Learning Mandarin: how to continue after you leave China?

In 2016, I studied Chinese in China for six months. Returning to Europe, I felt that I had made remarkable progress, but I should have stayed longer. The time simply wasn’t adequate to study such a vast language and become fully fluent. Back at home, I knew I couldn’t continue studying with the same speed and intensity.

Once you fly back to your home country or where ever you’re heading, you exit the only real Chinese language environment and stop being immersed 24/7. You’ll also no longer be “forced” to say what you have to say in Chinese, have fewer opportunities for this kind of “natural practice” with native speakers and test freshly learned vocabulary and other things. Whatever learning routines you may have adopted, it will be hard – at least in my experience – to maintain them outside of China as your old or new life continues. But there are a number of things you can do to counter these circumstances in order to keep improving your Chinese skills.

How to continue improving your Chinese after you left China?

Keep regular interaction

First and foremost: keep regular interaction with Mandarin. Don’t let your Mandarin skills rust away. Because that is what happens if you stop. You have to keep swimming against the current, so as not to be washed away. This can mean watching Chinese tv-shows, scrolling through Weibo, reading Chinese books, listening to Chinese audiobooks and lots of other things like writing a Chinese journal or chatting with Chinese friends. The better you know why you’re learning Chinese, the easier the “how” becomes.

Maintain high-quality input

Maintaining high-quality input is another crucial thing. Use the internet to get that daily Chinese language input that suits your target level. You’ve probably already covered the basics, so you’re free to be more picky and focus on topics that really interest you. Here are some Chinese language learning formats I enjoy for example:

Even more choice you find here. The great thing about these two websites is that they sort completely subtitled / transcribed videos by HSK level, so you always find something to watch and study:

Do more reading

You hardly can do enough reading. Maybe you focused on communicating during your stay in China and didn’t have enough time to read authentic Chinese. When it came to reading in China I for instance mostly read textbooks and HSK study material. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the benefits of extensive reading and broadened the scope of my reading with the help of graded readers and apps like DuShu and WordSwing. Here I listed some other useful reading resources that I’d recommend if you want do more reading.

Keep communicating with Chinese friends

At least equally important is to keep learning by real communication. Since by now you’ve probably made a number of Chinese friends who you can contact, this is quite possible. If you haven’t, consider joining some Mandarin learning groups on Facebook or other online learning communities. Here you find plenty of native speakers who want to learn English or other languages and are willing to “teach” Mandarin in return.

Failing that, you can also book online lessons with a Chinese teacher on a tutoring platform:

  • Italki – An online tutoring platform with probably the biggest range of teachers to choose from. 
  • Verbling – An online tutoring platform similar to Italki.
  • Preply – Find native speakers and certified private tutors.

Solidifying & finetuning

Once you’ve left China and your learning progress is decelerating, it can be a good time to look back on the covered terrain and not only review what you’ve learned, but also work on some specific areas that didn’t receive the attention they require. In my case that would include the pronunciation of the tones and understanding and writing characters. As far as tones are concerned, I wasn’t corrected as much as I should have been after ending Pinyin base camp. When it comes to writing, I learned to write a fair deal of HSK vocabulary, but sometimes neglected understanding the basic components. In other words, it can be useful – after a time of quick progress – to “retrospect” and solidify the foundations.

Chinese learning challenges

In the long run, keeping that motivation to improve your Chinese skills and maintain those daily learning routines is essential. That’s why the final thing I’d like to recommend is to team up with other motivated learners and join the Chinese learning challenges by hackingchinese.com. The idea is to join with other motivated people for a kind of Mandarin learning competition focused on one of the four language skills. You set a personal goal like listening to 20 hours of Chinese this month, make it public and give it what you got. I always find that I’m far more focused and productive teaming up with enthusiastic people who share the same objective. To join simply check the upcoming challenges and sign up.

Be inspired

Oh and if you run out of inspiration, listen to the You Can Learn Chinese Podcast once in a while. John Pasden and Jared Turner form an expert panel for everything related to learning Mandarin and host interesting guests who share stories about how they achieved Mandarin fluency.

I hope you enjoyed this post. As always feel free to leave a comment down below!

Graded Chinese readers

Graded Chinese Reader 500 Words: Selected Abridged Chinese Contemporary Mini-stories
Graded Chinese Reader 1000 Words: Selected Abridged Chinese Contemporary Short Stories
The Rise of the Monkey King: A Story in Simplified Chinese and Pinyin 600 Word Vocabulary Level
The Sixty Year Dream: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers Level 1 (Chinese Edition)
The Dwarfs 小矮人 Xiǎo ǎi rén (HSK3+Reading): Chinese HSK Graded Reader
The Prince and the Pauper: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers Level 1,
Chinese Breeze Graded Reader Series Level 1(300-Word Level): Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!
Graded Chinese Reader 3000 Words: Selected Abridged Chinese Contemporary Short Stories

Disclosure: These are affiliate links. They help me to support this blog, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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