Starting to learn Chinese

The first thing you need to know when learning Chinese is which dialect you’ll learn. If you just want to read the characters, it doesn’t matter that much, there are two scripts, simplified and traditional, but once you’ve learned one, it’s relatively easy to learn the other. But, if you want to actually speak, you need to decide which dialect you want to be able to speak in. Since the most spoken dialect is Mandarin, I suggest you start from there. That’s what I did.

My first introduction to Mandarin was over five years ago when I met a Chinese exchange student who thought me some basics, like 你好 (nǐhǎo), 谢谢 (xièxiè) and 再见 (zàijiàn).

Then two years ago I had an internship in China where I was taught some more. We used Conversational Chinese 301, but I practiced later by myself using the series New Approaches To Learning Chinese. (Don’t worry, I’ll put the information of the books at the end of this post.)

What I liked about Conversational Chinese was that after every 5 chapters there was a review chapter that has a conversation that uses all the words you’ve just learned, repeats the grammar rules you’ve learned, has exercises for what you’ve learned and has a short passage to practice reading. Also, near the end of our internship we had to learn The Moon Represents My Heart (月亮代表我的心) that we had to perform in front of an audience, which I thought was fun, but ever since then I’ve had the song stuck in my head.

What I liked about New Approaches To Learning Chinese was that it split up speaking, writing and reading. This meant that I could fully focus on what I found important, but the downside was that I didn’t learn speaking at the same time as I was learning to read characters and I noticed that I should have payed more attention to speaking when I was in China. My pronunciation was still bad and my listening skill was practically nonexistent. Since going to China they have improved, but they’re still not as good as my reading skill.

Both books can be used for self study, but I have found that it’s much better to have a teacher, because they can give you pointers and can correct you when you are doing something wrong.


Conversational Chinese 301 (汉语会话301句)

Authors: Kang Yuhua (康玉华) & Lai Siping (来思平)

Publisher: Beijing Language and Culture University Press (北京语音大学出版社)


  • Volume 1 (上册): 978-7-5619-1403-8
  • Workbook Volume 1 (练习册 上册): 978-7-5619-2060-2
  • CD Volume 1 (配套光盘 上册): 978-7-88703-270-6
  • Volume 2 (下册): 978-7-5619-1404-5
  • Workbook Volume 2 (练习册下册): 978-7-5619-2064-0
  • CD Volume 2 (配套光盘下册): 978-7-88703-271-3


New Approaches To Learning Chinese (新编基础汉语)

Author: Zhang Pengpeng (张朋朋)

Publisher: Sinolingua (华语教学出版社)


  • Intensive Spoken Chinese (口语速成): 978-7-80052-577-3
  • The Most Common Chinese Radicals (常用汉字部首): 978-7-80052-576-6
  • Rapid Literacy in Chinese (集中识字): 978-7-80052-695-6

Studying in Xiamen

Xiamen Univesity, Xiang'an Campus, canteen

As I said in my previous post, I studied Chinese on the Xiang’an Campus of Xiamen University. It’s a campus that is still partially under construction, but it was already quite big. It took me about 15 minutes walking from my dorm to my classrooms.

Xiamen University, Xiang'an Campus, Building, Classes

The building where I took my Chinese classes.


There were already many buildings, the biggest one being the library, but there are still many more to be build.

Xiamen University, Xiang'an Campus, Library

Library of Xiamen University, Xiang’an Campus.


The campus is being constructed in several phases. The first one was already complete and the second one nearly. I’m not sure how many phases there will be after this, but from what I’ve seen on the map, there will be at least one or two phases more.

Xiamen Univesity, Xiang'an Campus, canteen

The big canteen. Referred to as 一期 (yī qí, first phase) by the Chinese students.

Xiamen Univesity, Xiang'an Campus, canteen

The small canteen. Referred to as 二期 (èr qí, second phase) by the Chinese students.


They were also still busy planting trees, but they still looked weak and young, except for one. But, I think in 5 years or so it will look really good.

Xiamen University, Xiang'an Campus, Tree

The largest tree I found on Xiang’an Campus


The books we used were from the Developing Chinese series (发展汉语), published by the Beijing Language and Culture University Press (北京语音大学出版社). They are the following:

Elementary Comprehensive Course (初级综合) I by 荣继华

ISBN: 978-7-5619-3076-2

Elementary Listening Course (初级听力) I by么书君

ISBN: 978-5619-3063-2

Elementary Speaking Course (初级口语) by 王淑红 么书君 严禔 张葳

ISBN: 978-5619-3247-6


I think they were very good. Although to focus on reading and writing you’ll need another book in the series, named Elementary Reading and Writing Course (初级读写) I, the Comprehensive Course does have some writing practices in it, but it focusses mainly on vocabulary and grammar. Listening and speaking focus on just that, but the vocabulary between the three books don’t match up completely, chapter per chapter. You can use these books for self-study, but I think you’ll get the most out of them if you have a good teacher as well.


If you’re also interested in studying at XMU, follow this link:



After asking for their permission to use their names I can now tell you that depending on their availability and whether or not they teach classes at your level, try to get in the classes of 苏芸 (Yún), 吴茗 (Wú Míng) and 肖宁遥 (Xiào Níngyáo). They were my teachers for Comprehensive, Speaking and Listening respectively and a lot of my improvement was due to their guidance.