How do you write foreign or English names in Chinese?

If you’re on this site and reading this, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Chinese has no alphabet, but the writing system is instead made up of thousands of different characters. Each individual character has its own pronunciation, and corresponds to one syllable, if you are reading aloud. Chinese works in a different way to Japanese, because Japanese has two sets of syllabaries (almost like alphabets) in addition to individual characters, and one of the syllabaries, Katakana, Continue Reading

What to do when you feel that you can ‘barely understand anything’

Whatever language you’re learning, you’re always going to have times when your motivation is low and you feel pretty down. And one of the big causes of this is when you’re practising Chinese listening or you’re trying to have a conversation in the language and you just feel that you can ‘hardly understand anything.’ Have you been there before? I remember back in the day this used to happen to me quite often. In 2007, I went to Taiwan to study for a couple of months, after studying Continue Reading

14 of the best Chinese TV shows to improve your Mandarin

When I was studying Chinese at university I used to watch a fair number of Chinese TV shows, with the aim of improving my spoken Chinese and listening ability. It can be a pretty light-hearted way to keep the language going, even when you can’t face a full page of Chinese characters, or if you’re feeling tired and you’re not in the right frame of mind to practise speaking. When you first start watching Chinese TV shows, you may not be able to understand a lot, but it will give you exposure Continue Reading

15 of the best Chinese movies you won’t want to miss

Watching Chinese movies is a great way to relax if you're learning the language. It's also a great way to get more in tune with Chinese culture, and get into the rhythm of the language. BUT, it isn’t the most effective way to learn Chinese.. Chinese films can also be really hard to understand. The dialogue is often really fast, and there is often a mix of different accents and a lot of slang that beginners wouldn't normally learn. I found them really tough to understand for a long time, Continue Reading

Skritter Review – A Fun and Effective App to Learn to Write Chinese

To try the app out for yourself, follow this link, then click 'log in', then 'create an account' to sign up and get a 14 day free trial (instead of the usual 7 days), then download the app on your phone and log in. When I was studying Chinese at university, I was always also quick to catch on to any gadgets or new pieces of software that might be able to help me learn Chinese – especially reading and writing characters. I had various pieces of flashcard software, including Anki, which I Continue Reading

How to get your iPhone/iPad to read out Chinese texts

You might not know this, but all of the recent iPhone/ iPad and iPod Touch models (with iOS 6+) have a Mandarin and Cantonese text-to-speech function built in. Or to put it another way, you can highlight any section of text on the screen and have your device read aloud for you in standard Mandarin or Cantonese. You can get text read from any application, and you can even slow down the speech as you go so you can keep up and read along. For Chinese, there are three voices built in, a Continue Reading

Here’s how to get the Chinese tones right, even in long sentences

So, you can say the four tones on their own, and you’ve practised saying the tones of words and you know the basic patterns, but when you try to get them right in full sentences, everything starts to fall apart... In a full sentence with many words it can be a challenge to get the tones right , and when you actually start speaking, you find you lose control of the tones. You feel that just being able to say words on their own has nothing to do with the way people actually speak, and you Continue Reading

How important are the tones in Mandarin?

In another of my videos I talked about the four tones in Mandarin and we practised pronouncing them with single syllables. A lot of people find the tones difficult to pronounce and remember at the beginning, and you start to wonder how important they really are, and whether people will understand if you say something with the wrong tones. All the dialects of Chinese including Mandarin and Cantonese have tones; they are tonal languages, just like Thai, Vietnamese and other languages, which Continue Reading

How to remember the tones in Chinese, forever

If you're just getting into Chinese, one of the first things you'll hear about are the tones. And it makes sense, because 'tones' are one of the most essential and distinctive parts of Mandarin. Mandarin actually has fewer sounds than many other languages, and so the language 'makes up' for that by having four different ways in which you can pronounce any given syllable. There are also some syllables which are unstressed. They are always the second or third syllable of a word and they Continue Reading

How analysis and critical thinking will make you a better language learner

I've often thought about what distinguishes successful language learners from people who learn a language less successfully. I think one of the key factors is how much you are able to analyse and think critically as you are learning the language. You might find that you do a lot of reading or listening to a language, but when you come to speak or write in the language, you are not able to produce the same structures and vocabulary. One of the reasons for this is that you may not have Continue Reading