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I am looking for an effective approach to learn chinese. The thing is: I grew up in China (my mother is chinese, my father German) and attended the regular chinese elementary school for three years. From the forth year onwards I attended a regular German school in Germany. Sadly, at the moment I entered the German education system, almost any kind of chinese usage ceased or was limited to little conversations with my mother, who speaks German as well. Gradually over ten years I lost most of my writing and reading abilities.

What stayed till today(I am 20 now) is a fluent yet simple chinese on an everyday conversation lvl.   Reading and writing skills are mostly gone. 



I am trying to relearn chinese now, at least that is my plan. However, I was quickly confronted with a few problems or rather questions I would like to solve. 

Recently I had a look into an HSK lvl 1 book as I wanted an easy approach . All of the characters are extremly familiar to me, and I was able to memorise the HSK 1 characters within two days or so. The grammar section was quite useless to me, as it is obviously taught in a way foreigner are taught. So the thing is, that of course I cannot consider myself a mother tongue, but most parts of simple chinese still is very natural to me. I dont really think or translate anything in my head when using chinese.


This is also my problem. When using the HSK books, most of the vocabulary (at least at lvl 1,2 or 3)are known to me, but I cant read or write them. So by learning greadually with these books, I will only get my writing skills back, without actually advancing. Naturally it will take me a while to get back the skills of an third grade student. As the everyday capacity of memorising characters is limited, this method seems to be rather inefficient in my case. Am I right with that?


How should I proceed? Should I just go on with learning the characters of words I already know till my spoken vocabulary is covered?

Wouldnt it be usefull to somehow start learning new things parallel? How should I do that?




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Hello and welcome to the forums.


You are what I believe is called a "Heritage Learner" .


My advice would be to do some research using this term and see if you can find more appropriate learning materials.


I am sorry not to be able suggest anything specific.


I hope your language learning goes well.

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I think you need to skip using any textbooks and go straight to using SRS with your own flashcards. You can use Pleco flashcards and set it up so that you see the pinyin and definition on the "front" of the card, and you have to write the characters with your finger. Work through the HSK levels one by one using this method and you should be able to improve your writing by a lot in a short amount of time. Or if you only care about reading then you can reverse it. Have the characters on the "front" and the pinyin/definition on the back.


Once your reading skills are good enough, start doing a lot of reading practice. This is the main way that people become more advanced in their native language as they're going through school.


If you feel like your ability to speak Chinese isn't as good as you want, you can do translation exercises. Find Chinese texts that have been translated into English (or German if that's what you prefer). Read the translation and try to translate it back into Chinese. Then check it against the original. You can also try using Glossika, though depending on what you mean by "fluent yet simple on everyday conversation" it might be too easy for you.

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In another life, I went to Chinese school supposedly to learn Chinese Mandarin. Unfortunately it was difficult as it was rare to hear Mandarin on the streets of London and my immediate family spoke Cantonese. I was a teenage boy more interested in sports and science so it was natural to be crap at languages, especially without the environmental incentive. We spoke English at home so I ended up not speaking nor understanding either dialect!

Luckily, I somehow managed to pick up a feeling of the radicals and writing out characters. Doesn't look too pretty but I can get around 90% of the stroke order correct without having to think very hard, even for traditional characters that I cannot read. This has been a great help and I think helps you more than you realise.

I think what you need to do is to pick up some graded readers and force yourself to read it. The words you recognise but don't quite remember are the words you pick to practice writing again. New words you learn with your preferred method. You can ask your mother how to say it or for her to read out the whole sentence. Write the words out a few hundred times like a child. This is how you learnt Chinese in the past. What you perhaps don't realise is that you are not used to reading characters again but because of your familiarity with them, you are skipping over the content. Thus, you need to slow down and force yourself to read for short periods.

You can also watch China/Taiwanese content on YouTube. The great thing is you have listening skills and the chinese subtitles. You can match sounds to words with relative ease compared to other people who have no background in Mandarin and characters.

Going through the HSK text might not be good for you if you are not taking an exam. I can imagine the materials are rather boring and a bit diificult to feel practical.

Try the SRS and flashcards as suggested before. See if it works for you.

Speaking will be difficult and there is no substitute in having to speak to Chinese people who don't know German and English.

BTW, every method of learning Chinese seems inefficient to me. After enduring a lot of frustration, I met one polyglot who said to me, "you have to learn by repetition. There is no other way and yes, it is boring!". Be cautious when you look on the Internet and read what people say about having fun learning languages.

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I have a similar background: born in China, moved to the US at an early age. The difference is that I didn't have much formal schooling in China, so I didn't learn any reading or writing before the big move. My problem with many learning materials is that they assume your speaking, reading, and writing are all at the same level, which was definitely not the case for me. My attempt to deal with this was to binge the ChinesePod lessons, starting from lower intermediate and all the way through advanced. For the most part, it was extremely easy for me, but if you actually read the PDFs for each lesson and then enter them into your phone's flashcard database, you can gradually learn most of the characters you need.


This is why I felt this strategy was pretty successful:


- Most audio lessons are pretty short (but gradually get longer as the level goes up), and you can listen to them when you're driving, cooking, etc.

- You can review the PDFs sometime after you've listened to the audio. The PDFs are short too, just reviewing key phrases and informing you what the characters are and how they're pronounced.

- After intermediate you'll start to pick up new vocabulary, but still mostly everyday stuff.

- The lessons are often focused on a specific topic, so you can just skip those that you really don't care about.

- Unless you are going through the lessons very quickly, you can probably get away with just 20-30 minutes of flashcard review a day.


After you get through the advanced level, you'll probably know at least a couple thousand characters. Unfortunately, the gap between ChinesePod advanced level and actual adult reading level is pretty big, but it's at least possible to start tackling adult media if you don't mind checking the dictionary a lot at the beginning.


The downside to this method is that it's pretty boring, so you might give up in the middle due to lack of interest. It would help to also try to find something interesting to listen to or watch.

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If there are many words/characters that you understand orally, but can't read or write, you should consider using graded readers with pinyin or audio. Read as much as you can, and when you don't recognise something, check out the pinyin, and between the sound and the context you should be able to figure out which word they're talking about. There are many of these graded readers at the lower levels, for people who recognise 300-500 characters or words or whatever. Try a few and see how it goes. That will get you recognising the characters. Writing is another ballgame, but I suspect that with the grounding you had in elementary school, it will come back quickly as you learn to recognise.

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Thank you all very much for the ideas. I just got pleco flashcards on my phone and will try that out. 

I still have a few chinese classics in 少年儿童版, hopefully ill be able to read them in a few months!




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You can actually understand most sentences and the story without knowing all the words, without having to look up every new word.  Maybe you're not at that point yet but you can try.  If you can't yet go back in a week or two and try again.  Resist the temptation to stop and check a dictionary.  Guess at the meaning.  You'll actually enjoy the story and that'll motivate you to read more.  Even try reading Jin Yong's kungfu novels (if you're into that genre).  I once knew a girl, whose reading level was at best third-grade, who actually read and enjoyed Jin Yong's novels.  Like you, she spoke Chinese (Cantonese) at home with her parents.  She was at most 10 years old at the time.

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