Have you recently started to learn a new language and are looking for study tips and tricks? Or have you been studying a language for a long time and are running out of ideas of how to keep it going? Here are some of our favourite study methods to learn Chinese and Japanese that were most helpful for us!
1. Establish a realistic routine
Every teacher in the world will tell you, no matter if you learn a music instrument, a sport or a language, that the most important thing is to do a little bit every day. We also find this to be true and our language skills improved a lot when we started to make it a habit to practice a little bit every day. For Chinese, our routine is to read one news article every night after dinner together (on The Chairman’s Bao), do a Chinese character test on the app Pleco whenever we are waiting around at a restaurant or on the train, and also to write out at least 5 Chinese characters every evening. Of course, we have many more goals, like re-capping on Chinese HSK texts and our notes every day, but it’s important to stay realistic to avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
2. Write your own notes
We find that it helps to bring more structure into what you have previously learnt and writing your own notes makes all the difference. During your lessons you probably take lots of unstructured notes with different grammar rules and new words all on one page. Take your time after the lesson or on the weekend when you have more time, to write things out in a different way and with different coloured pens to make it look appealing. For example, I write out grammar rules with examples on one page and then new words categorized in nouns or adjectives on a separate page to keep things together. This method has proven to be especially helpful for last minute recapping before the lesson!
3. Reading short newspaper articles
As mentioned in the first point, we discovered a website and app called The Chairman’s Bao where you can read short Chinese newspaper articles, with a new one being added every day. Below the news article you can also learn and recap on the key vocabulary and you can listen to the story. Before reading a story, you select your level to make sure that the article doesn’t include too much new vocabulary. I’m sure that there are printed and digital newspapers for every language, adjusted to the readers’ levels. By reading news articles, you are making sure to strengthen your vocab knowledge and phrases that are currently being used in everyday life!
4. Have the right apps
Perhaps I should mention here that this is not a paid write-up and we genuinely like the apps Pleco – for looking up and learning Chinese words and characters – and The Chairman’s Bao – for reading news articles – the most. For every language there are different kind of apps that will suit your needs (gosh, this sounds like such an HSK textbook phrase!). Generally, we both like Memrise more than Duolingo, as Duolingo asks you questions without explaining the rules first. For Japanese, I like the app ‘Japanese!’ to learn Hiragana, Katakana and basic Kanji as a starting point, and the website Wanikani which drills you to learn kanji, which after a year I had to neglect, as I spent at least half an hour there every day to recap on kanji, and didn’t have enough time left to study my Chinese characters.
5. Put in the hours and keep going!
There is the old saying that it takes 10,000 hours to become a professional at anything. Well the good news is that you don’t need to speak a language perfectly, or professionally, to have fun with it and have a meaningful conversation. But it still does take a long time to build up some basic fluency and you have to put the time in, with at least 1 or 2 hours of lessons every week and keeping a study routine like in step 1. What you put in, you’ll get out. With Chinese we have so many disappointing and frustrating moments, for example, where people don’t understand what we’re saying because our use of tones isn’t perfect and they believe we aren’t actually speaking their language. But equally we have had some rewarding moments where people have been delighted and amazed to find out that we can speak some of their language. The more hours we put in, the more likely the second scenario becomes and it is just about tipping the scales and increasing the percentage of success! We also find that we quickly forget Chinese and Japanese characters and it really takes regular maintenance to not forget what we already know!
What are your most effective methods to study a new language?
If you are currently learning Chinese, this article could also be of interest to you: