Mandarin Chinese

Notes on learning Chinese

I’m currently thinking of distilling the resources for Mandarin down to those that would be very useful for language learning. There’s already a lot of material available, or websites pointing you to those material. I will freely point to these pointer websites. In a way, this is an aggregation of the aggregators.

Mandarin might seem intimidating, but the large number of resources available makes Mandarin that much easier to learn. If you know how to sift through resources, Mandarin makes for a good first language to learn, even if you just learn to speak and listen without reading and writing Mandarin.

You might note that I have a great love for the Language Log blog. As the posts are written by a collection of Sinologists and other language academics, I trust their judgements.

On reading

There are thousands of Chinese characters. But one way to tackle this huge category is to know that all chinese characters can be classified into 1 of 6 types. Some books teach speaking and listening in Mandarin with pin yin only and have a separate book for the characters. I find these texts the most helpful, though you will have to spend a little bit more money.

As this article explains, Phonetically annotated character texts are the way to go once you know some Pinyin.

On writing

As I have written in “General tips for learning languages”, it’s okay to put the script aside if you want to focus on conversation. Also, don’t worry too much about stroke order. As the comments say, it’s not that important in an age where you can type.

You may have heard of, or suffered through, children mechanically copying chinese characters on paper as a way of memorising them. While some writing is advisable, and going through the character in your mind’s eye a few times is recommended, there are more efficient ways of learning Chinese characters than copying them many times. This article shares much of my own opinions. It is definitely not the way to learn Chinese.

However, here’s a reddit thread with many redditors commenting that they wrote the characters down to remember them.


  • Dr Meili Fang’s book Spoken Chinese is a good place to start for English-speaking beginners.
  • Fluent Chinese has a nice laid out plan for beginners to advanced learners.

You may have heard of Chineasy. This article, and this one critiques it, and explains that while it has some validity behind it, there are better things to spend your money on.


  • Free and VERY important: Pleco. THE chinese dictionary app to get. Lots of add-ons are available. For example, there’s this classical chinese dictioanry which you can buy on Pleco. You can buy graded readers on Pleco. You can add a cantonese dictionary in Pleco. There’s an etymology add-on so that you can get a sense for what the original characters meant (the Outlier dictionary).
  • Skritter, an app that teaches you to write Chinese characters.
  • Free: Readibu. A free reader app where you can access chinese reading material… for free! Paid upgrade available. I think this is more appropriate for more advanced learners, or Heritage learners.


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