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A neat trick to help me learn Mandarin

Last updated on June 5, 2017

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I learn Mandarin and while the vocabulary, tones and characters take lots of practice, the sentence structure requires experience.
To step me through the vocab, speech and writing in congenial company, I use the social network LiveMocha. I don’t find the lessons particularly well designed, but the community is friendly, and it is easy to find a study buddy who will guide you in return for your help in their English studies.
Sentence structure requires another approach. If I were in China, I would read and hear sentences every day. But in the middle of England, without a Mandarin speaker in earshot, I need a way to read regularly.

For this I signed up to service from Transparent Language that sends me a sentence a day. I receive a new word every day in a sentence in pinyin (our script) and I can click through to see the Chinese characters and hear the pronunciation. Sadly that is in Flash and we can’t copy and paste the characters into Google Translate but the essential purpose is achieved. I am regularly being exposed to normal sentence structures.

昨天下 了大雨

Zuó tiān xià le dà yǔ

Yesterday it rained heavily

Literally: Yester day under(past tense) big rain

This sentence was quite fortuitous.  We have an unusually heavy wet spell at the moment in the UK.  The sentence also shows why this additional homework is so useful to me.  Though the sentence uses common characters and is much simpler than an English sentence, it is not at all like English. Experience is simply as important as learning examples.
I recommend the service highly as a supplement to your efforts to learn Mandarin.

May 2017: I use mobile apps now.  Not as sociable but contemporary apps (just five years later) check my pronounciation.

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  1. Cindy Cindy

    Hello Jordan,

    another menaing of 下 is going down … in this case the rain is pouring down, or coming down from the sky.

    Somehow I cannot use Chinese word processor with my PC, I cut and paste if/when there are Chinese characters availiable within my reach 🙁 … so to speak like now … otherwise I would be more than happy to converse with you in Chinese. Good for me too as I have not ‘write’ Chinese since 1986 when I moved back to NL from Singapore.

  2. Thanks Cindy! The trick is to write in English in Google Translate and then to copy and paste the characters from there!

  3. Kim Kim

    Hi all,

    I have found the flashcard program Anki useful – – using it on Ubuntu and Android with deck “Matthews – Learning Chinese Characters” (one of many).

    Cindy: For writing Chinese characters on Ubuntu, use ibus – see Pinyin Joe’s instructions: – from that page you will find links to similar pages for other operating systems.

    On WikiEducator I made a flashcard template once (some time ago) – linked to from this page
    which includes some other resources you might find useful (please add :-).

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