Hacking Chinese
A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin
The following is a checklist of actionable advice presented throughout the course. It is not
meant to substitute reading the book or watching the videos, but rather to summarise and
highlight things you should do.
The checklist does not include explanations for why or how you should do these things; you
need to check the relevant section in the book or watch the appropriate video episode for
that. References are found on the right, where the numbers in the B column refer to sections
in the book and those in the V column to a video episodes.
There's a lot of content in this course and many thing to do. Implementing everything would
take months, perhaps even a year! As usual, my advice is to be selective and start with an
aspect of learning Chinese you're currently struggling with. If you have problems with
pronunciation, check out that part first. If you need help with planning and management,
work your way through that section instead.
Moreover, don't be afraid to discard or modify tasks that don't apply to you. Keep your
goals for learning Chinese in mind and skip anything you think won't help you move in that
direction. Most of the things on this list are suitable for students on all levels, but the less
time you spend per week, the more careful you have to be with your time. If you study part
time, you should scale down and simplify accordingly.
Finally, doing something is always better than doing nothing. Whatever you do, don't let
indecision stop you from getting started. There are many ways of learning Chinese and there
is no Golden Path. This checklist is meant to make it easier for you to see what needs to be
done.
Good luck!
凌雲龍
Olle Linge
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
1: Introduction
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Read through the introduction. It tells you about the scope of this course. 1 1
Print this check list for easy reference and to be able to mark things as done. 1 1
2: Hacking Chinese
2.1: Learning a language is an adventure
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Define your long-term goal, then print and paste it somewhere visible. 2.1 2
List the skills you need to achieve your goal. 2.1 2
Sort the skill by importance. Then do the following for each skill: 2.1 2
Note your current level. Either assess yourself or ask a teacher. 2.1 2
Find the weakest link or major obstacle that hinders you the most. 2.1 2
Define one milestone that can be reached within a few months. 2.1 2
For each milestone, write down at least five concrete next actions. 2.1 2
Identify aspects of studying Chinese that you don't like or find boring: 2.1 -
Try a different activity that achieves the same, but you might like more. 2.1 -
Combine several menial tasks or with things you like doing. 2.1 -
Start organising your studying: 2.1 -
Keep a Chinese notebook. Write down questions and observations. 2.1 -
Start using a flashcard program (more about this later). 2.1 -
Save learning materials you find so that it's easy to find and access. 2.1 -
2.2: The quest for a better way to learn
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Estimate how many hours you normally study Chinese in a week. 2.2 -
Count how many hours you actually spend during one week. 2.2 -
Compare the time you spend to your goals. Are you spending enough time? 2.2 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
Increase the time you spend learning Chinese: 2.2 4
Replace or improve activities you don't like. 2.2 4
Write down a few activities you like, regardless of language. 2.2 4
Select one that could be done partly or entirely in Chinese. 2.2 4
Convert that activity gradually to Chinese. 2.2 4
Find ways of studying with others. 2.2 4
Put yourself in situations where you have to use Chinese. 2.2 4
Are you studying enough to reach your goals? Do the following: 2.2 -
Estimate how many hours you usually study in a normal week. 2.2 -
Count how many hours you actually spend during one week. 2.2 -
Compare the numbers to your goals. Do you spend enough time? 2.2 -
Improve your method (the activities you use to improve the various skills). 2.2 -
Select one of your milestones relating to one of the skills. 2.2 -
Gather ideas for how to practise efficiently (start with this course). 2.2 -
Come up with your own ideas for how you might improve best. 2.2 -
Evaluate the ideas and discard any you don't like. 2.2 -
Use the most promising as your new method to reach the milestone. 2.2 -
Stick with it at least for a week or two, then evaluate the results. 2.2 -
Tweak the method or discard it if you don't like it. 2.2 -
Remember to have fun! A boring method you don't use is always bad. 2.2 -
2.3: Improve your Chinese
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
80% of your problems stem from 20% of the skill set. Focus on those 20%. 2.3 -
Leave your comfort zone as often as you can: 2.3 -
If don't challenge yourself, you're not learning as much as you could. 2.3 -
If you have time, energy and motivation, do a kamikaze run! 2.3 -
If you don't have that, stay closer to or inside your comfort zone. 2.3 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
2.4: Language input and output
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Examine your routines. What's the balance between active and passive? 2.4 3
Upgrade to active ways of practising whenever you can. 2.4 -
When you can't, switch to passive learning. 2.4 -
Make sure you know how to vary the intensity of your practice. 2.4 -
Schedule active practice first. 2.4 -
Fill the rest with more passive practice (especially listening). 2.4 -
Balance input and output. 2.4 3
2.5: Creating a good environment
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Improve listening ability: Create an immersion environment: 2.5 -
Make access to Chinese media easier than media in your native language. 2.5 10
Replace music and other audio on your phone with Chinese equivalents. 2.5 10
Put a Chinese radio channel on default; make Chinese the default. 2.5 10
Make sure you always have audio available (cloud storage is good). 2.5 10
Solve practical problems (extra earphones, separate media player). 2.5 -
Watch films, TV series and cartoons in Chinese. 2.5 -
Watch video clips for Chinese learners (search YouTube). 2.5 -
Improve speaking ability: Create an immersion environment: 2.5 -
Find native speakers (especially if you don't live in China). 2.5 -
Start a language exchange if you want structure (online is an option). 2.5 -
Consider paying for (online) tutoring . It's cheaper than you think! 2.5 -
Mimic recordings of native speakers as closely as you can. 2.5 -
Talk to yourself or your pet. 2.5 -
Improve reading ability: Create an immersion environment: 2.5 -
Watch Chinese films or TV series with subtitles. 2.5 -
Find and read comics in Chinese. 2.5 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
Buy or borrow additional textbooks. 2.5 -
Get hold of as many graded readers as you can. 2.5 -
Put Chinese reading material next to your bed and in the bathroom. 2.5 -
Switch your phone, computer and other devices to Chinese. 2.5 -
Improve writing ability: Create an immersion environment: 2.5 -
Write notes, shopping lists, etc. in Chinese. 2.5 -
Use apps like Skritter for handwriting on the go. 2.5 -
Use handwriting input on your phone, even if it's slower. 2.5 -
Chat (including messaging) with native speakers online. 2.5 -
Use free services like Lang-8 to get feedback on your writing. 2.5 -
Transcribe audio for active listening practice. 2.5 -
Expand vocabulary: Create an immersion environment: 2.5 -
Use spaced repetition software (with audio). 2.5 -
Read extensively (many easy texts rather than one very difficult). 2.5 -
Listen extensively as well. Pick up words than recur often from both. 2.5 -
Label your apartment and/or office in Chinese (use post-it notes). 2.5 -
Learn about culture: Create an immersion environment: 2.5 -
Interact with Chinese people where you live. 2.5 -
Watch Chinese TV shows and dramas set in modern China. 2.5 -
Note culture-specific language and discuss with a tutor or a friend. 2.5 -
Watch cartoon versions of famous stories for easier access to them. 2.5 -
Read fables and idiom stories written for language learners. 2.5 -
Complement your classroom learning: 2.5 3
Enrol in a course (unless you really know what you're doing). 2.5 3
Get an extra textbook to study in parallel. 2.5 3
But don't trust your course/textbook to teach you everything you need. 2.5 3
Compare what you want to learn with what you will be tested on. 2.5 3
Compare what you want to learn with what you actually do in class. 2.5 3
Note things you need to do more, then create a plan for addressing these. 2.5 3
Note things you actually don't need and see if you can avoid them. 2.5 3
Supplement your course with a private tutor if you can afford it. 2.5 3
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
2.6: Recommended resources
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Read through the recommended resources so you know what's there. 2.6 -
Make sure you know where you can find answer to your questions. 2.6 -
Learn about language-question triage (don't waste your resources). 2.6 -
Check a few language learning blogs for information and inspiration. 2.6 -
3: Learning characters, words and grammar
3.2: Learning vocabulary: Basic principles
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Learn only words that are common and/or useful. 3.2 -
Use several textbooks in parallel for a broader vocabulary. 3.2 -
Use graded readers to find more (but not difficult words) in context. 3.2 -
Use word lists only to plug holes in your vocabulary below your level. 3.2 -
Apply the rule of three for components, characters and words. 3.2 -
Remember that aiming for 100% is almost always inefficient.. 3.2 -
Integrate your knowledge and spin a web. Use flashcards:
3.2 -
Learn components with the most common characters. 3.2 -
Learn characters with the most common words. 3.2 -
Learn words with typical or common phrases or expressions. 3.2 -
Learn grammar with sentences or paragraphs. 3.2 -
Make sure you always carry with you the ability to review vocabulary.
3.2 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
3.3: Spaced repetition software
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Make sure you understand why spaced repetition is so powerful.
3.3 -
Try a spaced repetition app:
3.3 -
Anki (if you want a powerful program with flexibility) 3.3 -
Pleco (if you want the convenience of integrated dictionaries) 3.3 -
Skritter (if you think writing by hand is important) 3.3 -
Use spaced repetition software (SRS):
3.3 -
Use it as often as you can. 3.3 -
Spread it out overt he day. 3.3 -
Learn to use the program properly. 3.3 -
Modify flashcards that are unclear. 3.3 -
Update flashcards with new information when needed. 3.3 -
Don't be afraid of deleting cards. 3.3 -
Think before you add a new word. Do you really need it? 3.3 -
Don't add just words, see above about sources for vocabulary. 3.3 -
Don't cheat. SRS only works if your self-grading is honest. 3.3 -
Don't go on tilt. 3.3 -
3.4: Learning characters and words
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Make sure you understand how Chinese characters are structured.
3.4 5
Learn about the difference between radicals and components. 3.4 -
Learn about phonetic components. 3.4 5
Learn about semantic components. 3.4 5
Learn how they are combined to form more than 80% of characters. 3.4 5
Learn how the remaining characters have formed. 3.4 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Go through the most common radicals and make sure you know them.
3.4 6
Learn about the basics of memory techniques.
3.4 6
Watch Joshua Foer's TED talk. 3.4 6
When learning characters, try different kinds of mnemonics. 3.4 6
Create a good routine for learning new characters.
3.4 -
Understand what the character means. 3.4 -
Study the character (stroke order, composition etc.). 3.4 -
Write until you get the feel for it. 3.4 -
Never copy stroke by stroke. 3.4 -
When learnt, don't mass repetitions. 3.4 -
Practise pronunciation and meaning at the same time. 3.4 -
Include context. 3.4 -
Include breakdowns. 3.4 -
Assess your need to be able to write characters by hand.
5.4 -
Make sure your current method will lead you to your goal.
3.4 7
Make sure your method is valid (focuses on the right thing).
3.4 7
3.5: Learning Chinese grammar
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Evaluate your need to improve your grammar, based on:
3.5 -
People's ability to understand your spoken and written Chinese. 3.5 -
Your own ability to understand spoken and written Chinese. 3.5 -
Determine if grammar is a main concern for you at the moment. 3.5 -
Learn passively first, then actively. 3.5 -
Check basic explanations in English. 3.5 -
Rely on many, many examples. 3.5 -
Create flashcards for grammar. 3.5 -
Use cloze tests. 3.5 -
Use whole sentences (or even paragraphs). 3.5 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
3.6: Recommended resources
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Choose one or two dictionaries that fulfil your needs. 3.6 -
Find a good resource for sentences. 3.6 -
Familiarise yourself with the grammar resources on offer 3.6 -
Settle on a spaced repetition program if you haven't already. 3.6 -
4: Improving listening and reading ability
4.1: Basic principles
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Learn techniques for making things easier to understand (scaffolding). 4.1 9
Use context-heavy media. 4.1 9
Go for the gist. 4.1 9
Read digitally with pop-up dictionaries. 4.1 9
Preview the material properly. 4.1 9
Keep to topics you have already studied. 4.1 9
Read about the topic in English first. 4.1 9
Revisit the same material more than once. 4.1 9
Find Chinese translations of familiar media. 4.1 9
Slow down the pace. 4.1 9
4.2: Improving listening ability
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Understand why listening is the most important skill. 4.2 -
Identify your main problem with listening ability. 4.2 8
Lack of phonological awareness. 4.2 8
Lack of vocabulary. 4.2 8
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Lack of speed. 4.2 8
Lack of understanding. 4.2 8
Learn about the passive-active listening spectrum. 4.2 -
Try active listening exercises: 4.2 -
Participate in a challenging conversation. 4.2 -
Transcribe audio. 4.2 -
Take notes and/or write a summary. 4.2 -
Try passive listening: 4.2 -
Combine listening with something you like. 4.2 -
Combine listening with something you don’t like. 4.2 -
Schedule active listening tasks once per day (for full-time, otherwise scale). 4.2 -
Make sure you have enough material for passive listening. 4.2 10
Examine your daily routines and see where you can fit in more audio. 4.2 -
Keep track of how much you listen and try to beat your record (weekly). 4.2 -
Set up a system for background listening that suits you. 4.2 -
Monitor practical problems (batteries, earphones). Fix them! 4.2 -
Diversify your listening: 4.2 10
Different people (tutors, exchange partners, strangers). 4.2 10
TV, radio and online shows. 4.2 10
Podcasts and textbooks. 4.2 10
Different genres. 4.2 10
Different styles. 4.2 10
Make a point of changing when you get too comfortable! 4.2 -
Include music and singing in your study routine: 4.2 -
Find Chinese music you enjoy. 4.2 -
Learn the lyrics, sing along. 4.2 -
Study the words, learn the grammar 4.2 -
Build a Chinese music library 4.2 10
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
4.3: Improving reading ability
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Asses your need to be able to read Chinese. 4.3 -
Analyse how intensive or extensive your reading habits are. 4.3 -
Make sure that the bulk is high-comprehension, extensive reading: 4.3 -
Get a few extra textbooks (broader, not more difficult). 4.3 -
Get as many graded readers you can for your level. 4.3 -
Try at least one comic (unless you're a beginner). 4.3 -
Use films and TV for reading practice (subtitles). 4.3 -
Go to a second-hand bookshop. 4.3 -
Get bite-sized reading practice through social media. 4.3 -
Make an effort finding things you actually like reading 4.3 -
Understand why learning everything is bad for you. 4.3 -
Don't learn rare words (learn common ones instead). 4.3 -
Don't dive into the details of near-synonyms you just learnt. 4.3 -
Avoid or skip weird cases. 4.3 -
Diversify your reading: 4.3 -
Content. 4.3 -
Genre. 4.3 -
Style. 4.3 -
Find study partners and share learning materials. 4.3 -
Benchmark your reading speed. 4.3 -
Practise reading faster: 4.3 -
Read more! 4.3 -
Make sure you know enough words. 4.3 -
Make sure you recognise them quickly! 4.3 -
Consciously try to read quicker (try using a pointer). 4.3 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
4.4: Recommended resources
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Check several textbooks, buy several if you can. 4.4 -
Get Audacity (free). 4.4 -
Check out at least two podcasts. 4.4 -
Get a reading tool with pop-up dictionary. 4.4 -
Get as many graded readers as you can. 4.4 -
Find more varied reading materials online. 4.4 -
5: Improving speaking and writing ability
5.1: Basic principles
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Find ways of poking your mental models to see if they're correct 5.1 -
Think about how you react to criticism; encourage people to help you! 5.1 -
Corrections are a way to learn; don't be afraid to make mistakes. 5.1 -
Get feedback on your pronunciation. Now! 5.1 -
Ensure you get regular feedback on other skills, too: 5.1 -
Tutors and teachers. 5.1 -
Friends and exchange partners. 5.1 -
The internet. 5.1 -
Yourself. 5.1 -
Learn to triage your language problems. 5.1 -
Work with the feedback, otherwise it won't help you. 5.1 11
Redo whatever you were criticised on and do it better; compare. 5.1 11
Focus on the process for your next speech/report (start early). 5.1 11
Sort and analyse the feedback you receive. 5.1 11
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
5.2: Improving speaking ability
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Speak from day one if practical, but don't skimp on input. 5.2 -
Find the weakest link in your speaking ability. 5.2 -
Vocabulary. 5.2 -
Grammar. 5.2 -
Fluency. 5.2 -
Pronunciation 5.2 -
Create a plan to address the weakest link and execute it. 5.2 -
5.3: Learning pronunciation
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Make sure you get objective, systematic feedback on your pronunciation. 5.3 12
Find someone who gives you accurate feedback; pay for it if necessary. 5.3 12
Identify priority problems with your pronunciation. 5.3 12
Make sure you know single tones, tone pairs and basic initials/finals. 5.3 -
Practice intonation by mimicking naturally produced speech. 5.3 13
If you use Pinyin, make sure you know about the pitfalls. 5.3 -
Focus on one priority problem at a time and do the following: 5.3 12
Understand the problem (be able to explain it). 5.3 12
Learn to hear the difference (varied and/or exaggerated input). 5.3 12
Learn to pronounce the right sound (with a professional). 5.3 12
Learn to pronounce the sound in more complex contexts. 5.3 12
Ask other people to help you focus in normal conversations. 5.3 12
When studying on your own, make mimicking your primary method: 5.3 13
Select a model. 5.3 13
Select an audio clip. 5.3 13
Transcribe the audio. 5.3 13
Study the audio clip. 5.3 13
Mimic your model. 5.3 13
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Ask for feedback. 5.3 13
Ask for feedback again. 5.3 13
Repeat the process. 5.3 13
5.4: Improving writing ability
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Assess your need to write by hand and set goals accordingly. 5.4 -
What's your weakest link? 5.4 -
Characters. 5.4 -
Words. 5.4 -
Sentences. 5.4 -
Paragraphs. 5.4 -
Use focused reading: 5.4 -
Select an area of focus. 5.4 -
Start searching for good examples in your reading. 5.4 -
Extract sentence patterns and useful phrases. 5.4 -
Sort and organise the examples you record. 5.4 -
Keep your record handy next time you write. 5.4 -
Get feedback on your usage of the new words/structures. 5.4 -
Change focus and start over again 5.4 -
Write summaries of several articles about a topic to expand into it. 5.4 -
Drill words/patterns you know passively, but want to use now 5.4 -
Find a way to get quick feedback on your writing. 5.4 -
Find another way to get detailed and in-depth feedback. 5.4 -
Make sure that coming up with a topic is never a problem. 5.4 -
Be mindful of 80/20 and don't spend all time on one text. 5.4 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
5.5: Recommended resources
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Explore different services that put you into contact with native speakers. 5.5 -
Find a reliable way of hearing all the tones and syllables in Mandarin. 5.5 -
Know where to find basic explanations of pronunciation if you need them. 5.5 -
6: Managing your studies
6.1: Getting things done
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Break larger tasks down into smaller bits (micro goals). 6.1 14
Go over (or create) your list of next actions for all relevant skills. 6.1 14
Go over your long and short-term goals; make sure they are clearly linked. 6.1 14
Try time boxing, make it the default for suitable tasks. 6.1 14
Create good habits, one by one. 6.1 -
Start out small, then increase. 6.1 -
Make yourself accountable. 6.1 -
Have a backup plan. 6.1 -
Reward and/or punish yourself. 6.1 -
Increase your minimum output. 6.1 -
Plan for your next slump now. 6.1 -
6.2: Keeping track of your learning
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Get a Chinese notebook and start using it. 6.2 -
Regularly go through and manage your notes; discard or transfer to SRS. 6.2 -
Use regular benchmarking to stay motivated beyond beginner. 6.2 -
Benchmark your listening ability. 6.2 -
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Hacking Chinese: A Practical Checklist for Learning Mandarin v1.0
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Benchmark your speaking ability. 6.2 -
Benchmark your reading ability. 6.2 -
Benchmark your writing ability. 6.2 -
Monitor your learning occasionally (time logs, etc.). 6.2 15
Make sure you're measuring the right thing(s). 6.2 15
6.3: Time management and planning
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Do a time log (if you haven't already). 6.3 15
Learn about the time barrel. Apply it to your life situation! 6.3 15
Learn about time quality and make sure you're not violating it. 6.3 15
First schedule the tasks you're least likely to do spontaneously. 6.3 15
Schedule other demanding, key activities to your high-quality time slots. 6.3 15
Schedule average intensity tasks in the gaps you have left. 6.3 15
Schedule passive activities so you combine them with other things you do. 6.3 15
6.4: Recommended resources
Task (check Book and Video references on the right for explanations) B V
Check out some of the tools available to increase productivity. 6.4 -
Habitica (Habit RPG). 6.4 -
Beeminder. 6.4 -
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