Studying chinese (4) – focus on goals

Studying mandarin chinese is a long path, you could say it’s a never ending travel, where you have the feeling to learn not one, but three languages at at time. Sometimes it’s so discouraging to see how you lose things learnt & how learning goes slowly that you just wonder : “what am I trying to learn ? what do I want to achieve ?”.

Some find their motivations through professional goals, other want to pass examinations. I must say that when I began this learning quite four years ago, I had no other goal but to discover what hid behind these strange & fantastic signs, these strange & unfamiliar sounds.


But there is a step of your learning where discovery is not sufficient anymore. You are able to write a certain amount of characters, you are able to understand some very simple spoken phrases, but you are certainly not able to follow a conversation or to sight-read an article on the internet.  Every blog on learning chinese will tell you that you have to find your own ways to progress, and to set your own goals, I discovered I had to build mine : I needed to discipline my learning.

So I decided I wanted to :

  • be able to speak mandarin chinese at a basic level
  • be able to read some basic articles in the press or on the web

For the speaking side, I took conversation classes at the local Confucius Institute, one hour every week, on every thursday noon since last september. It is not satisfactory. Not only because it’s not sufficient in length, but also because we have different learning levels with my fellow learners. I am sure it’s far more beneficial in a one-to-one context. So now I am looking for a chinese-speaking language exchange partner.

As for the reading side, it’s a bit more complex. All in all, official examinations remain a good reference point. I took the first three levels of the HSK examination, which is the International Chinese Proficiency Test. Levels range from 1 to 6, at each step the required number of characters doubles. At one time I realized you have to sort the characters you learn : next step for me is HSK4, so I decided that the new characters I would learn would only range up to HSK4 level. How can you do that ? Thanks again to the fantastic Pleco application ! You have the possibility to import a set of flashcards gathering the HSK characters lists : in the main menu, just touch the Import/Export tab and choose “Install premade cards” :

premade cards


Then, each time you wonder if the character you stumble accross is necessary or not at the stage of your learning, you can check the HSK list in which it is included. Let’s take an example, with the 追 character :




Let’s click on the cross under the clock that allows you to add the character to your flashcards, here is the next choice :




Now you click on “Card Info” and you can see that 追 is on the HSK5 list :




So I will not include this character in my flashcards, since my target is HSK4. Of course there are some HSK5 characters I include in my lists since they are obviously very common in an everyday context, but the general goal of this check is to avoid overload and to progress step by step, I think it is ve-ry important not to cut corners when you are learning mandarin chinese.

So, considering this discipline, now I have a method to know which characters I should learn when I come accross new words in the texts I read. And this is the other essential aspect of this approach : try to read new texts when I find the time to do it. I already talked about that, and I found new texts recently at the local Confucius Institute library :




The second one is really an excellent tool, because it talks about cultural topics and also provides a lot of grammatical explanations  :




Reviewing flashcards, trying to read, to listen to the language, that’s what you got to do every day if you want to better understand mandarin chinese.