29 minute read

Intro

The following is a slightly modified Reddit post of mine that highlights everything I’ve learned since reaching the Intermediate stage in my Chinese language learning journey, roughly equivalent to CEFR B1 and the minimum requirement for study in most Chinese universities.

After about 15 months of dedicated, primarily self-study, I’ve reached an Intermediate proficiency in Chinese of HSK 5. Along the way, I have done a lot of language-acquisition-related research, used dozens of resources, and been fortunate enough to talk with a number of like-minded learners.

Here’s a comprehensive collation of what I’ve learnt, with information about recommended resources (the main part of the post), study tips, learning FAQs, etc. It’s a post I wish I had read. It’s a lot longer than the original because HSK 5 is 4x that of HSK 3, but I’ve tried to be as concise and informative as possible nonetheless.

I was inspired to write this because of the overwhelmingly positive response towards my HSK 3/4 ‘ultimate guide’ published half a year ago, and out of the desire to share my knowledge in the hopes of it helping fellow learners.

Disclaimer: every learner is different, so do branch out and experiment with other techniques, tools, etc. This guide is subjective, not a hard code of laws. Firsthand research is the best teacher, as u/quote-nil rightly pointed out in my previous post.

Resources

Note: a large number of resources are already covered in the HSK 3/4 reflection, and I don’t want to needlessly repeat myself. Resources covered there will have no description here, and instead a “**see old guide**” tag. Other resources, or those I’ve found new things about, will have a detailed description and tips.

A mega-list of resources curated by members of a great Discord server I’m in, spanning from dramas (listening) to webnovels (reading) and more is available here.

Comprehensive/Multiple Fields/Misc

- Pleco, a free Android/iOS app, is a must-have. It’s a lot more than just a Chinese-English dictionary - you have flashcards, top-notch OCR, a document reader, and more. No matter where you are in your learning, make sure that you have this!

Keep in mind that a large number of features are behind a one-time paywall. The dictionary is free, but flashcards, advanced dictionaries, etc. can be purchased in a bundle or separately. I’d advise going for the “Basic Bundle” - well worth its seemingly high price tag. There are also more dictionaries that can be unlocked with the “Professional Bundle”, but you can always upgrade to this at a later time for a reduced price, and I don’t think its worth it for anyone except the most advanced of learners.

Pleco’s flashcard feature is invaluable. Turn on the Spaced Repetition option and plug in the words you want to learn - a few minutes a day will do the rest. If you don’t want to splurge on the bundle, get this add-on at least. It’s built with Chinese in mind, having a wide range of presets and configurations, and each card comes with native audio and example sentences.

Pleco also offers quite a few e-books. We’ll be taking a closer look at those later.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- HelloChinese [see old guide]. In summary, a decent app that will bring you up to HSK 3.5 if you shell out for their Premium, but don’t use it as your only resource when starting. See old guide for more detailed summary.

- HSK Standard Course Textbooks & Workbooks [see old guide]. New information since then:

  • The HSK 5A and B workbooks do not correspond to the textbook contents that much - you may want to consider waiting to complete the workbook chapters until after finishing the course. That being said, they are an excellent way to practice if you do know the majority of the HSK 5 vocabulary or want to stretch yourself.

  • The materials can be quite expensive, but they are available digitally and even freely - depending on your country you may be able to download them for free and legally without any repercussions whatsoever, but do look before you do so. Having paper materials is also slightly better as you can annotate.

  • These are published by the official government department of China and were built with the vocab lists in mind, so are one of the best options if you are studying to the exam.

  • At HSK 5 & 6 the vocabulary gets rather formal and literary, not exactly street-talk or words you’d hear commonly. A common point where learners stop following the HSK is after HSK 4 or 5. I’ll stop learning through textbooks after HSK 5 (now).

  • HSK 3.0 materials are due to land in the upcoming year or two, because these books are over a decade old. This won’t have too large an affect, but there are some words and expressions no longer used today. For example, I learned the Chinese word for fax machine, despite being of the generation that hasn’t even seen one.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- WeChat. This may be surprising, but I’ve found the platform useful for language learners too. You can use it to join Mandarin learner groups or write to/send audio messages/listen to messages from native speakers, read articles, etc. I suggest using social networks in conjunction with this to actually find the people to talk to. Other social platforms where you can find groups such as Discord or WhatsApp are also good tools for the toolbox.

- Anki. This is Pleco’s flashcards with a ton more bells and whistles. It’s a lot more customizable, and so you can put in anything from long-form sentences to images. I’ve found Pleco’s flashcards to suit my needs, but if you need SRS for sentence mining (see my tool) or anything that Pleco can’t provide, this is your next best bet. I use this for a few minutes a day in conjunction with a sentence deck, Spoonfed Chinese ($3).

I’d recommend Spoonfed Chinese if you don’t want to spend a couple hours setting up something similar - while there are extensions and scripts that accomplish the same thing, a few bucks will save you some time. To the uninitiated: this Anki ‘deck’ is a massive list of sentences with native audio, sorted in a way that you build on your learning by seeing slightly harder sentences each time. On the Gumroad page it does actually say that there are grammar notes, but beyond the first couple hundred these are pretty much non-existent.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- Tutors. Getting an ideally native tutor to teach you is the best way to learn. While it may not be affordable for everyone, even just once a week for an hour can make a difference. Don’t be afraid to tell your tutor what you want changed in the lessons or how you’d like to learn, though - I waited the longest time to do so.

- Chinese Forums. A website that has been around for nearly twenty years, reflected in its thousands of posts and comments discussing all things Chinese-learning related. This is really a gold mine. You can read pinned posts, the blogs, search for a question, and almost definitely find detailed answers to your learning-related question. By creating an account and asking some questions, you’ll be sure to get detailed, thought-out responses on a scale beyond that of a subreddit.

- Hacking Chinese. Hundreds of insightful posts about all aspects of learning Chinese. A must-bookmark for every Chinese learner.

Reading

Preface: this is my main motivation for learning Chinese, and the area that has brought me the biggest growth in my learning. I’ve collaborated with a few other learners from our awesome Discord server to create a guide to reading Chinese fiction, from beginner to beyond HSK 6. See the Reddit post here, and the guide itself here.

Reading-related FAQs and tips are covered in subsequent questions.

- Readibu. My #1 used Chinese learning app, it’s like Pleco’s document reader on steroids - and with a fancier UI. This app allows you to open up any Chinese webpage (its meant for reading webnovels), and then read it with ease. You can tap on words to translate them, double-tap for a sentence translation (Premium), get word pronunciation, save words for Pleco export, discover novels, and so much more. I know this sounds like a promotion - it’s really not, the app is just that good. I’ve read dozens of books on here since spring, and the ease and conveniency the app provides has allowed my reading ability to skyrocket.

And free! There’s a premium plan ($5/mo) with a month-long free trial, but honestly speaking, the core app is so good you probably won’t need it. I’ve tried it out (features unlocked include word images, sentence translation, and page downloads.

You can find books to read by discovering them based off the HSK tag (not recommended), or by viewing the Books & Webnovels tab in this sheet (recommended). Please note that questions such as how to find books to read are covered in the Questions section. I read almost all the ‘Intermediate’ level books on the document, and about half a dozen of the Upper Intermediate ones, as well as another handful not mentioned, and would be happy to provide personalized recommendations as well.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- Difficulty Analysis Software. By this I mean something that you can use to find books at the right level. Webnovels are available in the tens or hundreds of thousands, but it can be a drain to sift through them, especially if you’ve exhausted a resource list.

A lot of learners use Chinese Text Analyzer, a paid (~$20 USD) piece of software that will scan some text and spit out % known words, number of chars/words, most common unknown words, HSK distribution etc. I tried the 14-day free trial, and while useful, its price tag kept me off. So, I developed a free tool with a server member called chinese-comprehension that does the exact same thing, albeit shown on as words not as graphics. While you will need to have Python installed, this is fairly straightforward.

I suggest using this tool multiple times over different novels to gain an idea of what percentages/distributions of words are right for your level. Once you’ve found that golden number, you can plug in various files and quickly find your next book to read.

- Mandarin Companion graded readers. These are books that have been adapted to Chinese, shortened, and simplified to be comprehensible to language learners. There’s a lot of repetition, and three levels suitable for up to HSK 3/4. Quality is fantastic. [see old guide]

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- SinoLingua graded readers. A much larger range of books, but lower quality (often not at all the difficulty advertised). Their saving grace is in the price, and the fact that there’s free native audio for nearly every book (see this post of mine). It might even be worth just listening to the audio alone, as it’s freely downloadable.

Their readers are also available from the Pleco store at a slightly increased price, making them available through the document reader. However, if you have PDFs of their books, I suggest instead running it through a PDF to HTML converter and reading in your browser using an extension such as Zhongzhong [see old guide, under ‘Zhongwen’], which is a free Chrome extension cross between Readibu and Pleco - hovering to provide pronunciation and definitions.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

[see old guide] for a deeper dive into advantages and drawbacks of SinoLingua.

- HSK Reading [see old guide]. A website with a wide range of HSK-graded, audio-accompanied posts.

- DuChinese [see old guide]. New info: bought Premium for a month using the student discount and read through all available HSK 4 stories. The quality and audio is amazing, but it’s really only useful at earlier levels (HSK 4 and under). After HSK 4, you’re ready to dive into the simplest native content, which is free as opposed to this. As well as this, stories, except for those few with multiple parts, are quite short, so vocabulary is not repeated that often. Unrepeated vocabulary at higher levels is usually quite uncommon words, so reading random news or fairy tale stories won’t help you solidify them in the same way that a longer-form novel will.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- Waiyü. This is like Zhongwen for iOS users, which I’m currently beta testing - though should be free in the App Store in the next few days. You can view Chinese word definition, pinyin, pronunciation, stroke order, and more from inside of Safari - no more jumping over to your computer for understanding some Chinese webpage!

Listening

- Youtube Channels for Learners: Chinese For Us, Go East Mandarin, Mandarin Corner

- Little Fox Chinese [see old guide]. Animated stories for a range of HSK levels.

- SinoLingua audiobooks [see old guide] - free, HSK 3+ (despite HSK 1/2 tags for lower ones due to range in vocabulary), and good quality.

Listening along while listening has been a massive help to my Chinese. If you can, do so with these audio files. See this Reddit post of mine and its top-level comment for a fuller explanation of why you should use this method. Essentially, it doubles the practice you do in the same amount of time, and helps with vocab acquisition and understanding.

- Microsoft Azure TTS. A text to speech service that is near-human in its accuracy. You can test it out in the link provided. There are a wide range of voices, and you can adjust the speed, pitch, and even speaking style.

If I’m unable to found the audio for a book I’m reading, I often use my developer key (free) to create a text-to-speech file using their neural network, and play it along with my reading. While not quite on the level of a human, the difference is hardly noticeable and more than suitable enough for my purposes.

- 喜羊羊. A well-done, animated children’s cartoon series very popular in China. I’ve watched over a hundred episodes, and the shows are engaging and comprehensible, with a clear pronunciation. It follows the adventures of a band of sheep and their struggles against a wolf that often tries to catch them. Suitable for the HSK4+ level.

Keep in mind that the series range in difficulty, as they cover things from time travel to car races. But by the end of the series (60 episodes each I believe), watching will be a breeze.

The only complaint is their childish nature, it can get old after a while. So… TV shows!

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- 隐秘的角落. This is a native-level TV show, thank you u/Tom_The_Human for the recommendation. I’ve only watched a half-dozen or so episodes of TV shows from three or four shows, so the difficulty will obviously vary considerably. This one (free on iQiyi) and the others mentioned in a question I asked a few days ago are at the HSK 5+ level, though I’ve heard of simpler ones suitable for those who have just started the HSK 5 (i.e. completed HSK 4 and some) - though it may be difficult at that level.

- 蜻蜓, tons of audiobooks and fairy tales that can be a good listen in the car, on a walk, or in conjunction with a book you are reading. Just note that slowing down or speeding up the audio can make it sound crackly, audio quality isn’t always very high. As well as that, ‘classics’ with a number of formats (such as the Little Prince) may have audio that does not match up exactly with the copy you are reading, which is quite a jarring experience.

- Learning Chinese Through Stories - an all-round excellent podcast that has recorded hundreds of episodes from HSK 1 to above HSK 6, conveniently categorized. What I really like about this podcast is that it’s pretty much all in Mandarin. No ‘Chinese podcast’ that’s 75% English - instead the hosts read out a story (~2-8 mins), and then banter and discuss it, explaining it in simpler language (to an extent, depending on the category of the podcast) for 20-40 minutes. Roughly a third of the episodes are free on your favorite podcast platform. The rest, including transcripts and bonus content, can be unlocked through a $5+ Patreon donation.

I’ve been consuming these podcasts at an unhealthy rate, and really appreciate all the work the hosts have put into producing it. The audio is very clear, dialogue compelling, and explanations detailed. Best of all, it’s comprehensible!

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- Maomi Chinese podcast. HSK 3/4 level. There are transcriptions in both Chinese and English for free on the website, and the host is quite prolific, but I listened to the first dozen or so episodes after it launched and then dropped it because the content was too easy. It’s about 90% Chinese, but a significant fraction of that is explaining words. Although the explanations are in Chinese, the words that are being explained are almost all ones you’d know anyway by the end of HSK 4+.

- The You Can Learn Chinese Podcast. By the creators of Mandarin Companion, this is a podcast that explains the learning process as opposed to actually teaching you anything Chinese. There are nearly a hundred episodes, ranging from 30 mins - 1 hour, and usually with a guest host for the latter half as well. I’ve learnt a lot about comprehensible input, time management, and so on from listening. While it’s not as productive as listening to something in Chinese, it’s still a solid option if you’re tired or in a busy environment.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

Speaking

My speaking “不是什么了不起”, to put it in Chinese terms. This largely stems from COVID-19 and my location in one of the most xenophobic, and devoid of foreigners, countries in Europe. So, I have extremely limited opportunities to practice speaking.

- People around you. If you’re friends/family members/colleagues/schoolmates speak Chinese, see if you can use your skills to practice with them. Of course, don’t just use them for practice - make sure you both enjoy the conversation. If they’d rather just use English/non-Chinese language, you can try to find a language exchange partner to speak with.

- Language exchange partners. You can find some on Tandem or HelloTalk, though be aware that the vast majority of interactions will be the same generic questions/greetings, and I’ve heard that they can tend towards being like dating apps if you’re female - the gender filter in HelloTalk can help with that. As well as this, be aware that most people may not want to use voice messages to communicate.

That being said, I have used these apps in the past, as well as Reddit, to find a few language partners to exchange with online. I’ve been speaking with one for over half a year to date, and it’s been really rewarding.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

- Tutors. Again, having (ideally) 1-1 sessions with a native speaker will dramatically boost your speaking skills if you make that the focus of your lessons. My tutor has commented on an increasing in speaking skills after several weeks of changing the focus of our sessions to dialogue.

Writing

I am not learning to handwrite, and you should deeply consider your goals before deciding on whether you will do so yourself. The time you need to put in to handwrite, let alone learn calligraphy, is immense, and in the increasingly online world, the benefits you’ll gain from it are on the decline.

However, practicing writing compositions on a computer and your grammar shouldn’t be understated. All resources mentioned below are geared towards writing compositions.

- Journaly. [see old guide], an essay writing and feedback-receiving site that I used to use, similar to the now-defunct Lang-8. You can see a deeper discussion on the old guide.

- LangCorrect - what I use now instead of Journaly. It has nearly all the same features, but a better design, more active user base, and prompts that you can draw from. I used to write nearly a post a day here, which has since fallen considerably to my regret. Still, the dozens of posts written all had excellent, detailed feedback which I was able to use to correct inherent grammar mistakes in my learning and improve my skills.

This is especially useful in conjunction with the HSK 5 workbooks/HSK test prep. The workbooks and textbooks all have a composition section at the end of each chapter, which reflects the composition you’ll need to write during the exam itself.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

Tips, Mindset, and Techniques

I’m drawing from and resharing some of the tips mentioned in the old guide which are still applicable, though others are new.

Tips

Find your motivation: this will allow you to struggle through the hard times and celebrate your achievements. I can’t emphasize this enough - you need to have a good reason to want to learn Chinese. Try to find intrinsic motivation - something that compels you - not extrinsic, like being admired by others or for a job.

To build on this, it’s important to also break this motivation down into goals - both short- and long-term. Reward yourself for finish these goals, and make them SMART so you can realistically attain them.

Some motivation/long-term goal suggestions based on what I’ve seen (for a long time I struggled with finding mine, so I hope this will be useful):

  • Reading Chinese books in the original language (even classics)

  • Speaking fluently with your Chinese friend

  • Studying in China abroad

  • Reaching an HSK level

  • Sheer interest in the language (guilty as charged)

  • Communicating with family

Read more, in a specific language-learning context about I vs. E Motivation, in this study.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

Don’t forgo tones: while you might be understood when toneless, you’ll be forever branded a foreigner and inevitably run into communication difficulties. The later you start to learn tones, the worse - I spent a good three months relearning my vocab before getting to the point where I have the tone memorized for every word I know. When learning tones, also be sure to learn the tone as a component of the word - not as something else to memorize.

For example: ma1 + ma5 instead of ma + 1 + ma + 5.

Study every day: even if its something as small as going through your flashcard deck for five minutes, do it. With the way our brains work, skipping one day can quickly lead to skipping one week, and so on in a negative cycle.

Build a routine: consistency is key. Just like with a test, constant, longer-term repetition is a lot better than cramming too much beforehand. If you really want your vocab to sink in, you’ll need to practice it every day. Ideally, also create a language learning schedule, so you can hold yourself accountable. Speaking of accountability, Lingo Journal is great for keeping track of the time spent language learning, and I’m working on a Goodreads-esque website specifically geared towards book-loving language learners.

Find a community: Humans are social creatures. It’s a great thing that you’re already with a group of like-minded people on this subreddit, but it’s got over 100 000 members - unless you’re one of the elite most active members, you won’t get that sense of community or learn from others. In this regard, a Discord server, WhatsApp hangout, WeChat group, or any small-mid scale social network is perfect.

In my example, I’m in a Discord server with about 1000 members as one of the Top Contributors. I’ve made a lot of friendships, commiserated tons over Chinese learning, and learned a lot myself from talking with other members there.

Discord server recommendation list: above-mentioned, official subreddit server, Chinese-English exchange, Cave of Linguists.

Vary what you do: The variety will encourage you, and ensure the exercises you do are less boring. Try to spread out the number of tools you use, as well as the nature of the exercises (reading, passive, active, listening, etc.). See the Resources section for a commented list of those I found most useful, and please refer to the old HSK 3/4 reflection guide for the description of those which are duplicates and marked as explained there.

Don’t underestimate output: Of course, at the beginning, you’ll need input (reading, listening) to build a foundation. But I’d encourage you to start speaking and writing (especially the former) as soon as possible. These more active activities require more effort and thus help you consolidate what you’ve learnt better.

Read, read, read: No matter your level, input is crucial. Especially at the latter stages, audiovisual input is key to learning new words - and in context, not just from a flashcard list. Obviously, I’m a big proponent of reading novels to learn, as these are the logical step up from graded readers and are a native, free form of content that frequently repeats word - comprehensible, repetitive input perfect for language learners. Of course, watching is another form of input and also very useful, but you get a lot more words in/unit time with reading.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

Use flashcards: Really, how else are you going to remember all of those words? Do yourself a favor and find some Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) like the aforementioned Pleco/Anki to practice what you’ve learnt daily. Stray away from non-SRS like physical flashcards or Quizlet - SRS is built to help you efficiently learn, while those are more like games.

Mindset

When studying, don’t lose sight of the big picture and your eventual goal. Sometimes, progress can be disappointingly slow - take a look back when you were at a lower level and be encouraged!

If you feel like you’ve hit a plateau, look back to a recording of yourself a few months earlier, a book you read the previous year, etc. - it’s a huge boost in motivation. If you’re a numbers person like me, keeping track of statistics like time spent learning, known flashcards, pages read, etc. can also be an encouragement. PolyLogger and Lingo Journal are both good for this sort of thing.

Keep a growth mindset

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” ( Dweck, 2015)

Don’t tell yourself you’re too old, too busy, not cut out for learning - it’s not true. The biggest obstacle I’ve faced learning is myself.

Techniques

By this I mean more general methods that you can put to use in your language learning.

Comprehensible Input:

Comprehensible input is language input that can be understood by learners despite them not understanding all the words and structures in it. (BBC)

In essence, this is input that you can understand. Reading the original Journey to the West in Chinese will not be comprehensible for most learners, while a kids book may be. When finding books to read/shows to watch/podcasts to listen to, make sure that its at a level that stretches but doesn’t break you - the so called i + 1 concept, where i is what you know and the + 1 is the small amount of new content. The Learning Chinese Through Stories podcast or the right difficulty of a graded reader are perfect examples of this.

Intensive and Extensive Reading/Listening:

There are three commonly accepted reading levels: extensive reading, intensive reading and reading pain. The category of the content that you choose will greatly affect your reading speed and comprehension.

If you want some more easy reading for fun, where you’ll passively be picking up words, aim for content where you understand 98% or more of the words. This is called “extensive reading”, and due to the relative ease with which you can read it (but still presence of unknown words) it is the perfect “sweet spot”. Here, you’ll be reading at a fast pace, while still picking up new words, but without needing to focus as much.

However, even content that’s above 90% comprehension is good - or intensive reading. Intensive reading is more deliberate, with a focus on taking in new words - you’ll be reading more slowly with a focus on learning.

You should approach any content where you understand less than 90% of the words/characters with care. While it is true that the beginning few chapters of many webnovels will be at this “reading pain” level, as long as you quickly take in the new words and move to the higher levels, it will be fine. However, if you consistently stay in the “reading pain” area, this will likely demotivate you due to poor comprehension, and your time is better spent learning with easier passages.

But ultimately, it’s your choice.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

Learn about Learning:

While the majority of your time should be dedicated to learning Chinese, not learning about how to learn Chinese (don’t fall down that rabbit hole), it can still be very useful to have a foundational knowledge in this. You’re hopefully gaining quite a lot of that information in this post and that from the old guide, but don’t stop here.

Listen to the You Can Learn Chinese podcast with the rich experiences and motivating stories of dozens of hosts. Go through the r/ChineseLanguage subreddit wiki. Do your own searches online. These will all help you become a more efficient and productive language learner.

Broad Language Learning Methods:

AJATT method for surrounding yourself with input: link. Very applicable to any language learner, if not on such an intensive scale - do try to surround yourself with Chinese when you can, such as by choosing a Chinese podcast over your favorite furniture one when running.

Refold fluency roadmap: link. Comes with friendly Discord server.

And then the general, more slow but widespread method used by most language learners, of course. Mix and match until you find what suits you, and don’t stop looking here.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

Questions

Please do keep in mind that these answers are subjective, based off of my own experiences, and not definitive.

Some of these responses have been adapted from the FAQ section on the aforementioned Discord server reading resource guide that I contributed to.

When should I start speaking?

As soon as possible, though try to speak accurately (get feedback on your speaking) so that you aren’t making the same mistakes.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

What if I’m just not good at language learning?

This isn’t true - as stated earlier, half the battle is fighting yourself. The reason why you’re lagging in your language learning is likely precisely because of this mindset. If you commit to doing something and tell yourself that you can do it, you’re proven to be much more likely to actually accomplish it. The same holds true for language learning - tell yourself you’re a person who can learn, and you’ll see improvements.

After thirty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.

The above is a quote, once again, by Carol Dweck, the renowned mindset psychologist, which I think illustrates my point well.

Additionally, take advantage of your natural strengths. You might be more of a visual learner - skew your input towards shows and movies. Or, you might have a great ear - try to listen more! Make sure to find a motivation and some goals as well so you can feel the progress you make, and thus like a productive language learner.

See this post for a detailed breakdown of how to address these feelings of inadequacy.

Should I pay for a tutor?

If you can afford it, even just once a week, I’ll repeat that I highly recommend doing so. This is the best way of learning, and you’ll get content and lessons catered specifically to you. You can find cheap tutoring online.

How long does it take to reach fluency?

This all depends on your definition of fluency, how well you learn, and how much time you can put in a week. Mandarin Chinese is a Category V language according to the United States Foreign Service Institute, requiring 2200 hours to become fluent in it. But this is under ideal circumstances.

Still, with these numbers, you can expect that it will take at least a few years to become fluent - and far longer to reach a native-like level. Language learning is a lifelong journey, and you should be aware of this - but enjoy the road!

On a similar note, the time required to peruse native content with relative ease like simpler books, TV shows, etc. is likely at least around HSK 6, or CEFR B2. It took me 15 months to get to HSK 5, and I’d say I’m studying relatively seriously. So I’d say this might be around few of years - but I’ve heard of HSK 6 being reached in just a year!

Of course, if you exclusively focus on something, like speaking, this can be reached quicker. Conversational Chinese is not as difficult as understanding newspapers. So again, it depends on your goals and your definition of fluency.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

I’m losing motivation, help.

Reassess the reason why you are learning Chinese. If that still motivates you, great - it might just be too long-term of a goal. Try and therefore break it down into smaller chunks. If your goal is to read 西游记, reading a graded reader might be an accomplishment, and then the next stage up, and then a kids book, etc. By setting yourself medium-term, short, and even micro-goals, you’ll get a boost in energy and motivation whenever you finish it.

If you can’t find your motivation yet or have lost it, that’s also fine. Try and think of what draws you to learning Chinese - or more specifically, is there any part of the language learning process you enjoy and feel rewarded about? You can also try to draw in your hobbies to Chinese - if you like rock-climbing, for example, you can watch shows on rock-climbing in Chinese. Connecting that positive hobby to learning Chinese will trickle over.

This is just a short FAQ section, but an awesome series of four posts that help you assess and keep motivation are available here.

Is it OK if I miss a day learning?

Just missing one day because of some appointment or holiday obviously won’t spell the end of your language-learning. However, as much as possible, try to avoid breaking the streak of language learning. One day can become three, than a week, and so on until you justify stopping learning Chinese altogether.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

What’s the ideal difficulty for reading?

This has already been addressed in the ‘techniques’ section.

What if I have no one to speak with?

Try to find a language exchange partner online, or better yet, locally. Going to a Confucius Institute or a Chinese culture meetup is the perfect way to find someone to talk to. There are literally millions of Chinese who want to practice with native English speakers, and a myriad of apps and sites that allow you to connect with them.

Do pronunciation and tones matter for reading?

Technically speaking no, because when you read in your head, you can pronounce it however you like. Completely neglecting learning the proper pronunciation and tones and ignoring other language skills such as listening is generally not advised.

Although your immediate goal may be to read webnovels and you have no interest in other areas, it isn’t too wise to purposely put yourself in a situation where you can only read Chinese, but are unable to do anything else with it, as no one can predict the future. The day might come when you regret that decision and you don’t really want to start from zero all over again.

r/ChineseLanguage - HSK 5 in 15 months - all the tools, tips, and techniques I've learned in one guide

I have more questions about this post or your experiences.

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