My Chinese Learning Journey: Top 5 Insights, Tools & Resources

Today, for a change, I will not write about business/work/digital. I will write about my hobby: My hobby of learning Chinese!

I’ve been studying Chinese (off and on, part-time, etc) for close to four years now. According to a recent (Nov 17) article, I recently read on Quartz, “learning Chinese is a thing now”. In fact, as far back as 2006, “learning Mandarin” made it to the cover of TIME Magazine! ;) — While I am not endorsing the language as such, my intent here is to just to share what I’ve learnt about the language, while attempting to learn it.

Four years a long time, but thanks to the hectic work schedules, my progress in terms of levels has been slow. I’ve so far cleared Level 3 (out of Level 6) — of the official Chinese-language level assessment framework. Technically speaking, I am in the middle of the Intermediate level now, and half-way through developing advanced level fluency in Chinese.

To give you an idea, folks studying a full-year of Chinese Language (and nothing else) at university are able to clear upto Level 4 in one year. So, clearly, Chinese is a difficult language for non-native learners. There’s NO doubt about it.

It is NOT easy — despite what Chinese learning institutes / web sites tell you! 😃 … Sure, it is easy to learn to say “Ni Hao” and “Xie xie”, but if you want to acheive even basic conversational fluency in Chinese, be prepared to spend time, and remain committed to your Chinese efforts.

For me, learning Chinese has been a hobby. And this has probably made it easier for me to remain committed to making progress, despite stretching it out for so long. And in doing so, the following 2 things have happened:

  1. I’ve been focused on “Speaking”, rather than the Textbook — I can now understand what’s being discussed in meetings (and in many cases, respond as well)
  2. I’ve been able to access LOTS of different resources and techniques (right from websites, video-tutorials, class-room trainings, books, etc)

Having been at it for four years, I can understand that it is hard for a curious learner to figure out where to begin. While each has his/her own comfort zones, I wanted to share my Chinese learning journey, with a focus on 5 specific resources that I feel have made the difference. So, here goes:

1. Follow a Structure — I followed the HSK!

This is probably my most important tip specifically for those learning Chinese. Unlike other languages, where you can go quite a distance learning from anyone (including yourself), Chinese requires a method and structure. Fortunately, China’s Ministry of Education has devised a very structured learning Program with 6 distinct levels. It is called the HSK. There is a mountain of matetrial sorrounding these HSK levels, and hence makes it an easy structure to follow and go across levels.

2. Listen! Listen! Listen!: VERY key to language familiarity: I heard Podcasts!

A language like Chinese can feel extremely “alien”, not only in the beginning, but also once you’re a few months down into your Chinese learning journey. Hence, a very key component that helped me become more “familiar” to the idea of hearing Chinese around me was making an attempt to hear and understand. One of my best resources recommended here would be a Podcast series going by the name of “Learning Chinese” — by Serge Melnyks. You can access the website here, and also download the podcasts on your mobile phone.

3. Chinese-English Dictionary on your phone: I recommend PLECO!

This has been by far the most important tool in my Chinese language learning kitty. Simply put, I do not know what I would have done without PLECO. The best part about PLECO is that: You can type, and there is a real-time search in BOTH Pinyin as well as English meaning. That feature itself is very empowering.

It also has some nifty features like Flashcards, Character writing strokes which are available as Paid Upgrades, but if you are enrolled into a Chinese learning program already, the basic FREE version will work just fine. In fact, it works like a Charm, and upgrades your learning experience!

4. Once you’ve knocked down the basics, make friends with Characters and Tones!

What makes Chinese a difficult language is the fact that it is pictpographic, rather than phonetic. Unlike other languages, how you write it is in no way connected to how you’re supposed to pronounce it. Most Chinese learners I know are “afraid” of characters. And so was I. For the first 1–2 years of my Chinese learning journey, I was scared to even try memorizing characters.

In fact, I would actually recommend that learners DO NOT focus on Characters during the first few months of their learning.

There are arguements on both sides, and some folks recommend character learning from Day 1. A learner can choose what works best. What worked best for me was learning Pinyin first, and looking at characters much later, and that’s what I am recommending. I have not one, but two resources to recommend that were incredibly helpful to my Character learning efforts. The first one is the character course on

While I haven’t studied their other courses in detail, the folks at do a fantastic job particularly on the character course. Although they only touch the first 300 basic characters, they do a great job of making the learning interactive, engaging, and “building blocks”-driven. Which is how characters are supposed to be.

5. Grammar is Key: AllSet Learning: Chinese Grammar

This resource has been the single most important one for me to ensure that I am able to bring all my learning together, and use it all in a practicle manner in everyday life. The AllSet Chinese Grammar Wiki does a fantastic job of summarizing all the rules and nuances of Chinese grammar, in the form of an inter-connected referrencible Wiki.

As you can see, there is also a print / e-book available. I purchased the e-book on my Kindle, and have been finding it incredibly useful. BIG shout out to John Pasden and the team at AllSet Learning for creating such an amazing resource and giving it out for FREE! — Only people passionate about the language can do this.

So those were my 5 recommendations / resources. What do you think of these? Are ther eany resources you would like to share with me/readers and others? — Please do!

#Chinese #Language #LearnChinese #Top5Tips #HowTo #China

Amit lives in Shanghai and works with CMOs, CIOs and Digital teams of some of the world’s favourite retail brands to drive Customer Engagement, CRM and Loyalty. To connect, drop him a message or follow him on Twitter at @RetailAmit.