"When China awakens... the world will tremble"

Difficult to rule against Alain Peyrefitte, author of this essay nearly 45 years ago now. China is now awake, fortified by being the second world power and global economy.

Learning Chinese Mandarin (not to be confused with Cantonese) is not only for a few lovers of Chinese culture anymore but a real asset in a professional career for example.

The vocabulary of a foreign language is the basic ingredient of the mastery of it. This is true with Mandarin Chinese but also with all languages. Indeed, no need to master the rules of grammar or conjugation if we're unable to associate any idea with them! It is impossible to learn how to read anything without mastering some vocabulary.

But it is not always easy to memorize pages and pages of vocabulary. What are the methods to quickly progress in Chinese and acquire a good level?

That's what we'll see in this article!

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Focus on memory and learning ability

Are you vegetarian? Starting by learning the vocabulary of food not to make a mistake!

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Learn the key words you'll need for getting by. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Whether you want to learn English, Spanish, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Korean, or even Italian, learning mechanisms do not vary enormously. However, it remains essential to understand them to know how to learn most effectively.

To those who think it takes extraordinary abilities to master several languages perfectly, we respond that they are wrong.

Learning a language and vocabulary of a language simply requires to know how to learn, without dispersing and using methods that work and that can be more or less effective from one person to the other.

The first advice to learn mandarin vocabulary would be to know your strengths and weaknesses in terms of memory to optimize the learning of the language.

Are you more comfortable with visual, auditory, or kinesthetic memory (related to movement)?

The brain is a huge knot of billions of neurons that connect and disconnect from each other constantly. The connections between neurons may be more or less fast and powerful as the learning of a notion, a concept or even a word is repeated in time.

Concretely, when you learn a word in Chinese, the more this word will be used and repeated the more the neuronal connections will be fast.

In other words, it is not necessary to think anymore when this word will be used. It is the concept of the association of ideas.

Also discover how to learn to write Chinese...

The most effective methods to learn Chinese vocabulary

Mandarin being the opposite of Latin, Celtic or Germanic languages, you will have to work twice as hard and use a very accurate methodology of learning.

It's up to you to choose which one suits you best or to associate different ones to move quickly! This will also allow you to learn to write and read in Chinese...

The method of association

With the method of association, you will soon be able to decipher many of the Chinese characters!

The method of association is everywhere when it comes to learning, precisely because it is devilishly effective.

This example is actually quite clear and you will sometimes need to redouble your imagination, or even to have a sense of humor to create your own associations.

There is not a right or a wrong association of idea as long as the mental mechanism allows you to find the word or the idea the learner is looking for. It is a very personal approach!

Take some Mandarin lessons online to improve your speaking and writing skills.


Many scientific studies tend to prove that learning is better and is rooted in memory longer when it is repeated.

In other words, 20 hours of intensive work on Chinese vocabulary for a few days will be less effective than a memorization of the same length but more spaced in time.

It is the belief used by MosaLingua which offers a learning method based on the principle of repetition. We will come back to it.

 Mental images

There cannot be mental images that are clear and legible for everyone. It is up to each person to find those which he considers the most relevant.

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Learning Mandarin is easier done with mental imagery. (Photo via Visualhunt)

Very often, it is to say that a good mental image should have 4 features:

  • First, it must be exaggerated (to learn the Chinese term "ěr duo", which means "ear", imagine a character with oversized ears or on the contrary tiny ones allows you to fix the ideas in your brain more easily).
  • Second, the mental image is more effective in motion. For example to learn that "qiáng wēi" means "the rose", imagine a rose tossed by the wind an autumn evening,
  • Finally, the mental image must involve you emotionally and be attached to anything unusual so as to create some form of misunderstanding in the brain and even astonishment. For example, if you have a nephew you are very attached to, it will be much easier to learn the Chinese word "wài sheng".

This method also allows to set the idea, the concept or the word to learn.

Interactive medias

Many interactive media exist to learn a foreign language.

To avoid getting lost in the streets of China, you can learn Chinese online!

Han Pro Trainer

As part of learning mandarin, we can only suggest Han Pro Trainer, which is a free software of Chinese vocabulary learning. Many features are available as:

  • Domain-specific vocabulary grids,
  • Nine different modes of learning,
  • A review and validation of the progress and achievements assistant,
  • Assistance to the pronunciation of vocabulary,
  • And a module to take Pinyin transcription up (romanization of mandarin Chinese).

So, Han Trainer Pro caters to very broad audiences, from students wishing to go on a language course in the empire of the rising sun to the beginner adventurer wanting to learn to travel to China through the employee or contractor interested in working with Chinese companies or entities.

The software is available for download on the website and is available in French, English and German. There is a free version (no duration in time) as well as a paying version that is more elaborate.

See how you can learn Chinese simply by reading...

Mosa Lingua

The tool suggested by MosaLingua is also invaluable in learning Chinese.

This tool is highly customizable and adaptable to the needs of each, which makes it its main strength.

The tool offers to develop schedules of revision through the scientific method SRS (Spaced Repetition System) to optimize opportunities of long-term and fast learning of Chinese.

The method is based on the curve of forgetting from the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus and allows to revive the learning of a word, a phrase, a notion or an idea before it sinks into the meanders of our brain.

To date, it is probably the most effective vocabulary learning method to progress in the field of Chinese vocabulary, given its scientific approach.

Chine Nouvelle

Some websites, like Chine Nouvelle also offer a fun and practical learning (according to the needs of each person) of the Chinese vocabulary, by segmenting it into several categories like health, appearance, flowers or love.

This could motivate the learner in his learning of vocabulary, sometimes seen as boring.

Immersion in the Chinese language

To learn vocabulary, there is nothing more effective than the direct immersion in the language. To cope properly once in China, you'd better go about before arriving in the country, this will allow you to maximize the understanding of a conversation.

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Learn Chinese in China itself. (Photo via Visualhunt)

It would be better to know how to speak Chinese a minimum to get by on a trip!

Speaking with a native speaker

Many websites offer to put you in touch with native speakers of a foreign language. Why not play on the win-win relationship and offer your services to a pupil or a Chinese student eager to learn English, who will in exchange forward notions of vocabulary of his mother tongue? In addition to practice effectively, it is a pleasant mean to create a link!

Chinese cinema

It is also possible to acquire Chinese vocabulary in staying wisely in your couch watching Chinese movies with subtitles.

We don't guaratee anything in terms of script, however, it's a great way to see your vocabulary database grow at high speed.

Take a Chinese course

Finally, remember that conventional methods have also proven as to enrol in an individual or collective Chinese language course.

It allows on the one hand to meet one or more Chinese language professionals but also to create a positive dynamic of learning as long as the Chinese course is a course of a few people.

Nevertheless, pay attention to classes with too many people, 3 to 6 people seem to be an optimal size for us.

In fact, why not just turn to Superprof for your Chinese classes London or other city? We have more than thousand Mandarin tutors ready to deliver one on one or small group lessons.

In synthesis:

  • For a Western audience, learning Chinese probably requires more efforts than learning another European language such as Italian or Spanish, common roots being almost nonexistent (different Chinese alphabet, different phonemes from Latin languages, emphasis and tone).
  • As a result, it is essential and vital to follow an adapted methodology to learn mandarin properly and efficiently and not to get lost along the way. In this regard, Han Pro Trainer used with the MosaLingua seem to be techniques that will save time and efficiency in learning.
  • However, it is extremely important to combine the use of interactive tools or books to learn Chinese vocabulary with other methods like immersion in the Chinese language. This immersion can be more or less social, alone watching movies or Chinese cartoons or in collaboration with a Chinese native with whom it will be possible to have a dialogue, a discussion or a conversation.
  • As we understood it, the resources available to learn Chinese vocabulary are legions. Each person needs to adapt his learning to his personality, desires, but also to his needs.

Discover these tips and tricks for learning Chinese characters most effectively!

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Joy is a passionate blogger and writer who loves to learn new languages and expand her knowledge of the world.