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Self-study Chinese, and study it well!

Self-study is a great way to learn Chinese. It’s cheap and you have the control. But, it’s not guaranteed, because you’re trying to figure out everything all by yourself. 

To succeed, you must have:

  • A well-structured study plan, which will help you stay on track and make progress towards your goals.
  • Access to quality learning materials, including high-quality textbooks, workbooks, audio and video resources, and etc., which help you improve their reading, writing, listening, speaking skills, and connecting Chinese characters with their sounds (see below, the fifth language skill).
  • Opportunities for practice speaking and writing and to receive feedback on your progress, which help you improve their overall Chinese language proficiency.
  • Motivation and accountability. Self-studying can be lonely and challenging, so having motivation and accountability can help you stay focused and on track. I think the best way to motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable is to have early wins early on and lots of fun. 
  • Chinese cultural context, which will help you better understand the language itself. This includes learning about the history, customs, and traditions of China.

At the same time, you must avoid:

Pitfall #1: Reduce the complexity of Chinese

Chinese is the oldest language that is still well and alive today. That means, for over thousands of years, Chinese has gradually accumulated some really unique and interesting features, which make Chinese language more complex than any other languages today, such as pinyin, tones, pronunciation, intonations, Chinese characters, radicals, components, strokes, stroke orders, Chinese grammar or lack of grammatical rules, and so on.

That complexity makes the following claims false:

  • Learning Chinese is to learn four tones;
  • Learning Chinese characters is to learn stroke orders;
  • After learning 2000 Chinese characters you can read newspapers;
  • Learning thousands of Chinese words enables you to read Chinese novels.

These claims reduce the complexity of Chinese to one or two categories, and give you an unrealistic expectations. That is not a good way to start learning Chinese.

Pitfall #2: Not aware of the fifth Chinese language skill

Apart from “listening”, “speaking”, “reading” and “writing”, learning Chinese requires you to have the fifth skill: connecting Chinese characters with their pronunciations, which many students have missed. 

This skill is important for the following two reasons:

  • The same pronunciations can mean many different things.
  • The same character can have multiple readings. 

The only effective way to different all the meanings of all the pronunciation is to know which characters you are speaking of or listening to. 

Pitfall #3: Focusing too much on grammar

While grammar is important, focusing too much on grammar can make learning tedious and boring.

Another problem is that the current Chinese grammar books all follow English grammar concepts, using “adj”, “adv” and etc to explain Chinese texts. It is like hammering square peg into a round hole.

Pitfall #4: Use the wrong learning materials

When the humorist Dave Barry went to Japan in the early 1990s, he attempted to learn the language by reading a paperback phrase book, Japanese at a Glance. 

It didn’t work for him. We’re not surprised.

Phrase books don’t work. They present lists of sentences that are scattered around and out of contexts. 

Flash cards are also terrible materials. 

I hope you steer away from those boring HSK preparation books. 

Pitfall #5: Comparing yourself to others

Everyone has their own pace and learning style.

Comparing yourself to others can lead to feelings of inadequacy and demotivation. The result is that you’ll underestimate your strength.

You may find yourself saying things like these, “They’re young. I’m too old…” or “They live in China, but I don’t have people to speak Chinese with”. 

Don’t let that happen. 

And don’t give up. 

The world is full 

Conclusion: Self-study Chinese cheaply and effectively

MSL Master fully supports self-study students. We’ve spent years producing books, Chinese Learning Pen, audio and video courses for them. 

Guide on using audio courses:

Guide on using video courses:

If you need some challenges after finishing these courses, come and participate our annual event, Chinese Writing Contest. You’ll have a chance to become a published author, in Chinese language!