My top 8 tips for learning Chinese... or anything

March 03, 2014

Recently, I’ve been giving my brother advice on learning Chinese. Both of us as kids never learnt Chinese, so we’ve both struggled to learn it throughout our adult life, we’ve both failed multiple times. During my visit to Malaysia and with my newly acquired language skills, I inspired my older brother to try learning again. It felt great to be able to teach my older brother something, to inspire him to be better. That feeling I can tell you is incredible. Anyway, recently I’ve been giving him tips on how to learn Chinese and it made me think about my top tips for learning Chinese… or anything.

1. Get a dictionary on your phone

It’s a small thing, but not that learners get one right from the beginning. I myself was using google translate on single words a dictionary for quite a while. Pleco is easily the best choice on the market right now and it’s available on both iOS and Android.

2. Start speaking as soon as you can

One thing I can definitely account the speed in which I’ve learnt Chinese is that I started speaking very very soon after I started learning. Language partners started after a month, but i had a tutor right from the beginning (within the first week), which gave me confidence to speak to others

3. Get a tutor

A tutor in China is cheap, you can learn on Skype and it might cost you between £5-10 ($8-15) an hour, it’s worth every penny spent. A lot of people go to classes in the UK and spend as much or more on group lessons where you’re not getting as much attention

4. Use flash cards from day 1 - 30

Flash cards are single handedly the best way of learning vocabulary quickly. You don’t have to like it, but you just need that initial 600 characters to kickstart your learning. And who knows you might even enjoy it. I enjoyed the speed in which I learnt. After about a month or two I started getting tired of spending most of my time doing flash cards and after 6 months I pretty much stopped using them, but the initial month was invaluable to learning efficiently and quickly.

5. Only do things you enjoy

So if you don’t like flash cards, you should stop, because it’s better to choose the decent method you continue than the perfect method you give up on. That doesn’t mean don’t try flash cards if you don’t like the idea. Trying something for about a month gives you the chance to see if you like it. Don’t judge a boo by it’s cover. I wrote a Chinese diary for a month. That was enough to tell me that the task wasn’t enjoyable enough for me to continue.

6. Record words using Pleco

I use the Pleco dictionary and add words I want to know by hitting the plus button. It’s super quick and easy as you can add words as soon as you look them up. You can choose what you want to do with them after. But the simple act of recording words you want to know is a good habit.

7. Talk about your learning

Accountability is an important part of learning. For me I told everyone that I was starting to learn Chinese, I started writing this blog and I even started to teach people how to learn Chinese. All that put together made me learn to the extent I have today. It also helps you to self assess your own understanding of your learning. Assess how well you’re learning or even how you are learning is as important as the learning itself. That which is measures, improves.

8. Start today

Stop talking about learning Chinese. Start right now. Download Pleco and get a tutor.

These tips can be applied to any skill. This is how I’d write the same tips for general learning:

  1. Get a reference u can look at all the time any time any place, no excuse.

  2. Start practising as soon as you can.

  3. Get a tutor/mentor, someone to keep you accountable and teach u new things.

  4. Learn the fundamentals as quick as u can (just so happens flash cards is the best way for languages)

  5. Only do things you enjoy

  6. Record new things you want to learn within your skill.

  7. Talk about your learning, your progress. Teach or share.

  8. Start now

Get learning.


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Distilling the complicated into the simple. And sometimes general wonderings. Follow me on twitter