Use Chinese Learning Pyramid to make learning more effective

This is what a Chinese learning pyramid looks like. It is very useful to inform students where to spend their time and energy to maximise the learning results.

It is especially useful for self-study Chinese, when there are no teachers to give instructions and feedbacks.

Chinese learning pyramid

The four tiers

This learning pyramid consists of four tiers. The learning sequence goes from the bottom to the top:

  • Understand
  • Re-enforce
  • Remember
  • Apply

Learning starts from the bottom tier “Understand”, that students understand what words mean, how to pronounce them and how to structure them into sentences. 

This is the knowledge that are raw, static and easy to be forgotten. That is why this tier is at the bottom.

Everything has huge potentials, but nothing can be used without some degrees of modification, which depends on when, where, why, and with whom these words/structures are used.

The second tier is “Re-enforce”. Its function is to transfer the forgettable knowledge in “Understand” to a place where something can be recalled easily, “Remember”.

“Remember” is the third tier, which is an active memory zone. Words, structures and pronunciations are no longer raw. Instead, they are active, and are ready for quick responses.

The last tier is “Apply”. When situations are calling for, students can use their knowledge stored in “Remember” to meet the requirement with dexterity and skills.

The learning process

These four tiers are not evenly spread.

What students eventually apply in real life is only the tip of this pyramid. Below the tip is a vast amount of active knowledge ready to be recalled. 

The third tier occupies the most of the space in this pyramid. It is where most of time and energy are spent. Students go through extensive trainings and drills, ranging from highly targeted to highly integrated exercises, to be able to pull the knowledge up to the “Remember” from “Understand”.

The bottom tier “Understand” is a relatively thin layer, showing this is the easiest part to do in the whole process.

Time and energy allocation

When learning Chinese, it is easy to to understand. 

Students take a look at a list of new words with definitions, and they’ll understand. They take a look at a video clip of writing a character, and they’ll understand its stroke order. They take a look at a list of grammar points, and they’ll understand. 

But it is hard to remember the new knowledge. It is hard to recall them instantly when they are needed. Without sufficient practice, students always forget their words, forget how to write a Chinese character, and how to structure sentences properly. 

From “Understand” to “Remember”, students need to put in lots of effort to practice. Practice the same thing in many different ways. Listening, speaking, reading and writing, are all important ways to re-enforce the learning. 

When the hard work is done, students are able to use what they’ve learned in real life.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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