one character, so 300 words might be somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-500 characters.

Lessons from last week

While the YouTube videos and apps were all helpful in the beginning, they lack the structure that I know I will need to be successful. What I mean by structure is explaining the foundation of the language so that I can grow from it later – not just memorize phrases. It’s sort of the opposite of “Learn Chinese in just 10 minutes”

It’s like someone that throws a ball against a wall every day. He will get better at throwing, but not necessarily great at the game.

So, I’ve made two of important changes.

  1. abandoned most of the apps that I have been using for “content”
  2. hired a Chinese tutor
  3. focus on listening, speaking and reading – but not writing

The new plan

After the first meeting with my tutor, we’ve come up with a plan to achieve my goals of passing the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams. I’m optimistic. But it means most of the apps that I’ve been using will go out the door and we’re starting with the basics: Radicals.

From what I understand, Radicals are like indexers for Chinese characters. It’s how dictionaries are organized to find characters. It’s sort of like how in English, words are made up of letters. Chinese words are made up of Characters that are made up of combinations of Radicals. It’s way more complex than that, but for week 2…it’s good enough.

There are 214 Radicals and knowing the most common (or all) Radicals will make it easier to put them together to form the components of the Characters to build words/meaning.

Another thing I’m changing, addresses my fear that the lack-of immersion will be a limiter for me to pick up the language. After talking with the tutor I’m going to relax a bit and not worry so much about the immersion and just focus on learning the basics solid for now. That’s easy enough.

The last big change in strategy is related to writing characters. Just like native-English speakers, many Chinese communicate via technology instead of handwritten letters. So, I won’t be focusing too much on writing characters, but will definitely continue focus on character identification for reading purposes.

Mobile Apps

I’m not kicking all of the apps to the curb. In fact, I’m doubling down on a few…specifically Anki. I launch Anki at least 3-4 times per day now. It’s a critical tool for the memorization process for new vocabulary/characters.

I am still using Pleco, but when on my tablet/computer, I am using ArchChinese a bit more lately to help with the construction of different characters.

So, for the time being, I am stopping my usage of ChinesePod, YoYoChinese, LingoDeer, etc. etc.


I’m really excited to be on a solid curriculum for the language and looking forward to seeing some of the building blocks coming together. For measurement sake, I’ll do my best to track my progress of what I’m learning.

New Radical Characters Learned: 48
Other Vocab: 10
Total Characters: 98

Chinese – Self Study Week 1

I just officially wrapped up my first week of self-study on Chinese. We’ll call this Self Study Week 1. 🙂 Here are some thoughts and lessons learned.

This week I tried to focus on just getting familiar with Chinese, resources, pinyin rules/exceptions and not really worrying too much about vocab or Chinese characters.

As I mentioned in the Learning/Resources post, I have been using the Anki mobile app for flash card studying – it is awesome.

The Anki Mobile app gives me stats about my how I am learning and automatically reminds me of things I need more work. It also gives me an idea of how well I am For example, today, I reviewed 40 cards including pinyin initials, finals, exceptions, some basic vocab and a few VERY basic sentences.

According to the app, the average amount of time I studied cards was 12.9 minutes per day (this obviously needs to increase). Also, the app is telling me that I am around 80% accurate on “learning” cards (new ones) and 92% accurate on cards I am “young” mastery on (ones I’ve been consistently accurate). The app then uses these statistics to ensure I continue to review the right cards until all of them reach mastery.

I’m a believer that the best progress is made when you work hard but push yourself beyond your limits. So, 80-90% in my bood is just about right. And it’s definitely time to push on.

The goal for next week is to start working on some basic vocab. “This”, “That”, “It”, “He” “Good”, “Bad”, etc. etc.

The ChinesePod app has a Newbie track that I’m going to follow fairly strictly until further notice. Unlike many of the other resources, this track has the right amount of foundation/basics and introduction of new content without jumping right into complex sentences. More to come.

Learning Chinese

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

2019 Goal: Learn Chinese

2018 was a crazy year! I got a late start on my New Year’s Resolution. In fact, I likely wouldn’t even have had one if it weren’t for a suggestion from a friend who was doing a similar activity.  “Sure! I’ll do that too!”

The idea was simple:  read 100 books in 2018.

Looking back, that was quite the audacious goal.  Along the way, I’ve received numerous questions about how I chose the topics, where I bought  my books, which was my favorite, etc.  I kept an ongoing list on my 100 Books in 2018 post; however, I’ll be doing a broader write up soon with answers to some of those questions.

On To 2019

2018 was a great year of learning.  I really value the knowledge I’ve gained and the stories I’ve been able to share because of the books I’ve read.  Truly – no regrets.  But honestly, I have no interest in setting another reading goal in a long while.  I’m on to my next project…and I’ve gotten the crazy idea to try and one-up myself for 2019.

That’s right, I’m going to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Wait… what?

Yeah – I don’t have a lot of details to share right now, but I promise to share more about my practice schedule, training resources, etc. etc. as I get going on this journey.

One might say this New Years Resolution is more like an experiment and a test of my commitment, than it is measuring a fixed outcome.  Something to find out: “how fluent can a full-time working parent in the USA get at Chinese in 1 year?”  I’ve heard of others doing it in 6 months….3 months?!

I’m not setting any unrealistic outcomes like that, but I am setting small milestones along the way to measure my progress.  And I’m not wasting any time.  Check out books #98, #99 and #100.

More to come!