As a Chinese learner, what are the tools you use to improve your skills?

On-line and off-line tools helps students a lot in their quest for improving their ability to speak a new language. Soft-wares like Anki, Rosetta Stone or websites just as Gurulu and YouTube are my daily friends in regard to learning Mandarin. But the way we use them is as important as the tool itself.

For example, I use Anki to memorize characters in a faster way, but I realized that only works for reading. If I want to write that character in a proper way, I need to use a different method: like writing it over and over again. I wonder if there's a better way to do that.

Which tools do you use and in what way do you use them? What are your studying methods and why do they work for you?

Thank you for your insights!

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Trainchinese for Android is a great dictionary. Also Pleco for drawing character strokes.

Hi there! Interesting topic!

I don't know if it is good or not, but here's what I do usually: I attend classes twice a week (good for grammar and writing chars), at home I read bilingual books (good to learn vocabulary), I use Anki to study all the chars I've learned in books and class. I also watch series in Youku (I like "小爸爸") and once a week I do language exchange with a native speaker (good for conversation and listening skills). Every morning, on my way to work, I listen to BBC Zhongwen podcast (more listening - but this is a hard one!).

Almost forget! - From time to time I also use memrise.com to study characters. 

+1 to Pleco as a dictionary

Looking forward to listening to your tricks! :)
Best,
Juan

Pleco is a really good dictionary, I use it a lot. It also has a flashcard extension that comes with predefined vocabulary lists, and you can also create yours.

Memrise is good to learn new characters, but I find it lacks in terms of examples and showing how to use the new words/characters.

Although many people seem to like Pleco, I only use it as a backup, since I prefer HanPing Pro: it works better on a 'Droid. Another extremely useful tool if you want to learn to write (and memorise characters) is eStroke Animated.

There can be problems with some software aides, since many are restricted to simplified characters, while others (like Pleco) treat alternative platforms as, at best, an afterthought. If you really want to get to grips with the script, or just think that the customer and not the software writer comes first, that isn't good enough, in my opinion.

The expensive but innovative course based on typing, which offers both simplified and full-form exercises, IQChinese Go100/200/300... is worthwhile.

I like trainchinese, which runs on both 'Droids and a Windows desktop, because it is flexible enough to let you use your own vocabulary and also sophisticated enough to use algorithms to space repetition. However, it is still slightly inflexible if you want to use non-mainland tone indications. (Taiwanese Mandarin is based on Nanjing rather than Beijing forms of Mandarin, and is more conservative, retaining tones in many of the second syllables of words.)

If you want to learn how to write 汉字 more quickly and accurately, I would suggest the work book "Chinese Write Away! Learn to write 300 Most Used Characters" by author Shannon Shi PhD. All of the pages of the book are laminated and can be written on with a marker with an eraser that also comes with the book. It goes over the stroke order of every character in the book and it even comes with an audio CD of all the words in the book.  I've used the book and i found it useful for learning. You should be able to find the book at Barnes and Noble, or you can just order it off the net. But the best thing is, you don't have to be connected to anything to practice writing!

Learn to Write 300 Most Used Characters

I was always a big fan of reading Chinese, since I (used to) have a lot of patience for reading for a long stretch of time.

When I just started learning Chinese (2005-2006) I would buy every Audiobook I could get hold of from my local Beijing bookstore, and then download the text versions of those books from some website and follow along in the audio with Wenlin. Like this, I "read" books like Jia, Weicheng etc. (probably I bought about 10 books in total, of which I read 5 or 6). Sometimes I would literally be starting out knowing only 20-30%, taking a break for a month or two and then come back to try again. One such example was Changhenge, which I found really difficult the first time, and later I got through by reading the first chapter with the help of my teacher.

Last year, I took up Chinese studies again after a 4 year hiatus, and I discovered that often, I would reach characters that I didn't recognize, but I could still basically understand the meaning of the whole sentence. I found that really frustrating, so I wrote a script to add pinyin to all characters that were not in the Top 1000 (your mileage may vary - my estimate at the time was that I knew about 1500 characters, but setting the limit at about 1000 felt best).

I tried out various software for reading (Perapera, 3000 hanzi, mandarinspot) and in the end I was returning to Wenlin, mostly because I felt that there were things not done right, or not quite completed, in all of these tools. But even so, I always felt there were are lot of things that could be done better in Wenlin.

And so, I contacted a friend and we decided to make an website which uses some of this knowledge gathered over a period of 8 years of studying Chinese (or about double, considering the two of us together).

The result is Mandaread (www.mandaread.com), a website I have now used for over 1 year in my weekly studies. I mostly use it by myself, but I have also used it together with my Chinese teacher to mark words in texts that I am not sure about for easy reference, and then go through these words with my teacher directly on the website. I feel that it improves my reading efficiency so much compared to my traditional way of studying - reading Chinese is never easy for the beginning learner, but this way it's a lot easier.

The goal of Mandaread is to combine the power of a dictionary at your fingertips with a large selection of text materials that can be read directly from the website. Also, we offer a lot of option for how to annotate and display your text (amount of pinyin, font size, breaks between words) to make it more pleasant to read. I used those tools a lot in the beginning, and as I'm now starting to turn some of the aids off, I realize how much my reading has improved.

You need to register to try Mandaread, but I've included a screenshot here as well to show how it displays a Chinese text. I encourage you to try it out and compare with the other tools I mentioned above, and see which one you like best.

If you want to give us feedback, or suggest other reading applications, you can mail us at support@mandaread.com or Reply here directly.

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