[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/

“Relationship Calculator” – An App To Help Keep Those Familial Terms Straight

One of the biggest challenges many learners face is in trying to learn the different ways of addressing family members. I remember what pretty much amounted a general look of confusion around the classroom as we went over the multitude of combinations. Of course, we were told “well, just parents, siblings and close relatives matters” to which everyone replied:


Still, it wasn’t quite enough. This class was in Taiwan and a general walk down the street, chat with the local breakfast shop owner, or even stories from local friends made it painfully obvious that we needed to know more.

Flashcards are great, but what if you needed to know on the fly? What if, suddenly in conversation, you forgot and had to remember that estranged aunt or the cousin you’d really rather not talk about?

Now, of course, there is an app for that. It’s called “Relative Calculator”, or「三姑六婆—親戚稱呼計算機」. The name of the app itself obviously says more than “Relationship Calculator” and is definitely due an explanation.

The first part, 三姑六婆(sāngūliùpó)is an idiom which means “women in an illegal/disreputable profession”, and it can also mean a “woman who likes to pick fights”. There’s likely a good reason for choosing this, so if anyone has some thoughts throw them out in the comments below. Anyway the less said about this the better, so let’s move on.

The second part, 親戚稱呼計算機 is pretty straightforward. It is literally “Relative Naming Calculator”:

親戚 (qīnqi): relatives

稱呼(chēnghu): to call/address as

計算機(jìsuànjī): calculator

One nice thing, too, is that this app is for both iOS and Android, so we’re covered either way! The interface for both versions is pretty much the same, aside from platform specific differences. Still, this app is Chinese-only and you’ll want to have a dictionary nearby if you need to look any pronunciation or meaning for any of the characters.

First and foremost, after opening the app, it will ask you to select your sex then the relationship, and finally hit enter to get the results:


You can also use the「的」key to chain phrases together when building a relationship tree:


Sometimes it will come across situations where you need to pick the relationship based on age, and choose whether or not they are older or younger than you:


There are times, though, you’ll come across a relationship that it doesn’t have information for and it’ll tell you 「暫時沒有資訊」and you’ll need to hit the CE button and start over.

In some of the testing I did, it seemed to work pretty well, although there are some weird cases that may be worth double checking unless you’re 100% confident you know what it means and how to use it. Also, it takes a little getting used to as far as navigating the different relationships, but once you get the hang of it, it goes pretty smoothly from there on out.

Still, it’s a fun app and definitely worth taking the time to check out.

Download Relatives Calculator for iOS here.

Download Relatives Calculator for Android here.

And of course they have a Facebook page which you can check out here.

[Guest Post] Learning Mandarin Chinese: 5 special tips

Below is a guest post from the folks at Learn Mandarin Now. It focuses on 5 special tips for Chinese learners, including a link to an Infographic that I was able to contribute to, which you can see here.

This guest post is unique in that it combines interviews and tips from other language learners that is linked throughout the post. Feel free to leave comments below as well, letting us know what some of your favorite tips and tricks for learning Chinese are.

Without much further ado, onto the post!

As part of our continuing efforts to help you with learning better Mandarin Chinese, we are always looking for ways to bring you new ideas, tips and suggestions.

However, before we go any further, we’d like to thank Greg for his recent contribution to our Infographic and for letting us make this post: both greatly appreciated.

So, anyway, what are these special tips?

Best Resources to learn Mandarin Chinese

We thought it worthwhile to summarise in one place the details about several top resources such as Pleco, Skritter or Italki which have been mentioned frequently during our recent interviews and research with top bloggers and language experts, especially in How to learn Chinese.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not always necessary to spend lots of money to learn Mandarin Chinese and, in fact, there are a number of free, helpful resources available if you hunt around the internet.

Learning Mandarin Chinese in China

Even though there are many very useful online resources available, a number of the people we talked to suggested that the most effective strategy is to go to China and learn the language.

This is certainly one of the best ways to get ahead if you are really serious about learning Chinese and want to improve your skills quickly. In fact, we recently had an interview about this topic with several foreigners such as Jo, who is studying Mandarin Chinese in China.

A great tip for intermediate Chinese speakers: many foreigners these days choose to go and live in second tier cities such as Chengdu where English is not widespread and they can enjoy more opportunities to practice Chinese with locals. Plus, the living cost is much cheaper! So, why not try this?

Secrets to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese

Once you do you get to China to live or work, one of the best ways to improve your language skills when you are there is to try to blend into the local culture and talk as much as you can to native Chinese speakers.

If you are not able to travel to China, there are websites such as Italki where you can still speak with native speakers—indeed, we know of some foreign students who learnt to speak Mandarin Chinese even though they are not in China!

Another tip for intermediate Chinese speakers: “one on one” coaching has proven to be one of the best ways to improve Chinese speaking quickly! If your budget is tight, then here are some resource platforms that you can use for free:

(1) Wechat: the most popular chatting App in China where you can connect with a billion, active Chinese speakers and also make Chinese friends

(2) Youku/Tudou: the most popular Chinese video platform where you can watch the latest TV, films or videos for free to let you catch up with popular expressions, the latest slang and so on.

Should you be learning Cantonese as well?

Many students want to learn Cantonese as well as Mandarin Chinese and this is well worthwhile if you are living and/or working in Hong Kong, Macau or Guangzhou—and maybe have a spouse or close friend who is from Hong Kong. Some ideas and suggestions about learning Cantonese are offered in 10 great tips from a Cantonese speaking expert

Learning Chinese characters

Learning Chinese characters is an important element of learning and, in fact, we offer some tips and the strategy about how to learn Chinese characters in this interview about learning Chinese characters.

There are many different ways to learn Chinese characters, but Skritter seems to be the tool many people recommend, and it’s certainly worth taking a look at.

Sometimes, students cannot decide whether to learn simplified or traditional Chinese characters. However, in our opinion, it’s more important to get started and begin to learn. If you can master either type of character, you can basically understand the other.

Yet another tip for intermediate Chinese speakers: although everything seems to be digital these days, one other great advantage about learning characters is if you want to pass the HSK TEST. The test is from level 1- 6 and is becoming more and more popular in China; having the HSK certificate can increase your chances to get a scholarship in a university in China or getting more job opportunities.

In any event, if you are really keen to start learning Mandarin Chinese, remember to keep reading the interesting articles, advice and tips we continue to provide—and you’ll enjoy your learning journey that much more!

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.

Chinese Learning Apps for Android Roundup

This post is a follow-up to the New Chinese Learning App Roundup post, but this time we’ll be focusing on apps for Android!

While messing around on my Android phone, I went through and grabbed what seemed like the most useful apps from the Google Play store for Chinese study. Check out the list of apps after the jump!

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Ninchanese – a new comer to the online Chinese language learning arena

I had been following the progress of Ninchanese for a little while. I joined the beta program a while ago, and it was a few months ago that I received news that the beta was ready. I’ve gone in and played around a bit, and thought it might be worth taking a look at and giving a brief introduction into this new Chinese language learning resource!

Ninchanese’s Goal? Learning Chinese Should Be Fun

Ninchanese focuses on the idea that learning Chinese should be a fun experience. And to reach that goal, they’ve created this adorable little world with characters and stories that guide the learner through Chinese. It has a trailer video, which outlines a bit of this story:

A Little Background

I had the chance to talk to one of the founders not too long ago to get an idea of what their backgrounds were, what inspired them to work on Ninchanese and more. Here’s what they had to say:

We’re a small 3 person team passionate about Chinese. My partner and I started imagining Ninchanese because we couldn’t find the resources we wanted to keep learning Chinese. So we decided we’d create our own Chinese learning app. It’s been quite an exciting adventure since our first mockups on paper, and it gave us the chance to work with some pretty great people, ones who joined the team. We’re proud to have reached a stage where we can invite other learners in. It makes us really happy to see learners use Ninchanese, progress and send us extremely positive feedback on it (and great suggestions!). The more we work on Ninchanese, the more we realize what else it needs to be a strong, entertaining system with which to learn Chinese and that’s why we decided Kickstarter was a good place for Ninchanese!

I was surprised to find out that it’s only a three person team behind all of Ninchanese. It’s pretty impressive considering what they’ve managed to build up in the past couple years, and their passion for Chinese does show through in their efforts.

The App Itself

Now with that introduction all set, let’s take a look at the app itself, keeping in mind that it’s still in beta stages and could change.

The interface is sleek and modern, and upon login, the user sees a dashboard that provides a plethora of detail about their current progress and where to go next:


Also listed on the dashboard are the different lessons that, as you progress, unlock one by one:


The lesson organization itself is pretty well done, and goes in an order that makes sense to a new Chinese learner. One nice thing too is the grammar lessons are spread out pretty evenly, and there is a focus on dialogs and situations than just grammar points. There is a story line that is interwoven throughout the lessons, and is displayed in a instant messaging style format:


The “training” is also not lacking. There’s quizzes where you input the Pinyin, the English and character training. These are called ‘time attack” trainings, and you can see how well you do in a given amount of time. There’s also audio for each and every character and phrase you’re working on. One of my favorite trainings, though, is the drag and drop sentence structuring training. I think this is a fantastic way to learn the sentence structure and get immediate feedback:


It’s also nice, being a modern web app, that you can sign in and learn from pretty much any device–including tablets. Not being restricted to a single platform does make a world of difference if the the itch to study and keep progressing with the story crops up when you least expect it.

Gameification is also a big part of Ninchanese, and using the app is encouraged through fun badges you can earn:


You’re also given stats to see your progress, including how many points to the next level, skill progression, and scores:


There’s a huge social aspect as well, where you can add friends and challenge them, as well as share progress through Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it’s a modern, colorful and fun way to learn Chinese. There’s friendly competitions you can have against other students, and so far it seems like there’s more than enough content to get yourself started learning Chinese. I would even argue this can actually be a great learning tool for kids.

That being said, it’s definitely very cute, and at times very kiddish, so more serious learners may be slightly put off but the cartoony story and characters. Still, I can definitely see these elements really pulling in people as they immerse themselves in the world, and for that it is very effective.

The beta is still invite only, but if you’re interested you can head here and sign up.

They also have a Kickstarter campaign going, as it turns out, which you can check out here.