Learning by Listening

I came across this article, which, while dated (2009), it reinforces much of what I believe we already should know:

“Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words. If you want to learn Spanish, for example, frequently listening to a Spanish language radio station on the internet will dramatically boost your ability to pick up the language and learn new words.”

Source: http://phys.org/news/2009-01-revolutionize-language.html

I’ve always been a strong proponent of this methodology, and believe that learning the sounds first before learning any of the phonetic systems–regardless if you’re using Pinyin or Zhuyin–is far more valuable than starting with entire chapters devoted to initials, finals, etc. That is, it gives you even more immersion in the language until it becomes background ‘noise’ that actually has some benefits for concentration and learning.

There’s even an interesting study that was done (found here) that explores the benefits of ambient noise on cognitive ability. Often times, while at work, driving to take care of chores, or even while walking around, I’ll put on some sort of audio to listen to. I have a collection of news, music, talk shows, food shows, movies, and podcasts that provide enough variety to listen to on a regular basis without getting bored or sick of what I am listening to.

That said, I will still try and repeat what I listen to a few times so that I can become more and more familiar with what is being discussed and get used to the nuances in the way different people are speaking. It’s a really great method to get Chinese into your subconscious so you can still learn without necessarily focusing on it.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be putting together various sources and recommended items to listen to. I added a new section, Audio, where you can easily find more posts in this category and hopefully find some audio you’ll enjoy listening to to help practice.

If you have any you’d recommend, please share them in the comments below!

Vocab Friday: Tea

茶 (chá)


茶壺 [茶壶] (cháhú)


紅茶 [红茶] (hóngchá)

black tea

(literally “red tea”, which was probably named for the color of the tea after brewed, while “black tea” referred to the color of the leaves from roasting)

綠茶 [绿茶] (lǜchá)

green tea

烏龍茶 [乌龙茶] (wūlóngchá)

oolong tea

普洱茶 (Pǔ’ěrchá)

Pu’er tea (my personal favorite!)

茉莉花茶 (mòlihuāchá)

jasmine tea

菊花茶 (júhuāchá)

chrysanthemum tea

抹茶 / 末茶 (mǒchá)

green tea powder, that is, Japanese matcha

茶具 (chájù)

tea set; the tools used to prepare tea (this includes the teapot, the cups, a tea tray and many other tools)

茶杯 (chábēi)


Measure word: 隻 [只] (zhī)

In Paper versus Electric Dictionaries, Electric Wins

It was quite a while ago now I ran a little poll asking if people preferred using Paper Dictionaries, Electronic Dictionaries, or both. Well, turns out the results were pretty much unanimously in favor of Electronic Dictionaries!

With their convenience, portability, and instantly accessible information, electronic dictionaries are probably the best option for language learners these days.

So, here’s my Top 5 Electronic Chinese Dictionaries:

#5: MDBG

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 7.37.04 AM

Why it’s a great choice:

MDBG has been around for a while, it is almost the staple online dictionary for Chinese language students. Quick, easy, and with plenty of display options for search results, it’s no wonder that it’s been around for a long time.

Easily accessible online through any browser, MDBG is a quick and easy reference that I turn to when I’m translating documents. Since I am usually at my computer when I’m translating documents, it’s much easier to pop open MDBG in another tab and reference to it when I need to. In addition, it has these other great features:

  • handwriting recognition for writing characters if you don’t know the Pinyin to type it in;
  • looking up by radicals;
  • Chinese and Pinyin typing interfaces

Check it out here.

#4: LINE dict


Why it’s a great choice:

LINE is pretty much everywhere these days, perhaps only second to WeChat, and it goes without much surprise they would also put out their own dictionary apps. LINE dict is available online, as well as for both iOS and Android. The online version seemed to me a bit slow and it had issues loading a few pages, so I would overall recommend the apps themselves.

The dictionary is fairly expansive, and it includes some nice features like a sentence analyzer, handwriting support, and stroke order animations. It also has audio throughout the dictionary. Having mobile apps put this one step above MDBG, but if you’re looking on your computer at home, stick with MDBG.

iOS version here.

Android version here.

Online here.

#3: Mengdian (萌典)


Why it’s a great choice:

As far as pure Chinese language dictionaries go, this is one of the best ones out there. It has a smart new interface and pulls from a larger variety of sources. It’s a good resource to have when you come across any ambiguities in the English definitions for Chinese characters or phrases. I often like to pop into this dictionary to verify that I understand the meaning of the characters that I’m using. They source this dictionary directly from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education.

Included in the app are also dictionaries for Taiwanese and Hakka, which are fun to reference if you happen to encounter those languages quite often (as happens in Taiwan).

Another really great thing about this dictionary is that you can get it for Android, iOS, as well as download it on Windows, OSX and even Linux.

Check out the online version here: https://www.moedict.tw/ There are links to the mobile apps at the top right of the page.

And my number one electronic dictionary is….. actually a tie!

#1: Hanping Chinese Dictionary


Why it’s a great choice:

I’ve already gone over this dictionary a bit in my Chinese Learning Apps for Android post, which you can take a look at here as well as in the recent tone colors post. The developer keeps the app updated regularly, and there is a whole series of related apps, including a soundboard and a Character popup reference tool (I’ll be covering these in another post).

Hanping is an Android exclusive app, but there’s a free version and a pro version available. The Pro version is totally worth the small investment, and opens up a bunch of great features, including AnkiDroid Flashcards and multi-dictionary support.

The free version is no slouch either, and includes handwriting recognition and audio pronunciation. So if you were on a tight budget, Hangping’s free version is a great option to start with (plus, no ads!).

Check it out on Google Play here.

#1: Pleco:


Why it’s a great choice:

It’s really hard to beat Pleco in terms of overall functionality, accessibility (both on iOS and Android), and the sheer number of add-ons that you can get. The variety of dictionaries available for purchase is also a huge asset that makes Pleco invaluable to any Chinese student. However, it is a significant investment to get in all of the features you might want to use (aside from a few dictionary options, pretty much all of the other add-ons cost money. For example, the app has a handwriting recognizing but costs $10 for the enhanced version).

Find out more about Pleco here.

Either way, both of the #1 dictionaries are the best you can get for mobile devices, and I highly recommend giving them a try. Both are free to try, with add ons you can purchase later (such as more dictionaries in Pleco’s case).

What do you think? Were there any that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

On Tone Colors

While looking for discussions on tone colors, I came across this blog post the other day, “Color temperature of Mandarin tones“. I am by no means a designer, but I found it to be a really interesting analysis of a couple different systems used for tone colors. I highly recommend checking it out. In the meantime, I thought it might be worth taking some time to look into tone colors: what they are, how to use them, which system to follow, and if it’s worth using. At the very end I’ll go over how to configure two popular dictionary apps to use whichever tone color system you prefer.

Continue reading “On Tone Colors”

ClozeCards: New Stories, Flashcards and Motivation

I just heard from David, the creator of ClozeCards.com (which you may remember from a previous post). He recently shared the information below with me, and I thought it would be really great to let everyone else know about these new features. The site itself has gone through a redesign, so I highly recommend going to check it out if you haven’t been over there yet, or have yet to see the new changes.

Anyway, I’ll let David go over some of the new additions–perhaps the most exciting of which is the recent collaboration with a Chinese publishing company to bring Chinese short stories into ClozeCards!

Short-stories, flashcards, and motivation.

Using flashcards is probably the most efficient way to learn Chinese. Unfortunately, flashcards offer very little to mark your progress and has no obvious milestones that can be celebrated. I don’t know about you, but for me, learning Chinese becomes much more fun when I see myself improving, when I can do something I previously couldn’t, and when I achieve a goal.

Now, after a long time of searching, I think I’ve found the best of both words: The efficiency of flashcards together with the motivational boost of small, achievable goals. The generous people at Chinese Stories Publishing have given me 11 short-stories, complete with audio and English translations, and I’ve created corresponding flashcard decks and graded the stories by difficulty. These stories are perfect goals: They’re reasonably short (you can learn the vocabulary in less than a week), you can easily how much work you need to put into them, and they’re fun!

I’ve prepared a GIF to show you how the flashcards integrate with the stories. What you see here is me practicing the vocabulary for the story ‘The Hundredth Customer’. The Chinese title is 第一百個客人 (dì yī bǎi gè kè rén). As I fill in the gap sentences with pinyin, each occurrence of the word turns green in the story. Once I’ve reviewed the words a couple of times, they’ll loose their color to make them easier to read.


What’s more, to help understand the text, there’s both an English translation for each paragraph and a pop-up dictionary for each Chinese word.


The difficulty level of the stories range from beginner to advanced and the full list can be found here: https://clozecards.com/content/?tags=Audio+Book

Have fun,
David from ClozeCards.com

[Guest Post] Learning by Example

I’ve long been a fan of learning new words and new phrases by context, that is, in the greater sentence and paragraph as a whole. Using and learning words in sentences has been a huge benefit to my studies as well, and as I read more advanced works, I relied a lot on the context around it to actually learn what the vocabulary I didn’t know was.

Below is a guest post by the creator of a new site specially aimed at this learning style: ClozeCards. It is something I really wish I had in the early days of my studies, rather than huge vocabulary lists and fairly disjointed example sentences. I do believe there’s a huge benefit from learning new vocabulary this way, and I like the way that the site encourages you to write the Pinyin (with tones as well) when you go through the sentence. Plus the little popup menu that gives the definition and audio is really nice, and I like how it has been implemented.

So, without much further ado, here’s the post!

Hi, my name is David and I’ve created a new way of learning Mandarin Chinese. This article will tell you the basics of how it got started and how it got works, but if you’re feeling impatient, you can go and try it out for yourself at: https://clozecards.com/

螢幕快照 2015-11-20 下午8.44.23

It’s no secret that Chinese is hard and I certainly struggled to get the grasp of the language. After getting incresingly frustrated with slow progress from studying on my own, I turned to online tutors. Speaking to another human helped greatly but even with my tutor’s tireless efforts at explaining grammar and word meanings, I still struggled to get a deep understanding of the material we covered. Seeing how words were used in sentences appeared to be the best way of cementing them into my brain and I often said “Don’t just tell how this word is used, show me!” Furthermore, a deeper understanding of characters is often required when reading. For example, this next sentence uses ‘谢’ to mean ‘wither’ instead of the much more common ‘thanks’ meaning.

花都谢了。 The flowers have all withered.

Also, in the above sentence, ‘花’ mean ‘flowers’ but it can also mean ‘to spend’:

你一共花了多少钱? What is the total amount of money you spent?

For me, seeing such examples helped much more than just being told the different meanings of a word.
What’s more, after each lesson, a lot of what I had just learned drained from my brain like water through a sieve. I would be lucky if I could remember half of the vocabulary when I reviewed previous lessons. Fortunately, I’m not the first with this problem and utilizing flashcard software is a popular solution. Anki, the flashcard program, became my trusty companion for a while but the number of cards I wanted to study quickly grew unmanageable. I tried other software — like iKnow.jp — but nothing felt right. This is when I decided to find my own path. I knew I wanted something with these features:

  • Massive number of examples. Words and grammar should always be taught in the context of a complete sentence.
  • Seamless reviews. Learning a word just to forget it tomorrow is no good; review should therefore be interspersed with study.
  • Goal directed learning. Learning Chinese is a monumental task. Working towards smaller, tangible goals (such as reading a short-story or moving up an HSK level) is paramount.
  • Skill appropriate examples. Seeing an example you cannot read is no good. Examples should be chosen based on your current vocabulary.

On ClozeCards.com, I’ve collected more than 50,000 example sentences and created both long (HSK level 1 to 6) and short (covering just the vocabulary of a short story) courses. By having you complete gap sentences with pinyin answers, the site not only helps you memorise words but also teaches you how they’re used, all with examples tailored to your reading level. Give it a go at: https://clozecards.com/

Spotifying Your Language Learning

Apple Music. Google Music. Spotify. Who really knows what’s going on in the tech-music industry these days, but for me, Spotify just launched a new feature that is a huge plus for language learners out there. It’s called “Musical Map: Cities of the World” and let’s take a look at how it works!

One nice thing about Spotify is that it has been in Taiwan since 2013, and has since then amassed a pretty decent collection of music, which is great news if you’re interested in listening to Chinese music.

There’s a few “Sound of [City Name]” playlists available for Taiwan, including Taipei, Hsinchu and Kaohsiung:

There’s a few differences in the collections but overall there is a pretty decent selection available, as you can see from that picture above. A lot of it depends on what the listeners int hat particular city/area like to listen to, so you can get some interesting regional varieties from the playlists.

I’ve never paid for a subscription, but this kind of thing would definitely make me consider it.

Of course there’s a ton of other countries that you can listen to, so go out and explore the world!

Mandarin Poster: The Evolution of a Vital Chinese Learning Tool

I’ve been a huge fan of Mandarin Poster for a while, but I have to say that the recent website redesign and the expanding line of resources in the past year has taken me by surprise. It has quietly exploded from a simple helpful resource into a website with the potential to change the Chinese language learner’s entire toolbox.

What is Mandarin Poster anyway?

At the core, Mandarin Poster is just what it says it is–a poster for Mandarin. But it had a simple goal: create a study aid for the most basic Chinese characters to help beginners track their progress, while more advanced learners can see how they’re progressing as well as reference back to what they’ve learned before. So it’s a pretty universal tool, with fairly humble beginnings.


The full poster in all its glory. It’s in an IKEA picture frame, which the folks at Mandarin Poster helpfully let you know which one (spoiler: it’s the NYTTJA ).

So what’s new?

For starters–there’s now two character posters! There’s the original poster, which covered 1,000 characters, and now a second one which covers a further 1,000 characters. Not only that, but they also have a 1,500 character poster now as well. So many fun options to keep your character practice moving!

They’ve also got an Elements of Chinese poster, which contains the most common components of the most common characters. I really like the look of this one, to be honest:


There’s more to be seen there, what with digital editions of their posters, typography maps, and a radical scroll (with both Pinyin and Zhuyin!). I’d definitely check each of these out if you can!


I’ve always been a huge fan of Mandarin Poster, so I’m really happy to see all the changes and what the team has been working on. I would definitely recommend them to learners, it’s a fairly priced tool–which also looks pretty awesome on your wall as well!

I suppose my only complaint, if I had one, is that the two 1,000 character posters appear to only be offered in Simplified Chinese now. As I recall, there used to be the option to purchase one or the other. But as it is now, only the Simplified version is available, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the return of the Traditional Chinese version.

Still, these are smartly designed posters that not only look beautiful but are fantastic study aid to guide the learner through Chinese characters and into fluency.

Guest Post: Do I learn Mandarin Chinese or is it best I try Cantonese?

Below is a guest post from Learn Mandarin Now, which tackles the question: should one learn Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese? This is especially interesting for me as I’ve been taking some steps into Cantonese recently myself.

Have a read and leave your comments below!

With so many people planning to learn Chinese these days, an early decision needs to be made whether to learn Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese. That’s where we come in as we at Learn Mandarin Now always try to help you in studying Chinese via our various articles, informative advice and tips.

But, before we begin, at this point, we’d like to thank Greg for his contribution to our recent Infographic: How to learn Chinese: read the views of over 50 experts where you can check out Greg’s and other 50+ experts suggestions on their preferred ways to learn Chinese.

Right, so, prior to making your choice, let’s look at some of the things to consider and which may affect your decision to learn Mandarin Chinese or Cantonese:

Diversity of the Chinese Language

The home to almost one quarter of the world’s population, and with the majority of people speaking Mandarin Chinese, China is a vast country. However, given the diversity of people and the expansive geography, naturally there are a huge range of regional variations, dialects and accents—whilst, in some ways, similar to the UK or Australia where local variations in word usage or of slang is common, the sheer scale of China means the differences are more pronounced. For example, in an extreme case, some people in the southern areas such as Guangzhou might have difficulty understanding people from the northern areas around like Harbin because of the local terms and accents, even though they all speak Mandarin.

This issue was more apparent in the past but, as most of the younger generation learn the correct way to speak Mandarin at school, communications are now much easier.

Well known regional variations of Chinese

Whilst most people in Mainland China and Taiwan speak Mandarin, one of most well known alternatives is Cantonese. Cantonese is spoken by some 80-100 million people in Hong Kong, Macau, the Guangzhou (Canton) and Guangxi provincial areas; it is also widely spoken throughout most of the overseas Chinese communities in Australia, Europe, North America and other parts of the world.

To learn Mandarin or Cantonese?

At the end of the day, the choice is yours, and depends primarily on your motivations and purposes to learn such new language.

If you have been offered a job in or are planning to relocate to Hong Kong, Macau or the Guangzhou area then maybe consider Cantonese; on the other hand, some people simply enjoy watching Hong Kong movies, and wish to learn the language to better understand what’s really going on—especially as sometimes some of the local nuances can be lost in translation to Mandarin or English.

Alternatively, if you want to work in Taiwan or Mainland China (especially the northern part), then learning Mandarin may be a better choice. In fact, on balance, new students will start to learn Mandarin first. Some reasons for this are that it is spoken by the greater share of the population in China, thereby offering more job opportunities once you have mastered the language; plus, there are generally more courses and learning materials available for Mandarin.

So, have a careful think before you decide… but, in any event, keep reading our blog posts at Learn Mandarin Now for more sound information and advice—as we said, we’re here to help!

WaiChinese – A complete tone changer

I have to preface this by saying I am extremely impressed by WaiChinese. I have absolutely always wanted an app that was able to actually track your tones as you say them and it’s finally here! So please go and try it it out!

Now onto the full review!

It all comes down to tones

First and foremost this app is specifically focused on improving your tones and, by extension, your regular daily conversation. Phrases are recorded by native speakers, and I’ve had some recorded specifically for me to focus on particularly difficult tone combinations. The app provides live-as-you-record sound charts so that you can see how the tones are actually said, both yours and the ones the teacher records.

Below are two examples of how this looks in the app. The sound chart on the top is the teacher’s original recording, while the chart on the bottom is the student’s:


On this screen you can touch on the “translate” text at any time to see the English translation of the phrase you’re currently studying. In addition, you may notice a green book on the side with a grade on it:


If you click on the green book that has the grade on it, you’ll be taken to this screen:


Here, all of the recordings done by a student for a particular word, in this case 你好, will appear on this page. What this means is that a student see and hear how they’ve progressed over time for any word submitted on WaiChinese. The student can also see the teacher’s grade and comment. This provides a great way to focus on improvement for particularly difficult tones and tone combinations.

And in case anyone is curious, the app’s designer has also provided a little peak into the teacher’s view:


From here the teacher can see the list of students and is also able to grade them very quickly. This is where WaiChinese fits into a very unique niche: not only is it a great resource for students, but it also becomes an invaluable tool for teachers as well.

Originally I wanted to point out that this is an excellent app for Chinese language teachers to be used in the classroom or in 1-on-1 sessions. But I can also see this being really helpful for learners using Skype or even just language exchange partners. Certainly, at least, the “I have a teacher that will assist me” option makes it seem like this would be a great broad use case for this app.

My Personal Experience

I’ve been using WaiChinese for about a week now and I have to say it has made me much more conscious of my tones. I find myself thinking about them on a more regular basis than I normally would. Plus, the comments from the teacher as well as the visual representation of how my tones are being said, has been particularly good reinforcing how and where I need to improve.


So I am admittedly very impressed about how this app has made me be much more aware of the tones and how I’m actually saying them–compared to how I think I’m saying them. Especially because, after using this app, I noticed there is definitely a big discrepancy between what it actually sounds like versus what I think it sounds like.

Some Video Goodness

Below is a short demo video showing how the system works:

There is also another great demo video which you can find on Vimeo here.


Ultimately it’s the fact that this app is not limited to pre-configured flashcards, but rather any vocabulary word or phrase you want to learn that can be recorded is available to you.

But really it’s better if you try it out for yourself: So sign up today to beta test WaiChinese–it’s completely free! It’s available both for Android and iOS.