Podcast Ep. #4: All About Learning Chinese

Another episode of the podcast has been recorded and is now available, and it’s all about something very central to our lives: learning Chinese.

In this 55 minute podcast Zak, Dan, Eli and Charlie sit down and compare and contrast their methods, experiences, and pitfalls learning Chinese to help you learn from their successes and failures. As you will hear, we have all taken different very different approaches, from studying at Sichuan University to covering our walls with Post-It notes with Chinese characters.

Issues discussed in the podcast include:

  • Is it worth signing up at a local university to study Chinese?
  • Tips and tricks that have had the biggest impact on us
  • Which tools are essential to the process of learning Chinese effectively?
  • A list of our favorite online resources and smartphone apps for learners
  • The advantages of learning Chinese, and finding motivation
  • Much more

Download & Stream Links

Download Podcast #5

Or click below to listen to the podcast now through your browser.

You can also search for the podcast in your favorite podcasting app (mine is Overcast, which I highly recommend for iPhone users).

Links Mentioned in the Podcast

Links to things mentioned in the podcast:

Online Resources


Note: if you’re learning Chinese, we also have a concise collection of posts on the subject of learning Chinese which you can find on our Post Series page.

Lastly, we used a Gold Panda song titled “Same Dream China” (which we love) for the intro and outro of this podcast. Check out Gold Panda on iTunes. Here’s a fan-made music video for this song on Youtube:

If you have any comments or feedback on this podcast or on topics you’d like us to discuss in the future, leave a comment below. If you enjoy the podcast, please share it! We look forward to recording more of these and continuing to chronicle and share the story of life in Chengdu.

25 thoughts on “Podcast Ep. #4: All About Learning Chinese”

  1. Thanks for the love, guys! 😀

    Also, although “resources” is in the URL, we ourselves just call it “the Chinese Grammar Wiki” or even just “the Grammar Wiki.” It’s just one of several resources we’re working on.

    • C’mon John, you know it’s well-deserved! We’re all super excited to see what other resources Allset Learning Chinese Reources Learning Chinese Good Made Fun and Easy and Useful has to offer 😛

      In all seriousness, Sinosplice and the Grammar Wiki are my top suggestions to people looking for pronunciation and grammar guides. Top notch stuff, thanks for all you’ve done!

  2. If you are using Android, you should try Hanping Camera instead of Pleco for OCR. Better at recognizing characters and much better designed UI.

    • Hey Steve, I just picked up my first Android phone (a nice Hongmi 1s) so now I’m just starting to look into Android-based Chinese apps. We didn’t get too too deep into the app discussion, but if you have any other app suggestions please throw them our way! In the meantime, I’ll be doing my own research (but really I’ll just mainly be using Pleco)

    • OCR is an amazing feature, but to me, the power of Pleco is in how comprehensive it is. Instead of having a dictionary app, a flashcard app, and an OCR app, everything is all in one. This is a huge deal for the workflow of how these elements interact in my opinion.

      For example, any word that I look up with OCR I am 100% going to add it to a word list and review it later because any Chinese that I’m willing to look up is Chinese that I’m willing to learn. With Pleco, you really don’t need anything else, save for some really niche functionality like WaiChinese which records and compares your tones to that of a native speaker.

      With that said, I’m always willing to try out new apps. Unfortunately I only have an iPhone so I can’t check out Hanping Camera, but I have noticed that OCR apps are common for many languages these days.

    • I use Hanping’s Chinese Dictionary (Pro). It has been the single most valuable app I’ve used since coming to China and I think it’s the essential Chinese dictionary for Android. I was using the free version of this before, but happily paid for the pro version.

      The beauty of this app is that it works completely offline unlike apps like nciku or google translate (a big deal since the mobile networks in China suck). It also includes a neat “clipboard monitor” feature, which immediately gives character information in the notification shade for anything that you copy to the clipboard.

      The developers have also been good about updating the app over the past 3 years. Unfortunately Hanping Camera is a separate paid app, but I tend to use the handwriting feature when facing those situations where OCR is useful.

  3. Hey guys, really enjoyed the podcast!

    It’s always fun to listen to how others learned Chinese, and I think you guys can represent a range of different study methods.
    The only resource I can think of that you left out is youdao.com’s dictionary. At the risk of committing sacrilege, I won’t say that it’s better than Pleco, but it does outperform in some ways. Youdao filters results from previously translated articles to find out how strings of words or phrases have been translated before, not just individual words. It’s incredibly useful, and I use it every day. 怒赞!

    Looking forward to the next podcast.

    • Thanks Brett, that one is a resource that I have not used before, but knowing you personally and how good your Chinese is, I will heed your advice and check it out.

    • Good point about youdao.com. They have a great breadth of words. I have their app, and it is great… though they send me pop up notifications on my phone that I could do without.

  4. Great! Yet another podcast. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I want to recommend an app for learning the language and it is one I began using recently. It is great to motivate the hesitant among us and it helps greatly in becoming familiar with key words and phrases. The format is interactive topical lessons.

    App’s name: ChineseSkill

    It aptly has a panda logo 😀

    • Hi Maz,

      The fact that this app has a 5-star average is amazing alone. Looks good, I will check it out. The situational dialogues on ChinesePod are also very good, the only downside is that the cost of the service makes it a little prohibitive for dabbling. ChineseSkill looks like a solid, free alternative.

  5. Date a Chinese person.

    This obviously involves more personal investment, but this is what has advanced my Chinese language skills the most. I imagine making good, close Chinese friends would work as well.

    Being around someone that you enjoy spending time with and genuinely wants to help you learn is a tremendous asset in learning the language. Additionally this helps in experiencing the culture more closely and should help keep your interest in learning.

    Just try to not turn into a full time English teacher.

    • Dating a Chinese person has been one of the biggest things I’ve done to improve my Chinese as well. For years I actually sought out people to date who didn’t speak English, not just for the opportunity to speak and listen to Chinese all the time, but to gain cultural insight into the perspective of people who don’t speak English. It tends to vary quite a lot from the English-speaking hanging-out-at-expat-bars type of Chinese girls that we all know.

  6. All the advice is incredible, thanks for sharing. I’m doing pimsleur audio tapes at the moment and its helping me to get basic sentence structures down but so far not that great for vocab. Are we talking about putonghua here or have you guys learnt sichuanhua?

    • Putonghua. Learning a little Sichuanhua is fun, but not mandatory. There are some cartoons online that are really good for learning, not just for the basic phrases you’ll find in them, but also in the way that they’ll lodge themselves in your memory because of the associative aspect of being able to connect a sentence with a scene or an episode or a character. Here’s an Adventure Time clone that I’ve watched a bit of and really enjoy. It’s called 幸运派传说 or The Adventures of Lucky Pie. This link doesn’t have English subtitles, but if you search the English name on Youtube I know it exists:

    • Yeah, the four of us are Mandarin speakers. We have a good friend, Sascha, who is proficient in Sichuan dialect, unfortunately he couldn’t participate in this podcast episode because he’s in the States right now. But I believe that getting a foundation in Mandarin is essential, and then branching into Sichuan dialect is optional depending on how much interest you have in that and how committed you are to Sichuan. Mandarin is easier to learn since there are so many resources available.

  7. Well, the best way to learn a language is definitely to talk with the local people. Find some guys who share the same interests with you, like running, photographing, traveling etc. You can not only practice your pronunciation but learn many slangs and customs from them. What’s more, a local friend will help a lot when you want to find some local delicious food and interesting places.

    I am a M.D candidate from West China Medical School of SCU. I have lived in Chengdu for many years and have been to many places. I like traveling and I am looking for some friends who can travel with me. As you know, Chengdu has many historical stories which I am proud of and I‘d like to share with you about that.

    I can speak Putonghua, Sichuanhua, Cantonese, Taiwanese and of course, the not-so-good English. I think it will help both of us. I also like photographing and cycling (I have been to Tibet from Chengdu on my bike!). It is amazing to ride a bike in Chengdu at night!
    Just forgive my grammar mistakes and email to [email protected] if you are interested.
    By the way, the podcast is interesting and by what means can I speak in it?

    The Chinese version:



    原谅我错漏百出的语法吧,如果你感兴趣可以发邮箱到[email protected]


    • Hi Mars,

      Thanks for your comment: I agree with you about environment being a crucial aspect to learning any language. We are still sketching out future podcast topics, but I will keep your email address on file and get in touch if/when we schedule something related to what you’re doing here. Thanks again.


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