Chinese Language Learning Tips

Here’s a list of notes I’ve discovered while studying Chinese. I’ve gone through lots of trial and error over the past few years. The number 1 trick to learning Chinese is:

You actually have to study.

It takes a long time. Minimum 1.5 years if you’re going through the US military’s intensive language program. So expect a minimum 2-year investment. Luckily it’s super doable. 加油!💪🏻

Remember your “Why”

A bit cheesy, but write down why you’re learning on a sticky note and put it on your wall by your computer so you can see it. The extra bit of motivation helps when you’re feeling tired. E.g. it might be “To talk to my in-laws” or “To get on a Taiwanese TV show” or “To be able to talk to a delivery person on the phone without panicking”.

Make time to study. Do not “find” time

You already have time to study. I promise. The trick is to make time to study by blocking out time in your calendar and sticking to it, and/or getting accountability by joining a study group or getting a teacher. The other trick is to make your phone work for you and turn it into a distraction-free language learning tool. I have two videos below showing how I do this.

  • How I set up my calendar starts at 17:00 ish

Focus on Vocabulary

Do not study grammar. You’ll never remember it. Instead, focus on learning characters. Especially if you’re a beginner. You can noun yourself out of most situations. Do whatever it takes to learn 1000 of them. Once you get to 1000 it gets a lot easier because you’ll be able to listen to TV shows and podcasts to build more vocabulary. My general schedule looks like:

  • 45-60 minutes in the morning going through flashcards of example sentences from Chinese lessons.
  • 1-hour lesson with Chinese teacher
  • Lunch and do normal work in the afternoon
  • Expose me to 25 new words on Lingq
  • Do at least 15 minutes on Skritter

A lot of this I do while on the MRT. That’s because I’ve removed distractions from my phone.

Apps I use

  • Lingq (
    • This is my favourite for extra reading practice or if you’re doing language learning as a hobby. Very low barrier to entry. It focuses on reading stories, and is generally a lot more “fun” than other apps.
  • Anki (
    • This is an absolute must for exams. However the learning curve is pretty high. This is the best flash card program in the world but is a bit complicated.
  • Skritter (
    • Best app in the world for practicing Chinese hand writing.
  • Pimsleur (
    • Great to use if you want to learn some absolute basic phrases a few weeks before you visit somewhere on vacation. Pretty good for speaking.

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Written by James Hush Keynote speaker, coach & advisor