Top Practical Tips For Learning Chinese on Your Own

How To Learn Chinese By Yourself - Top Practical Tips

If you are learning Mandarin on your own, you might feel lost at times as it’s a really tough language to learn. The writing system isn’t phonetic, and the tones can trip you up. Yet the path to Chinese fluency is conquerable, and you can get a lot done through Chinese self-study. In this article, we are breaking down some practical tips on how to learn Chinese by yourself.

Foolproof Tips for Learning Chinese on your own

Be Consistent

To learn Mandarin on your own, you must find consistency in your study habits. Since you won’t have a regular Chinese class to attend, you have to motivate yourself to practice regularly on your own.

It takes a long time to learn Chinese, and consistent study habits will get you from the beginning to the end. Here, process and persistence are more important than quick goals.

Practical Tips

First, set realistic, achievable goals. You should be able to plan your steps and measure your progress. You also want to feel good about your achievements.

Next, make a schedule to make Mandarin study an official part of your day. Practicing at the same time every day will also help you make this a new habit.

When you study consistently, you’ll be able to maintain a sustainable pace of learning and keep up your motivation. It’s much easier to spread five hours of study over seven days than it is to cram those five hours into one day a week.

Finally, pace yourself. You should slowly and steadily learn your characters over time. You should aim to study every day, even if you just learn Chinese 5 minutes a day.

Be Thorough

When studying Chinese, people tend to learn too much and master too little. Since you don’t have a teacher by your side to motivate you, you might skim over a difficult section or skip a confusing grammar point.

This will leave holes in your knowledge, and by the time you reach chapter seven in your textbook, you might not know chapters one through six all that well.

Don’t let this be you. You need a strong base to build upon, and when you’re figuring out how to learn Mandarin on your own, you have to construct this base yourself.

Practical Tips

Take the time to master every level you pass. Before you move on to intermediate-level textbooks, make sure that you have the beginner level down.

To do this, go through several beginner-level books from different series (Boya, HSK Standard Course, etc). Each textbook uses its approaches and has its limitations, so it’s a good idea to learn from multiple sources. You will reinforce what you’ve already learned and broaden your knowledge along the way.

Do the same thing when moving from the intermediate level to the advanced level. For affordable textbooks, check out

Study Your Characters

Working with a limited vocabulary can significantly impede your understanding of both written and spoken language. The more characters you learn, the more comfortable you’ll feel with Chinese.

Fortunately, studying characters is very effective when you learn Chinese on your own.

Practical Tips

Use Hack Chinese to learn your characters and Chinese vocabulary. Hack Chinese is the best platform for learning Chinese characters and words as it is based on a spaced repetition system to optimize your memory retention.

If you’re starting your Chinese studies on your own, you can take up to a semester’s worth of time to self-study the basic Chinese characters and grammar patterns. But after about six months of this individual preparation, you should seek out a native speaker to help you with your Chinese pronunciation. It’s important at the beginning stages of your Chinese-learning career to establish good pronunciation habits. For help, you can find a language exchange partner or a tutor, or you can take a course.

Practice Your Listening and Speaking Skills

You need to practice your speaking and listening skills to improve. Like any activity that requires the use of your body, your speaking skills improve when you exercise the muscles in your throat and mouth that allow you to articulate Chinese syllables.

In a classroom setting, you would have ample opportunities to practice. If you’re learning by yourself, you won’t have these classroom benefits.

Practical Tips

Practice speaking in Chinese when you are by yourself. Whether you’re in your car or the shower, talk about how your day went, how you feel, what you want to do tomorrow whatever you want. What’s important is getting more comfortable speaking and thinking in Chinese.

Second, when you’re reading, read out loud. Go slowly. Practice your pronunciation of the syllables and tones. If you’re reading from a textbook, listen to the recordings and imitate them. You can even record yourself and compare your recording with the original.

Finally, it’s important to listen to a lot of Chinese audio material not only to improve your listening comprehension but also to improve your pronunciation. In addition to the audio content provided by textbooks, you can look for podcasts, YouTube videos, TV shows, and songs. These are often more fun than textbook audio content, and you’ll learn the colloquial language that you won’t find in a textbook.


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Take the HSK Exam

Having a time-based goal and making sure to master all the core concepts are vital when you study Chinese on your own. Signing up for the HSK (Chinese proficiency exam) is a good way to achieve both.

Involving the HSK materials into your self-study plan will help you develop a firm foundation in the language. Moreover, urged by the need to consume all the knowledge required to pass the exam by a specific date, you’ll work harder and more consistently.

Another good reason to register for the HSK is that by taking this exam you can evaluate and accredit your level of Chinese. It’s not only a matter of building self-confidence in your language skills. If at some point you decide to harness your self-leaned Chinese skills for a career,  your HSK certificate will come in very handy.

Practical Tips

There is a wealth of HSK preparation resources for self-learners – textbooks, graded readers, podcasts, vocabulary lists, and flashcards.

Following the HSK curriculum is pretty much the textbook way of learning Chinese. It helps grow your vocabulary and reading ability. But don’t rely on the HSK system for developing an understanding of Chinese culture or communicating naturally.

Also, tаке into account that the HSK is changing its course structure. There will be nine levels instead of six and a lot more vocab. Make sure to line up your self-study with the updated HSK contents.


Studying Chinese on your own is difficult, but not impossible. You can make a lot of progress as long as you study with consistency and thoroughness and pay ample attention to improving your vocabulary as well as your listening and speaking skills. If you want to learn Chinese on your own, keep these tips in mind to form a game plan for long-term success.

About the Author –
Daniel Nalesnik moved to China in 2009 for a year of full-time Mandarin immersion at Peking University (Beijing) and Fudan University (Shanghai). In the years since he has worked with teachers throughout China to discover what learning methods are most impactful for Mandarin Chinese learners. This experience inspired Daniel to found Hack Chinese, a spaced-repetition platform for learning Mandarin Chinese.