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Update on learning Chinese

This year I started online Chinese lessons and continue with reading, listening & learning vocabulary.

My goal is to be able to read & write, however I should also be comfortable chatting in Chinese. I am not good at listening and replying in a reasonable time, making conversation stilted.

Online Lessons

My wife challenged me this year to start lessons, sending me links to a few services. After some research, I picked two to try.

The first choice was between an independent teacher or an online school. An independent teacher will be cheaper and more flexible, and the school is more reliable.

I chose to start with a school.

I then did trial lessons with eChineseLearning and Chinese Hour. Each trial lesson went for around 30 minutes followed by a sales person trying to get me to sign-up. I chose to go with Chinese Hour. They have few features, good teachers and flexible pricing.

I have class via Skype once a week for an hour. After general conversation, we go over particular lessons, such as reading a joke in Chinese and then answering questions about it. Early results are positive. I am more confident speaking, and my grammar is improving.

Make sure you know what your goals are, and use them to guide the type of service you choose.

Other services to look into:


I finished three books last year: a book of Chinese stories for children, Alice in Wonderland ( 爱丽丝漫游奇境记 ) and Around the World in 80 Days (80 天环游地球 ). Now, I’m reading Treasure Island ( 金银岛 ).

I’ve been reading children’s books that include both characters and pinyin. My challenge for later this year is to switch to reading novels without pinyin.

I find that the first part of the book can be slow going. After a while, I learn the author’s style, key vocabulary, and it becomes faster and more fun.

Finding books

When I started, I found it a challenge to get copies of things to read in Chinese. Now, I’ve moved to using e-books ( 电子书 ).

Amazon has a good range, but has limited catalogue if you are outside of China. Wandoujia seems to have lots of books that are free, although I’m not sure of their quality, and you’ll need an Android device to download them. Sina also has a book store, 新浪读书 , that includes both iOS and Android apps.

HackingChinese is focused on reading during January and has some suggestions.


I doubled my vocabulary across the last year, and I owe that achievement to Skritter.

Skritter stats

Skritter fits nicely into my day. Small bits of time while commuting, or between meetings or just before sleep, and I end up with around 12 hours a month.

As I read or hear new words, I add them into my dictionary and then export them across into Skritter word lists. I find that writing the characters helps with learning the structure and improving my reading speed.


I increased the amount of Chinese listening in my day through podcasts and music.

I started with a rather open approach to exploring any music that happened to be in Mandarin, and then narrowed down to music that I enjoy. Spotify has reasonable coverage of Mandarin language music due to our launches in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

If you’re interested, check out this playlist, and these articles on Hacking Chinese. I also started using Xiami and Sina Weibo ( 微博 ) to discover and follow mainland artists.