Help with a study strategy

June 18, 2009, 06:26 PM posted in General Discussion

I can't seem to find a study strategy for learning Chinese so I feel like I'm not progressing. I signed up to CPod under a year ago, but to be honest, I mostly log in to view the message boards rather than download the lessons.  Even the newbie lessons seem like a struggle.  I really want to learn and improve, and despite living with a Chinese person, I just can't seem to get into the way of learning. I've lots of books and CDs and home too which have never been used. I feel like it's all been a waste and I know that logging into the site every now and again and downloading the odd lesson is not going to help me progress. How do I find the right study strategy?

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June 18, 2009, 09:57 PM

I suggest you get yourself a beginners course at nightschool if available and work hard at following a progressive learning scheme with a beginners text book.  Then you can see your progress as you go from lesson to lesson through the book.

I think that is what is missing from Chinesepod - an ordered progression and the satisfaction that brings with it.  Use Chinesepod too as a fun supplement.

You need to spend time seriously and not dip in.  It is not easy!

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June 26, 2009, 07:50 PM


You may find the following post helpful for dictionary software:

I haven't found any character learning software that I'd recommend, but I have found a couple really good books (I use the Pleco software mentioned in the post to reinforce what I learn with flashcards):

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June 19, 2009, 03:56 AM

I suggest you develop a study routine.  First, decide how much time you can spend studying Chinese.  Then, decide how best to use the available time, and stick to the plan.  Review the plan every 3 or 4 months to see if you need to make modifications.

When I was in school, I took a few language courses.  They were one hour of class time M-F and expected about 2 hours of study time for each hour of class time. I decided that I wanted to make that level of commitment to Chinese study every week (15 hours).  I have been doing this rain or shine for seven years, and am now marginally functional in Chinese.  Meaning, I can converse with friends verbally or with IM, or read novels with the aid of a dictionary, but compared to a native speaker I stink and still encounter situations where I have difficulty expressing myself, and have a thick and sometimes incomprehensible accent.

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June 19, 2009, 04:41 AM

Mike, Mark, and shenyajin brought up good points.

My lazy fallback strategy is to just do one CPod lesson a day with the measurable outcome of reducing the number of entries in the "My lessons" tab. Listen, work through the dialogue, relisten to the dialogue, do the exansion, the exercises, relisten. That is your daily homework and when you are done with it you are done.

Of course, put the dialogues and the audio reviews of studied lessons on the MP3-player. Mix it with music half-and-half and listen in "shuffle" mode (to have some pauses) while doing housework or commuting.

The progress doesn't come fast that way, but it comes. The benefit: It does not require any planning overhead and is feasible.


Regarding the discussions: Go to the discussions only after you "finished your homework". Try to come up with language related questions: While doing the dialogues look out for awkward or unexpected expressions or open questions. That makes your community experience more valuable.

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June 19, 2009, 05:01 AM

Here's my routine:

Pick 2 elementary, 2 intermediate, and 2 qing wen lessons for the week. Listen to each lesson and it's audio review at work, once a day throughout the week. I also read the PDF for each lesson once a day. Also, every day I go over my flash cards (using Anki - an excellent flashcard program). At the end of the week, I add the new vocab from my lessons into Anki.

Also, on days where I have more free time, I like to listen to an upper intermediate lesson a couple of times- once with the PDF at hand, once without just for listening practice.

I don't use ChinesePod for learning how to read or write Chinese though. I'm using a book called "Remembering the Hanzi" which I highly recommend. It associates pnemonics with each character, so you can forego the traditional brute-force method of rote memorization.

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June 19, 2009, 06:06 AM


I found that Chinese pieces together in an awkward way for me as well.   Perhaps this has to do with my studies Spanish before approaching Chinese.  I felt that one 3 months study of Spanish was like an entire year's study of Chinese!  Keep with it!

Best Wishes,


p.s. that you have found Chinesepod so early along in your studies puts you mile ahead of me!  I envy you!

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June 19, 2009, 03:06 AM

It sure is not easy to study Chinese, the most difficult language in the world! I heard some same stories, so many people decided to study this language, but they were still struggling their study in elementary level. But I'm sure you are not one of them, I can sense your strong wish to study this language.... Yes, you definitely need an ordered progression as Mike mentioned above, this'll help you in grammar, some structure thing and of course reading and writing. It'll be better if you have some Chinese friends, they'll help in speaking and listening. And of course, ChinesePod as a friend to communicate and expand vocab. and practise. Anyway, the best way to gain fluency is to be there, do you have some plan to move to China?



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June 19, 2009, 03:04 PM

Honestly, from your post I'm not sure lack of a study strategy is the problem.  Instead, I'd say you simply need to force yourself to study.  Stop checking the message board and playing around on the website - thats become a distraction for you.  Simply download 30 or so lessons, and print out the corresponding pdfs, and then don't log back on until you've finished studying them.  Decide how much time you'll spend studying a day, and then don't do anything during that time except study.  Listen to the dialogues over and over until you perfectly understand them, and start each study day's session by reviewing the previous dialogues.  And honestly it doesn't matter much which 30 lessons you download (as long as they are the appropriate difficulty level) - especially, since right now the priority is to get yourself into a good habit with your mandarin studies.

Its true taking a formal class would help in giving you structure, and deadlines to pressure yourself into studying - but, honestly, you shouldn't need that external crutch.  Free will is a great thing.  Decide to study, sit down and do it.

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June 23, 2009, 03:41 PM

I am a heavy user of flash cards. Study a lesson, try to work through the vocabulary, then make flashcards. I use Anki too, but whatever you use, make sure it is some kind of space repetition. This is vocabulary building.

If your automatic flashcard program is not on a portable device (iPhone or iPod Touch, etc), you need to make phycial flashcards as well. Make them pocket sized so you can carry prepared flashcards with you every where you go. Practice on the bus, while waiting in line at the grocery store, at stop lights, while waiting in the doctor's office, every where you can.

I also make flashcards for whole phrases instead of just words. Look at the Mandarin pinyin side, read it out loud, make sure you understand the whole phrase as well as the individual words. Doing this you can make your brain go through the steps to understand Mandarin sentence structure I don't recommend looking at the English and translating into Mandarin, as there often multiple ways to translate a phrase. This is grammer comprehension practice.

Listen repeatedly to the audio lessons. This gives you audio comprehension practice.

I also use wlcp (We Love Chinesepod), a piece of software that will download the words and sentences as individual mp3 files. I use those files as Anki flashcards. When the card comes up, I hear the word or phrase, I replay it if necessary until I understand it. The flip side of the card has the pinyin of the phrase, the english translation and the individual words with the english meanings. This provides more audio comprehension.

I talk to Mandarin speakers when I have the chance, but that is fairly rare. However, I've noticed that my ability to generate sentences is improving given the above practices, so I'm not too worried about it.

I'm not studying the Chinese characters yet.

Repetition is key. You don't have to be a language genius or anything, but you have to be exposed to the study material many, many times.

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June 24, 2009, 05:49 AM

I have recently discovered how to type Chinese characters on my computer.

The nice thing about the Microsoft Chinese program is that you simply enter the pinyin and the intelligence of the program generates the correct character in context.


So, even if you decide to learn only pinyin first you can use the character typing program to produce and help you learn the characters.


One method is to type the characters into Microsoft Word (using a very large font size). You can write individual characters to a single page and save it as a digital flashcard, and/or you can type phrases of characters.

This has been a recent discovery which is helping a bit.

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June 26, 2009, 02:44 AM



To say that learning chinese is a struggle is so true for me too. I've been member of Chinesepod since around a year, however only upgraded to premium membership this month and started to get structured serious learning going. 

Since I travel to china about every 3 months, and also have many chinese friends on MSN, I think it would be great if I had a good dictionary to refer to and use for communicating with them. Since currently I am not aware of and cannot find any good dictionary program, any recommendations would be welcome. I need a dictionary that will say the word aloud, and also show me Pinyin and Chinese characters, so that I can use the word to type into MSN while I'm talking to someone. My real requirement is for English to Chinese dictionary, since I've instructed all my chinese friends to currently reply to my chinese words and phrases in English itself (online on msn).

Also I need a good soft to teach me chinese characters, I did pickup chinese  character flash cards with an excellent program which accompanies it in Beijing, however somehow it has started crashing my system and I cannot use it any more. An online resource for learning chinese character in structured manner would be nice.

I would appreciate any feedback for this post and really given all the travelling I've done to China, I feel really ashamed of not having made ANY progress at all!!!

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June 19, 2009, 10:41 AM


You sound like me.  It was a significant challenge for me to get into learning mandarin.  It was somewhat easy at first, because when i first met the woman that would become my wife, she made it clear that she was going to have to go back to China to continue working in her desired field.  I took a mandarin language class in Boston for 3 months, and that gave me some structure that helped me learn. But I felt the class was expensive given how much mandarin i learned, and then I was on to more self-learning programs; Pimsleur, and Ultimate Mandarin were the tools of choice.  Then Mandarin studies came harder.  It was harder to find the time to study, and even with my (by then) wife saying that we had to go to China for a year to finish her data collection for her dissertation, I still wasn't motivated. It took multiple approaches to this before I found something that I think might be helping.  

By the way, it might be that the reason you're not studying mandarin is that you're not sure that the person you're with is really long term, and that if its not (and they're the reason you're interested in studying in the first place), then why study mandarin at all.  (BTW, that's all from my Dear Abby session.  I'll go back to non-personal matters).

This helped me: First, find a lesson on a topic you liked.  Then, give yourself a reward for doing so.  the reward could be an ice cream bar, or something similar, but IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU REWARD YOURSELF FOR TAKING THIS STEP. There are other steps that I suggest you take, but if you've done this one, the other ones are easy as well.

If you've taken any of the feedback on your post, let us know.