Learning Chinese is a lot about memorization and repetition. This actually seems to be a central component of Chinese culture. In the past, scholars would memorize the Confucian classics, actually memorize entire books. Students of calligraphy would write characters thousands of times, and the repetition is not just limited to language learning. In Chinese martial arts, students practice patterns of movements thousands of times, until movements seamlessly flow into each other.

So what does this mean for the student of Chinese? Unfortunately for you, it means you have to memorize thousands of characters. But don't worry, it may not be as hard as it sounds.

For me using flashcards to memorize characters has been the best method. I use a program called iFlash on the mac, and if you are on PC there is a flashcard program called Cue Card and also several other options. These programs let you create a set of flashcards yourself. So I simply copied the vocabulary from every chapter of my Chinese textbooks into the program.

iFlash lets you create triple sided flashcards (physically impossible in real life, I know), so I use one side for characters, one side for pinyin and one side for English. Then there are two methods of studying, one is you look at the characters, say the pinyin, check it and then say the English and check it. The other method is you look at the English, write the character down on a piece of paper and then check it.

You can then tick a box to say you know that word, and the program will take it out of the set, so the set gradually gets smaller each time you study, until you know all the words. You can also tell the computer to bring back cards you have marked as "known" at a time of your choosing in the future.

This method worked so well for me, sometimes I even felt that I was cheating!! Even on the train to go do my final exams, I had my iPhone out testing myself on flashcards on the iFlash mobile app.

Disclaimer: I don't work for either of these companies, and they have not paid me to advertize them.

If you know other good flashcard programs, please share.


Cue Card:




Ben's YouTube Channel for learning Chinese:


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Comment by Nicki Johnson on August 3, 2013 at 11:25am

I love my Skritter for studying characters, my literacy rate has vastly improved and the SRS (spaced repitition system) helps me review exactly when I need to. Although since I'm working as a translator now the list of words I've added has gotten a little out of hand and my review queue is now at... 2199. Yeah. But I still use it every day even if I'm a little behind on the reviews :) If you want to try it here's a link that will get you 2 weeks for free (oh, and me too, huzzah.)


Comment by Jas on July 30, 2013 at 10:47am

Hey Ben, good blog entry...yeah, I agree this is a great method and is an essential part of my learning on a daily basis as well.

I also used to use iFlash, but far better is Flashcards Deluxe (available for both IOS and Android)...once you use it you'll never go back :)

In addItion to many features, it has the capability use the built in iPhone/Android text to speech so you can hear how the Chinese character/word/phrase is pronounced and it's very natural sounding.  It also has Pleco integration so if you want to look up the definition just tap and it will automatically look up the Chinese on your flashcard in Pleco and display the result.

It has Dropbox, Google Drive, etc capability for easily importing text files and also has the ability to share decks between users.

I highly recommend it!   Flashcards Deluxe website


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