MANDARIN CHINESE – the LingQ way - from bloody beginner to vantage-point - in 9 months - mammoth project *gasp*

I’m officially diving into Mandarin.

This thread is to give the perspective of a beginner Chinese learner, report my experience, maybe ask questions and give you another place to do the same. It will be linked on my profile. I’ll try to keep future posts short, irregular and far between. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I expect to have about 2 dedicated hours for Chinese this term. I am going to continue Russian with ca. 2 hours a day and the school year is not going to be a lazy one as well. Listening (dead)time is also going to be divided between Russian and Chinese, as well as some Portuguese and any damn English I can’t get rid off. Maybe I’m going to do a 90days challenge at some point, if there’s a relatively relaxed stretch.

After maybe a total of two lazy months of dabbling on the side throughout this year my word count stands at 500. Other than lingQing, I’ve only been watching a few free vids of Yangyang Cheng (don’t agree with many of her learning suggestions) and learnchinesenow. I’ve obviously watched Steve’s tips and the story of his Mandarin. Thanks to them and other sources I think I am quite oriented as far as grammar, how the characters work and what to expect overall.

My experience so far has been, that the usual LingQ way absolutely works fine. I just listened to the audio, focused primarily on the characters and looked at the pinyin. I put the pinyin second to the characters from the beginning. No trouble at all with reading the characters after the third time they show up or I repeated the lesson, neither with knowing the pinyin, nor understanding the pronunciation. I don’t find that I have to write out the characters at all to be able to read it and know it in a basic way. (Handwriting I do put off to a later stage.) I can see all the little parts and radicals and have begun to recognize the connotations of a few by myself. I don’t agree with the suggestion to start with pinyin only. I think we alphabet people need to be careful not to lean to heavy on the phonetic crutch, but should establish a mental connection between the sound and the glyph right away.

The tones don’t seem to be an extraterrestrial, otherdimensional problem either. I know at some point everything is going to start sounding the same, but I’m experienced enough myself to resonate with everything Steve is saying about the process.
I also know that at a future advanced stage it might be advisable to write out the characters, get explanations about their connotations, history, development, look at grammar, etc. However I think I can arrive at understanding the news and more or less real life speech with basically LingQ only. I’m not yet aiming at understanding Tang poetry in all its subtlety.

preliminary GOALs:
650 known words by October 14
2000 known words by January 15.
7000 known words by April 15.
China travel ready /vantage point /decent B2ish listening comprehension and readiness for basic fluency by July 15. (That’s about 9 months after the start.)
Unless anything comes up, I would then go to the People’s Republic and maybe even Taiwan and Singapore for 2-3 months in summer 15. But that remains to be thought through and planned by spring.

Maybe I’ll fall miserably short, maybe I’ll far exceed. Time will tell.

As stated, I will, in defiance of all the structuralists and overcomplicaters, stay almost exclusively with LingQ for the period. I’m going to start out with simplified.

Like Steve, I am very impatient to get away from silly graded beginner stuff to real content. I just want a leg up with the baby stories and intermediate material and then I’ll plow through real stuff rather soon. Overall you can assume that my preferences and goals are not too different from Steve’s. I value understanding and reading higher than thoughtlessly babbling on when I can’t yet understand much.

I know what I describe doesn’t correspond a 100% to what Steve recommends for Mandarin today, let alone how he learned it back in the day, but the point is to test a method where LingQ is the only mainstay system used. No textbooks, no Speak from day 1 nonsense, no excruciatingly slow courses, that dwell on ni3 hao3 for seemingly 20 hours. The only supplements being random Youtube videos and songs. By the way, this is what I would do in any case. I’m not forcibly limiting myself at all.

I expect lingQing to be a bit of a strain beyond the beginner stage, where vocabulary is less lingqed and therefore you only see the character and the google translation and you have to go to the dictionary every time to get the pinyin. Is this the case?

How is the Chinese LingQ library? Especially for the (low) intermediate purgatory? I always liked the lingQ podcast.

I’ll include the excellent thread for Mandarin resources by iaing (Thank You!) for anyone interested and myself.

Thanks to Bryan for the precedent of his Spanish log and Julie for pointing me to it and the encouragement. I’m looking forward to your feedback.


Fantastic goals! I will look forward to following along with your progress notes.

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Good luck!

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Go for it!

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Good luck. The lingq method of massive input (listening and reading), is like taking occam’s razor to language learning. Also, the magic of transcribed audio and the many synergies that come from this, is something that many people underestimate. Particularly how it helps you to notice. People use lingq in many different ways. I initially used the thread you mentioned as a collection of bookmarks. Now I use it more as a log of the main material I use day to day, week to week. Keeping a log is a good way to keep yourself motivated and focused.

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I suggest installing something like the Google Chrome extension called Zhongwen, which is a very good mouse-over dictionary. Word detection in Chinese on Lingq is pretty awful. So on all lessons I’d suggest hiding spacing and using a mouse-over dictionary to accurately recognize words. The Zhongwen extension will also detect long idiomatic phrases as well as the words that make them up. The intermediate Lingq library is pretty good, particularly the Wolf & Huahua conversations on various interesting topics.


You have everything to succeed, just keep this motivation and you’ll go as far as you want (and beyond) :smiley:

Best of luck. You will do great!

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I am looking forward to your updates and until then, best of luck !

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zhongwen is aaawesome! Yes I noticed that sometimes characters are grouped into ‘words’ in a strange way. It doesn’t really impede understanding, but it destroys the accuracy of the word count.

A content log is a great idea. The one thing that’s a bit difficult to do for us autodidacts is finding our way to and through interesting and motivating material. That’s what would usually be the teacher’s job. So far only when I’ve gone to the country, have I learned about the whole wealth of ‘their’ movie streaming sites, music stores, names of current shows and news sources etc. I think LingQ is not for everyone but simply for more or less intellectually inclined people, who in addition to speaking well, want to be able to read and end up with a sizeable vocab. For that reason it will never go mainstream. For those who don’t really read and just want to poorly blab their 200 words at someone through Skype or in an ethnic restaurant, there are other known gurus.

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wish you good luck!!

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I’m just getting back into learning more Mandarin, myself, after a long hiatus of about 6 months. Previously, I was using ChinesePod and Memrise to memorize words and phrases. However, I like the LingQ way of presenting words in context and letting you explore the language freely.

My main piece of advice to you is that spoken Mandarin is, in my opinion, many times easier than the written language. Therefore, it would be a great idea to really focus on the conversational language and grammar constructs first and then move on to increasing the rest of your vocabulary. You can actually start holding conversations pretty quickly in Mandarin since the language is so grammatically simple. Even though I only know something in the range of 500-1000 spoken words, I can understand quite a bit of conversation already. Don’t stress out too much about reaching “Intermediate Level 2” content quickly – I doubt words you’ll encounter there will occur very often in real conversations anyway.

I think ChinesePod does a good job of prioritizing words you’ll need to get to a basic level of spoken fluency quickly. I think they have some of their lessons on LingQ, too. I’d recommend purchasing a month subscription from them, then downloading as many podcasts as you think you’ll need for your studies over the next several months. You can then cancel your subscription once you’ve binge-downloaded all of the podcasts. You can use LingQ to study the lesson content, and listen to the podcasts for explanations of the conversations and grammar. If their lesson isn’t already on LingQ, you can just import it yourself. This is what I’m doing now, and I’m happy with the results.


Thanks for your perspective and for the tip. However I disagree with a lot of what you wrote. I happen to agree with about 95% of what you’ll hear from Steve Kaufmann on L learning, if you check out his vids. 1. Whenever I hear the word ‘memorize’ as a conscious activity in the context of L learning my mind replaces it with ‘frantic futile short-term memory cramming’. 2. As I stated I’m not focused on basic small talk, nor on any grammar. Comprehension and reading of any area of the language is more important. I want to end up knowing Chinese very well. So maybe my brain decides it’s going to soak up words, that are not part of ‘real conversation’ but are part of the whole picture anyway. 3. Until now I personally find the written language easier than the spoken one. This I guess mostly depends on what you spend the time on and less so on learning type. I have no trouble reading my lessons, but listening there are spots where I get lost between all the fast zh sh x q z c j hissing. 4. I suspect that ChinesePod is going to be more staged and aimed at the learner, and therefore unnatural. Correct me if I’m wrong. Whereas the Wolf&HuaHua LingQ podcast I expect to be more natural and interesting content wise. 5. The brain is not your car but its own elephant you’re riding. It ultimately decides when it’s going to learn what. The teaching order, or order of apparent complexity, is NOT necessarily the order in which the brain is going to figure stuff out and commit it to long term. Eventually I want ‘all’ words, so I’m open to all of them and prefer broadband input of interesting material to this prioritized graded books/podcasts stuff. You don’t have to nail anything down immediately. Maybe there are ‘simple’ words, maybe a ‘difficult’ ones that let’s say an intermediate stage. 6. 1000 words is far from where I’ll start speaking. I usually get into literature and politics first and redirect attention to conversational language when I’m 2 months from the trip to the country. Cheers!

From what you have written here I have to say I totally agree with you. Get past the graded stuff ASAP, don’t bother speaking from day 1, since you don’t have an opportunity and skype conversations are nothing near daily life talk. Don;t bother with the ni3 hao3 thing. Just learn how to pronounce a word the same way as you hear it. I still suck at recognizing tones or really knowing which tone I use, but everytime when I talk to Chinese people they are astounded by my pronounciation, just because I have copied a proper way to pronounce certain words.

When I first started Chinese I spend a lot of time trying to write. Recently I found that for me personally writing the characters had a really low time spent to added value ratio. It was good to learn most of the radicals this way, but I feel like I lost a lot of time trying to write out really difficult characters.

At one point I stopped trying to write and started using LingQ. Now I find that once I have seen a character on multiple occasions I get more and more confident trying to recall them if I want to write them.

For your first goal my suggestion is to learn the basic sentence structure, radicals and tones which you said you already are quite familiar with. See this link for the most basic grammar: A1 grammar points - Chinese Grammar Wiki

Your second goal might be the hardest part. If you want to know 2000 words you will cover quite a huge chunk of words that are necessary for sentence structure. The “a2 level” corresponds quite well with this. By this time you will also get really confident with the characters and I believe you will start being able to recall more and more characters even if you don’t spend a lot of time writing them out.

By this time you have a nice basis to expand your vocab on and you will see the difference in characters quite easily too, so it shouldn’t be to hard to add the other words. I don’t think you can memorize 5000 chinese words in 3months with only 2 hours a day though since it is not a ABC language.

Hope this helps for you. This is only how I experienced it and I am not a Polyglot, Linguist or anything like that so maybe my tactics are terrible

Good luck on your journey. I will follow your progress to see how it is going

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Wow, in all the time I have been studying Chinese and working with Chinese products I have never heard of this. Thanks a lot! Do you also know if there is a similar extension that translates English words to Chinese?

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Same for me. Memrise and Chinespod were the best options I had/knew at the time.The Chinesepod lessons are all right to listen to. I feel like the subscription is a bit expensive though. Not saying you should do anything illegal, but they are out there.

What I miss on LingQ when it comes to Chinese is that there are no big courses. There are many different courses with different subjects and different speakers, but it would be nice if there was a huge database of lessons like you have on Chinesepod that relate to eachother


The wolf and HuaHua podcast might be a bit though for a start. They are pretty impossible until you reach the 2000 word level in my opinion. I have read that according to research the 500 most common Chinese words cover 75% of modern Chinese, but you are not learning the most common words solely so my advice is to start with the simpler stuff. If think that if you do the who is she course and then proceed to the Wolf and HuaHua podcasts you will be fine

Thanks for the idea of hiding spacing and letting Zhongwen find the words and even phrases. I have not found Google translate much use. Best wishes Tommy T T!!
I have also read all the other posts further down and find them very encouraging. I really prefer the straight down thread system we used to have because in this system I have to add replies to posts all separately and I have not got the time to to this well.
Anyway, let’s keep on sharing ideas and encouraging one another.
I am glad to hear others suggesting that we forget about having to know the names of the tones. I have tried out some sentences on Chinese people that I have learned by copying native speakers and have also been well understood, but I also have trouble knowing which tone I use. I have questioned native speakers of tonal languages about tones. Most of them have told me that they don’t know how many tones their own language has. They have just learned by copying their parents and others.

For me it works like copying dialects. If I really put effort into it I can determine which tones I hear or use, but usually I just know by context which word people are using. Regular teaching methods put too much focus on getting the tone thing right and I think this is just not the way to go

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