Lesson 180: Hints and Tips

Once you are able to read and recognize a good selection of Chinese characters, you can benefit from the subtitles that are present in almost all Chinese media. Try to follow along with the text and speech, which can help you learn new characters along the way. Watching music videos (or karaoke) sessions can be equally beneficial. As you get better, try watching English movies with Chinese titles. Notice how sentences and phrases in English are translated into Chinese to convey the same meaning.

Well this is it, the last set of hints and tips in our course. You are now entering level 4, which means you have a decent grasp of Chinese. Congratulations for making it this far, when so many others gave up. For insights into Chinese culture, characters and other areas, visit CLO’s Insights Blog.

Lesson 179: Hints and Tips

Another good method of learning is to watch sports in Chinese. This could either be watching televised sporting events or even attending an event yourself (to really get in the spirit!). This works especially well if it’s a sport that you’re already familiar with, since you can then figure out common Chinese expressions without external help. For example, if watching baseball, it shouldn’t take long to learn the words for “ball” or “strike” since you’re likely to hear them often. If you’re fortunate to be in the stands, you may be able to pick up some common cheering expressions (along with expressions of frustration if the local team isn’t doing well)! Learning about the local teams and what sports are interesting to locals also gives you lots of valuable material to engage in conversations with.

If you’re a “foreigner” living in a Chinese community, you may be accustomed to hearing the same questions asked of you all the time, and you probably have standard answers that you give out on instinct. Once in a while, you may find it worthwhile to ask the same questions to native Chinese speakers, just to compare how they answer the same questions. You can try these out on friends by asking them questions whose answers you already know. Compare how you would answer to how they answer. Along with finding new ways to answer the same questions, this can also let you correct any grammatical mistakes you may have been making.

Lesson 178: Hints and Tips

If you’re living in a Chinese speaking community and are looking for people to practice Chinese with, taxi drivers can be a great source. A talkative driver can give you great practice in answering questions. You can also practice by asking him the same questions in return. If you travel in taxis often, you can even try asking the same question to different drivers to see how their answers differ, and where they are the same.

Playing games (with adults or kids) is a great way to hear colloquial vocabulary. You can start off with simple games using a deck of cards (some games are universal, others would have to be taught). Later, you can move up to games such a Mahjong to get a real feel for local culture. During the games, watch for expressions of joy or frustration. If you get enough playing experience you may find yourself instinctively blurting out the same expressions in Chinese!

Lesson 176: Hints and Tips

Branch out your learning beyond podcasts and books. If you have the opportunity, listen to music, such as the ones available in our music section. You can also rent Chinese DVDs of movies or soap operas or try listening to online Chinese radio stations. If you find the material too difficult, you can try listening to children’s shows which tend to use simpler language. Even if you don’t understand all the material, you will subconsciously be learning what “sounds right.” As well, by learning from these sources, not only are you branching out the contexts of your learning, you are also getting some entertainment while learning about Chinese culture at the same time.

While learning from television and other media is a great way to supplement your learning, keep in mind that actual colloquial speech tends to be quite different from what you hear in the media. Accents in the media tend to be more standard, which can differ somewhat from what you might hear in different regions. At the end of the day, finding real people to speak with should always be your first choice in practice.

Lesson 174: Hints and Tips

It is worth noticing some of the many superstitions in Chinese culture, as they can help you avoid embarrassing yourself in a variety of situations. These can include not leaving your chopsticks standing upright in your bowl, not giving a clock to someone on their birthday or not wearing a green hat in public. As well, depending on where you are and who you are talking to, it is worth noting that there are certain subjects that are quite sensitive to Chinese citizens. These include politics and particularly (what is known as the three Ts), Taiwan, Tibet and Tiananmen square. If you do engage in such a conversation when in China, do make sure it isn’t in a public place.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, and you have a musical ability, you may find it extremely worthwhile to learn how to sing a song or two in Chinese. Find out from locals what would be a good choice for you. Karaoke bars are extremely popular in Asia, so chances are you will find yourself in more than one occasion where you will be able to show off your talents.

Lesson 171: Hints and Tips

Part of learning Chinese is learning the culture of what can be said when. Some compliments may be treated as insults in the Western world and vice versa. Keep an open mind to such comments as they need to be taken within context. Some comments may seem quite direct, such as “You are very tall” or “You are quite fat.” What is considered “beautiful” in Asia may differ from the West. Asian people tend to regard bigger eyes and fairer skin as being beautiful, so you may receive compliments on that, if it applies to you. By learning what is appropriate and not appropriate, you can return the same compliment where the context allows it.

You may find that the Chinese are fond of asking questions that Westerners may find quite personal, such as strangers asking your age, weight or even how much you earn! In order not to offend the questioners, you can choose whether to reveal such information or to come up with a polite response if you choose not to. It is worth taking the time to find out from a local how to best respond to such questions in order to maintain a positive first impression wherever you go.

Lesson 169: Hints and Tips

It’s important to know the names and titles of people around you, and whom you might associate with. Don’t assume that you can use the same titles that other people use for them, since many titles are based on what relationship you have with the person, such as if they are older or younger than you as well as if their relation to you comes from the paternal or maternal line. Similarly, observe how strangers are addressed in your area. What terms do people use to call waiters and waitresses, or sales staff? Is the term the same for women and men? Some positions such as teachers or bosses require further respect – note again how these people are addressed.

Note how people react to you when you offer them help or advice. Make sure to use the same approach when others offer you help. Chinese is all about giving respect and thanks where it is due. In many cases, this is much more so than seen out West. So if you notice people overdoing it in terms of flattering you or thanking you, consider it expected for you to return the same attention when it is your turn.

Lesson 168: Hints and Tips

It is important to note that many words in Chinese are defined differently than their English counterparts. For example, the word “cousin” in English has multiple words in Chinese depending on how exactly the person is related to you, and whether they fall under your paternal or maternal line. So while dictionaries are useful for giving a general definition, extra attention should be placed to when and how these words are used in Chinese as it isn’t always the same as in English.

You will know that you are on the road to fluency when you find yourself thinking in Chinese rather than English. Certain words and phrases are used extensively in Chinese without direct translations in English. So the next time someone asks where you want to sit and you instinctively reply suíbiàn or dōu kěyǐ, consider yourself on the right path!

Lesson 165: Hints and Tips

If you’re really keen on perfecting what Chinese you know, you can try and learn lots of “error catching” phrases to ask native speakers in Chinese. Phrases like “Did I say that correctly?”, “Was my pronunciation okay?”, “Is there a better way of saying that?” etc. Native speakers will rarely correct you on their own, but if you prompt them in the right manner they can be coaxed into giving you valuable feedback!

It is good to learn the cultural insights behind common phrases and expressions. While you may be fine at translating between Chinese and English, it’s just as important to know when to use the right expression (and more importantly – when NOT to!). For example, if someone told you (in English) that your English was very good, you might reply with “Thank you.” However in Chinese, the polite answer to such a question is to disagree, saying your Chinese wasn’t good at the time (i.e. display some humility). This would be a typical answer even if you were completely fluent! You can find out more about such cultural insights by observing others in such situations or asking Chinese people “What do you say when…” and describe common situations that you are likely to encounter. You may find that some of the answers surprise you!

Lesson 163: Hints and Tips

A great way to improve your pronunciation is to record yourself speaking. Most people don’t bother doing this since they think they can already hear themselves when they speak. However, most people are shocked when they hear their voice to find that their pronunciation isn’t as good as they thought it was. You are your own critic, so use the Test your Pronunciation tools on our website to constantly compare your voice to that of the native speakers. You can even record both samples and compare the two. Try to get your voice as close as you can to that of the native speaker’s.

It is sometimes hard to solicit help from native Chinese speakers if you want them to help correct your sentences. Usually, they won’t bother to correct your speech even if you make mistakes, to avoid having you lose face. One technique you can use is, the next time you have trouble finishing a sentence, don’t. Stumble through it then wait for the Chinese person to help you through it (if you struggle long enough, they should jump in). This way, instead of completing the sentence in an improper way and having no one correct it, you get the proper sentence that you can learn from and try to use next time.

Lesson 161: Hints and Tips

The concept of “saving face” is very prevalent in Chinese culture. This also means that it may be hard to get native Chinese speakers to offer you constructive criticism. The only way to get it is to constantly ask them for it. “How is my pronunciation?” “Did I say it in the right way?” If you don’t ask, expect them to continue complimenting you even in areas where there may be room for improvement.

Although native Chinese speakers will rarely bluntly offer you criticism, there are other ways to get constructive feedback from them. When asking questions or having conversations with Chinese speakers, a common occurrence is for them to repeat your question or statement to clarify its meaning. Observe closely how they do so. Do they use the same wording that you do? Or do they change the words slightly? If you notice a change, consider that a correction for you to use next time!

Lesson 159: Hints and Tips

Use the test your pronunciation tools on our website to compare your sound to that of native speakers. It takes years of practice to mimic the exact voice of a native speaker. However it’s always productive to see how close you can get even with basic vocabulary. Many users are shocked to hear the recorded sound of their voice since it usually sounds very different than what you hear when you are speaking. Use these tools to learn and improve.

Never be content. There is always room for improvement. Even among the basics, you should always be striving for perfection. Once you have mastered the basics, focus on the details. Perhaps you know how to write a few characters. Then focus on mastering your strokes. With vocabulary you know, there may be room to improve your pronunciation. Sometimes it is good to take a step back and go over what you already know, and see what details you can improve upon, rather than always needing to venture into new territory.

Lesson 157: Hints and Tips

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One good way to learn is to hang around Chinese speaking children. Adults might be too forgiving by praising your Chinese when you don’t deserve it or pretending to understand you when they actually don’t. Children though, tend to be more direct. If they don’t understand you, you will see it in their faces. If you make a mistake they will be more up front with you. If you’re able to directly communicate with them without getting strange looks, then you know you’re on the right track!

Develop an ability to appreciate and take criticism well. Then show off this ability to those around you. Let them know that you appreciate their correcting your mistakes, in order for you to improve your Chinese. This is important, since most Chinese speakers won’t bother to correct you, to avoid being too critical. If however they know that their comments will be well received, it can be a valuable tool to find out which areas you need to work on.

Lesson 154: Hints and Tips

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It is common to run into casual acquaintances on a daily basis who in lieu of the general “How are you?” might instead ask “Where are you going?” or “Have you eaten yet?” Accept these questions with a smile to thank the person for caring to ask. While these questions might be thought of as being “nosy” in Western culture, they aren’t really, since the person usually expects a generic answer back, in the same way one asking “How are you?” in English usually doesn’t expect a detailed reply back.

Chinese people might be more prone to asking “taboo” questions such as “How old are you?” or “How much money do you make?” Remember that this is a different culture, so don’t take offense to such questions. If you aren’t comfortable answering such questions, you can come up with creative answers that don’t sound rude such as “how old do you think?” or “enough to get by.” Many Westerners make the mistake of applying standards from their home country when dealing with Chinese in a Chinese community. Keep an open mind and find ways to give respect without letting the speaker lose face, when managing your relationships.

Lesson 152: Hints and Tips

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One curious quirk that you may encounter with Chinese native speakers is their tendency to repeat the question you ask them. For example if you say “I’m going to work” you may get the response “You’re going to work?” While this may take some getting used to, it’s a great learning tool. If they repeat your question in the same manner that you originally asked it, you know that you were spot on in your phrasing. If however they correct it in their response, you can note the correction for next time! This is a great way to test yourself if you encounter a speaker like this, since you can make conversation using new constructions and see how accurate you are by listening closely to their responses.

In order to succeed in learning Chinese, you need to classify your experiences in speaking Chinese in two ways. When you have an experience where you were able to communicate with someone effectively in Chinese, consider that a confidence builder. If you have an experience where you were unsuccessful in communicating your meaning across, consider that a reality check. Use these latter experiences to help you figure out which areas you need to work on and where you need to improve. This way, all your experiences in speaking Chinese can be used to further your goals of achieving fluency!

Lesson 145: Hints and Tips

If you have the luxury of a language learning partner and are looking for some helpful activities, try taking a magazine along with you (something with lots of pictures) and see how detailed you can get when describing pictures to your partner. There will always be certain aspects that you can’t describe with your current vocabulary. Use this opportunity to learn new ways to describe what you’re seeing. In your next session, you can try describing the same picture again using what your partner taught you last time. If you do this enough times, you will then be able to practice your new skills yourself the next time you have time to stare at a billboard.

Today’s lesson doesn’t introduce any new vocabulary but should still be a good review of what we have taught you so far. Use the Complete transcript to translate any words you may not recall. Go through the Notes to see highlights of sentence patterns and alternate usages of items we have taught before. Then go through the exercises to see if you can come up with some of the sentence patterns on your own. You can add to the challenge by completing the above activities using one of the alternate modes such as Chinese characters or even working backwards from English back to Chinese.

Lesson 140: Hints and Tips

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If you have the opportunity to interact with Chinese speakers, you may notice (especially early on) that most of the conversations you have tend to be quite similar. “Where you are you from?”, “What do you do?” etc. Rather than using the same answers and lines each time, try to mix it up from time to time. Learn new ways of answering some of these questions. You can test how well you are doing by studying the reaction on the faces of your listeners which should give some indication of how well they understood you. This approach can also be extended to creating daily routines for yourself. Memorize little speeches that you can give when going to get your laundry done, or getting a haircut. Start off easy, then work your way up to more complicated situations.

As mentioned above, as foreigners living in Chinese communities we are usually the recipient of a barrage of questions from local Chinese folk. However, if you are willing to take charge, you can turn the tables by learning how to ask your own questions to elicit responses. Learn to talk about the weather, or what questions you can ask about the local news scene to further the conversation. This is a great way to pick up new vocabulary. Learn from the responses you get, as these may be responses you can use yourself in future conversations.

Lesson 138: Hints and Tips

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Many teaching systems try to teach new vocabulary by giving you a list of new words to memorize (this same principle applies to learning to read and write new characters). The problem is that without context, it is hard to remember these words, so you are facing an uphill battle by using this approach. This is especially the case in Chinese where the same character can have multiple meanings in multiple contexts. Our approach at CLO is to help you remember the usage of words in context. Use the word bank to see where else within other lessons a character or word you are studying has been used, to get familiar with other possible usages.

One advantage to learning Chinese in a Chinese speaking community, is that the local residents are usually a lot more receptive to talking to you in Chinese and helping you practice what you’ve learned. They usually find “foreigners” to be a novelty and find it as interesting (if not more) to talk to you than you are to talk to them. This can also extend to non Chinese speaking communities where Chinese may be even more surprised (and intrigued) to hear you speaking with them in Chinese than they might be if you lived in a Chinese community. So use this to your advantage by striking conversations with Chinese people where you can, to practice what you already know. Even if the conversations are rather simple, you will still be training yourself to listen to different ways of speaking as well as training yourself to come up with answers on the spot.

Lesson 134: Hints and Tips

The approach used to teach grammar on this site is to not confuse you with too many rules. Instead, we would rather fill you up with examples that let you develop the flow of the language naturally. It is much easier (and much more pleasant) to go over grammar rules after the fact. Let them explain what you already know, rather than leaving you frustrated by trying to learn new rules for things you don’t understand.

You may have noticed that the podcast reviews for recent lessons have experimented with new formats such as video and pictures. You are more likely to remember something if you are able to experience it within different contexts (using more of your senses) which is the idea behind these new formats. Similarly, you can try and create your own experiences by using what you’ve learned in the real world. Pick up a fruit learned in today’s lesson and try to describe it while seeing it and feeling it in front of you. If you have the opportunity to practice what you have learned with a Chinese speaker, try and do so to cement in your new knowledge!

Lesson 126: Hints and Tips

Go at your own pace! Each person’s situation and time commitment available for this course is different. While we release lessons three times a week, some users might find that to be too much for them. In that case, switch to your own pace (don’t worry – the lessons will be waiting for you when you get there!). One clue as to whether you’re keeping up or not, is whether you understand the extra Chinese being used within the lesson. If you can understand the general meaning of what is being said, you should be ok. If you find yourself constantly referring to the word bank to look up words whose meanings you may have forgotten, this may be a signal that you are progressing too quickly. Slow down and revisit older lessons. Listen to older dialogue summaries and see how much of it you understand. Go through older podcast reviews and see how many of the questions you can answer.

You may have noticed that the vocabulary and complete transcripts for lessons in level 3 allow you to view them in multiple formats. Use these tools to mix up how you learn new words. You may find yourself very good at translating from Chinese to English. But how are you at translating English back to Chinese? Use the English mode in the Complete transcripts and see how many of the sentences you can translate back to Chinese. You don’t need to strive for 100% accuracy since there always multiple ways to express yourself, but you should still aim to be quite close to the versions given.

Similarly, there are different ways to use the Podcast Reviews as well. If you find yourself normally using it by listening to it directly, then try working through the questions off the site without the audio or vice versa. Again, you will find some ways much easier than other ways, so this should give you an idea on which area you need to work on.

Lesson 123: Hints and Tips

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You may have noticed that a lot of extra Chinese is being used within the lesson teaching portions. This will continue in level 3 and on. I recommend you first listen to the podcast and try and pick out as much of the meaning as you can. Then refer to the Complete transcripts to pick out the words and phrases that you weren’t able to get using the default Pinyin or Chinese character versions. Once you have understood it all, try translating from English back to Chinese using the English mode with the popup Pinyin translations.

It is important to make sure you can understand all the words and phrases used in the most recent lessons, since future lessons will build off of these. It is necessary to learn this way, since the dialogues alone don’t provide enough practice for different contexts of where vocabulary can be used. You can also use these lessons as reading practice to try reading in Pinyin or Chinese characters either alone or with the accompanying audio. In the past, our teaching methods have adapted from teaching around dialogues, to adding review audio podcasts, to adding video to now using Chinese within the teaching. Expect to see us adapt to other teaching methods in future lessons and future levels to give you new ways to absorb the material at hand.

Lesson 122: Hints and Tips

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It’s one thing to be able to know and recognize lots of vocabulary, but it’s another thing to actually be able to use it properly. In Chinese, more than in English, many words can be used in multiple situations and it’s important to know which word to use when. One way to learn is to try and use different ways to express yourself in common situations. You have learned different ways to say “Excuse me,” “Sorry to bother you”, “I’m embarrassed to ask you” etc. Try to learn which phrases are better used for which situations. If you live in a Chinese speaking community, you can learn a lot by listening to those around you. The next time you are standing in line to buy a ticket, listen to the way the person in front of you purchases it. Does he use the same words and phrases that you do? Try and mix it up once in a while to practice what you know already rather than always focusing on learning new vocabulary.

There are different stages to learning a language. During the early stages you will find yourself learning how to say common words and phrases by translating them back to English. At some point, however, you will reach a stage where you already recognize most common words and when new words arise, you will find they are synonyms of words you already know. This is the stage where you will now find yourself having choices in how to express yourself, and can now actually choose the words to convey the proper nuances of your message. This is the stage we are aiming to get to in upcoming levels, since Chinese can then be used to explain the lesson using vocabulary you already know. We saw that in today’s lesson when the phrase “I haven’t see you for a long time” was taught as another way to say “Long time no see.” Notice how that was all expressed without using any English! Embrace the fact that you are getting to this next stage!

Lesson 121: Hints and Tips

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While we initially have been teaching you by translating everything into English, at some point it will be necessary to start thinking in Chinese. In order to develop fluency, you don’t have time to translate everything you hear in Chinese to English before your brain will process it. The videos are meant to help in this area by associating words and phrases with concrete images you can visualize rather than trying to remember the English equivalent. You may have noticed that in level 3, we have stopped identifying the individual tones of new vocabulary. This is done on purpose to get you to listen to the sound and determine on your own what it sounds like, rather than thinking about the tone equivalent. We will be using more such approaches in this and future levels to get you more into Chinese mode, in order to improve your fluency.

When learning Chinese (or any language for that matter) you will notice that there are some words or phrases that you can never remember, no matter how many times you come across them. Each time, you may find yourself looking up the meaning even though you have heard it so many times before. Yet there are other words or phrases that you may only come across once that inexplicably stick in your mind forever! This is a normal quirk of learning; so don’t get frustrated by it. Just realize that it all averages out the same in the end!

Lesson 120: Hints and Tips

In the review dialogues for these last few lessons, you may have noticed a lot of extra particles (O, Wa, A etc.) being added within the dialogues. These are common in daily speech and have purposely been added to get you a feel for the language and particles that people tend to use while talking. If you hear them enough times, you will slowly understand the context of where best to use them. You will recognize an increase in your fluency when you start to find yourself using these particles in speech without even realizing that you are doing so!

I read a great quote recently: “You don’t learn by memorizing. You memorize by using.” Were you able to understand the dialogues presented in the review lessons? You may have found some old vocabulary presented in a different manner so take the time to review earlier lessons if you aren’t clear on the meaning (click on the words in the complete transcript to find out which lessons they were first introduced in). Once you are satisfied that you understand the majority of the material, find places where you can use the vocabulary and expressions taught. The Pong Audio forum has been added to give you the opportunity to practice some of what you have learned. The tasks there start out easy, but will slowly become more complicated to allow you to reproduce what you’ve learned. Good luck with your preparation for level 3!

Lesson 119: Hints and Tips

The word bank can be very useful for those studying characters. Many characters in Chinese can be used in multiple contexts when combined with other characters. Take for example a character like 子. Enter that into the word bank and see how often it is used in combination with other characters. Even simple characters like 大 and 小 are often combined to form other words, so as you are learning new characters, use the word bank to see if they are used to form other words that you may have already learned.

It’s a lot easier to learn words and phrases in context than it is from vocabulary lists. If you went out and saw a beautiful rainbow, and asked someone what that was in Chinese, you would be more likely to remember it than if you saw it in a book and tried to remember the meaning off the paper. The videos that have been (and will continue to be) added to past dialogues are meant to provide you with some of this context. Want to review an old lesson? Why not watch the video instead of listening to the dialogue. They have been recorded at a normal rate of speech, so chances are if you understand everything being said, you can pretty much consider that lesson learned. If you find it hard to understand, you can always refer to the lesson and the slowed down version of the dialogue for practice.

Lesson 118: Hints and Tips

You may have noticed the introduction of new modes to the Complete transcripts and Podcast reviews, starting with our last lesson. Use these modes to test your recognition of Chinese characters by following along with the audio, while viewing the transcript. Then try to see if you’re able to read the transcripts alone without the accompanying audio. Use the popups if you get lost. Want a bigger challenge? Try translating from English back to Chinese by using the English mode.

If you live in a Chinese speaking community and want to increase your recognition of Chinese characters, begin by learning to read signs or words that you encounter on a daily basis. Learn how to say the name of the city you live in and look for it being used in signs. Is there a particular dish you find yourself ordering a lot? Learn how to look for it in a menu. Or learn the different categories that you may find in a menu such as “Tea, Coffee, Drinks, Meat, etc.” Learn the characters for places such as “bank” and look for them being used each time you pass such a place. The mind is more likely to remember items that it encounters frequently, so start with the most frequent and work your way on from there.

Lesson 103: Hints and Tips


A great way to practice your pronunciation is to follow along with the complete transcripts or podcast review transcripts when reviewing lessons. Use any pauses between questions to sound out the answer in the script before listening to the native Chinese speaker. Compare your pronunciation with theirs; then repeat after them.

Another technique is called chorusing. This involves you saying the line along with the native speaker. The idea here is to mimic the native speaker as closely as you can in terms of speed, pitch and tone. If any of these aspects are performed incorrectly, they should be readily apparent when performed alongside the native speaker. This may take some practice but, done enough times, can yield impressive results.

If you live in a Chinese speaking community, try and learn how to play games with your local counterparts. These could involve simple card games or drinking games that don’t require much language. At first, you may benefit from just watching how they play before you join in. The trick here is to note their reactions. What expressions or comments do they yell out when they are excited? What do they say when they are losing or frustrated? If you watch and get involved enough, you may find yourself developing the same reactions. This will benefit you when communicating with people, by allowing you to understand and convey emotions along with your regular speech.

Lesson 074: Hints and Tips


If you have the advantage of living in a Chinese speaking community or a place to practice what you’re learning, try to add context to what you’re learning in the course by using it in real life. If you learn a new word to say goodbye, next time use it. If you learn a new phrase of encouragement, find a situation where it can be used. Observe the reactions of the people you’re speaking to, to learn if it was used in the right situation. Or perhaps you may hear a word or a phrase used in conversation that you learned in a recent lesson. Again observe the situation to help you learn when to use it and in what context.

When learning the Chinese vocabulary for everyday objects, or concepts that you can see and experience around you, try and associate the Chinese with them at each encounter. Doing this enough times will associate the vocabulary directly with the object rather than with the English translation. This saves an extra step during recall. It’s much quicker to recall the Chinese directly from an object than to recall the English, and then try to translate it to Chinese.

Lesson 073: Hints and Tips


If you are trying to learn how to read and write Chinese, focus on the most used characters first; then work your way up to the lesser used ones. Don’t know where to start? Here are the nine most used characters in the Chinese language. If you know all of them, that will give you a good start towards learning beyond them.


It has been said that in the spoken Chinese language, 10% of the vocabulary and expressions are used 90% of the time! This means that if you understood 10% of all the vocabulary and expressions in the Chinese language, you would understand 90% of conversation out there. Building on our tip from last time, when learning any language try to focus on learning words and expressions that you hear repeated. You are more likely to remember them since they are being repeated. Most people feel frustrated by trying to learn vocabulary that is rarely used and therefore easily forgotten.

Lesson 068: Hints and Tips


While the lessons on this site are progressive and structured to only introduce a few new words at a time, you will also have access to side material at a more advanced level. The recent lesson on Chinese New Year traditions is an example of this. Use the transcripts or recordings to see which words sound familiar. Perhaps there are other words you may have heard elsewhere. In English, most of our language acquisition came from reading, however it’s not as easy to do so in Chinese since most Chinese reading materials out there are in Chinese characters. Take advantage of this as well as the music currently available on the site to supplement your learning.

It may seem like you’ll need years to become fluent in Chinese. The truth is that the Chinese follows the 80/20 principle in that 80% of conversation uses only 20% of the vocabulary in the language. This means that you only have to master that 20% to get to 80% fluency! The trouble with many other language systems is that they spend too much time trying to teach vocabulary from the remaining 80% when they should be focusing on the more important 20%. You may have noticed that in this course there are no vocabulary lists provided for you to memorize. Instead we focus on providing dialogues that utilize language and vocabulary from the important 20% which will enable you to remember and recall vocabulary by seeing these same words being used over and over.