Chinese Learners and Expat Resources

Text boxes

I use these to see Chinese characters augmented. Sometimes it is just easier to access a website than to launch an editor and change the font size.

or here:

How to learn Chinese

Most books are bad

I often stumble into the discussion about the best way to study Chinese. Chinese is not my first foreign language, but it helped me to discover a better learning approach.

Initially I expected to find adapted resources for Chinese learners, but it turned out, that the they use the same books, the same lesson by lesson approach in class, as I knew for any other foreign language. But there is one big difference: Chinese characters.

All language books I know have the following problems:

For Chinese books it gets even worse:

Non-classroom books exist though, which concentrate on some deficits. But I still don’t know books which include a decent repetition pattern. Maybe the conclusion is: don’t study with books.

Oral first

My advice: learn listening and speaking fist, for all languages.

Start with Pimsleur’s audio program. It is audio only (mp3 or CD, no books) and really entertaining. Look at just to check out what they have (for Mandarin it’s three levels of 30 lessons, each around 28min). Then get these second hand, as otherwise they are just too expensive.

Pimsleur starts from zero, and if you do five lessons a week (nobody I know did it that fast) you have 4-5 months learning material. Expect 6-9 months, though.

Another audio approach is coming from the free FSI-Language courses. As an alternative to downloading everything file-by-file I provide here two zip archives:

These files are in public domain. As I have practically endless hosting traffic, there is no need to hurry...

The FSI course is not audio only, but I use it as such. The audio quality is sometimes a little poor. The original tapes are form the 60’s. The FSI is more concise than the Pimsleur, but less entertaining. Especially the drill tapes can be really boring. The so called comprehension tapes are good though, maybe just right for someone who finished the Pimsleur, because they may answer some questions which you may have pending.

For my taste, I really would like to encourage everyone interested in Chinese to start with speaking and listening (Pimsleur and maybe FSI). You may start studying characters as well, but do this independent of what you learned to speak. There will come a time, of course, where character knowledge and spoken abilities converge.

Characters later

Start characters as late as you wish, but not later. Knowing meaning, sound and usage beforehand is a big aid for remembering. Many Chinese characters have sound components and are way easier to learn once you got some basic oral Chinese knowledge.

As a great introduction, read Wikipedia articles: Simplified/Traditional Characters, why did they split, when, where; how is the situation in PRC, Taiwan, overseas; actually, what means RPC, ROC, SAR. How do Characters relate to Mandarin and other Chinese languages. How is the character situation in Korea, Japan, China and Vietnam. CJK(V) in computers, encodings, Unicode, Unihan unification, Big5, GB23xxx, number of characters in Unicode, outside, common characters, uncommon. Count of frequent characters, categorizing, radicals – for traditional and simplified, differences, radical meaning/evolution/numbers/frequency, character components, stroke order, stroke types, grouping of stroke types, character input, by sound, by stroke, by structure, character input in non-Chinese languages, mobile phone/device character input. Romanizations, types, official use, in which region, why is the Qing Hua university written Tsing Hua? Different fonts for Chinese characters, writing styles, printing styles, writing variations, serifs on characters and relation to stroke types. Invention of the round “zero” character, Hangul, numbers in banking system...

Character learning tools

See Panki Chinese!

Instead, I recommend to start with easy single characters, the composition of characters, character types and radical meanings. This will be a great help to create personal mnemonics for remembering more complex characters and compound words (several characters).

... (to be completed)

De, de, de made easy

A little grammar for the intermediate learner:

  1. ___ 的 noun
  2. verb 得 ___
  3. ___ 得/地 verb

Only the third case is complicated. Use 得 for degree/result (得 is always used for degree(/result), even in case 2) after an adjective. Use 地 after an adverb (only 地 can be used in any adverbial context).

Language maps

The best maps I found on the Internet, though already 20 years old.

Language and dialect resources

Chinese character resources