It will only take 12 minutes to read this post!
A lot of people enjoyed my earlier video where I shared my system and strategies for learning Chinese. Others joked that if I am just starting to learn 你 then how could I share my knowledge? Yes, I am a very early stage Chinese learner, but I think some appreciate my candid sharing of what has been working for me, and you may also agree these ways can help you in your learning too. Instead of an expert teaching you, why not a student sharing his methods that seem to be working so far 🙂
For those of you in China, you can check out the video on Youku.
Previous Video on Sit Down Learning – This is For Learning on The Go
Today I’ll share some methods I have been learning in my day to day workflow – not in my morning routine or sit down study sessions – but instead those five to ten minute breaks we might have throughout our busy day. I have observed that taking those few minutes to strengthen my Chinese learning has helped tons and it’s what really takes my learning to the next level.
Fill up those five to ten minute gaps in your day with these learning techniques and I am sure you’ll feel much more confident and excited about your progress.
Being Prepared When Those 5 – 10 Minutes of Free Time Come Up
As a boy scout, I was trained with the motto of “be prepared” and the same holds true in learning Chinese. When we get these small chances to learn Chinese in our day, we need to be fully ready to take advantage. So here are a few points I keep in mind throughout my day
- What my current focus words are; normally I study 5 at a time.
- What the hard words are that I keep having trouble remembering.
- What the current theme is of the words I’m learning (food, travel, medical, certain business types)
So hopefully you have already been studying regularly (and if not, want to begin, check out my previous video about Chinese study strategies) and keep your daily words in the back of your mind – as well as on the following:
- Your WCC Dictionary mobile app;
- A piece of paper – keep this piece of paper in your pocket;
- A Chinese character notebook that you’re studying;
- Another notebook for repetitive writing.
Chinese Writing Notebook System
Some may think this is overkill, but I am liking this system. I learn by writing something down. As I study the character I write it down once, and then write the pinyin and the English meaning. This becomes my master list of words I am studying, on a single notebook. This notebook also has a specific space to put the English and Pinyin on it as well as the character; so it all fits nice and cleanly together.
When I want to repetitively write it so that I can master the word – I use another notebook. This is for two reasons. First, I am able to write over and over without mixing it up with the order of the words I am studying, so that I am not nervous about making my master list confusing and messy. Secondly, this other notebook has more space for me to write the character and no extra lines or space for the pinyin or English meaning. I can just write and write the character nice and big and clearly. This notebook will get a bit sloppy, sometimes I’ll make a mistake writing the word, other times I will circle it over and over to either highlight that this is really done well or really done badly.
So when I am in those five to ten minutes breaks throughout my day, I can take out this second notebook and write over and over again to memorize and solidify the character I am studying. Maybe I don’t need to use this notebook even, if I am without the notebook I can just go to any piece of paper – since this is reinforcing my learning and not part of my normal morning learning session.
For me, writing the character repeatedly has helped strengthen my Chinese. I have been hearing the words over and over verbally for years, but now that I am writing it down it is making much more sense to me.
Use OCR When Out On The Go
OCR is an amazing technology that is getting more and more mainstream as technology advances. It allows us to leverage our mobile phone camera to scan words and allow the processor to try to guess and digest the words it is seeing. For learning Chinese this is epic and amazing. If you are in China, and surrounded by Chinese characters being equipped with an OCR can be a life saver – literally! But not only can it be used for emergency situations or ordering Chinese food – we should also try to use it to master Chinese on a regular basis.
So when you’re on a bus, or walking from here to there – try to be more conscious of the Chinese characters around you in daily life. Scan them with the OCR app and break down the radicals – understand why these radicals were used to make this word – recognize some features about the character that will help you remember it later.
And great timing – the team at Written Chinese has just implemented this in the WCC Dictionary and you can now get 25 free scans per day, or if you upgrade for only $14.99 then you can do it all day long with no limit!
Try Typing Out Words You Hear
Don’t have that many characters around you, but have more chances to hear it in Chinese conversations? No problem, when I used to be bored out of my mind in Chinese business meetings where I had no idea what was being said I’d write blog posts – but now I am trying hard to actively listen and write down the pinyin of what I am hearing.
Then, I take that pinyin and put it into my Chinese keyboard on my mobile phone. I use the keyboard called “Swiftkey” and it has the amazing fast and simple way to switch from English to Chinese – so I have no more excuses that it takes too long to switch over the keyboard. If you want to know how to add a pinyin keyboard to your electronic device, check out this page, if you’re interested in getting a handwriting tool for your mobile check out Nora’s article here!
I flip the Chinese on by swiping on the spacebar – and then start typing in the Pinyin I am hearing to see the most common Chinese characters of that pinyin. I normally type that directly into the WCC dictionary, so that I can look up the characters, or just look up the pinyin if I have no idea what the character could be.
So now I have so many dimensions to learn Chinese – both by seeing the character out on the street or hearing it in a conversation.
Looking It Up On The Dictionary
Chinese are very friendly people and want to help you learn their language, so don’t feel shy to ask them for clarification. I have been typing out words I want to learn in Swiftkey and then showing my family members or friends the word. Normally, I’ll try my best to pull up a list on the WCC dictionary and they can give me a suggestion about which word would work best in this context, or is most commonly used.
It’s like having a massively heavy paper dictionary that you would have to carry around with you everywhere – except it’s in your mobile phone that you have with you anyway. Technology is great isn’t it?!
Save Your Target Learning Chinese Character To A Quicklist
As you study characters, you should keep a focus list of current words you are working on or are having trouble remembering. In the WCC dictionary, it’s possible for you to make a “quick list” of up to 50 characters for you to take with you wherever you go. You can add them to your quick list by pressing the “+” sign on the right-side of the character. If you want to make your own custom flashcard lists, you can also purchase Unlimited Lists for $14.99.
Once it is in your quick list, there are a few things you can do with it; scroll through them on the go is the obvious one, but here are two memorization tactics that I am currently using.
Quizzing Yourself By Viewing The Chinese Character and Guessing The Pinyin & English Word
This is the easier one for me, to look at the Chinese character you saved in your quick list and then create a flash card study set for you to scroll through. When I see the Chinese character, I am quicker to remember the pinyin and the English word. When I create the flash card test, I do not choose the option to view the Pinyin, I only see the Chinese character. I challenge you to do the same!
It will then give you an idea of how well you’ve studied them, (granted you are telling the truth when you select correct or incorrect when revealing the answer)and when it loops around it puts the words you had trouble with at the beginning of the new set. Sometimes if I am always getting certain characters correct, I’ll remove them from my quick list – especially since I am limited to 50 characters (words, actually) in the app.
The Inverse Is More Challenging – View the English – Write the Pinyin & Character
You can also run the flash card test in the opposite direction – by seeing the English translation and then trying to write the pinyin and/or character. This is much more challenging for me, as sometimes I’m honestly not sure if it’s one character or the other. Also because it is much harder to remember the character from memory – whereas if I see the character I can use the process of elimination to guess the English word.
I challenge you to try this inverse way – to get it setup you need to toggle the switch on the settings after you choose to run flash card test in the quick list view
I wonder if you agree with me that this direction of English into Chinese is harder than Chinese to English?
Keep Up the Chinese Learning Regularly
So I hope some of these methods help, these are various strategies and methods I use on a daily basis to strengthen my Chinese learning. I hope they work for you too. Yes, this is mostly showing our own Written Chinese dictionary – but almost all of these functions and features are totally free unless you want to buy stories or more OCR scans. I want to help improve your learning and have more people around the world be able to succeed in learning the Chinese language, it’s a market that will continue to grow and be more important around the world.
How do you learn? I’d love to hear your methods and systems in the comments. If you’re keen, you can even submit a guest post or video and we will share it with our audience.