I’m talking about the You Can Learn Chinese Podcast. It’s not about teaching you Chinese in 15 minutes or getting 100 percent fluent while you’re asleep or some other click-bait nonsense. No, it’s an expert panel for everything related to learning Mandarin.
Why I recommend the You Can Learn Chinese Podcast
Experts views on how to study Chinese effectively and everything related to studying the language
Delivers answers to questions many serious learners of Chinese are struggling with. From improving your pronunciation to gaining fluency in speaking and reading and lots of other topics.
Great interviewswith other Chinese learners who share their stories about how they mastered Mandarin. Some of them, Steven Kaufmann for example, learned Chinese during the seventies. In other words, before the internet and apps like Pleco or Anki revolutionized language learning. Yes, you can learn Chinese: They started out much earlier, without all the tools and resources we have at our disposal today, and still were very successful.
Critical discussions about new developments in Chinese teaching and learning from insiders and experts. Doesn’t sound too interesting? Teaching Chinese as a foreign language is a relatively young field. Many questions still need answering: Why is Chinese taught the way it is taught in China today? How do non-natives effectively learn to read Hanzi? What’s common practice in “traditional” Chinese teaching isn’t always backed by solid empirical research, to say the least. The podcast keeps an eye on those new developments, so if a promising method has been invented, you’ll probably hear it here first.
The podcast is all about the meta-level of learning Mandarin. The format doesn’t aim at teaching people the language, though you can pick up some words occasionally. It’s hosted by Mandarin-experts John Pasden and Jared Turner and I really recommend it.
What’s the one thing that always gets Chinese people excited? It’s food!!! Yes, my friends. Chinese can talk endlessly about it. You like to pour some panda sauce into the wok too? If you enjoy Chinese cooking, then you’ve come to the right place.
The most hungry online cooking community in the world
下厨房 (xià chúfáng) is a Chinese platform where users can share their recipes with an online community. Xia Chufang is the platform in China where Chinese cook out of passion AND – welcome to the new world – for likes, followers and views.
What I am showing you here, is the desktop version, but it also runs on mobile(and I have no idea which personal data they process or where they store it, so be warned).
You want to discover some new recipes, but the ingredients are all Chinese to you? If you haven’t installed it already, this is where a pop-up dictionary comes in handy. Now you won’t get lost.
If you are a cooking fanatic yourself, you can make your own profile, upload your creations and get in touch with other online cooks. The vast majority out there is from mainland China and most recipes come in Mandarin. A chance to put your language skills into practice!
PS. I wrote “Chinese cooking”. A reader from China pointed out, it’s not that simple. Just imagine someone from Sichuan eating Shanghai cuisine where they add sugar to everything. Unthinkable. So I received this map with China’s eight major cuisines (中国八大菜系地图) and we get a little closer to the truth:
You want to improve your reading of Chinese texts? DuShu is a reader app that will take any Chinese text and turn it into a learning resource. Check out what DuShu can do for you.
I’ve been using DuShu for over a year now and I recommend it for intermediate and advanced learners who want to improve their reading skills. It’s extremely useful for reading news articles, but you can import any text you want.
I experimented with using DuShu everyday for 20 to 30 minutes, reading the news in Chinese. It not just allowed me to understand the latest news in Mandarin, but also allowed me to gradually speed up my reading and expand my vocabulary.
What makes DuShu such a powerful tool:
Easy to use: Just copy & paste any text into DuShu, save it and the text will be added to your reading list.
Difficulty: DuShu will tell you the difficulty level of the text you are about to read. For more details you can go to text info in the upper right menu. It will show you the text’s statistics and give you a detailed difficulty rating with percentages.
Start reading: DuShu offers two kinds of reading modes: you can read sentence by sentence or in full page mode. DuShu further supports your reading by underlining words, so you know exactly which characters belong together. It will also point out conjunctions and particles with a purely grammatical function that otherwise might confuse you. You can personalize these settings to your own needs.
HSK-friendly: DuShu generates a vocabulary list for each text. It shows you the HSK level of the character(s). It will tell you for example that 毕业 is HSK 4 vocabulary. This allows you to focus on your target level and ignore any words that are less relevant for your current goals.
Pronunciation: Any sentence can be read out loud if you want to listen to what you are reading. Also the tones are marked with different colors.
What to read…
I advise reading texts that are just a little bit out of your league, the gap shouldn’t be too wide though. If you have a solid HSK 4 basis you can have a go at intermediate up to upper intermediate texts, but the advanced level might be overkill for now. Not sure this is the right level? Try a topic you’re familiar with.
Avoid texts where you have look up every second word, unless it’s a text you are really eager to read. In general though, progress will be easier with texts that match your level, reading more satisfying.
If your main goal is speed, then you should try extensive reading. Pick texts within your comfort zone, texts you can read with ease, and just keep reading.
Success doesn’t come overnight, but invest enough and the results will come.
What could make it even better…
Doing some research on the app, I noticed some people having issues with the audio function: Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I sometimes have this problem too.
Another thing which could be even better are the automatically generated exercises after each text. They are pretty good, but still somewhat basic. I’d be happy to pay something for more advanced practicing.
And what about this? You’ve finished reading your text and want to memorize the vocabulary. You can use the flashcard exercise, which is nice, but it only gives you 20 randomly picked words. What if you want the whole list and practice with a spaced repetition flashcard system? Yes, the vocabulary list can be exported (premium feature) and imported to Anki, but this doesn’t work very well in Anki’s android version. It would be great if DuShu allowed to make your own deck of flashcards from each text and provide a more sophisticated vocabulary trainer.
Integrated graded readers as premium feature would also be welcomed, because finding the right texts on the internet is not always as easy as one would expect.
Google translations are limited, so you only get 10 free translations every day. For more you must upgrade to the premium version. Once you read your ten sentences you have to rely on your own translation skills. Vocabulary still gets translated individually though, so it’s not the end of the world.
Fun would be to add an element of a competition. So that you could compete with friends or other learners on reading “distance” or speed and see how you list in the weekly top ten.
Closing the small complaining part, I recommend including DuShu into your personal Chinese learning tool kit. When used daily and in the right way, I am convinced it will improve your Chinese reading skills and take you the next level.
Aiqing baowei zhan is one of the first Chinese shows that I managed to understand and enjoy. While the series may not be the most intellectual TV-show ever produced, watching Chinese people bitching you still will learn a lot. The more mundane, the better. Here’s why!
Year: Since 2010
Duration: 2 x 25 min.
Nr. of episodes: 1000+
Subtitles: Chinese only
Difficulty: Intermediate / upper intermediate
Why watch 爱情保卫战?
Develop listening skills: the invited guests speak normal everyday Chinese and talk about very, very mundane problems we’re all familiar with: relationships.
It provides almost endless listening material, over a thousand episodes have been made of this Tianjin TV show.
Enhance cultural understanding: I’m always surprised by the kind of uniform and functional approach Chinese have to love and marriage. It seems most people just adapt themselves to the expectations of others, start dating someone cause that’s the proper thing to do and then when things don’t work out, they are completely at a loss. This is where TV-therapy with a live audience comes in and judgement is passed! Anyway, the viewer does get an impression of what can be expected from both sides in a relationship, what’s a healthy relationship and what’s not. The expert’s panel will point out mistakes and confront the lovers with their wrongdoings.
Same procedure, different episode
Tips for listening
Understanding: Don’t think less of your self because you don’t understand everything at once. It’s not about “understanding everything”, every sentence, every word.
Conversation speed: They’re speaking too fast? Try lowering the speed to 0.75. It does alter the voice quality, but this will give your brain more time to listen, read the subtitles and take in the meaning of what is being communicated.
Repetition: Listen a second and even a third time and you’ll notice your understanding will increase every time.
Active listening: Give yourself a task like looking up the meaning of 10 words. If you do so, listen first and use your dictionary only in the second round. By then you’ll have a feeling which words really stand out and are important to understand the conversation.
Summarize: Try to summarize the main problem(s) of the couple’s relationship and (even harder) the advice they were given by the “expert panel”.
What’s your opinion about 爱情保卫战? Feel to free to comment.
Both apps have been around, but which one is the best spaced repetition vocabulary trainer and why? The ongoing debate about the best flashcard system for learning Mandarin seems to point towards the dictionary app Pleco.
What both Anki and Pleco deliver
Organize and review vocabulary with less effort
Relieve your brain with spaced repetition software that helps you to remember large quantities of words, while allowing you to focus on new or hard words
Download or import ready to use flashcard decks
Review “whenever, wherever”
Customize decks to your needs
What makes Pleco different
It’s Pleco’s built-in flashcard system. If you’re already using the dictionary, it’s sort of natural to build your own flashcard lists and use Pleco as a all-in-one solution for learning vocabulary.
Can be combined with the Pleco reader: it allows you to directly create flashcards from any given text
The flashcard contains the complete dictionary entry, including example sentences.
Sound is integrated
Ready-made lists of HSK-flashcards
Lists can be imported and exported between different users and devices
The current US-price is $9.99 for Android and iOS
What makes Anki unique
Is a flashcard system that’s not limited to Chinese. It can be used for different languages and subjects.
You can create your own flashcards. You want to make a set of Chinese grammar points with example sentences? No problem. You want to make a set of the 52 taiji moves you’re currently practicing? No problem. You can make whatever set you want.
You can import lists from the Anki community which offers a lot for Chinese learners. More than just HSK-lists by the way and in different languages. There is one “but”: they are not always free of mistakes.
Sound can be included (you can add or record your own sound), but not all sets have sound.
The desktop- and android- version of the software are free, the iOS-version costs 27,99€. Anki used to be considered a desktop-based application.
The limitations of Anki and Pleco
Both won’t solve all your life problems. They won’t be of much help learning completely new words for example or improving your listening skills. That’s not their purpose.
For what purpose they should be used
However, Anki and Pleco are powerful tools to organize your reviewing and keep track of things, especially when you’re starting to feel lost and new vocabulary just keeps adding up. Create the decks you need and both apps will support you to structure the reviewing process. “Difficult” cards will resurface again and again, while “the easy ones” won’t bother you for days.
That’s where both apps are most helpful. Reviewing with spaced repetition software is a healthy habit to cultivate, but it should never be your main focus, since there is no such thing as reviewing for the sake of reviewing. As a rule of thumb, it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes everyday.
Which to pick?
Both apps take some getting used to and have their pros and cons. Much depends on which devices you are using and how much money you want to spend.
Why many people prefer Pleco is because they are already using it as a dictionary. When you are looking up words for homework or when watching a Chinese TV-show, it’s only a small step (or sum) to create flashcards and review what you are learning. This learner actually used both apps and at the end clearly preferred Pleco:
I started out using Anki because I had heard of it first, and also because it was free (and I was a poor student). It was fine when I was just using one of the ready-made downloadable decks. But when I started learning words other than from decks, I found it too much of a hassle to add all those new words into Anki manually. Pleco let me add words much more easily, and I usually had to look those words up on Pleco first anyway, to get the meaning right. (Incidentally, Pleco does have a function that allows you to export your flashcards so that you can use them in Anki, but they don’t look as nice with the tones and don’t come with the pronunciation.) So if you’re still deciding between the two and you’re serious about wanting to learn Chinese, my advice is – spend the US$10-15 and buy Pleco’s flashcard program. It’s easily the best money I’ve spent on learning Chinese so far.
While other learners may prefer Anki for the many options it offers. Maybe you want to create your own deck of grammar points or make a set of particular phrases to prepare for your Chinese oral exam. Maybe you prefer your own examples to those Pleco offers. Maybe you want to use your personal notes. Once you’ve discovered how to make proper use of Anki, you can make any deck you want:
Other programs may have functions Anki lack (such as creating flashcards directly from dictionaries or automatically adding sentences), but no other program beats Anki when it comes to versatility. You can use it for anything you like, you can customize anything you like and if you aren’t a programming maven yourself, there will be others who might have already written the plugin providing the extra features you require.
I have noticed though that in this ongoing debate the Pleconians have gained the upper hand. The main argument is convenience. Like I said before, Pleco is the “all-in-one solution”. Many people value the fact they can update their flashcards and review characters they looked up yesterday when they are on the bus or whenever they have time to kill. The Pleco flashcard system is straightforward, whereas Anki can be a bit overwhelming for first time users.
Anyway, let me know what you think about Pleco or Anki. Have you tried other apps that work just as well? Please comment below.
Studying new characters everyday, you have to keep track of your progress somehow. People always like to hear exact numbers. Stating you have mastered over 2000 characters sounds impressive, but how can you be sure? You can find several online tests to check the number of characters you already know. But can they be trusted? I’m skeptical. Have a look at my test results and understand why.
I tried three different tests. All three tests are free – you don’t have to sign up – and take only a few minutes. I answered as honestly as possible. These are the tests:
The results blew me away, because they varied from 1600 to 3434 characters! How can the gap be so wide? Which test should I believe? Feel free to have a closer look:
Which test is the best?
Personally, I can’t say which test is most reliable. The main complication I see with all three tests is that most learners of Chinese as a foreign language would typically use the HSK levels and vocabulary to orientate. Or, alternatively, the Chinese textbooks they use in class. No matter which books and methods, all focus on the most commonly used vocabulary as opposed to less frequent ones like these from the Hanzishan test which I couldn’t even find among theHSK characters (!):
So that’s a problem. Grabbing a Chinese novel, opening a random page and pointing your finger blindly at some character could lead to the same result. Or so it seems to me, due to the randomness of the list above.
As a HSK-student, you would probably get a higher score testing HSK characters, but then again, Chinese texts don’t necessarily stick to HSK-vocab just to make your life easier.
As a testing method, I can’t recommend any of these tests, unfortunately.
Anyway, I could be wrong. If you want to feel the same frustration, give these Chinese character tests a try and feel free to comment your score down below.
Journey to the West is one of China’s Four Great Classic Novels. Reading the original classic about Buddhist monk Xuanzang and his three disciples by yourself is considered rather advanced stuff, after all it’s a lengthy piece of Chinese literature dating back to 16th century.
You could, of course, read a translated version or watch one of the many TV-adaptations, but if you still want to have read it in Chinese, the Pleco Chinese dictionary offers a solution. It’s an abridged and simplified version of Journey to the West which is much easier and more fun to read.
Pleco’s version of the story is – I’d say – suited for HSK level 4 or 5 (between 1200 and 2500 words). The vocabulary is narrowed down to those characters you’re supposed to know when you are somewhere between HSK 4 and 5. The official recommendation is HSK 5 though, so it might proof a little ambitious for HSK 4, but that level should bring you a long way.
The graded reader is divided into 37 chapters of about 1500 characters each. Every chapter is just two or three pages long, at the end of which, you’ll find a number of additional notes, giving you some background on Buddhist figures, monsters, names and places. Usually, there are some questions to check your comprehension.
The original novel, by the way, has 100 chapters and is definitely not the kind of book you can read in a week. If you want to get an impression of the difficulty level, you can check the picture slide show below. It shows an image of the first page of the first chapter from the copy I brought from China.
I can’t say Pleco’s 西游记 is very well written, but then again, this is a simplified version for studying Mandarin. It allows you to read one of the great Chinese classics in it’s “original language”, so friends of Chinese culture can cross off another item from their bucket list.
What I mean is, it reads as if a 10-year-old is summarizing a long and complex story by describing what happened in chronological order, using the same words over and over again.
BUT, that being said, the Pleco version of Journey to the West is fine material to speed up your reading. Repetition plays a key role in this. And you can learn quite a lot about Chinese folk religion, mythology, Confucianist, Taoist and Buddhist philosophy on the side.
The current price of 10,99€ is rather high for an e-book or – to be more precise – an add-on in Pleco. I’d expect a text-only adaptation of a classic – the Pleco reader probably doesn’t support any artwork – to be cheaper, so I doubt that I’ll buy any of the other three Great Classics. I’ll probably look for a Chinese children’s version instead, which can be found in almost any Chinese bookstore.
Do you have any Chinese reading material you would recommend or are disappointed about? Please leave a comment below.