Hi, my name is Nora and I am a terrible student. I’ve purchased nine or so Chinese learning books since the time I began learning Chinese. But I’ll admit to you now, I haven’t gotten through even one of them. They currently sit on the shelves of my apartment, wistfully gazing out the windows all day.
Yet, I can confidently say that I speak Chinese. (Here’s proof!) So how did I do it? I recognized pretty quickly that every time I sat down in front of a Chinese learning book, I suddenly became hungry, distracted, sleepy…
So instead of feeling guilty and trying to coerce myself into being more disciplined, I’ve developed my own approach to learning Chinese that is interwoven into my lifestyle.
Here are my 6 Tips for Learning Chinese without the books
1. Commutes are your friend!
Stock your MP3 player with learning audio. There’s plenty available online for free and you should also check your local library. Multi-task. Are you cooking dinner, cleaning out your gutters, watering your plants? Put your headphones on and listen as you go.
When you’re on your way to work or school do you ever see characters you don’t know? if you’re short on time, use an OCR tool to scan the character and find its meaning.
2. Place visual reminders
I chose a place that I visit frequently throughout the day: the refrigerator. Each week I tape 4 new characters to the door. Each time I reach for a snack, I say those words out loud and picture their meaning. Whenever I take the words down, I put them in a pile that I quickly review before I put the new ones up.
You could also get yourself a Chinese character poster. What better visual reminder for characters? A poster is a great visual aid that you can put in your study area, your Chinese classroom or even as your computer desktop background! You can mark off your progress with a white board marker, then wipe away when you want to review the characters!
You can check out our Chinese Character and Bigram Posters in our Written Chinese Shop. The Character Poster is available in both traditional and simplified characters. All posters are in digital and physical format.
3. Find pockets of time
Find those 3-minute moments when you have nothing to do, like when you are waiting in line at the supermarket, waiting for elevators, waiting for your friends to arrive, etc.
4. Listen to Chinese radio
In the beginning, the radio will basically be like white noise. But as you listen, you will begin to hear the same word patterns over and over. Use a dictionary to look up those commonly used phrases and save them to your Quick List to review and test yourself later. You’ll slowly build your vocabulary based on relevance. Don’t worry about understanding what the show is about- just try to pick out frequently used words and listen to the flow of the language.
5. Love your Chinese
If you’re a TV junkie, find some Chinese TV Shows to watch. If you’re into reality shows, check out Nora’s 10 Reality Shows that will help your Chinese. If you’re not sure what you want to watch we also have a variety of TV Shows you can browse here. If you play an instrument or sing, learn Chinese songs. If you like to draw, create your own mnemonics. If you visit a website daily, see if they have a Chinese interface and make the switch. You could also visit some popular Chinese websites and try using them. It might be a little intimidating at first, but you’ll soon begin to recognize familiar characters as they are repeated around the site.
6. Think in Chinese
Start with your bedroom. Make it a visual learning space. Label the items you use and see throughout the day with their Chinese word and when you reach to use them- think the name of the item in Chinese instead of your native language. Begin working your way out- do you have a grumpy neighbor? Look up the word “grumpy” in Chinese and murmur it to yourself whenever you see him.
With these tactics employed, you can get the equivalent of about 2-3 hours of study time per day without even trying.
Of course, we’re not anti-books here at Written Chinese and you can find a list of Chinese learning books that have been recommended by Written Chinese users and the Written Chinese Team. There are also 8 Chinese textbooks, character books and a book teaching you how to perfect your Chinese handwriting with reviews for you to take a look at here.
Note: Don’t throw out your books! They can be great resources and for some people an ideal study companion. I just don’t happen to be one of those people.
Hollie’s Note: Having known Nora for a while now, I can confidently say that she still hasn’t used a book to study Chinese with…but that her alternative methods do work 😀
If you have any other methods for learning Chinese on-the-go, or in short gaps of time, share them with us below!