You may have guessed from my previous posts that I know a bit of Japanese. Nursing a passion for languages (hello, is there any better way to understand another culture than being able to understand and communicate with them?), I’ve started investing a little time into learning Mandarin. 

You know, the Chinese dialect - not the fruit. 

A smidgen of Mandarin won’t go ever astray. After all, the growing relationship between China and the rest of the world has seen an increase in demand for English-Mandarin speakers. Which brings me to this: how can you pursue self-study with Mandarin?

1. Chineasy

First things first, you’ve gotta hit the books when you’re self-studying. Chineasy began as a series of practice books designed to simplify the process of learning the Mandarin script system, hànzì. The trick behind them is drawing the connection between words and a visual equivalent. This gives the brain a pictorial association when it tries to recall the words - this is vital, as recollection is a great way to cement and confirm what you have learned. Nonetheless, Chineasy has expanded beyond just the books, boasting a supporting website and an add-on within an already established app (which I will talk about in a moment). 

My favourite book is the workbook, which introduces each new word with an adorable picture to coincide with the character I’m about to memorise. It leaves plenty of space to practice the stroke order of the words - an aspect that is fairly important when learning to write Chinese characters.

2. Tinycards

This free app is just as cute as the name suggests. Tinycards is a spin-off from Duolingo, another popular free language learning app. Oddly enough at the time of writing, despite having plenty to offer for many languages, Duolingo is yet to support learning Mandarin. That’s where Tinycards comes in - it’s an app specifically built to show and store flashcards for whatever subjects you could possibly imagine. 

There is literally a set of Tinycards for leaf identification.

Chineasy flashcards are located within this app. They show the same caricatures as what is displayed in the books, in addition to featuring verbal iterations of each word so you can practice your listening skills, too. 

Because, at the end of the day, the only way you’re going to get any good at a language is if you practice. And practice. And practice some more.

There is a slight caveat when it comes to Tinycards - at the time of writing, the pronunciation of the Mandarin ‘person’ (人 - rén) was markedly different to the given use of the word. While it’s great to have a resource that matches a practical workbook, it’s not so great if it isn’t reliable. Especially since 人 (rén) is the first word you encounter when using Tinycards!

  There is a distinct link between Chinese and Japanese characters.

There is a distinct link between Chinese and Japanese characters.

3. ChineseSkill

This free app is a great alternative to Tinycards. Where Tinycards focuses on developing your vocabulary, listening and reading skills, ChineseSkill takes you one step further with grammar and writing.

It can be set up to notify you when to practice. The app also ensures that you are tested on the things you have learnt, making sure you are held accountable for your practice sessions and applying your knowledge. In essence, this is what you need to ensure that your language skills reach the next level - regular practical applications of what you have learnt.

4. Pleco

There’s no way that language learning can be undertaken without some form of an dictionary to properly understand new words. Pleco is that dictionary.

It has all the favourite things that I like in a dictionary on my smartphone:

  • it’s free.
  • it works offline.
  • it provides vocal examples of pronunciation.
  • you can look up Mandarin words in English, pinyin or hànzì, and it will provide relevant results.

5. Local classes

I know the title of this article says ‘self-study’, however, you cannot ignore the social aspect to learning a new language. Bar actually travelling to China, where Mandarin is used, language lessons are your next best thing.

In terms of the Newcastle-Hunter region, there’s a few options for learning Mandarin in a class environment:

  • The Confucius Institute at The University of Newcastle offers casual 10-week courses for about $320
  • A diploma in languages at The University of Newcastle enables you to learn about China’s language and culture over two years
  • WEA Hunter have Mandarin classes advertised on their website; while it seems there are none currently running, there is a waitlist you can sign up to.

6. Last but not least …

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes - particularly because you’re going to make many of them trying to learn a new language. The main thing is that you’re trying!


Is there a language you'd love to learn? Write about it in the comments below.