So you want to learn Mandarin, but don’t know where to begin? Here you will find a list of all the best resources that I have used and recommend to people starting out the language learning process, which will take you from the beginning all the way to more advanced levels.
I have grouped the tools into Apps, Dictionaries, and Other Resources, and have listed my top 5 language-learning tips below, as well.
Learn the language AND practice using it, with HelloTalk. Find native language partners and become fluent!
- State your level in Chinese and find a native Chinese partner to practice with
- You can send voice, text, and audio messages, all of which can can be corrected, so you can improve instantaneously
- If there is something you want to save, you can bookmark it for later
- Extremely friendly community where you find people that genuinely want to learn and improve
Do you want to learn Chinese, but are too lazy or too busy? Then Drops is the app for you!
- Learn Chinese vocabulary for 5 minutes every day!
- Starts from the radicals (essential when first beginning to learn Chinese) and works upward towards intermediate and advanced vocabulary
- Extremely visual way of learning, with images, videos, and lots of colorful graphics (now even with AR functionality)
- Presents the most commonly used and practical vocabulary words and groups them into categories (i.e. countries, sports, geography)
- Fast-paced, fun, “gamified” learning experience
3. Hello HSK (series)
To practice for the HSK, look no further than the Learn Chinese – Hello Words apps.
- The series includes an app for every HSK level, one for taking practice tests and another for vocabulary
- Apart from the HSK series, there are also 2 other apps by the same company that I recommend (see the full list here):
- Chinese Sound: useful for practicing tones and pronunciation
- Business Vocab: for the advanced learner who wants to learn more about workplace and daily business vocabulary
Clear and simple to use, Pleco offers the all the necessary characteristics of a good dictionary.
- Search using English meaning, pinyin, or by handwriting the character (if you don’t know the pinyin)
- Others functions available include:
- Making flashcards for the words you want to practice
- Practicing the correct stroke order of a character
- Viewing sample sentences
- Hearing the pronunciation of the expression
- Particularly useful for idioms (成语), oral Chinese and slang
2. Youdao 网易有道词典
Originally made for the Chinese when learning English, this is a great tool for more advanced learners (functions are all in Chinese)
- Search functions like Pleco, but you can also search for something using voice-operated search or by image-search
- Provides Antonyms and Synonyms (extremely useful at the HSK 5/6 level)
- Other functions available include:
- Making flashcards for the words you want to practice
- Translate longer sentences or blocks of text (available from Chinese to English, Japanese, Korean, or French)
- You can also download the Youdao Fanyiguan 有道翻译官, which is essentially “Google Translate” but specialized in translating Chinese
- Also has a desktop version, which can be accessed offline (although the information provided is more limited)
Have a native speaker correct your written work using Lang-8.
- Particularly useful if you are a self-learner, since you have a native speaker available to correct your exercises or essays
- Corrections frequently help you learn the linguistic nuances of certain expressions
2. Entertainment: Music & TV dramas
When starting off at the very beginning, the entertainment field is where you will enjoy learning Chinese the most.
- If you hear a Chinese song you enjoy, print the lyrics and learn the vocabulary
- Some of my personal recommendations (available on QQ Music, but also linked below on Youtube, with lyrics in the description bar) are:
- Even if you don’t understand, finding a TV show is really helpful to practice your listening comprehension and pronunciation
- Improve your pronunciation by imitating the actors, regardless of what they are saying and even though you might not understand (once you are at the intermediate stage, you will be able to get portions of the dialogues)
- Practice reading the subtitles and pause/repeat parts of the show
- Romantic comedies are typically easier to follow, given that the conversation level is repetitive and more predictable than, for example, a spy drama with more complex terms
- Some romantic comedies for beginners that I recommend (can be viewed legally on DramaFever) are:
- 我可能不会爱你 (English title: In Time With You)
- 没有名字的甜点店 (English title: The Patisserie with No Name)
- 就想賴著妳 (English title: Down with Love)
- 胜女的代价 (English title: Queen of SOP)
5 LEARNING TIPS
1. Have a reason for learning Chinese
Chinese is not your average language. You cannot expect to learn it for a few months and be fluent. It is a process that is time-consuming and occasionally stressful. Therefore, you need a reason for learning Chinese, whether it is wanting to read a Chinese novel in its native language, to needing it for work reasons. Whatever the reason, always have that at the back of your mind, and when in doubt, set smaller short-term goals that can help motivate you.
2. Speak, listen, write, and read simultaneously
When beginning, don’t prioritize reading over listening, for example. Learn the four features of Chinese at the same time. That way you will increase in the sections at an equal pace and, ultimately, you will learn faster.
Also, learn the characters from the start, don’t only rely on pinyin. In China, nothing is written in pinyin, only characters.
3. Get a Notebook
Jot down all your grammar points, vocabulary, example sentences, or anything else you find interesting regarding the language. Copy down music lyrics or vocabulary you hear mentioned in your favorite Chinese food restaurant. Whatever it is, copy it all into one notebook and look back at all your progress as time goes on.
4. Incorporate something Chinese in every one of your days
Let’s face it, we are all busy people, so learning Chinese every single day may not be possible. However, whether it’s listening to a Chinese song, attending a Chinese lesson, or practicing some vocabulary on your phone, try to incorporate something Chinese in your daily routine.
5. Find a native language buddy and PRACTICE
Whether it is a physical native Chinese individual you know, or via an app (like HelloTalk), find a native language buddy that will help you put into action what you are learning. Studying grammar points or vocabulary is simply not enough, especially with a language as complex as Chinese. You need to practice what you are learning and what better way to do that than with a native speaker?