Six weird tips that will not improve your Mandarin Chinese

If you are studying Mandarin and want to make only very slow headway, I can personally vouch for the following methods:

  1. While living in Mainland China, take once per week lessons and neglect to study in-between
  2. Practice most of your Mandarin with a housekeeper who has a heavy Cantonese accent
  3. Move to Hong Kong
  4. Repeatedly waiver between studying simplified or traditional characters
  5. Take a year off to study Dutch
  6. Repeatedly waiver between studying Mandarin or Cantonese

Using these effective methods it has taken me an entire decade to achieve an intermediate level of Mandarin.

If you want to improve more quickly than me, there are actually some pretty good resources available. During periods when I actually make big leaps forward, I do the following:

  1. Take lessons with a native speaker either in person or via Skype (and study in-between)
  2. Live in Mainland China
  3. Use the Pleco dictionary
  4. Use Memrise flashcards to help with character memorization
  5. Practice reading Chinese at the aptly and simply named Chinese Reading Practice site
  6. Watch Mandarin videos on FluentU

It’s taken me awhile to refine this list of worthwhile learning resources. Parts of it overlap with the infographic that the folks at Learn Mandarin Now* have compiled. Take a look below. What would you add?

(And can someone please make a list like this for Cantonese? Either that or convince me that I should stop dreaming about speaking Cantonese.)

*They have not compensated me for linking to them or sharing this infographic. They did bring their site to my attention and it seems like a pretty good set of reviews for different Mandarin learning tools.

11 responses to “Six weird tips that will not improve your Mandarin Chinese

  1. I did study both concurrently for a while, and I found that the Canto helped rather than hindered my Mando listening abilities. However, this was when I was young and sadly have pretty much lost all that ability.

    Canto continues but I hit a wall years ago that is taking ages to get over. I’m basically very lazy. However, have found that the following resources very helpful: pleco (you can add a jyutping box to see the Canto pronunciation), canto sheik (excellent online dictionary), Sydney Lau books – rather antiquated, but packed with an immense amount of vocab and drill exercises as well as indepth explanation of each word in a sentence rather than just a translation of the sentence as a whole. This is very useful when you want to switch words in and out etc.
    The downside is the Lau books are out of print (I think?).

    • Isn’t it telling that you think one of the main resources for learning Cantonese that you recommend is out of print? (I think, luckily, that they can still be purchased: On my list.

      I was clever enough to turn on the Canto jyutping box in Pleco. Three years ago I also did some Pimsluer Cantonese CDs and a tiny bit of group tutoring. More recently I’ve listened to some lessons on Cantonese Class 101. But it hasn’t gotten me very far as I don’t use it very much on a day to day basis. Basically I’ve got to decide to commit and then change some of my daily routines so that I have more opportunities to speak Cantonese.

      I have toyed with the idea of taking the full time course at the CUHK. Still weighing the time commitment (and wishing they ran part-time Canto classes out of the Shatin campus location).

      • Jen – yes, it’s very telling, sadly 😦 I have newer resources but find them a bit lacking in detail. Some of the more advanced ones that come with CD’s are quite good but the Lau books are a grammar fiend’s best friend.
        The VTC runs courses as well, from beginner to not-so, but you’ll need to book soon. I’m considering it myself to get me off my plateau.

      • When I looked up VTC Cantonese I found a location on the Island. Can you share some additional hints? I’d really love to stumble into something in the New Territories (or at least a convenient location in Kowloon).

      • as far as I can tell the Canto courses are all run in Wanchai. Not too bad for Taipo if you don’t mind catching the 307, but yeah, I wish there was something more formal here in Kowloon or NT. There is always a language exchange. My niece is currently in HK and is doing something informal in TST. I’ll have to ask her about it and let you know.

  2. Nice blog post! I try my best to practice my Mandarin Chinese in London. Weird-right? But I can’t help but overhear lost Chinese tourists whilst on the tube. I always try to help when I can. They are grateful for directions and I’m just plain happy to speak Chinese. Everyone wins!

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