James Burton
22nd January 2021


Learning Chinese is based on hard work. This is annoying, but unfortunately, it cannot be avoided. Now I’m a very lazy person by nature. After all, I don’t want to learn, I want to be able to! Do you feel the same? My best strategy against excessive hard work is, therefore: regularity. If I let the vocabulary learning slip for a few weeks, I immediately notice how one word after the other is missing. If, on the other hand, I learn regularly, the vocabulary will eventually solidify.


For vocabulary, I prefer to use Memrise, a website/app with which you can learn pre-defined vocabulary sets from other users or – what I prefer – create your own. That sounds more complex than it is. If you enter the words regularly – there it is again – in the lists, you only need a few minutes each time.


My favorite thing to do is actually to learn new vocabulary in the evening in bed. Before going to sleep, the brain is supposed to be most receptive. Our brain works while we are resting so that information can be stored in long-term memory. And as it is: What we recorded last is most likely to stay in our memory, in this case, the new vocabulary.

The scientifically proven method actually works for me! With my Memrise app, I repeat outstanding vocabulary, then learn a few new ones, and then: close my eyes. Learning takes only 5-10 minutes per set of vocabulary. I even manage to do that when I supposedly “don’t have time” or being “too tired”. And you?

By the way: Regularity quickly becomes a habit – ideally then you automatically use the vocabulary. I now do this several times a day, while waiting, bored at work and, ahem, sometimes in the toilet. Use your time!


What really helped me at the beginning was breaking down the characters into individual parts. Many characters are structured very logically and allow conclusions to be drawn about their meaning or even their pronunciation – and even if not, you can often build good donkey bridges from them. That’s why you should definitely learn the characters while learning Chinese, even if it may seem impossible at first.

Look up old-fashioned characters in a paper dictionary as an exercise. To do this, you need to know which part of the character is the radical under which it can be found in the dictionary, and how many lines the character consists of. This is tedious at first, but it helps to understand the characters and thus the Chinese better.f



Films are excellent for learning because the moving images allow you to understand many unknown words from the context. In addition, even as a beginner you can pick up useful words and phrases and get used to the sound of the foreign language and the sentence melody in Chinese.

Today I see my beloved Hong Kong films mainly in the Mandarin dubbed versions so that I can learn something from them. I’ve also dared to go to mainland cinema quite a few times, but unfortunately, I have to search long until I find a film that I like. So that you don’t have to dig your way through shallow, uninspired film material for hours, I have already introduced you to six recent China films that you might like.

On Chinese television, CCTV6 is the special interest broadcaster for feature films. In its online media library with a changing program, you can find many films in Chinese under the tab 影片 ( direct link ) and watch them online for free.

I recommend beginners, for example, the Hong Kong film “A Simple Life” (桃 姐) in Mandarin dubbing, which is about a guy (Andy Lau) who is building a completely new relationship with his aging housekeeper (Deanie Ip), after she suffered a stroke (中风, zhòngfēng). The sentences are taken from everyday life and mainly revolve around food – just like in real life. The real action is more likely to take place between the lines. Nice side effect: The film is really good (but sad)!

Find a Chinese home tuition teacher to help with your learning if you want!