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Advanced Chinese Self-Learning

I’ve taken four years of college Chinese, the standard term of newspaper readings, plenty of Classical Chinese, and even a year of class in Taiwan. But like many advanced students, I’m not fluent and I don’t constantly rely on Chinese to survive, so I have to practice.

1. Admitting I have a problem

For much of my class-time in Chinese, I was the most attentive or curious student, and in those environments I got used to thinking of myself as a competent, even outstanding student of Chinese. But when I moved to Taiwan and spoke with native or business speakers of Chinese, I immediately panicked. It was like the first semester in Professor Li’s Intensive Chinese I class, when he looked at me like: I can speak Chinese, why can’t you?

2. Back to work

First year Chinese mainly impressed on me: do your flashcards. But now, the pain of making them by hand and trying to keep track of which ones to review can be eased by computerized spaced repetition. After inputting your new words, flashcard software can track how well you know each and ensure that you practice unknown words frequently and known ones at appropriate intervals. Today I have two decks, one for Modern and one for Classical, with more than 2000 advanced-level items. But I can keep all those words fresh in mind by practicing only 100 a day. Software: I recommend the free Anki, commercial iFlash (OS X only), or online tools such as LingQ

3. Listening practice

My fundamental problem is finding enough input material clear and interesting enough that I want to listen and learn. Although I used to listen to ChinesePod, it wasn’t useful enough to pay for. I’m always exploring new options, but for now I regularly listen to content from:

4. Reading materials

A number of excellent books provide authentic Chinese materials with limited (but helpful) glossaries and grammatical explanations:

But all of that is just practice for reading real material. I wish I had some secret for this, but I just go to Google 资讯 and pick out what looks interesting.


There’s no substitute for actually using a language to survive, so I’m always trying to improve my process. Please email me with any suggestions and I will post them here.

· Feb 3