A question for the Chinese learners here

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of you guys here learning Chinese here, and to quite a high level. I have a lot of admiration. For me, my focus is on Indonesian (for my uni degree) but I’m also very interested in other Asian languages, especially during my holidays.
Because Mandarin doesn’t have a phonetic alphabet, I’ve found that feedback loop that we get from reading and listening, which lingq harnesses so well, gets somewhat broken. Learning characters takes a very long time. At best, I would only recognise the characters of only about a third of the words I recognise when I either hear, or read with pinyin. That is very differnt to other languages.
So what do you guys do? I fully recognise that there are no shortcuts, and its only a dedicated few who put in enormous hours of work that achieve a high level. But I’ve noticed that even native speakers rely on pinyin when they write phone messages. If you guys recognise a word merely by its sound or by pinyin- would you mark it as known? Or wait until you have fully memorised the character?
I’m very interested to know what sort of reading strategies you all have used to get through that pre-intermediate level.

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There are different approaches to characters: Dedicated Learning Of Chinese Characters Vs Learning Them...

I only mark a word as known, if I consistently remember sound, tone and meaning. Others may do it differently, but I have a very high lingq count and a relatively low “known” word count, because more often than not, I catch myself being unsure of one or several of those three (=sound, tone and meaning).

I’ve been studying Chinese for one year (with three months of that being full-time), and I can say that acquiring vocabulary in Chinese is a long process indeed because you need to remember the sound and tone for each character.

However, you’re in luck, because that brain in your head is actually pretty clever at sorting itself out if you’re interested enough :slight_smile:

I’ve constantly surprised myself at what I can remember, and I’ve found that remembering the meaning and sound of a character is actually pretty easy. For me, it’s recalling that character when I am writing or speaking that I have a difficult time with (this could be the same for other languages, but I don’t really know, because Chinese is the first second language I’ve ever studied).

Now, since I am a full-time student of Chinese, I have added flashcards onto my study regimen. I have found the flashcards to be immensely helpful in boosting my passive vocabulary, but I still need to constantly work on adding them to my active vocabulary through practising writing and speaking.

Like JanFinster, I used to be VERY strict with when I would add a word to known, but now, I am a little more lenient. If I read the character/word properly (tone + sound + meaning) once, and relatively quickly (no more than one or two seconds), I add it to my known words by marking it as a 4. If a word is a 4 and I read it properly and quickly again, it gets bumped up to a checkmark. This way my words go through two checks of sorts before being fully “known”.

I am about 2/3rds of the way to the first intermediate level on LingQ. Some days, it feels like I am making absolutely no progress (like yesterday), and other days (like today) I can see how big of a stride I’ve made in my learning. It really is just about persistence and constantly making sure that the content I am reading/listening is interesting to me.

Learning Chinese has been one of the most fulfilling journeys I’ve ever been on, and it’s only just begun. I have reached a place of acceptance that it is going to be a long time before I am ever anywhere near fluent, but I’ve stopped caring about that, because I love it so much. This language has so much love to give if you’re willing to take the leap and try it out :slight_smile:

加油!(“Add fuel!”/keep going/word of encouragement)


What yuo’ve noticed about Chinese people typing doesn’t really have much to do with it. Many, many people don’t rely on pinyin when typing. Many people have shit pinyin .

The way LingQ works is by building your passive vocabulary. So if I recognize the word while reading I mark it read. I can only mark it known while reading, not listening, so i have to go with recognition by sight. I’m not even sure what “fully recognize the character means”. Write it by hand? I can write almost nothing by hand. It’s a good skill, but I have to look at opportunity cost, and I’d rather spend the time reading, listening or doing SRS.

I’m no expert, but i have 20,000+ words in Mandarin and 10,000 in Cantonese(and did an interview on the youtube channel “Mandarin Corner”) so I’ve made good progress since I started from zero in 2015 and only studying part time. I can say that it does get easier the more comfortable you get with characters.

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Thanks. There’s a lot of good information in that link too. Thank you.

Thats good advice about marking words as a 4 - and waiting until you’ve really got it until you mark it as known. I do the same with indonesian- I use the srs to make sure I have things like spelling down pat- as I am tested on these things at uni.
The stakes for me with mandarin are a lot lower though, I do this more for enjoyment- so I’m more inclined to methods that get me more of a bang for my buck :slight_smile:
Do you find that your reading comprehension (without pinyin) lags behind your listening comprehension?
Great to hear that your enjoying you language learning. Have you tested your Chinese out in China yet?

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Judging by the interview on Mandarin corner, you seem like a pretty good expert to me :slight_smile: Amazing stuff.

Completely agree about the time cost of learning to write – that is something I just won’t have time to do.

I know what I am asking is fairly vague. What I mean by fully recognising a character-- is that my character recognition lags far behind my listening (and reading) comprehension. I watch the videos for the New Chinese Reader on youtube, and I understand them fairly well. Yet if I were to try to memorise the characters in each episode that I can’t read,…well, that could take many, many hours, even though I understand the words when I hear them.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m the type of person who just refuses to learn characters. As I spend more time I’m definitely becoming more comfortable with them- as you said. It’s more that I’m noticing that my comprehension is of mandarin is happening at very different speeds. I’m picking up the spoken language side much faster than the written side. I’m sure this happens to most learners, and I’m sure that it happens in Mandarin more than other languages that use more of an alphabet. The advice you guys have in dealing with this is really valuable.

I hope that makes some sense

I don’t use pinyin when I read Mandarin, because my latin-adapted-brain will naturally lean towards reading the pinyin instead of reading the Chinese text. I have even asked my tutors to stop sending me pinyin with their Chinese characters because I end up reading the pinyin instead of the Chinese every time.

The only time I read the pinyin is when I am looking up a word I don’t know in Pleco or on LingQ. When I am actually reading, there is no pinyin at all, even when I started learning Chinese.

This has been a great way to force me to getting used to reading Chinese by itself, like a native :slight_smile:

My reading comprehension is much better than my listening comprehension. I keep track of ALL of my listening through LingQ (I add external sources as hours/minutes to LingQ). I have done 418 hours of listening. I have done almost 300,000 words of reading (I read exclusively through LingQ).

Not that those numbers have any correlation to each other, but I can tell you that recognising characters is much easier than picking out what you are hearing (and I listen about two to three times as much as I read).

Chinese is a very contextual language, and I believe a part of that is because Chinese has so many homonyms. The amount of times I have heard a word (especially a single-character word) and thought it was another word is more than I care to admit, and it can be frustrating at times. However practising listening lots has helped me improve immensely.

As for my experience in China: I lived in Taiwan for four months in 2017 (and also China for two weeks), but at that time, I couldn’t speak Mandarin at all.

I am moving to China as a student next year in September. I feel that if I were to move to China right now, I would not be able to get by. The reason for that is simple: the damn southern Chinese accent.

I am not sure how much Chinese you have studied but if you’re anything like me, you’ll likely find the southern accent to be a challenge. In a language that already has so many homonyms, the southern accent pretty much completely gets rid of the sh/zh/ch by replacing it with s/z/c, creating even more homonyms.

So instead of saying 40 as si4shi2, it’s pronounced si4si2. Instead of 收拾 as shou1shi5, it’s sou1si5, etc.

Many Chinese people that I run into here in Canada speak with a southern accent and I have a difficult time understanding them because I have not practised listening to their accent very much. I am going to have to deliberately practise listening to their accent by getting a tutor that’s from southern China and by listening to more audio from the south (or from Taiwan, because most folks from Taiwan do the same with the zh/ch/sh sounds).


I did not realise the zh/ch/sh sounds are so often non-standard. A friend of mine from Chengdu also says wo3 zi1dao4 instead of wo3 zhi1dao4. :wink:
From the little Chinese I can really pick up by listening, I do not seem to mind it too much as long as the tones are accurate. Where are you going to study? I guess it could help getting familiar with the particular accent of your future university.


I’m going to study for one year at Keats intensive one-on-one program (https://www.keatschinese.com/chinese-language-courses/intensive-one-on-one-chinese-classes/), not an actual university, sorry for the confusion :wink:

It’s in Kunming which is in southwestern China, so they do indeed have the accent there. I’m going to start listening to more southerners around March or April. Right now I am focused on vocabulary acquisition and understanding the “standard” accent.


Wow! I heard a lot of good things about the school. If you only go next September, you have plenty of time to prepare. After a year in Kunming you are going to rock! I am a bit envious :slight_smile:

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Yeah, it seems like the best Mandarin school in China, so I’m quite stoked to go :slight_smile:

Come visit some time! Would love to meet a fellow LingQer!

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Do you use SRS(spaced repetition software)? LingQ has its own, although I prefer Anki. You can even export your vocabulary list here to Anki. That will help. For your particular problem I would make all my flashcards Hanzi->English (ie you see the character and must think of the English meaning)

On your profile it says your known words in Chinese is less than 1,000? It’s normal that you’ll struggle with though. The first thousand characters are definitely the hardest. After that it becomes easier and easier.

Have you learned the radicals? If not you definitely should. Then you’ll see characters are combinations of discrete parts instead of a confusing jumble.

I’ve learned in Southern China, so the accent has never been a big issue. I’ve had the best of both worlds: most of my learning material is in a standard accent, so I’ve developed that (well, as much as a foreigner realistically can part-time), but the people around me often have an accept, so I can understand it quite well.
Not everyone in the South has this accent though.

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I’m learning Japanese. What helps with learning the Kanji is reading a lot and I export my vocabulary to Anki then review them everyday.

If you like to use Anki, you can easily export your LingQ vocab with a click of a button.

Capture hosted at ImgBB — ImgBB (you must first select at least 1 vocab to get the drop down)

He jbfan, just here to say that you’re Mandarin, is great. Especially from only studying part time!

How much speaking did you do to get you to that level? Do you also feel that the constant input helps with output?

I’ve never had Mandarin classes, so I’ve only spoken when I’ve talked to others. Initially just for daily needs in life, but eventually on deeper and more complex topics.
When I was lower level I often practiced reading aloud to improve my pronunciation and fluency.
Input is definitely the key. Nothing improved my pronunciation so much as listening. When I could listen to Chinese podcasts in LingQ (SBS mostly) others noticed my pronunciation had improved, even without direct practice.

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Awesome. By the way, have you tried importing Chinese Dramas into LingQ? You can import Chinese content from Viki and take the audio and transcripts.

However, the episodes must have “learn mode” enabled (aka subtitles in Mandarin).

Give it a go! The Lost Tomb - Episode 1 | Rakuten Viki

More info: https://www.lingq.com/blog/2019/04/mandarin-phrases/

Well done :slight_smile:

BTW, if someone is interested. Here are the statistics of your interview:
2135 words total
472 unique words
439 unique characters.

I just imported the text into Lingq and I only have 49 unknown words :slight_smile:
But, of course my speaking skills are far behind yours.
How did the interview happen? Do you know Eileen personally?

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Thank you!
I happened to live in the same city, I recognized the locations in some videos and messaged them.
My vocabulary should be pretty simple, I’m not using a lot of 成语 or HSK6 vocabulary, because while it may be in my passive (understanding) vocabulary, it’s not yet in my active (able to independently use) vocabulary.

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