Language courses for the self-learner have got to improve

It has become a trend now for people to learn languages on their own, using 'teach yourself' style language courses. A myriad of products have sprung up for those who don't want to pay for a full class, and want to learn in their own time, at their own speed and on their own terms. This is, of course, a great thing. It is great that more people are becoming interested in learning languages. However, we now see language courses with huge marketing efforts behind them, making some very bold Continue Reading

How persistence will get you to an expert level in Chinese

Yesterday, I published a guest post on 'Fluent in 3 Months', a language learning website that I have been a fan of for a long time. I am very grateful to Benny Lewis, the 'Irish Polyglot' for hosting me! Head to the homepage of his travel and language learning blog to find out more. Recently, a number of readers have asked me about what it was like when I first starting learning Chinese, when I started a university course in Chinese back in 2006. I have documented some of the challenges at Continue Reading

Should you learn simplified or traditional Chinese characters?

A common question I get asked by beginner Chinese learners is: should I learn simplified Chinese characters or traditional Chinese characters. Do I need to learn both? Should I learn one type first and then the other? Before I answer the question, let me start with some facts. 1. Simplified Chinese characters are mainly used in Mainland China, and also in some overseas Chinese communities. 2. Traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, they don't use simplified Continue Reading

Can you learn a language just by living in the country?

Many people believe that they can learn a language or 'pick it up' simply by spending time in a place where it is spoken and being around the language all the time.  Is it possible to learn a language through ‘osmosis’ or through total immersion? The answer is both yes and no. Let’s look at the no part first. If you travel to a country with no basis in the language and make no effort to study the language actively, and just count on ‘picking it up’, then it is unlikely to be very Continue Reading

How to Practise Writing Chinese Characters Online

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series on how to write Chinese characters, we talked about the basic strokes that make up each Chinese character and also some basic principles behind the order in which you write the strokes in Chinese characters. These basic components and rules give you a foundation to get started, but they are not enough on their own to tell you how to write any Chinese character. In order to get into writing full characters, you need a lot of practice. First a word on the order Continue Reading

Essential Rules for Stroke Order in Chinese Characters

Basic Principles For Writing Chinese Characters In Part 1, I explained the basic types of strokes that make up every Chinese character. Now, before we move on to practising full characters, let's look at some of the principles behind which order to write the strokes in. Before I explain this, bear in mind two things 1) These are not 'rules', but 'general principles' to keep in mind when you are writing Chinese characters, and 2) Don't worry about how these principles work exactly, because Continue Reading

Making Your Foreign Language Study Effective: Active Not Passive Learning

I studied Spanish at school, by which I mean I took classes in Spanish, and I got good marks in all the exams as well, but I never really thought I could speak Spanish well, even after a year or so of taking classes. Amazingly, it took me a few years to figure out why my grades were so high but my ability to use the language was so limited. My experience learning Chinese has been completely different, and not only because I put more time into it. From my experience, I can now explain why I was Continue Reading

How To Read Chinese Texts Easily Using Software

Reading Chinese texts is a significant obstacle for any Chinese learner. Beginners will often have worked through a textbook that has introduced some characters, and they may be able to recognise or read a few. They may also have looked through flashcards to get to grips with basic characters. However, learners of any language often find that reading 'real texts' requires so much vocabulary than they have learned at the beginner level, and reading can often be slow or require a lot of looking up Continue Reading

How to Type in Chinese Using Sogou Pinyin

Learning to type in Chinese is an important part of any Chinese learner's to do list. Although of course it takes a long time to get round Chinese grammar and expression, there are a couple of reasons why it is good to learn to type in Chinese early on: 1) By using the Pinyin to enter characters or words, you will become more familiar with recognising characters according to their Pinyin pronunciation, and associating pronunciations with characters 2) If you can type characters or words, Continue Reading

Review of Beginner Mandarin Chinese Courses

I have mentioned that different courses are suitable for different people, and suit different study methods. I am developing my own course, Survive in Chinese, an intensive course for the independent language learner to gain a rapid foundation in Mandarin, however I often like to work through several beginners courses in detail, in order to build a solid base, revise key elements, and gain confidence in using the language. Here are some Mandarin courses that I like: FSI Chinese: A Modular Continue Reading