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