I lived in China for a few months and picked up quite a bit of Mandarin. Now that I've moved back to the US, I have forgotten the Chinese I knew and spoke while there. Other than actually living where they speak Chinese, what is one of the most effective/efficient ways to learn Chinese (semi-quickly) and retain it? Software? Community classes? Watching/listening to Chinese media? Any suggestions of places to go to learn?


8 Answers 8


In my experience, taking a class, and watching/listening to Chinese media truly helps. I have taken classes on Chinese, and Chinese media can test if you understand Chinese. Using media also helps you "exercise" your brain; much like taking a jog once in awhile.

In order to retain knowledge on the Chinese, you should practice saying the word, or at least use them once in awhile. It's easier to remember the words with constant/common usage.

I would not recommend software; one problem I see is that if you have a question, you can't ask your computer. With a teacher, on the other hand, you can ask them questions and they can explain. It's a great time saver.

I'm not sure about any places you should go to learn, unfortunately. It greatly depends on what your age is, where you live, and your schedule.

  • Language exchange. Look on classifieds sites and posters near universities to arrange a language exchange where you can practice with someone in Chinese and then help them with English or another language.
  • Do plenty of reading and practice by reading aloud. Get books that are at your level e.g. use children's books if you are at a beginners level so you don't get hung up on trying to find the meaning of every sentence.
  • Learn the words to your favourite Chinese songs. There are plenty on youtube.
  • Pay someone from China to chat with you online using Skype. There are now plenty of services available on the net to do this.
  • Go to your local Chinese grocery / fish / butcher / restaurant / bubble tea shop once a week and practice your Chinese when buying.
  • Get an account on weibo and join in a conversation on your favourite topic.
  • This will highly depend on your local community, but I play casual soccer every week with an all Chinese team. I am the only white guy on the team and we only speak Chinese.
  • Get some Chinese friends and just hangout / Skype / phone / play 三国杀 / whatever
  • Join a Chinese language class and make some friends and also meet-up outside of class.
  • Date someone Chinese (I know this sounds stupid, but I would have never started learning if I never met my wife).

There are plenty of opportunities, but it depends on your personality and how willing you are to reach out.


I think that enrolling in a formal course of Chinese language study is the best. The reason is that it keeps you moving and keeps you motivated. It is fun studying with others too. I attended the local community classes and I met a lot of other motivated Chinese language learners.

As well as my formal course of study at Uni. I also take private one on one lessons from a teacher in P.R.China. I found that there is a great deal of price difference in schools so shop around. Many offer a free introductory lesson. The advantage of this is that you can decide the text and content of your lessons.


I recommend Wechat for you, the most popular social platform in China, where you can chat with your Chinese friends, browse their daily life state etc.

I have the same experience with you, I worked in China for half a year and now I'm back to US. I have been learning Chinese with Hanbridge Mandarin for the past month or so, and I can already see a huge improvement in language ability. They offers the online teaching with the native teachers face to face using the virtual classroom, this is a great way to go immerse myself whenever possible and learn Chinese well when I'm not in China.


I have the same situation like you, just all the other way:

I am Chinese, used to work with people from US in 2008 a lot. Then my English was rather OK. But in 2009 I started a company so one day when I called a guy from US in English, I was shocked that I was speechless then.

Luckily in 2010 I successfully expanded my business to oversea countries and all the communication is in English. So again I gained up my skills.

Then due to some unexpected reasons my business did not go well in 2011-2012, and I do not have that much communication with those oversea partners. I feel my English is getting worse again.

Then I decide to communicate more to retain it: Playing with Facebook, Twitter, Quora and now Stack Exchange :)

I think daily/casual communication is the BEST way to retain it, otherwise you'll have to do it in a painful way.

Just my personal experience and advice. Not sure whether it works for Chinese but if you're interested, I suggest you start using websites like Weibo and Youku.

Good luck!


I try to learn Chinese words and characters in "bunches," based on similar "phonetics" (typically the right side or bottom of characters).

For instance, the word 马 ma (third tone), means "horse," is the "root" word.

Add the radical for "woman" to the left, and the changed word 妈 means "mother," and is pronounced ma (first tone). Change the radicals again, and you have a "family" of similar-sounding words that mean "dock," "agate," "to scold," etc. all with a common phonetic.

I've found it a lot easier to remember a "bunch" of similar words than the same number of unrelated words.


I think the simplest way is to listening Chinese news and try to say it by yourself.I am a native Chinese and I have learned English for a couple of months.I listen VOA everyday,through this way,I can also get the international news.I think I can achieve two aims at the same time. I think you need a Chinese friend too.


If you find a group of people interested in Learning chinese you can start a weekly study group. I currently do this with a group of 4 people and we invite students from a local university who are from china to teach us, and in term we give them some english expressions and help with their pronunciation. I do suggest you set yourselves a goal. We use the NPRC and our goal is to go chapter by chapter every week or two depending on complexity. We also blazed through the yongho books two chapters at a time. It really helps if you lack discipline like me.

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