I'm having difficulty learning Chinese! I NEED HELP!

December 11, 2009, 02:11 AM posted in General Discussion

Hi everybody, I'm am currently learning Chinese at the University of British Columbia in Canada and I'm really having difficulty learning it. We cover so much material in class so quickly that I don't have time to grasp it. For instance, we spend only a week per chapter and one chapter might have around 60 new words. By the time I have finished learning how to write them, it's already the time to learn another chapter. Thats around 500 new words! How can we remember everything?

Now my question is, how do you study chinese effectively when you hardly use it outside of school? Do you have any strategies? How do you guys go at it?

I would appreciate any advice,


Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 02:41 AM


My best advice is, take it slow.  One step at a time.  Understand that it's impossible to learn everything all at once and that you will forget a sizable portion of what you study.

Once you've got that out of the way, concentrate on learning a few simple grammatical structures that you can plug some simple vocabulary into and start practicing your own sentences right away.

Make sure to practice reciting them and writing them by hand to work your oral language skills, characters and sentence structures together.

Make sure to change up your sentences, plug in lots of different vocabulary and reintroduce it periodically.

EG: Dāng wǒ kàn diàn shì de shí hòu, wǒ xǐ huān yī biān chī fàn, yī biān hē jiǔ.


When I watch TV, I like to eat and drink (liquor) at the same time.

Go over that phrase a few times out loud and in writing.

Next create a new phrase for yourself with some new vocabulary words.

EG: Dāng wǒ duàn liàn de shí hòu, wǒ xǐ huān yī biān tīng yīn yuě, yī biān pǎo bù.


When I exercise I like to listen to music and run at the same time.

They don't have to be the most perfect sentences, the goal here is just to practice using it to solidify it in your mind.

Keep plugging in vocab, and it will really fix things in your mind.  You only need about a half an hour per day.

This is the best way I've found to start speaking actual Chinese quickly.  Put youself in real-life situations through your imagination, and practice every aspect of the language, oral, reading and writing.  Listen to Chinesepod and your CD's that accompany your textbooks to aid you in listening comprehension.

Make sure to complete the exercises given in your textbook, but don't neglect your extra-curricular exercises, in other words creating sentences for yourself and using what you know to build on what you've learned.

The very best way to remember something is to use it, so this is the best way to use it when you're not in an environment of immersion is to create the environment for yourself.  Through this method things won't be fragmented and scattered in your mind.  It's like building a wall brick by brick, this method gives you the mortar.

This is the best way to substitute for not being able to practice with native speakers.

Just take everything in pieces, realizing that you can probably learn about 8-10 new words a day and that you'll forget about 6-8 of those but that it's perfectly okay.  Only over time, through practice and dilligence will things come together. 

Don't worry, anyone can learn Chinese, you just need a method!

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 01:58 PM

sumatera: There's also StudyArcade for the iPhone. It's free, has spaced repetition, and syncs with ChinesePod effortlessly.

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 03:01 AM

Thanks a lot guys, I really appreciate your help.

I'm more of an intermediate than a newbie. I'm actually majoring in Chinese so all my Chinese classes are intensive. It means that we only spend four days per lesson and most of these lessons have 50 or more new characters. So I find it hard to remember how to use everything.

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 03:16 AM


Does UBC subscribe to Chinesepod? Are you able to access lessons through the school, or are you paying for a subscription, or are you on the 7 day trial period?

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 03:17 AM


I majored in Chinese at university as well, and I remember the intensity of the lessons each week. We were also expected to learn around 50 new characters per lesson :S . Just make sure you get the key sentence structures as Xiaohu says, and make sure you understand the grammar structures. For the vocab, unfortunately the only method I found to learn them is by writing them over and over again - and then using them each in a sentence. Flashcards are also very useful!

Also do you have a language partner or a Chinese friend to practise speaking with?

Goodluck with it all!

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 03:55 AM

Hey, I haven't read the comments here, so forgive me if I repeat.

  1. Don't beat yourself over not being able to memorize a word, i.e. don't kill yourself over not being able to nail every single one of those 50 new vocabulary words.  Words have a funny (natural) way of reappearing, and later you will grasp it.  If you sit there trying to master all the words, you will spin in circles.  
  2. Write the words out.  You will remember them much better.  Just looking at a book and trying to store the information is inefficient.
  3. Read aloud.  I think this is crititical.  You will never develop fluency if you fail to do this. 
  4. Read the words in context, i.e. read the words in a complete sentence.  No context = no relationship to you = soon forget.  So what I am getting at is make sure you read articles as much as you review vocabulary lists.
  5. Find some material you like to read.  Textbook articles are usually very lame (at least they are in China; another article about pandas anyone?)
  6. Above all, don't compare your progress to others because this will either frustrate you or make you complacent.  Work hard and then work harder.  Speak Chinese in class as often as possible. 
  7. Always remember that you are learning more than you think you are (as long as you place an effort).  Languages are somewhat like a jig saw puzzle.  Low progress in the beginning then suddenly comes quicker and quicker.

Good luck, man!  I'm still trying to figure it out myself.

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 02:47 AM

Hi Denis,

No doubt you're taking a full class load of other subjects, so Chinese isn't your only class either.  I remember those days.

I've tried focusing on being efficient when I study so that I get the most bang out of what little time I have to study one topic. What i've given you below is based on me being at the intermediate level in cpod. It sounds like you're a newbie, but one who's given 10 newbie lessons to learn in a week.  I don't know how your instructor teaches lessons, or whether you have access to language tapes in your class, or UBC has a subscription to cpod that you use (if they do, that helps clarify some of the other tips i would suggest).  But here are some thoughts:

1) focus on the clock: Give yourself only about 1-3 hours to review/learn the lesson to start, then during the off-periods (walking to class) review the Chinese notes (i'll get to this later)

2)Commit to memory the lesson dialog in English first.  That way, you know what you're trying to say in Chinese. This should be easy, and shouldn't take much time. 10-15 minutes or so.

3)go through on a sentence by sentence basis to learn the Chinese for the lesson dialog.  so if the dialog you commit to memory in English starts, "this bar is really lively! you can drink and you can dance!", focus on committing to memory,"zhè jiā jiǔbā zhèn rènao! Nǐ kěyǐ hējiǔ, nǐ kěyǐ tiàowǔ".  Repeat for the entire dialog. Ideally, this takes about 45 minutes if you focus on the Chinese.

4)do a consolidation, where you write the english dialog down, then focus on writing all the Chinese dialog down.  This takes maybe another half hour.

5)listen to the Chinese pod dialog.  try shadowing if you have an iPod to do this with.  after about 15-20 minutes, you get a better at having some of the dialog in your head.

6)listen to the actual lesson with John/Jenny/Ken.  Maybe do this 1 or 2 times, so 15 - 30 minutes or so.

7)have a tiny notebook that you put dialog sentences in, and highlight the new words that you learn in the sentence.  for example, in zhè jiā jiǔbā zhèn rènao! Nǐ kěyǐ hējiǔ, nǐ kěyǐ tiàowǔ", i would underline rènao and tiàowǔ, since those were the new words for me. this might take about 10-30 minutes.

8)during off periods walking to classes, use the little notebook (it fits in your pocket, which is why you can carry it from class to class, and also when you don't bring your bookbag with you to hang out with friends, you can whip it out for a few minutes to study) to review. 

This is somewhat my study methodology. I'm nowhere near as efficient with this as I need to be, but i'm getting better as I go along. Feel free to ask questions, i'm sure others are posting, and feel free to ask about the stuff that you think might resonate with you.

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 05:19 AM

I am a 



I like chinese very much, and I want to teach the foreigners who are interested in learning Mandarin chinese after I graduate from my college.

I'd like to answers the questions about your learning Chinese, and I also can let you know some cultures about our country  china !


here is my email address:

I think we could be friends! Waiting for you

waiting for you, my friend

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 06:54 AM

baideni: make a Google search for "Spaced repetition". If you're worried about forgetting vocab and characters, it can save your behind. Not everyone is keen on that stuff (not sure why), but for me it's been a great boom. It takes all the guesswork out of reviewing. You never have to worry about forgetting a word again!

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 09:58 AM

I agree with all the above, but if you are majoring in Chinese, the fact is, you are going to need to learn words/characters at some point. It may was well be now.  My approach is similar to Simon's above: spaced repetition. Here's my advice:

- Buy an ipod touch or iphone (you probably already have one of these);

- download flashcards delux (it will set you back about $5.00);

- set it for either spaced repetition or leitner mode;

- enter your words and GO.

- If spaced repetition isn't your thing, try gflashpro. It lets you set up small lessons and lets you review them quickly.

Having my words/characters in the palm of my hand with a program that makes me review them on a set schedule is the second best thing that has happened to my chinese in a long time. s


Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 01:10 PM

Baideni, thanks for that.  yeah, cpod has some pretty quirky lessons going for it, and lots of them at that.

Profile picture
December 11, 2009, 05:10 AM

hey pretzellogic,

My school doesn't have access to Chinesepod. I was kind of tired of learning boring topics from a textbook so I decided to get a subscribtion to Cpod.

Cpod makes it more fun to learn!