posted by shidifen on March 28, 2014 | 7 comments
Last month, I decided to learn Chinese. I signed up for a class that meets once a week, I've been using Rosetta Stone, have a few apps on my phone to help with learning the characters, and signed up here for the podcasts and character review (while I'm at work lol). Also I've been watching kids cartoons on

What else can I do? What are surefire ways to improve my listening/reading skills?
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murrayjames on March 29, 2014 | reply

Just off the top of my head:

1) Make Chinese friends. Practice with native speakers--plus time--will take you far; it's also great motivation.

2) 1-on-1 tutoring may be more effective than group classes. It means more native Chinese input, at least.

3) Get a good dictionary - (with the paid addons) can't be beat.

4) Good textbooks can be helpful in the beginning. I used the New Practical Chinese series (with audio CDs!) when I started. It was good for teaching me my first characters and breaking the sounds of the language down by pinyin syllable.

5) Listen and watch stuff in Chinese that interests and entertains you. Cartoons are good for beginners because the plot can be inferred even if you can't follow all the dialogue (I watched 喜羊羊 when I was starting out). The podcasts at Popup are great for that too, because they're well-produced and funny.

6) Become a paid subscriber here, if you're not already :) Study the Absolute Beginner podcasts on your computer, looking at the transcripts for all the characters you don't know.

7) Download the Popup audio collection to your cell phone (or iPod) for additional listening practice when you are out and about.

8) The Popup Review is helpful for reading Chinese, but you might get more mileage from SRS flashcards for writing. I use Anki, which is free.

9) Don't use Rosetta Stone for learning Chinese :)

10) Be patient and persevere. If you're a native English speaker, the learning curve for Mandarin is much steeper than, say, French. Learn those characters and get your tones straight--it gets better.
shidifen on March 29, 2014 | reply
Thank you, murrayjames! My class is only two people so I get pretty direct input. How come you don't recommend rosetta stone? Obviously the speech detection software is a little janky but it still seems relatively helpful- but obviously I'd defer to an actual Chinese speaker's judgment on this one.
murrayjames on March 29, 2014 | reply
Hi shidifen,

Glad to help :D

The usual complaints about Rosetta Stone Chinese are (1) its price, and (2) its cookie cutter approach to language learning (i.e., it hasn't been optimized for the unique challenges of the Mandarin). Here's a review from the Economist last year:

...and if you check the product page on Amazon, you'll find similar criticisms. That being said, if Rosetta motivates you to learn Chinese, that matters the most--I just think there are better methods out there.

I'll add to my original list:

11. When you encounter new characters or words in isolation, look up example sentences on . These are native-level sentences (with English translation), so you might need a teacher's assistance at first.

12. Find support from those who speak better Chinese than you do. I ask a lot of questions here, because I get great answers. (Sometimes it's scary how much David and Brendan know.) Another great resource is

13. Learn about China culture from a language learner's perspective. John Pasden's blog ( ) is one of the best out there.

14. Take a trip to China. This is an amazing country, and experiencing the people, the cities, and the food in Mandarin will definitively answer the question: Why am I learning Chinese?