posted by 华金 on May 24, 2012 | 52 comments
I think there's a lot to be gained from peer-to-peer learning. With that in mind, why don't we set up a discussion about the methods that you use to learn Mandarin. I'm sure we've all tried things that didn't work out, and found other methods to be really effective. But we (or at least I) could've saved a lot of time and effort by talking to others who are studying, or have learnt the language, about what processes they find the most effective.

I think it'd be useful to break the discussion into sections: tones, reading, writing, grammar, chengyu, listening comprehension, pronunciation (especially the zh/j, ch/q, sh/x and c/z distinctions), and any other aspects of Mandarin you can think of.

I think this is something we can all benefit from hugely, and rather than expecting the Popup crew - awesome though they are - to come to the rescue whenever we're in despair, we could take the initiative and help each other out too!

As to how to do this, what are your suggestions? Have one thread per aspect (i.e. one for tones, one for chengyu, etc)? Or have one all-inclusive thread? Or something else? Hope we get this going and show the solidarity to each other that "Team Popup" (that's got blockbuster trilogy written all over it) continue to show us every day!
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华金 on May 25, 2012 | reply
Alright, 'll have to get the ball rolling on this one!

CHARACTERS: when I started learning Chinese I would often mix up characters. For instance, if I learnt the word "喜欢", I might see a sign saying "欢迎光临" and read "欢" as "xi3" instead of "huan1". This is due to focusing on the pronunciation of words rather than characters. This really hampered my reading, and to overcome this problem I started using 田字本 and practice characters by themselves. It's hard work and very time consuming, but it's helped me immensely. What about you guys? What problems have you encountered with characters, and how have you overcome them?
jlepo on May 28, 2012 | reply
Xie xie ni. I am a novice. But I really appreciate your insight into the adventure of learning Mandarin.
jlepo on May 28, 2012 | reply
Xie xie ni. I am a novice. But I really appreciate your insight into the adventure of learning Mandarin.
seamus5 on May 28, 2012 | reply
To go along with 华金, I would like to mention an iOS app that is awesome! It is called Soonr Scribble (sorry, not sure how to copy iTunes links on the iPad). It is great because it has drop box like functionality. So I download popup's character writing sheets to that app and it automatically syncs with all my iOS devices and my Mac. But, it allows to write on PDFs with your finger or a stylus. Great way to use the writing sheets anywhere!
craigrut on May 30, 2012 | reply
I have tried many methods for learning characters, to be honest the best one I've found is really to just write them out several times each by hand and then review them using an SRS (spaced repetition system) program.

Although the website provides SRS in the flash cards, I don't have an apple device to use the apps, so I instead use Anki (on my phone that is). Anki is an SRS flashcard system that you can create your own flash cards. I tend to comb lessons, then build a flashcard deck in Anki to review. I write the word out 10-15 times depending on complexity, and learn it in the context of a sentence from a Popup Chinese lesson or the Popup Chinese test. I put English on the 'front' and then as I review I draw the character in my head and also speak it out loud (hopefully with the appropriate tones, but my tones are trash). Once I 'flip' the card I can tell the software how well I did, didn't remember, it was easy, very easy etc. Based on my answer it'll schedule a review X days out. Also, on the back side I put the full sentence so I can read it in context and practice using it a bit each time.

There are several other methods I explored, like learning all the radicals and then creating stories for the characters. This was helpful to a point, but it started to be harder to remember the stories than it was to just remember what the character looked like.

One other thing I've found helpful in general for Chinese is the Chinese Breeze graded readers.

Although the stories are admittedly incredibly boring/predictable, it is a great way to review characters in a way other than just flash cards. These were far more helpful at my lower levels of Chinese and aren't of much service today as they only go up to the 750 character limit right now.

In reality though, I think I've gotten the most practice in Chinese from two things:

-QQ: - This is the international version so it is an English version. You can also get the full Chinese version which is a bit of an adventure.

-Sougou Input Method: (Click 立即下载)

QQ is basically the AOL Instant Messenger (or maybe MSN depending on your age) of China. You can find all sorts of people extremely willing to perform language exchange with you on it. Or just people ready and willing to speak Chinese only. It's a lot of fun and you'll learn tons of new words straight from native Chinese folks in 'slangy' or 日常说话 situations.

Listening comprehension is still my greatest downfall I think. I would love to hear ways to practice hearing the tonal differences beyond just 'listen more.' I have an extremely hard time hearing tones in any normally paced speech. I know I can hear them in slow speech because in the lower level lessons I have no issue determining tones when Echo repeats the speech, but man is it hard for me to pick them apart at speed.

One way I have found to practice this really is to just listen listen listen and learn new vocabulary and sentence. The more words you know,the more likely you can pick things up by context. You can check some other forum posts for TV recommendations. Although most Chinese TV is boring (IMO - and in several other people's by the looks) you can always get dubbed American movies.

Anyway, good luck! Hopefully your Chinese will end up better than mine.
pefferie on June 5, 2012 | reply
I have also done Chinese Breeze and Anki. To start stydying characters, Tuttle's "Learning Chinese Characters" is an excellent book. I have a podcast app on my Windows phone that submits vocabulary directly to Anki for review. Recording yourself and listening is also useful, but I do not have enough willpower. My first excuse was that there was not a good application for recording and playing back, so I wrote one. Used it once, found it useful, but just keep finding excuses not to do it again. The important part is to keep doing _something_ - for me the easiest is to keep listening to Popup Chinese and/or ChinesePod (daily) and do Anki reviews (almost daily - 10-15 minutes), so that's what I do. I know if I skip Anki for a week, it will probably hit me with 150 words to review. I am at a point where I "know" quite a few characters, but not the words they compose, so I am planning to reduce my Anki load and focus on other activities - reading hanzi and reading pinyin outloud to increase fluency.
华金 on May 31, 2012 | reply
Thanks for the reply guys, especially craigrut. I found your comments very insightful and thorough, hopefully others will benefit from it. I have to say I echo most of what you say. In the end, writing helps me with retention, and spaced repetition supplements it very well. I also agree about the sentences. I always write sentences with the new characters/words that I learn to help remember them and also know how to use them. I also find myself trying to read all the characters I can when I'm walking or in a taxi, it helps keep them at the forefront of your mind, especially if they're ones you don't use very often, like 轮胎, which I always see on shops that sell car parts.

I'm a perfectionist by nature, and in the beginning I tried to review as many characters that I knew as possible in case I'd forget the ones I don't read or write very often, but found it very time consuming, to the point of being counter productive. I realized I was spending do much time reviewing old material that I wasn't learning as many new words as I would've liked. I've eased up a little since I realized even Chinese people forget how to write basic characters every now and then. I guess my message would be this: don't spend so much time trying to review characters that it stops you from spending as much time learning new ones. Being a perfectionist can often work against you.

What about the rest of you? It would be good to get as many opinions as possible. I'm particularly interested in why you think some methods are more effective than others!
华金 on May 31, 2012 | reply
How about things like stroke order? Do you try your best to adhere to it, or do you think it's ultimately a waste of time. Do you even bother learning how to write characters at all? Do you think it's useful? I know some people learn how to recognize characters simply from reading them and don't bother learning how to write them, or perhaps they just don't devote that much time to it. I'd be intersted in your views!
craigrut on May 31, 2012 | reply
I don't bother with stroke order in the slightest. I'm not being graded on anything and study on my own 90% of the time. I primarily study characters to be able to read, but a secondary bonus is being able to pick the right character out from a 拼音输入法。 Most Chinese will pick up your meaning even if you use the wrong characters in one or two places, in fact it has become super common among high school and college kids to purposely put the wrong characters in places like 么 instead of 吗 etc...But it is nice to be able to type properly :).

Stroke order in some cases does allow you to write the character more easily so it looks neat and clean, but I've found in many cases it actually slows down my writing speed.
masterchinese on June 4, 2012 | reply
When it comes to Chinese Mandarin learning, many people will regard it as a super difficult task. It’s always hard to clearly understand the complicated Pinyin, four tones, not to mention the tens of thousands of characters. We all want to make it easier to learn Chinese. As far as I'm concerned, the following tips are quite helpful:

1. Learn Pinyin well. Pinyin is the most basic element in the Chinese language learning;

2. Learn to use a Chinese dictionary;

3. Start from easy words and phrases; we always need some time to master a language;

4. Make it a daily habit to learn some Chinese;

5. Usual practice with native speakers.

Finally, wish all Chinese language learners a happy learning journey and fruitful achievements.
Noah.Pflugradt on June 18, 2012 | reply
I'm currently busy with HSK 2, so I'm still at the absolute beginner level and I only started studying Chinese three months ago. But maybe someone will find these ideas helpful anyway:

So far I've found ideas about total immersion, simply listening to podcasts or reading texts less than helpful. I think for that to make sense you need a basic vocabulary of at least aquivalent HSK 2-3. So my goal for the first 6 months of Chinese is to simply use brute force to hammer the first 500-1000 words into my memory to have a basis for reading and listening.

For this I try to use a multi-tool approach since I've found that this increases retention for me.

My first tool is They have hands down the best memonics and it's free too. So that helps with getting the words, the pinyin and the characters somehow into memory. Oh, and they have this strange tone game which helps too.

The second tool is It's not free, but after my first month of skritter I've found that it increases my retention for the chinese characters by a frankly ridiculous amount. And oddly enough it became a lot easier to distinguish new characters too. At the beginning they all kind of look the same after all...

Third tool is excessive popup chinese, using the popup review and simply listening. And as soon as David puts in the lesson study tools we suggested, that will really rock!