How I’m learning Chinese – HSK 0 to HSK 6

Lots of people are trying to learn Chinese. I’ve spent so many hours trying to learn myself. Here is my suggestion (and my plan).

How do you learn Chinese quickly and easily? There is no easy way to learn Chinese. You just have to learn Chinese and it takes as long as it takes. Learning it properly and consistently is the fastest way.

Learning Chinese is hard and that is one of the reasons why it’s so valuable to learn. Otherwise everyone would be fluent!

If you can learn Chinese fluently it is going to be an enormously useful skill that can completely change your life. So stick with it!

The stages in learning languages

Learning a language is hard.

I’ve been learning Chinese for a few years now and this is how my journey has looked.

I started off with very rapid progress. I was taking classes, and I felt like I was learning this whole new language so quickly. It was amazing. I also got lots of positive feedback and was able to use all these new skills.

However I stopped taking classes and started working, and without constantly working on my language it started getting worse.

With learning a language you will have times of rapid progress, and times of plateaus where you are not improving and even going backwards.

The start is always much easier. The 80:20 rule is that 80% of the language is going to be used 20% of the time. So as you do get more advanced, the things you are learning are not going to be used as much. It is the law of diminishing returns. The last 20% of learning a language takes 80% of the effort. There is a probably a graph to show this that I can find.

You will also often find that you are putting in a lot of work but it can feel like your language is not making any progress.
It can be really frustrating to be working hard but not making progress. But you’ve got to push through it and get to the next level.

 

What is your goal? and why?

It’s really important to define the clear goal and vision and then break it down into smaller parts and plans for getting there, and then make a daily goal and stay consistent. It’s really important to have a solid Why that can keep you being consistent when you really don’t want to and help you achieve it.

My goal is to become totally fluent in Chinese in conversations, reading and writing. I want to be totally comfortable with using Chinese naturally and fluently. I will also achieve HSK 6 level which is the (current) highest level of Chinese (HSK is adding 3 more levels)

Why? Because its so cool to be able to speak Chinese. I can travel, do business, and communicate with loads of new people. This whole new world opens up. Because I think its a useful skill that will help me in my career and life, and I’ve already spent so long studying it I just want to finish it. I also want to do it fast now, instead of later in my life, so I can fully reap the benefits of it, and so don’t need to spend more time studying it and can focus on other things.

Breaking Down Chinese

When you look at a big goal it often looks very hard to achieve. It is really important to break it down into smaller parts. When you want to climb a big mountain it can look quite a daunting, but if you just break it down into lots of smaller parts then you can create a proper plan for achieving it and it is more motivating as you make progress.

You can break Chinese as a skill into the following parts:

HSK Levels:
  • Beginners (zero basis)
  • Students who have mastered 130 words (HSK1)
  • Students who have mastered 260 words (HSK1+)
  • Students who have mastered 380 words (HSK2)
  • Students who have mastered 510 words (HSK2+)
  • Students who have mastered 600 words (HSK3)
  • Students who have mastered 850 words (HSK3+)
  • Students who have mastered 1350 words (HSK4)

Etc.,

But I think this is more of the stages that you will go through as you are learning it. I would like to look straight to the final result of HSK 6 and what are the key skills and how that is broken down.

HSK 6 Building Blocks
  1. Understanding of the Language & Grammar
  2. Vocabulary – 5000 Words
  3. Reading
  4. Writing
  5. Listening
  6. Speaking – Pronunciation / Tones
  7. Conversational Skills

So there are basically 7 key skills to the language.

How do you achieve each part?

1. Understanding of the Language & Grammar 

For this, you basically need a teacher to help teach you things and correct you. I’ve found its very hard to learn this on your own. When you are starting out then you need to have a great teacher to introduce things. It’s really hard to learn a language on your own from scratch.

I do think its really useful to follow a course or a book so you can go through all these grammar points with a teacher. It is much more efficient for a teacher to tell you these things than learning it yourself, because you don’t know what you are missing.

I think you need a structured course at the start, and then throughout your learning plan.

I studied on many programs – at Peking University, and various tutors. If I suggest checking out a 1 on 1 teacher at Beijing Language and Culture University. It is very efficient to study with a teacher because it is personalised. You can see how many hours here are needed for each level.

Here is my video introducing the BLCU 1 on 1 Program

They also have a very affordable 12 week program which is very popular. In terms of price, 1 on 1 may seem more expensive, but in terms of your time saved it can be worth it. I also really like the HSK course by Peking University. I suggest trying a few different programs and seeing what you like most, and then doing what works best for you. Often 1 on 1 progrmas will give free  trial classes which can be great to get a taste of what its like.

2. Vocabulary

For vocabulary I think its more efficient for you to just learn it by yourself because everyone has their own way. As long as you are doing it right.

For this, you just need to learn 5000 Chinese words that are in the HSK 6 exam. Learning the vocabulary is 70% of learning a language and takes up the bulk of the time.  I think this is really important to have a great plan for doing this. If you can understand all the words in a language then it’s so much easier to do all the stuff.

Everyone is different in how you learn vocabulary. I think the best way is to just consistently learn new words everyday. Over time this knowledge compounds. If you miss some days then you go backwards because you will start to forget. How many words can you learn in a day? If you can learn 10 words in a day, you can learn all the HSK 6 words in 500 days. But you are going to feel like giving up sometimes and going to have plateaus and other priorities or issues to deal with in life.

Flashcards is one of the best ways to learn vocabulary. You can just write them out by hand or use an app like Anki. It’s great to make flashcards and learn vocabulary because its so easy to measure. For example you can see below the current status of what I’m learning and how much I know these words

3. Reading

Reading is a great way to learn and it is also really interesting to learn things. It’s a good idea to just immerse yourself in content and get reading it. Read 100 articles and then work out what you don’t understand. Reading is a great and interesting way to solidify the knowledge and what you’ve learnt from learning all the vocab. Its a great skill to be able to do and feels amazing!

3. Writing

I love writing as you can see from this blog. Writing Chinese is a great way to learn. It’s a good idea to write 100 essays in Chinese and ask a teacher to correct you. Over time you will keep getting better and better. This helps in how you think about the language and massively helps in your speaking too and understanding of the language.

5. Speaking

This is all about practicing. Its important to have a teacher and just arrange to have X amount of lessons speaking practice. It’s also important to do it at every opportunity. You have muscle memory, the more you practice the easier it becomes.

I have a speaking target of doing 100 hours of 1 on 1 classes. I think after I have done that my Chinese will be pretty much at the level I want.

6. Listening

It’s really important to just immerse yourself in the language by listening to podcasts and videos and audio and learning words that you don’t know or understand. This is much easier after you have learnt the vocab. It is also helpful to do this in combination with other parts. Listening to 100 podcasts, or 100 videos is a great target for this. Then you can add it into your Anki app.

7. Conversational Skills

I put this separately because I think this should be separate. It’s like combining the speaking and listening skills. I think its just important to put yourself in lots of real life situations and just practice using it. Some kind of target to put all your skills together is the final thing you need.

It is so amazing when you have put in loads of time and effort and you can just speak naturally perfectly in another language. Congratulations, you have accomplished something amazing that very few people have managed to do.

Good luck!

Founder and CEO at China Admissions. Originally from UK🇬🇧, based in Beijing. Studied at Peking University & BLCU. Preparing for HSK 6. Hope we can help more talented international students have the same amazing experiences and opportunities that I have had
Richard Coward

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