Reader Question: What’s the Best Method for Learning Chinese?

by Courtney Gould Miller
January 17, 2014

One Chinaful reader recently asked me:

 What language tools have you used to learn Chinese?  What did you like and dislike about each?
When you first start to learn Chinese, it’s a lot to wrap your mind around. The tones, the characters, the syllables – it can be overwhelming. Identifying how you learn best is critical to mastering Chinese. I have used many tools while studying Chinese, often several at once. Trying a few helps you realize what works for you – what keeps you engaged, and what helps cement the material in your mind. Below, I’ve made a pro/con list of some of the tools available if you are starting the long march toward speaking and reading Chinese. Use my thoughts as a resource, but know yourself. How do you like to learn? Do you prefer listening, speaking, reading, or a mix? What sounds fun? If you’re having fun, you’re more likely to continue your studies….

Classes at a local college or language school

  • Pro: If you learn best in a classroom setting, you’ll like having the teacher walk you through drills and practicing with other students. Plus, you’ll feel accountable to do the homework.
  • Con: Academic language study is not always the best for quick study. It’s also not the best if you excel through practice rather than memorization.

Rosetta Stone

  • Pro: Rosetta focuses on engaging all ways we absorb material – seeing, hearing, saying, writing.  You can even practice your pronunciation by speaking into your computer microphone, and allowing the program to correct you. Rosetta also has an online community, where you can sign up for tutoring with a live instructor.  They also have language games that can be very addictive.
  • Con: It’s a financial investment. But they have a 6 month money-back guarantee – if you don’t think it works for you, just return it.


  • Pro: The convenience of learning Chinese from a mobile app. Like Rosetta, there are audio, visual, and conversational aspects to the program. This system is very popular with expats brushing up on their conversation skills.
  • Con:

Personal tutor

  • Pro: Individualized attention. You can focus on the vocab you need for your purposes – travel, business, food, etc. And you can go at your own pace, as fast (or as slow) as you like.
  • Con: It’s nice to practice with peers, not least of all because they motivate you to practice so you aren’t embarrased in front of the class.

Immersion vacations in China

  • Pro: It’s a chance to focus only on Chinese, constantly practicing with your teacher and others in the program. You also can explore China and practice your Chinese with local speakers.
  • Con: You’ll need to supplement with other learning methods once you leave to keep up everything you’ve learned, or you’ll lose it quickly.

Flashcards and books

  • Pro: You can practice almost anywhere, and on your own time. Can be a very effective method for visual learners.
  • Con: No

 Have you tried to learn Chinese? What method worked for you? If you’re new to Chinese, be sure to check out my earlier blog post on Five Things to Know Before Learning to Speak Chinese.

 Water calligraphy


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