Chinese learning methods

Recently I had lunch with a reader who I’m happy to call my new friend too. She asked me what my Chinese study methods were, what did I do to reach this level of Chinese. I couldn’t give her a good answer on the spot, so I decided to make it a blog post instead.

There isn’t any short cuts to mastering Chinese, you need to do the work, but there are methods and tools that can help you to reach your goal. The challenge in learning Chinese is to keep at it, not to give up.

Here are some study methods I’ve used. This blog post includes affiliate links that helps to pay the web hosting for this blog.

Elementary level


  • Podcasts are an excellent tool to use right from  the beginning of your Chinese learning journey. Try to listen one short podcast everyday. Always repeat out loud what you hear in order to practice pronunciation and spoken Chinese. Try ChinesePod or ChineseClass101 to see which one suits you the best. Personally I’ve used ChinesePod from beginner to advanced level.
  • Happy Chinese is a tv series dedicated to teaching Chinese to us foreigners. It’s about an American girl who lives with a Chinese family and how she learns the langauge and culture of China. I found this series when I was getting from elementary to intermediate level and it was a fun way to practice my listening skills.
  • It’s important to listen standard Mandarin Chinese as much as possible. Podcasts, movies, tv shows, radio, everything you can think of. Listening will help you to understand what correct Chinese should sound like.
  • More tools for listening


  • During my Chinese studies at Finland I didn’t really practice my spoken Chinese besides taking classes. I started talking when I arrived to China first for travel and then for study.
  • No matter where you are, in China or abroad, find a friend or tutor to help you out. Schedule regular meetings where you will speak in Chinese with them.
  • I have learned my own spoken Chinese by being in a relationship with a Chinese guy, and now living with the whole family. You of course don’t have to date in order to learn Chinese, but you will need a way to make you speak daily.
  • Read aloud texts in your textbooks. Hide the pinyin and also check it if you forget the pronunciation. Listen to the textbook’s mp3 and repeat aloud. Always buy a textbook with audio!

hidepinyin   My textbook back in 2010


  • Take classes or if you’re studying on your own, find a good textbook series to follow. As I’ve always taken lessons I didn’t have the choice, but if you can, choose New Practical Chinese Reader, it’s an excellent series of textbooks. Your textbook will be the core of you studies, other tools are to complement it.
  • If  you come up with a difficult sentence in your book that you find hard to understand, translate it word by word to your native language. For example: 刚才刘老师讲的你都听懂了吗?Just now – Liu teacher – speak – you – everything – understand – ? I used this method a lot when at the elementary level.
  • Read a book in Chinese! Yes, you can totally read a book even as little as 300 characters. Check Chinese Breeze, absolutely amazing books for elementary level students.


Learning to write characters in 2011 (not so pretty yet!)


  • Learn to write some basic characters by hand. You won’t get a good-looking handwriting without writing by hand on paper. I don’t know about you, but for me it felt nice when teacher complimented my nice handwriting.
  • After you have learned the words of the current chapter in your textbook, put them to Skritter for review. I used Skritter from elementary level to advanced, here you can find out why. They also have an iPhone app.
  • A great introduction to learning characters can be found at East Asia Student.


Intermediate level


Continue using the methods and tools from elementary level, but gradually add new material to your study routines so you will keep improving.


  • Start watching Chinese TV, dating shows like 我们约会吧 and 非诚勿扰 are on the easier side language vice. I watched a lot of these when I finished with Happy Chinese and came to intermediate level.
  • More TV show ideas you can find from Chinese-Forums’  The Grand First Episode Project.
  • Listen to Chinese radio, it’s harder when you only rely on your ears, but that’s needed in order to progress. For less talk and more music, try Hit FM. For more talk try 北京故事广播.


  • Continue speaking daily, to yourself, to your friend or with a tutor.
  • If you live in China, use every opportunity you have to talk with the locals.
  • Record yourself speaking Chinese and listen to your mistakes. This is a method I’ve wanted to use more, but haven’t which is one reason I still have problems with my Chinese pronunciation. Getting a good and understandable pronunciation isn’t easy, hard work is needed, but it’s necessary for communicating. Before you start recording, read about the famous Imron Method too.


On my bookshelf


  • Getting to intermediate level you need to start reading more in Chinese. First read Graded Chinese Reader and then change to native level books. Usually silly romantic novels have easier language, so if you can bear with it, try those first.
  • Read ebooks with Kindle and check unfamiliar words with the built-in dictionary.


  • You now know the basics of writing characters, now it’s time to use your vocabulary and starting writing short stories. Get a teacher, tutor, friend or an online community to check what you have written.
  • Use Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, and start posting. Great for reading and writing practise.
  • I personally like writing, have written short stories since I was a kid and even studied at a high school specialized in creative writing. If you aren’t used to writing in your native language, it might feel hard to do in Chinese. You can start with writing about interesting movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read.


Advanced level


This is the level where I’m at the moment. You can continue using the methods from lower levels that you’ve found useful and which work for you. I personally don’t do that much pure studying anymore. I learn by using the language, writing my thesis in Chinese, teaching in Chinese and working in Chinese.

It’s easy to get stuck, especially if you don’t study or work in Chinese. Here are some ideas how to continue improving your Chinese skills.


  • Watch a lot of Chinese TV, shows you like  and series you find a bit challenging.
  • Continue listening to the radio to train your ear.
  • If you live somewhere outside of the standard Chinese region, for example I live in Guangdong province, it’s important to get your fair share of the standard pronunciation. Living in Guangzhou have affected my pronunciation a lot, I can say that now, and I try to balance it with TV and radio.


  • Unfortunately I’m out of good methods and tips for advanced spoken Chinese. Do you have any ideas?


  • Read in Chinese as much as you can. Novels for relaxing and work related books for studying.
  • As my career will be in teaching Chinese, I mostly read books on that field. This way I can learn more about my work, teach my students better and improve my Chinese all at the same time.


Thesis writing in Chinese


  • If you want to get your writing to an advanced level, it is usually for a clear goal. No matter if you use Chinese for work or study, learn my doing.
  • Reading is always good for improving writing too, in any language.


  • Just start, don’t waste time finding the perfect method, don’t wait for next Monday or next year, just start right now.
  • Don’t give up! It will be hard at times, you will plateau at the intermediate stage and feel like there’s no progress. There is, but you just don’t know it. Keep at it and you will improve.
  • Have clear goals to reach, track your improvement.
  • Have fun!

Now it’s over to you, what are your learning methods? How are you learning Chinese or how did you reach your level? Lets make this a useful post for all the other Chinese learners out there!