Suggestions to begin learning chinese

Do you have some seggestions for how to start learning chinese? What is your experience for the start when somebody doesn’t know anything?
I find it a little difficult to start directly with Lingq, because Chinese is very different compared to the other languages I know.

I’m learning Chinese now. The ministories were just too hard at first, since Chinese is so different. But I found an amazing app call Immersive Chinese
It starts out super simple and just spoon feeds you Chinese. Each lesson is 25 sentences long and introduces 4-6(ish) words per lesson. The sentences start really easy and just get more complicated as you go along. Unless it’s introducing a new word, all the words in each sentence are ones you already know. I call it a “sentence ramp.” It’s comprehensible input from day 1. Each sentence has pinyin, characters, and an English translation. There’s over 160 lessons, over 4000 sentences total. It introduces 936 words total. Starting with lesson 40, every 10th lesson is a story using vocab you already know. There’s occasional notes here and there explaining something about a sentence, which are very helpful.
There’s clear audio of each sentence, a male and female voice. For the first 40 lessons there’s also a separately recorded slow audio, it’s great for hearing the tones. Pay attention to the tones from day one!!
The app is well designed and easy to use, plus there’s a web interface too.

I did a new lesson each day along with the previous two days lessons, eg, I’d do lessons 5,6,7 today, 6,7,8 tomorrow and 7,8,9 the next and so on, so I’d get exposure to new words over the course of three separate days. That seemed pretty effective, the words you learned are also repeated often in future sentences. But you could do something else that works for you.

You get the first 20 lessons free. The entire course is only $15. Incredible value!

After doing Immersive Chinese, I worked through the HSK1 stories at Mandarin Bean (45 of them). They’re super short 4 or 5 sentence stories, so I did 3 new ones a day. Now I’m doing the ministories and I’m up to number 45, they’re not too difficult, nor too easy and I’m having a blast.

I think you’d have a really hard time finding a better introduction to Chinese than Immersive Chinese!

1 Like

I’m not learning Chinese, but you can watch the video in the link How to learn any language in six months | Chris Lonsdale | TEDxLingnanUniversity - YouTube
Work hard and do your best!

1 Like

Here’s my plan for learning characters, I’m not very far yet, I’ve only studied about 400 characters.

The book “Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters: (HSK Levels 1-3) A Revolutionary New Way to Learn the 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters” is a good book that uses an interesting memory technique. You make up little stories that encode the meaning and use archetypes to represent the tone. Stories are easier to remember than just characters by themselves. I sorta modified & simplified their technique. Do what works for you. The technique works although it can by a bit time consuming, so I don’t know if I’ll continue past the the 800 characters in the book. At some point I’ll probably start using Anki with the characters.

I learned the first 125 or so characters from the book, then I started back at lesson 1 in Immersive Chinese, made a list of the characters that are used in lessons 1-10 that I did’t already know. I learn those characters then I turn off the english & pinyin in immersive chinese and read the sentences using the characters.
Then make a list of the new characters in lessons 10-20 and repeat.
I’m up to lesson 50 or so, but I’ve kinda let my character learning slow down, I’m more interested in listen for the time being. I’ve just accepted learning the characters will be a long process.

It’s just comprehensible input the entire way.

1 Like

I did it the Lingq way from 0. What I found is that the beginning is hard but doable once you get to a certain point and very beneficial as you get far.

The challenging part in the beginning is the word acquisition through the 3 way connection (Pinyin, meaning, and characters). I continuously Lingqed every word but slowly trying to get the connection between the 3 elements for each word. At first I tried to memorize vigorously but was unnecessary at a certain point later. Don’t force the acquisition since it will come naturally if you understand the meaning. The mini stories were great because the repetition was there but could be intimidating to others. The more you encounter the same word, the easier it is to acquire the word. Progress is very very slow in the beginning but it only gets faster with more characters that you know.


When I started studying Chinese on LingQ, I had already gone through some textbooks, so I can’t say much about starting on here from scratch. But I do have some general advice for learning Chinese.

In my opinion, methodology is important, but is trumped by psychology and, simply, time invested. Learning Chinese a very difficult undertaking. As Steve Kaufmann likes to say, it’s a long road. And to get anywhere you will have to spend thousands of hours on this project. So to give you a concrete example, over the last 359 days I have spend around 1100 hours listening and reading on LingQ, and I still struggle to understand podcasts. This doesn’t surprise me at all, I simply haven’t listened for long enough.
This leads me to some suggestions (which I have posted previously):

  1. Have strong motivation and good reasons to embark on this journey
  2. Adjust your expectations
  3. Have infinite patience
  4. Don’t get frustrated
  5. Put in the hours

Hope this helps, if you have more concrete questions, I’m sure you can get them answered on the forum as well.
Wish you all the best.

1 Like

I have just put my toe in the water (mandarin chinese) - so to speak - mostly because I was curious how I would approach this and I wanted to experiment with some methods… [Currently my main language focus is spanish, I will might get back to mandarin in the future]. Here are some of my ideas:

I have started by looking at various videos to get a sense about how the tones work and also about the pronunciation (mostly some aspects that are most different from English and German). I don’t need to know all the details at this stage but I was curious and wanted to understand some of the basic concepts.

Then I have tried TPRS (youtube channel ‘Hit Chinese’ and after a while also ‘Jiayun Mandarin’). I find those very helpful - especially the hand gestures while watching ‘Hit Chinese’ videos. I have repeated some of those videos many times.
(There might also be other channels that are great to start with.)

I also tried some Beginner 1 material in LingQ to see what I like / don’t like, and to acquire some basic expressions.

LingQ Mini Stories: I have exported the first few of them (part A only) and created literal word by word translations by using the translations I got from LingQ (1st row chinese sympols, 2nd row pinyin, 3rd row English literal word-by-word translation). I also have exported the sound (and cut it for part A only), so I can listen to it + read the literal translation alongside. This gives me a sense about how the structure / grammar works, while acquiring the words in context at the same time in a somewhat easier way than within LingQ. This will probably take some time. Once I will be comfortable with part A of the word by word transtlation I can get back to the same stories within LingQ.
[Note: The word-by-word translation (as suggested by the German Vera Birkenbihl) are only a crutch that I am using at beginner stage]

At the beginning I generally prefer to work with small pieces only - and many (!!!) repetitions.
After plenty of active listening I also use some ‘listening passive’ to expose my brain to additional repetitions without getting bored. Those are almost silent repetition of content that I am already familiar with (thus comprehensible for my brain) while doing something else, e.g. while watching a netflix movie in mandarin with English subtitles.
[Note: ‘Listening passive’ also refers to the method of Vera Birkenbihl].

When active listening to chinese I mainly focus on the sound and I read pinyin (or the English literal word-by-word translation.

In order to acquire the chinese characters I am trying the Heisig Method (book: James W Heisig Remembering Simplified Hanzi). I am not sure how well it will work for me personally (since I generally do not have the ability to visualize anything - a condition called aphantasia) however, the Heisig system seems to be very powerful so I think it is worth to give it a try). This method also works well in combination with spaced repetition flash cards. While I personally would not use flash cards for anything else, they seem useful for learning the chinese characters.


I started with Duolingo about 2 months ago. I’ve tried the mini-stories a few times but never get past the first one. Today I decided to try again with Chinese (I’m actively using Lingq with Italian these days) – but this time with Beginner 1 content. I’ll move in the mini-stories once I build up a bit more vocabulary.

1 Like

I would not recommend starting directly with LingQ. I started with a crash course on pronunciation and tones. I spent a while figuring out how to make the really gnarly sounds like j q and x, and then drilled tone pairs. I had a textbook and I would play the audio and try to imitate it. I honestly found tones to be easier than pronouncing j q and x. I probably spent a week on that alone. You should know, though, that textbooks will not tell you that the third tone is actually 80% of the time a falling tone. This knowledge might save you a great deal of confusion.

Once I finished with that, I started an HSK deck on Anki and started using HelloChinese.
It’s the same basic concept as Duolingo but I think it’s better designed for the unique challenges of Chinese. I did that for maybe 2 months, and then started with the mini stories LingQ. At that point reading was still a generous thing to call it – it was basically glacially slow flash card mining. But the flash cards really do work. I found them extremely annoying in the beginning but they do in fact work and now I’ve gotten used to them. I worked through the LingQ mini stories, listening to them after I read them, doing my flash cards every day. Since then I’ve been able to start reading some of the other stuff on Lingq, some podcasts for learning taiwanese mandarin. Once you get a strong enough base of vocabulary the learning process starts to approach being the same as other languages, just a lot slower.

A note on flash cards: they are absolutely indispensable in my opinion, for two reasons: tones and characters. Each word has more information than you are used to. It has a pronunciation, with the tone, a meaning, and a character. If you neglect any one of these elements you will not know the word. So when I do flash cards, I only mark it as known if I remember the meaning and the tone correctly. This is frustrating because I will forget the same word a dozen times, but it always works eventually, and then my knowledge is on a firm basis. Once you get to a high enough level where you can read a large amount of native content, you can probably leave behind the flash cards if you want to, but I can’t tell you what that’s like yet.

Oh and listen of course. It is really hard, my listening ability is still really bad, but if you put in the time you will get results. I think the hardest part is having patience. In the beginning, it feels like a totally thankless task, and it felt like that for a while. The more effort you put in the more quickly it will stop feeling like that.

1 Like