Learning Mandarin

I’ve been learning Mandarin for about nine years now. Over time it has become my hobby, passion, obsession, source of endless frustration with the most rewarding outcome I’ve ever experienced.

My study methods vary. This keeps me interested and engaged. I started out with evening classes at UVIC’s Continuing Education program in Victoria. ChinesePod was my main resource for a while afterwards. Then I discovered the winning combination of travel & study using one-on-one classes which brought me to Guilin’s Chinese Language Institute (CLI), The Harbin Mandarin School, and Kunming’s Keats School. For a few months I had subscribed to the The Chairman’s Bao.

Lately I enjoy watching all kinds of Chinese TV series, follow China Daily Bilingual daily (really!), listen to podcasts and read the transcripts at Slow-Chinese.com.

On WeChat, I communicate with my friends in Chinese, and I love my (bi)weekly language exchange sessions with Eric where he speaks English and I speak Chinese. Of course, my all-time favorite study method is traveling to China and being part of everyday life.

Below are some resources that I currently find very helpful. It’s just a short and very personal list.

Dictionaries and Translation Tools

  • Couldn’t do without Hanping Pro on my Android smartphone (not available on IOS). Pleco seems to be more popular, but I haven't used it in years.
  • #1 on my PC is Chinese Reader (MDBG). While activated I can point or highlight Chinese text and it pops up the corresponding dictionary entry.
  • So much in Mandarin depends on context, and that’s where dictionaries quickly reach a limit. For verification, I prefer Baidu Translate over Google Translate because it comes with plenty of example sentences.

Podcasts and Reading Material

  • China Daily Bilingual is my favorite right now. I usually only read the first few sentences in Chinese and look up all unknown words, then glance over the English part.
  • slow-chinese.com is no longer maintained. Too bad, it was such a great site! Over 200 podcasts covering all kinds of topics with transcripts. As if I knew that good things seldom last forever, I have downloaded all episodes, so they still keep me company on walks and drives.
  • Reading episode summaries for TV series. Search for the show in Chinese. I find the results on baike.baidu.com quite useful. Baidu Baike is an online encyclopedia, similar idea as Wikipedia.
    This example opens the summaries for The Golden Eyes - 黄金瞳 .

Language Schools in China

Over the years I had 12 different teachers. Many have become good friends, and we are still in touch. I only 'lost' my very first teacher Peixi - WeChat didn't exist back then. Each one of them was excellent and enriched our lessons with unique cultural, lifestyle, historical and philosophical insights. I usually study for four weeks at a time.

I'll write more about my study experience in a separate article. In the meantime, feel free to contact me through the form below or discuss on my Facebook page.

Text Books

Both aren't bad.

TV Shows & Movies

For learning purposes, I still prefer TV series (电视剧) over movies because they give me time to slowly get to know the characters and the overall story. Family and love stories usually provide a lot of cultural and life style background.

  • Viki is a video streaming website specializing on Asian productions, with a large selection of new Mainland China content, some currently on air. There are also many Taiwan productions. For a challenge, turn the English subtitles off. Ad free and in HD quality across all devices with a subscription - well worth it!
    Wikipedia has comprehensive additional information, very useful if there are many characters or clans involved.
  • Living in Canada, I haven't found a way to subscribe to iQiyi. But that's probably a good thing - I'm watching enough (too much?) on Viki anyway.
  • For older shows, there's a good chance to find them on YouTube. The older chinese channels like Le TV and Youku seem to be gone.