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Excellent Resources for Learning Mandarin Chinese

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Everdred
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Excellent Resources for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Post by Everdred » March 3rd, 2013, 5:03 pm

I've been semi-seriously studying Mandarin Chinese for the past two years or so, and I think it's time that I shared which resources have worked the best for me, and which ones didn't quite hit the spot. I'll divide my favorite resources into the following categories: best website, best mobile phone app, best computer software, best book, and best audio/video broadcast. I'll also include a second place runner-up for each category. Before I get started, I should clarify that I've never taken any Chinese courses, and I've never had a formal teacher. Everything I've learned has been through my own self-study and diligence. Now that I've gotten that cleared up, let's get things started!


#1. Best Website: The AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki

No other Chinese language learning website even comes close to this one. I've only been using this website for about a year now, but I consider it to be the single most valuable and irreplaceable resource during my language learning process over the last two years. The website is entirely focused on explaining how Chinese grammar works, and it gives examples to clarify its explanations. There are thousands and thousands of articles explaining how to correctly use Chinese grammar scattered throughout this website. All of the grammar articles are divided into skill categories such as Beginner, Elementary, Intermediate, etc. Even if you know zero Chinese, you can still pop over to the website and start from scratch. The website has been expanding gradually over time, and it's only going to get bigger and bigger. I should also mention that this website is 100% free and doesn't require you to sign-up in order to use it.

Note: You will need to download the Zhongwen plug-in (compatible with both the Chrome and Firefox web browsers) in order to effectively use this website.


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Runner-up: SexyMandarin


#2. Best Mobile Phone App: Pleco Chinese Dictionary

Where would I be without my Pleco? This app can be downloaded from either the Google Play Marketplace or the Apple App Store. It's 100% free, but you can also download a sexier, upgraded version for about $5 USD. Simply put, Pleco is just an English-to-Chinese slash Chinese-to-English dictionary on your mobile phone. But it's a damn good one I must say. This dictionary has tens of thousands of word translations. From the super-simple words like hello, to the ultra-obscure words like vasectomy, Pleco has them all. An added bonus is that many of the words (but not all) include a sample sentence to aid you in using the word correctly. The Pleco dictionary also has many common Chinese phrases and slang, so it's not so rigid like the traditional hold-in-your-hands book dictionary. You can also create flash cards for the words you want to remember the most, and then test yourself on those words later. Throw out all those old Chinese-English dictionaries you've got lying around, and download Pleco to your phone right now. I promise you'll never look back. And did I mention that the Pleco dictionary is free? And that it can fit in your pocket (assuming your mobile phone fits in your pocket)?


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Runner-up: Skritter


#3. Best Computer Software: Fluenz Mandarin

Fluenz is a small company that creates language-learning software. While I have no experience with their other language-learning software, I did dive deep into their Chinese language learning software. Fluenz is where it all began for me. I had been in Dalian for a year, I spoke little to no Chinese, and I was ready to start making a change. I was turned off by the idea of opening a textbook and whipping out the ol' pen and paper (like my high school and university years of learning Spanish and German), so I searched for something that would make me a little more enthusiastic about learning a new language. What I stumbled across was Fluenz.

While Fluenz certainly has its flaws, I think it was a great way for me to get my feet wet. The layout of the software is modern and appealing, the instructor on the software is a young lady that's very easy on the eyes, and the way the lessons are organized made sense to me. Overall, Fluenz felt much more interesting and modern than the Rosetta Stone software. I used Fluenz for a few months, and I would say it took my Chinese speaking level from a 0 to about a solid 3.5. The software only focuses on speaking and listening, and it doesn't teach you how to read or write. The software heavily emphasizes pinyin and using the correct tones when speaking Chinese. The software teaches you very core conversation scenarios, and it's mostly intended for people planning to travel or go on a business trip in China or Taiwan. The software teaches you very practical conversational skills that you can use in getting around China or Taiwan.

On the downside, the software heavily focuses on proper Putonghua, which is the standard dialect spoken throughout China. The reason this is bad is because it teaches you to speak very properly and somewhat formally (like from a textbook), yet nearly all of the Chinese that you will meet in your day-to-day life won't speak that way. Having lived in and traveled all across China, I can safely say that about 98% of mainlanders don't speak Mandarin properly or elegantly. Of course they will understand you very clearly when you speak to them, but don't expect any of them to talk so clearly and politely back to you like the way you heard in the Fluenz software. Another downside is the repetitiveness of the software. There are 75 lessons or so total, and they all follow the exact same format. I guess the format works, but you might find yourself getting bored after the 30th lesson or so. And finally, Fluenz is by no means cheap. On Amazon.com, it's being sold for about $375 USD. Definitely not cheap! On the upside, I can assure you that you can find somewhere to download the Fluenz software for free. :wink:


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Runner-up: Rosetta Stone Chinese (Mandarin)


#4. Best Book:A Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners

Ok - if you can completely master a foreign language without ever picking up a book, then you're a better man than me, but more than likely, at some point or another, you just gotta do things the old-fashioned way. I should admit that I rarely use books to learn Chinese, but there are a few out there definitely worth mentioning. The first one that comes to my mind is A Practical Chinese Grammar for Foreigners. Although not so pleasing to the eyes, this book is filled with great information to help you comprehend Chinese grammar. I guess you shouldn't always judge a book by its cover.

This book is very similar to the AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, but of course it's in book form rather than a website. It's also a little more dull than the Chinese Grammar Wiki, but it's still useful nonetheless. I'm not exactly sure what I should say about the book, other than it will definitely help you better understand Chinese grammar. As its title suggests, the book is indeed very 'practical.' The major downside to the book is it doesn't include pinyin in the sample Chinese sentences, so if you can't read Chinese characters, you're SOL. There are many parts of the book that are almost useless to me, because at this point I can't recognize all of the Chinese characters in the sample sentences. I don't know what they were thinking leaving pinyin out of a book intended for foreigners.

All in all, the book is quite useful if you can recognize some common Chinese characters, but if you can't, I'd give it a miss until later on in your studies. The Chinese Grammar Wiki is far superior to this book, but I still had to have at least one book on my list. You can buy this book for only a few dollars on the internet, so it won't break the bank.


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Runner-up: My Chinese Picture Dictionary


#5. Best Audio/Visual Broadcast: Learn Chinese with Mike

Sometimes foreign language learners need the ins and outs of their target language explained to them by somebody who speaks the same mother tongue. So even though 'Mike' is a white guy from Chicago, he still definitely knows a thing or two about speaking Mandarin. He lived a couple of years in Taiwan, and he's married to a Taiwanese woman. While he may not be the best guy to go to for native-like pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese, he's still a great guy to go to for the basics, like grammar, vocabulary, and common expressions. Mike Laoshi is a very lively and interesting guy to watch, and he has almost a hundred different video lessons uploaded on YouTube. If you're bored and have nothing else to do, why not check out lesson one? I sure know I'd pay Mike to teach me Chinese (and I mean that in a non-sexual way, of course).


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Runner-up: ChinesePod


I hope the resources I've listed above will help some of you out there learn Mandarin Chinese a little faster. I encourage others to comment and list any other useful resources that I didn't mention. I'm sure there must be countless other resources out there that I haven't yet heard about. Happy studying everyone!
Last edited by Everdred on November 4th, 2015, 3:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Twobrains » March 4th, 2013, 12:55 pm

Another hugely informative post, Everdred - thank you!!!

Did you try the Michel Thomas Mandarin course? I have it but haven't started learning the language yet.
"As long as you make an identity for yourself out of the pain, you cannot become free of it." Eckhart Tolle

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Post by xiongmao » March 4th, 2013, 1:44 pm

The best way - come to China and enrol on a Mandarin course. I've got 10 classes a week from 3 different teachers. And a whole city to practice reading and speaking :)

Also Windows 8 gets a mention - the new pinyin input system is awesome in that it knows the characters for whole phrases (assuming you know the pinyin).
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Post by CerealKiller » March 4th, 2013, 4:42 pm

Nice post bud. I still swear by my huge 99-yuan dictionary with 1000+ pages and literally every Chinese character known to mankind. Place names, rare 姓氏... you name it, it was there. Can't remember the name now, but I think it was an FLP product. That was my bible in the Middle Kingdom :)

If only there were a Thai equivalent to this thread.... (hint, hint)

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Re: Excellent Resources for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Post by Introvert » March 4th, 2013, 8:47 pm

Everdred wrote:
Runner-up: SexyMandarin

I hope the resources I’ve listed above will help some of you out there learn Mandarin Chinese a little faster. I encourage others to comment and list any other useful resources that I didn’t mention. I’m sure there must be countless other resources out there that I haven't yet heard about. Happy studying everyone!
You know, when I first saw Hot For Words, I thought something like SexyMandarin would be an excellent idea. Yes, I like sexy women. Tired of being shamed for that fact. Why not use my 'male weakness' in combination with edification?

Thinking with the little head as well as the big head... aren't two heads are better than one?

Enough of my rambling. Thank you for posting these resources, Everdred. The only one I would've added is interpals, but most already know about that site by now.

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Post by xiongmao » May 4th, 2013, 2:15 am

Just written a summary of my Chinese language learning experiences to date.

I'm getting better, but it's a hard slog.

Had a job interview with Sexy Mandarin, but they wanted me to relocate. Damn!!!!
I quit my boring cubicle slave job and now I'm Happier Abroad...
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Re: Excellent Resources for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Post by Alicece » September 16th, 2015, 3:04 am

he absolute best way is to move to China and try to survive (so I hear).

Failing that, emerse yourself as much as possible in every way (movies, using Mandarin at restaurants, have someone to speak with) along with traditional study methods seems to work well too.

Also, know right now that this is a hard language for most people to learn. Your time frame should be many many years before you can become very proficient (and if you do it faster, good on you, but often it takes a long time)

If you couldn't do it, then just immersion yourself online with native teachers. Hanbridge Mandarin school both offer Mandarin learning online and study mandarin in China. Take a look at it and have a try.

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Re: Excellent Resources for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Post by Ghost » January 7th, 2016, 3:47 pm

That AllSet site is great. I'm reading it now. That's just the kind of thing I've been looking for. Thanks Everdred.

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Re: Excellent Resources for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Post by xiongmao » January 8th, 2016, 12:14 am

I just signed up for another Mandarin course here in London. I had a course at a language school before Christmas. The teacher was good but her lesson planning wasn't that imaginative. A lot of the course involved learning vocab whereas I'm more interested in learning grammar - I can learn vocab using memrise in my own time.

Next week my new Mandarin course starts. This time I'm going to a proper University (which usually attracts better teachers) and I've gone to pre-intermediate level.

Actually I'm not entirely sure why I'm still studying Mandarin. All I know that learning it seems to have activated rarely used parts of my brain and it's had a big impact on my overall intellect. I know because I got an amazing score when I got interviewed by psychometric test last year. So I can recommend giving it a go.
I quit my boring cubicle slave job and now I'm Happier Abroad...
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Re: Excellent Resources for Learning Mandarin Chinese

Post by xiongmao » April 20th, 2016, 8:14 pm

OK so I only went to half my classes so that was a waste of money lol.

Anyway, I got my HSK 1 result today - 199/200. Pretty good and better than my friend who has a Chinese wife! OK so HSK 1 is pretty basic but it's something you can put on your resume and it *will* impress future employers... it pretty much got me my current job.

HSK 2 is up next month...
I quit my boring cubicle slave job and now I'm Happier Abroad...
Do YOU want to date beautiful foreign women? Find out which country's women are best for you, and which dating site to look for them on!
Want to teach English overseas? Check out my TEFL blog.
Plus, if you like Asian girls, then join my free Asian dating site.

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