Free Online Resources for Teaching and Learning Chinese

MSL Master shares some handy resources and teaching and learning tips with Mandarin teachers and students. These free resources can be applied easily into Chinese classes or practice routines. Topics include class activities, Chinese reading and writing, Chinese grammar, Chinese cultural insights, and more!

A few small grammatical points about Chinese

Two in Chinese

二 èr and 两 liǎng

Don’t be confused about when to use “两 liǎng” and when to use “二 èr” any more.

de in Chinese

的 de - a structural particle in Chinese

When learning Chinese, it is important to understand the function of “的 de” is associative, not possessive.

le in Chinese

Attention! “了 le” does not indicate past tense

Chinese learners and teachers must pay attention that “了 le” does not indicates past tense. It is about change.

jiu in chinese

The often overlooked Chinese character - 就 jiù

Understand the origin and learn some of the meanings and usages of “就 jiù”, which is often overlooked or misunderstood.

yi dianr and you yi dianr

一点儿 yī diǎnr and 有一点儿 yǒu yī diǎnr

Understand the difference between “一点儿 yī diǎnr” and “有一点儿 yǒu yī diǎnr” in Chinese.

hen in Chinese

The mistranslated Chinese character - 很 hěn

Mistranslating “很 hěn” into “very” is only because we don’t have other options.

It is a mistake to learn Chinese using English grammatical concepts

What is the best way to learn Chinese grammar? Most people did not know that modern Chinese grammar has a Latin origin, which has created many thorny issues.

Class Activities to Expand Chinese Teaching Toolkit

Engage students' attention, give them opportunities to move around, and get some competitive spirit going on! Use these activities to bring your Chinese classes to life. And there are more practical and handy activities available in Teacher's Manuals.

Reading a long Chinese article

  • Involve students in their Chinese learning process

  • Practice analytical and critical thinking skills

  • Deliver presentations in Chinese

Topic Card - What is it in your mind?

  • Encourage authentic communications between students
  • Build mutual understanding among students
  • Gauge progress and discover areas for improvement

Find someone who ...

  • Encourage the whole class to stay active
  • Encourage communication and information sharing
  • Build trust and understanding among students and teachers

Listening contest

  • Increase students' awareness on pronunciation
  • Encourage students to speak and increase their confidence
  • Build class rapport among students

Articles Written by April Zhang for in-depth Chinese Teaching & Learning

The many dialects of Chinese

There are so many dialects in China, and Mandarin is one of the many dialect groups of Chinese.

traditional vs simplified character

The simplification process of traditional Chinese characters

Effort was made in two fronts to simplify Chinese characters, to reduce the number of strokes, and to reduce the number of characters.

The pros and cons of learning Mandarin in Hong Kong

There are disadvantages of learning Mandarin in Hong Kong, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

speak putonghua

Beijinghua is not Putonghua

There could be hundreds versions of Putonghua out there with slight differences from one another. One of them is Putonghua with a Beijing accent.

virtual learning tour to China

How to substitute for a learning tour to China

Instead of spending thousands of dollars, a virtual learning tour to China is cheap, and provides many benefits for students to learn Chinese.

Mandarin learning anxieties

Learning Mandarin can lead to anxieties. Overcoming these anxieties requires understanding them first. 

Top ten ways students can make a Chinese teacher mad

Understand more on how cultural differences and different upbringing environments lead to tensions between the teacher and students.

Why learn Mandarin?

Ten arguments for learning Mandarin are analysed and find out which one can drive students to the ultimate success.

Give me a word, any word

Many Chinese words are originally from other languages and Chinese people simply made them their own.

Can you judge a book by its cover?

Dragons are magnificent, but it is people whom students will talk to. Let's re-think about how to represent Chinese culture in textbooks. 

Strokes, components and radicals of Chinese characters

Both strokes and components are building units, while the latter gives us a deeper insight of the intrinsic beauty of characters.

Train for exceptional Mandarin listening ability - higher level students

Many resources are there for listening training. Understand them better and use them well.

Controlled exercises - How lower level students develop listening ability

This article offers actionable advice for non-Chinese students’ to train their ears.

Chinese radicals - a fact sheet

Find out what the biggest misconception is and gain some insightful ideas about Chinese radicals.

A comprehensive guide for choosing the right level of IB Chinese (Diploma Program)

Understand what IBDP Chinese curriculum requires and tests, and get help with choosing the appropriate level of IB Chinese to study.

7 things you should know about the HSK test

What is HSK? Why do people take HSK? Who benefits the most? Find out the answers to these questions and more. 

The gulf between pinyin and Mandarin Chinese pronunciation

Learning pinyin has great advantages. But it is not without its problems. Find out the real issues about pinyin and how to overcome them.

xiang xing zi

Pictures and Chinese characters

Chinese characters are visual, like paintings. They can make an immediate impact upon people, even if they can not read Chinese.

memorise Chinese characters

How to memorise Chinese characters?

For non-Chinese speakers, who start learning Chinese in their teens or adulthood, the difficulty inherent in the process of memorising Chinese characters is very real. It is something they have to overcome.

Why learning Mandarin using (only) Pinyin will create more hurdles

For students who want to have a meaningful grasp of Mandarin, they must look beyond pinyin, as pinyin will confuse the hell out of them!

What? Stroke-order does not matter (that much anyway)?

Stroke order is not the most important thing in learning Chinese reading and writing. Find out what really is.

Understand learning (Chinese) input and output

In the context of speaking and listening, we discuss how the input and output take place in learning Chinese.

Different ways of learning Chinese characters

There are several ways to start learning Chinese characters. A list of most frequently used characters is one of them.

pin yin

A beginner’s guide to pinyin pronunciations

This beginner’s guide to pinyin teaches you how to use English as cues, most of the time, to grasp Mandarin sounds.

Frequently Asked Questions on Learning Chinese

And our answers

What are the pros and cons of flash cards in learning Chinese?

There are two types of flash cards, Chinese character cards and word cards. Chinese character cards typically contain one character per card, showing the stroke order of the character, the meaning, a few combinations as examples, and sometimes a couple of sentences. And word cards generally contain one word per card, showing the meaning of the word and some sentences as examples. 

It is more useful when students make their own flash cards than they use the ready made ones. The commercially available flash cards include too many new characters in their examples and that makes more than half of the content in the cards useless.

When students use the flash cards that they made themselves, students gain the biggest advantage flash cards can offer, which is students are able to review key Chinese characters and words quickly. And they can do it whenever they have a few minutes to spare.

The biggest disadvantage of using flash cards is that, when flash cards become the focal point of study, students will miss out the opportunities to do more targeted exercises which will improve their Chinese general comprehensions. 

Therefore, it is necessary to strike a balance when using flash cards and to make sure that flash cards are only supplementary tools. 

Is learning 2000 Chinese characters enough for reading Chinese newspapers?

Researchers typically identify 4000 - 5000 characters in prints or online, which includes both simplified and traditional characters. The breakdown is that most frequently used 1000 characters account for 86–91% of the characters occurring, and the most frequently used 2000 for 95–98%. It seems like that, after students learn 2000 characters, they should be able to read newspapers. In reality, they still can’t.

The problem is that, with a focus on accumulating individual characters, students miss a focal point of the Chinese writing system, that the foundation of Chinese texts is words, not characters. Even when students recognise every character in a Chinese text, it is possible that they still don’t understand what they are reading.

Is learning pinyin learning Chinese?

Technically, learning pinyin is learning to speak Chinese. In fact, pinyin is not so essential at all. Students can make up their own spelling system with their own languages and can still learn to speak Chinese.

Pinyin, especially tones, is being talked so much because it is closely related to Chinese pronunciations, which are often over emphasised. There is a joke saying a foreigner was trying to order dumplings in a restaurant. But he did not say the tones right, and got slapped because the waitress thought he wanted to sleep with her. This joke itself is a joke. It was in a restaurant for crying out loud! That is the trouble of emphasising pronunciations and tones too much. In doing so, we turn a blind eye to the material conditions of verbal communications in practical situations. 

Read more about pinyin here:

Is it necessary to learn classical Chinese?

Classical Chinese (wenyanwen) is difficult to learn, and people get by fine without learning it. Therefore, students don’t have to learn classical Chinese. Rather, learning classical texts gives them advantages.  

Over the millennia, classical Chinese texts have left many traces in the modern Chinese language, permeated in tones of fixed expressions, and been influencing people’s thinkings. Learning some classical Chinese texts help students understand the origins of many expressions, Chinese idioms and even behaviours, and allow them to establish effective communications with Chinese people. 

Moreover, classical Chinese texts offer students an opportunity to get a glimpse of Chinese historical, social and cultural changes over thousands of years. This is the coolest way for students to engage in dialogues and gain valuable insights on China. 

This is the reason that Mandarin Express Intermediate Level B includes a substantial amount of classical Chinese.

Should English translations be included in Chinese textbooks?

Many people believe that English translations should be provided to beginner students in their Chinese textbooks. They thought the translations will make learning easier. If students don't understand the Chinese text, they will if they read the translations. And quite often we see three different scripts in Chinese textbooks, Chinese characters, pinyin, and English translations.

We don’t agree. Translations laid side by side with the Chinese texts often have the following undesirable effects: (1) students often compare the Chinese texts word by word with the English translation, and arrive at the wrong conclusion, attributing a false translation to a Chinese character or word; (2) Chinese structures can not be translated well into English. Thus the English translations makes it hard for students to fully appreciate the Chinese texts; (3) students' attention is often drawn to the English texts which they can read quickly, and lose their focus on the Chinese texts; (4) the worse of all is that translations prevent students from thinking in the targeted language - Chinese. 

In short, English translations discourage students from engaging in the process of learning Chinese. This is the reason that both the Mandarin Express series and the Chinese Reading and Writing series do not have English translations in print.

Do students have to learn Chinese radicals?

Radicals have played an important role in learning Chinese. However, spending too much time on radicals no longer makes any sense.

Before, learning radicals was an effective way for students to understand the “bushou”, which was pretty much the only way for them to look up a character in a dictionary. Nowadays, students can use their Chinese learning Apps. 

Before, many beginner students learned characters according to their radicals. Now we have a better way for them to do the same thing with more efficiency. 

Also, it is often claimed that, learning radicals helps students understand the meanings of characters, such as イ relates to people, 口 relates to mouth. But it is only true to a small portion of radicals. It is also claimed that radicals help students guess the sounds of characters. Again, it is not always the case. Many radicals can not explain the meanings of Chinese characters, neither give clues to the sounds.

It is good to know some facts about radicals. But it is not necessary to spend too much time on radicals, especially not spending too much class hours.

How to correct students’ mistakes?

Corrections are necessary feedbacks that will clarify students' understandings of Chinese. At the same time, they are very vulnerable to over corrections. They can get very upset and they lose their confidence. 

There are a couple of ways for a Chinese teacher to help students without hurting them. 

The first one is that the Chinese teacher points out that there is something wrong and invites students to correct themselves. 

The second one is that the Chinese teacher do not correct every single mistake whenever a mistake happens, especially during class activities. The Chinese teacher identifies some common problems and address them efficiently. 

Also, make sure to let students know when they are doing great.

Are movies good resources for improving Chinese listening skills?

Movies are fun to watch. But using movies in Chinese classes with the expectation that they can improve students' listening skills is to be carefully thought out. 

For lower level students, it is more effective when they are exposed to controlled listening exercises, including: (1) listening exercises which come with the textbooks and work books; (2)  moderated and authentic communications between students and teachers; (3) communication oriented exercises among peer students. Read more here: Controlled exercises - How lower level students develop listening ability. 

As students make progress, the following resources will gradually show up in Chinese classes and with some help from the Chinese teachers: (1) field trip to a Chinese speaking environment, or learn how to use a virtual tour instead of a real one; (2) YouTube clips in Chinese; (3) Chinese movies and TV dramas; (4) Chinese news and other TV variety shows. Read more here: Train for exceptional Mandarin listening ability - higher level students.

Share some of your exciting ideas!

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