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Learn Chinese in China


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About this blog

I'm starting this blog because sometimes I feel like saying something about (my) Chinese learning that isn't really worth a forum post or is not a question. Somewhere to document my progress. It has been just about exactly a year now of consistent work, so I'm interested to see where my 普通话 is next New Year's holiday. I will try to use this space to post some interesting things I find along the climb!

Entries in this blog


My wife was busy doing something and asked me to cook. I said ok you instruct me something (in Chinese, of course) and I'll do the footwork. So I made these 2 dishes, nothing complicated, but they turned out damned tasty! 


1)String beans 豆角儿 

cubed Beef 牛肉块儿

potatoe 土豆儿条 🥔

green onion 葱

garlic 大蒜 🧄

oil 油

oyster sauce 蚝油

soy sauce 酱油

cooking wine 料酒 🍷

sugar 白糖 

salt 盐🧂

Thirteen aroma 十三香


2)Water spinach 空心菜,

garlic 大蒜 🧄

green onion 葱

soy sauce 酱油

red pepper that I have been drying for months 辣椒 🌶️

oil 油

salt 盐🧂













4上 to 下


Finally finished Hsk-4上. Took me six months. That's a bit slow but I'm simultaneously studying the Chinese Made Easier 4 book and almost halfway through that as well. The CME and Hsk series have a different focus, but also overlap in many places. Tomorrow I will break the seal on the 4下 book. I definitely feel it's getting harder, but not overly difficult, so I think Im at my sweet spot.




I happened to be near Beijing Foreign Studies university today and saw there was a bookstore, so I popped in for a look. They had loads of Chinese study books, graded readers and so on. I need more resources like I need a hole in the head but I couldn't help myself. I can NEVER have enough listening, so I picked up 汉语听力系列教材( hanyu tingli xilie jiaocai). I assumed intermediate level but was surprised to see:

Elementary 上 = hsk3

Elementary 下 = hsk4.

Intermediate 上and下 comprises hsk 5


So I took the hsk 4 one for now and the hsk 5 for later. These have downloadable mp3s by scanning the QR code.


I also bought Short-Term Listening and Short-Term Reading, again Elementary corresponds to Hsk 4(Elementary sounds so low 😕). This came with a CD of mp3s, so I will have to go to a copy shop and get them to put it on a usb for me.


Finally, I took a sort of Hsk4 dictionary 词汇学习手册 and a book of cloze practice for Hsk4 words. Altogether ran me 165 块. Not for dust collection, I will finish them all 💪





我的青春谁做主 -My Youthfulness


Had to give up on 人世间 for now. Too difficult for my level. Dongbei hua and the length don't make it any easier. Decided instead to watch 我的青春谁做主 -My Youthfulness (2009). This is the second series of the "Youth" trilogy 奋斗,and 北京青年 being the first and third. Have watched the first two episodes, there are 32 in total. I'm watching it on my 小米 wall projector, so it's not very convenient to stop and look up words. That's my goal for this one, just to watch it and get what I get. 






Latest study routine


I've switched up my language learning schedule several times over the years, I'm really enjoying my current routine(somewhat influenced by Matt vs. Japan/AJATT). It's also simple to  follow:


1/3 time spent on textbook - currently Hsk Standard Course 4 and CME 4

1/3 time spent on reading (including videos where I read all hanzi subtitles line by line) - currently 奋斗 tv drama and Du chinese

1/3 time spent just listening - currently "Free to Learn videos", Native YouTube videos(on topics that I'm familiar with)


Other: 3-4 italki classes per week, Srs Flashcards, real life 


Saving money on classes


I decided to make a change regarding teachers. After having studied for quite a while with teachers in the 18-22usd an hour range I decided to experiment with finding a cheaper main teacher. Six weeks ago I found a teacher charging 10usd/hr to go through the Hsk 4 book with. She has a nice standard accent(哈尔滨)and is engaging. I also found 2 teachers that charge 5usd/hr. to do discussion/speaking only exercises with topics I provide them.


The last "pricey" teacher I had was more skilled and experienced, but probably only 20 percent "better". Now I can have 4 lessons a week for less than I was paying for 2 lessons. In the end I think the loss in quality, is outweighed by more time spent listening and speaking.


奋斗 fèn dòu


I'm really enjoying the 奋斗 series, which I found on a forum thread here listing various tv programs with descriptions and levels. This is my first time following a Chinese drama. While it is definitely above my level, it's still comprehensible. The way I've been attacking it is to first watch each scene without stopping and get what I get. I then go back and pause each sentence and read the 汉字. I look up a minimal amount of words. The ones that seem very useful / hsk 4-ish level / easy to remember / or keep coming up - I add to my srs. Next, I re-watch the whole scene again without pausing. Finally, I watch the whole episode(45 mins). I'm on episode 5 of 32 so far.


For me 奋斗 almost perfect: Tons of Northern accented Mandarin, all kinds of everyday situations(restaurants, arguments, home, work, bowling and barbecuing,...) engaging story, cool characters, scenery of Beijing 15 years ago. The one con is that they sometimes speak very, very quickly, but I expect that can only help my listening skills. 

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real world

A while back I watched a unit in YoYo Chinese upper intermediate video course where they went to a restaurant in Beijing and ordered duck. Just for the hell of it and to go somewhere I haven't been, I emailed them and asked for the name of the restaurant. They wrote back telling me it was 青年餐厅( qīngnián) Fēngtái branch and the other day I finally got around to taking the subway down there. Turned out to be EXCELLENT roast duck! My wife is not a fan of duck, so I got a half all to myself. 半只 was 118块, not the cheapest, but not terribly expensive either. Service was great. I also had a little win moment in that I did all the ordering for myself and my wife, including some adjustments and requests - all the while the waitress did not once ask my wife for any clarification, confirmation, or even look her way💪. It also reminded me that I don't go for duck often enough. So now I'm going to make it a point to try as many duck restaurants in Beijing as I can and see which one I like best. I already passed by a random one in a Hutong near 东四 and tagged the location in my phone, so that will be next.



3 year progress video

progress video

Today marks exactly 3 years from the day I signed up for my first Chinese course, studying Beginning Chinese. I’ve studied at least an hour, pretty much every day since then. I made a video of me speaking to record my progress. Still cannot speak very fast, but I’m not reading from a paper or anything, just trying to speak from my mind. Feel free to point out any mistakes or problems.




It took me quite a while to knock these off since I only did one lesson a week with a teacher on this book. (I'm also busy working my way through Chinese Made easier - book 1 and 2 done, halfway through book 3.) I feel a sense of accomplishment having stuck with the BASIC series consistently and finishing the Spoken, Written and Practice books. I think it's a fantastic set of books and found lots that has been useful in real life. I also found it to contain quite a bit of language that I haven't come across in other places and even enjoyed some of the more "dated" vocab. The books ( especially the practice book) feels like a somewhat modernized version of FSI. I am now going to begin the Intermediate level books of the same series.

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The other day, my teacher gave me homework to write about the new tea tray I bought. Here's my writing followed by her corrections:




With corrections(my wrong sentence in parenthesis):



茶盘=tea tray 

过程 = process

潮州 = Chaozhou

古城 = ancient city

走道 = sidewalk

圆 = circle, round

陶瓷 = porcelain, ceramic

不锈钢 = stainless steel

功夫 = gong fu

英寸 = inches

厘米 = cm

厘米 = include

快递费 = delivery fee





May 2021 recording


It's been about six months since I last posted a recording, I've been studying and practicing a lot, but also busy with work. I think it's a decent amount of time to see if there's been improvements or 退步. So here's a short recording I made today. Did a few takes, but nothing written down. I don't know if the grammar is all correct or not. Feedback always welcome.





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A barrier broken through

I've achieved a big milestone recently. Up until the last few months my significant other(a native) would never speak mandarin with me. When I first started, I pushed it but she wouldn't budge. I let it go and decided not to push it anymore. Still had her mother to speak Chinese with.


As I've improved, expanded my vocabulary, grammar etc, I casually - even accidentally would slip in some mandarin and she kind of naturally started replying in mandarin. It has happened quite naturally. Lately she's even been starting conversations with me in Chinese sometimes. Also, if she says something in English to me that I want to hear in Chinese or that is well within my understanding, I say "再说一遍“, she's a good sport about it and says it again in Chinese. Other than that, I'm still not pushing it. I also don't bother her with grammar questions and the like. 


Right now I suppose it's 25 percent Chinese 75 English, but a huge change from zero. I'm sure as I continue to improve my skills the percentage will shift further.


One minute audio messages on WeChat

I didn't give up on my recording myself  speaking for one minute(I had posted several up here last year), I just found a better avenue for it! I found a tutor who sends me a question on WeChat every morning and I send her back an audio message (approx 1 minute in length) of my response. She then sends me corrections. I pay her 30 kuai a week for this. Today was the 50th answer. Sometimes her questions are above my level, but I find a way to answer. An example question: "家庭和事业哪一个让你更乐于投入时间和精力?“ I have found this very useful on several levels: I learn some new vocabulary, I think of an answer in Chinese, I have become more comfortable recording audio messages. Sometimes I pose the question to Chinese friends and get their responses.


1 minute(or so) of speaking > November

Have not posted a recording in a long while, so here goes. This one is done with no editing, no stopping the recorder, no reading. I realize there are of grammar mistakes and I am speaking very slowly. Not sure, but I do "feel" like I sound more natural than the last recording I posted. This was my 5th take.


The file is slightly over the max size, so I had to put it on a Dropbox link:






September update

Time to update this blog. I have been ridiculously busy with work coming back onboard. I have not stopped working on Chinese at all though. I was planning to post more "One minute speaking" recordings, but 1) I realized I was running through them 10 times to get a decent one without too many mistakes and I don't think that is best done unless someone checks the grammar first. 2) I thought it best to wait a while and see if there's any progress over a longer period before posting another. Now its been a few months, I may do another round soon.


I've been doing a lot of speaking practice in class and out on the street, learning characters, reading. listening -  I'm pretty happy with my progress the last 6 months. This last few weeks we've been working on an eating out chapter in my main textbook, so I've made a real point of ordering new(to me) dishes, getting them to modify my order, etc in order to practice what I'm learning. I travel a lot for work, so I ask my teacher what I should try here and there. It gives me a nice language practice mission each time.


I am going to 武汉 for work next week and it's doubly exciting because my teacher lives there. I told her I'm coming and we've arranged to meet for a meal. We have been studying together on Skype for just over a year so it will be really interesting, if weird to talk in person! I'm a bit nervous, but I don't want to pass up the opportunity. She's a great teacher too so the least I can do is 请老师吃火锅!


I'm going through the Growing Up With Chinese episodes much more slowly than i expected. Partially because I'm doing lots of other resources right now and partially because a 15 min episode takes me at least an hour to go through. I've just finished episode 25, 1/4 of the way through the whole lot. Great stuff and perfect for my level.


Been doing a lot of speaking practice on Italki lately. I send them a pdf of a few  chinesepod episodes dialog and and ask them to review/discuss them with me. It has proven to be a decent way to have something to talk about and reinforce what I learned in the episode.


Also joined a Language exchange chat group, which is super interesting and useful for extra listening speaking practice on all sorts of random stuff. I like to post audio messages on there so I can listen back and keep working on my pron.


How I'm going to use my speaking recordings

So I found a teacher on Italki and sent him the first of these recordings. I found a male with good standard pronunciation who is not very expensive. I told him i didn't want a lesson, but rather use the time to listen, correct any grammar, vocab or pronunciation mistakes. I also asked him to send back a recording of him saying the same (corrected version) dialog in his natural speaking voice and normal speed. I will then use this to shadow and work on better sentence intonation, speed, etc.


One minute of speaking 说一分钟

The project I am starting now (inspired by Imron's  https://www.chinesethehardway.com/article/train-what-you-want-to-learn/  ) is to record myself speaking about a topic freely - no reading, no stopping/starting Audacity and no editing out mistakes. I may record several times to listen for mistakes i can catch myself and trying to improve on it, choosing the best of the lot to post. I will try first to speak for one minute and gradually increase it. My aim is to improve my fluency, speed, pronunciation, grammar and vocab speaking about a topic. That being, for me, the most difficult aspect of learning Chinese.


I am going to post these on my blog to motivate me to keep doing this activity and maybe get some useful feedback as well.  Although I realize listening to a Lower Intermediate level 老外 is not a joy - feel free to listen if you feel like it and give any kind of feedback if you like.


Here goes, topic #1 慢跑 / Jogging

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Loads of free time to study lately

Time to get this back up to date. After spending a couple months in SE Asia and studying just a little everyday, it's amazing how just being back in country (days before the border closure) raised my motivation. With only a little work to do, and from home, I've spent loads of time on Chinese study. It's pretty cool to have hours and hours to study whatever i want I am using lots of different resources, but all at a similar level: 3 lessons a week with my teacher online doing CME, Chinesepod, Chinese Breeze, Mandarin Corner, Growing Up with Chinese, etc. No flashcards or vocab lists. I think i've raised my vocab and grammar flexibility by a good chunk in the last few months. I've also been weening myself off pinyin.




Chinese in 柬埔寨 🇰🇭

In Cambodia jian3pu3zhai4 at the moment. We were at Angkor Wat the other day and I  overheard somebody listening to Chinese vocabulary. It was a local Cambodian guy, I asked him if he was learning Chinese. He was. We had a little conversation in Chinese and I found it quite amusing to chat with him. I think we were roughly the same level.


I've also taken my mother in law to the grocery store and as we chat about what we're buying, other shoppers seem quite interested in us lol. Maybe they think we have the "you know what". We've been out for over a month and we don't thankfully. There's a lot of Chinese characters around on signs, some stores actually take Rmb and the souvenir stall type people have the basic bargaining in Chinese down. One woman was saying 五块 when she clearly meant 五十块。 And there pronunciation seems mostly just passable.


I've also seen quite a few private homes with the Chinese door decoration (don't know the name for that).


Lately Ive been doing about 3 hrs a day of very relaxed study with this period of free time.


Trying to get back into he swing

Well, I took about 10 days break from studying Chinese while the virus news started breaking. However, over the last week, I've resumed studying.  I'm still somewhat distracted and finding it harder to focus. Partially because of the virus and partially because I've temporarily left China, in S.E. Asia at the moment. But, I'm with my wife and mother in law, so there's still plenty of Chinese spoken around me. I've doing a lot of Chinese podcasts and other online study material. I probably did about 3 hours worth today. I have been keeping up my Skype lessons with my teacher, who lives in Hubei. She looks totally normal, but I still worry for her and feel sorry for her that she's locked down in her house. I think she enjoys doing the lessons though as something to keep her busy.


 I'm going to really try and take advantage of having no work this month and do as much Chinese study and practice as I can.

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