All posts tagged Chinese

Reading and Writing Chinese - Third Edition

Chinese > Books for learning Chinese >

Highly recommended - Mnemonics, multiple pictures for stroke order and details for each character's difficulty level give this book a completely different approach from the others I own.

Feel free to change the URL from .com to your language of choice. Odds are good that it'll be available from another website.

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Mandarin Chinese English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

Chinese > Books for learning Chinese >

Highly recommended - A stark contrast to the traditional dictionary. Far more visual and friendly. Absolutely not a replacement for an actual dictionary.

Feel free to change the URL from .com to your language of choice. Odds are good that it'll be available from another website.

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Oxford Beginner's Chinese Dictionary

Chinese > Books for learning Chinese >

Recommended - This book has value above and beyond being a book of definitions.

Feel free to change the URL from .com to your language of choice. Odds are good that it'll be available from another website.

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Langenscheidt Pocket Dictionary Mandarin Chinese

Chinese > Books for learning Chinese >

Highly recommended - Portable, durable and to-the-point.

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Chinese >

standard Chinese and Simplified Chinese characters are ridiculously difficult for a beginner, and even more so for someone who has never studied a language before. Why do it?

Chinese is hard

Learning a language is hard

Learning any language is bloody difficult for an adult, more so when the learner only speaks one language, and even more so when the learner hasn't had formal language training in their primary language. That aside, Chinese is hard in a whole new dimension.

Chinese is silly-hard

There is no phonetic hint when looking at written characters. How does one say "三"? This is an absolutely baffling concept for an English native. The complete detachment between the written and spoken forms is alien. It significantly amplifies the difficulty in two ways.

  • First, it requires completely separate and rote learning for the written-to-English and spoken-to-English paths.
  • Second, a written phonetic form must be learned. In my case it will be pinyin. This creates a third written->phonetic path.

Characters might have been intended to look like something in the ancient past, but they're completely unintelligible now, at least to a foreigner. One, two and three are 一, 二 and 三, which is fine. But then there's 四 for four. Huh? There's no obvious progression there. Maybe you can justify how 五 has five parts, so it's the number five, but then why is six 六? Maybe there is a back-story to some of these characters, but there's certainly no intuitive consistency. Linking the character to imagery is the best hope a foreigner has to comprehend Chinese characters.

By the way, all the numbers have a second financial form which look nothing like the simplified Chinese characters.

Traditional Chinese characters are also still in very common use. They're often totally different from the simplified Chinese characters a beginner would learn.

I learned that a character can have multiple meanings, depending on its context. What the fuck? They seriously re-use some characters?

I thought that I could get away with looking at the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, taking a few characters at a time and learning the written, spoken and phonetic forms, and then for each phonetic form I could vary the pinyin accent and get a head start on a few new words. That doesn't work. Although many words are accent-variations, not every pinyin "word" can be varied in this way.

It's going to take a long time

I've heard people say that reasonable competence is possible in six years, possibly as little as four with significant daily effort and a couple of three month-long working-vacations in China.

When you're young, this sort of talk seems daunting because you've lived so little and any significant length of time seems like a lot compared to how long you've been alive. The arrogance of youth can usually override that, but that will wane after a while. Something else has to drive a person.

Adults don't have the arrogance of youth to kick-start them. They also have the weight of other burdens on their shoulders, which constantly strip away the pleasures of a diversion that won't have a reward for a long time.

Maybe the basics can be learned in two years, in which case it becomes a little easier, but there has to be some daily drive to get you there.

Effort is hard

Learning a language takes effort. It's not like learning a new skill or a hobby. Until you're up to reasonable speed, it is painful and unrewarding. Every moment at it requires a kind of focus absent in people's normal lives.

Language is normally something imprinted upon us as we grow into childhood and it matures over time as a background task. We don't actually try to learn, it just happens. Most adults don't have this luxury. There isn't really a way to take an average brain and make it "plastic" like a child's. Complete language immersion is probably the best way for an adult, but that requires some significant effort beforehand.

You can't just "wish" to learn a new language. Look at some characters sometimes, watch TV and subtitled movies, listen to music.. and hope to pick up a new language. That will help offset the basic fear of learning, maybe even make you fall in love with the musical nature of an accent or language, but it won't impart anything else. Wishing doesn't work.

Prayer doesn't work. Children die of starvation every day. People in agony who pray for death aren't healed (or even mercifully killed). Abused children aren't rescued. If the deserving, the faithful and the innocent don't get their prayers answered, neither will you. Don't give me that "Prayer works" first-world bullshit. You are not a special little snowflake. No mental gymnastics will change that reality.

Say it with me -- learning a language is hard. Learning Chinese is hard.. and I don't give a fuck, I'll do it anyway.

Say it and mean it.

You can't be embarrassed when you open your mouth, cause you're going to do a lot of that while learning. It's something you must get used to.

You're also going to get laughed at by native speakers. It sucks, and they "don't mean to be offensive", but it'll happen. It's yet another thing you must get used to.

The necessity of immersion

People say that it's "necessary" to take a trip to mainland China and be completely immersed in the language for a few months, perhaps twice during your learning.

If that's true, is that something you're willing to do? Most adults wouldn't conceive of such a thing.

Perhaps some other sort of passable immersion is possible. Maybe a local Chinatown. Maybe lots of news, music and reading. It won't measure up to a vacation though.

Why learn it?

Anyone seeking to learn Chinese needs to be able to answer this question reflexively.


It's touted that there are 1.3 billion speakers, but that's an outright lie. While Mandarin Chinese is quite common in China and elsewhere, it exists in varieties so different that they are mutually unintelligible.

Still, standard Chinese and Simplified Chinese characters have the full backing of the Communist Party of China. It is the language of government and is part of the standard curriculum in school. It may not currently be as common as the propaganda says, but it will be.

As of right now, you can learn standard Chinese and still not go everywhere in China and either understand or be understood. Still, if you're serious about travel in China, then beginning with standard Chinese is the only way to go. From there, the variations might be easier to learn. Might be.


A lot of people who are born outside of China are lured by the Chinese myth. This is where you get a lot of that "I'm Asian" bullshit. I like to challenge that with "oh, what part of Mongolia? Or Korea? Japan, right?" to piss them off. People intend that to mean Chinese, which is doubly stupid when they're born outside of China.

Most places are so different from China, that someone raised in an outside culture really isn't Chinese.

People want to make up for that by learning the language so they can pretend a little harder. Maybe there's pressure from their parents who still refuse to speak English most of the time.


best. reason. ever.

However, there are less Chinese girls than there are Chinese boys, so unless there's a cross-section of females that like non-Chinese, you're fucked. Well, you won't be fucked, if you know what I mean.

Of those who like non-Chinese, how many do you think would care about your crap speech? How many do you think wouldn't know English better than you know Chinese?