February 10, 2019

Resources for learning Mandarin Chinese

Here is the list of resources I use or have used when learning or maintaining Mandarin Chinese. I tried to list them all so if something is not on this list, it means I didn't use it or used it and didn't like it. When it comes to resources, I try to look for efficiency, i.e. why have 15 pretty good ones if a few very good resources will do the job? :)

  1. Dianhua dictionary (for iOS only)
    • https://goo.gl/ZA5sp5
    • An electronic dictionary for offline smartphone usage.
    • Very powerful in conjunction with character handwriting input.
    • Allows you to search characters by pinyin and automatically looks up all characters or words with the pronunciation you are looking for. This is very convenient since frequently you only know the pronunciation and not the characters of the word you are looking for.
  2. Google translate
    • https://translate.google.com/
    • Contrary to what many people say, it is the most powerful dictionary out there if you use it correctly.
    • Good for online copy-paste translations.
    • Offers the feature to scan characters with your phone’s camera.
    • Very advanced speech recognition.
    • Very good for contextual search (expressions and sentences), less preferable for non-contextual search (individual words).
  3. Zhongwen pop-up dictionary plugin for your browser
    • https://goo.gl/e5eRGV
    • Move the cursor over a character on your screen and a translation will pop up.
    • Very useful when reading texts online
  1. Understanding Chinese Characters
    • A book I wrote after years and years of extensive research.
    • It covers everything you need to know about Chinese characters, written in a short, easy to digest, very clean and straightforward way.
    • Based on academic research, but without the usual academic clutter.
    • Easy enough to understand for the beginner, complex enough for the advanced.
    • https://www.foreverastudent.com/p/book.html
    • https://gumroad.com/l/rVnn
    • For those interested, I created a 15% discount code, but only for the next 30 days. Enter 'foreverastudent' in the discount field to get the discount. You will get the Mandarin nouns starter pack for free too (see below).
  2. Mandarin nouns starter pack
    • A list of 150 most useful Mandarin Chinese nouns I personally handpicked to get students started with Mandarin vocabulary.
    • Simplified Chinese version: https://gum.co/QLsBV
    • Traditional Chinese version: https://gum.co/EBoRB 
  3. Understanding Chinese characters youtube channel
  4. Chinese character etymology (for advanced learners)
  1. Chinese pod (Mainland Mandarin)
    • Even though I am a big proponent of the learn by using approach and an equally big proponent of learning a languages without courses or lessons, if I could recommend one website for learning Mandarin Chinese, it would be chinesepod.com.
    • It is a website with literally thousands of lessons, both audio and video with a lot of experience teaching Mandarin to foreigners. 
    • It is The place to start learning Chinese online.
    • https://chinesepod.com/
  1. 馬力歐配你喝一杯 (Taiwanese Mandarin)
    • A podcast in relaxed spoken Mandarin Chinese from Taiwan about everything from art, baseball to politics with 80+ episodes.
    • Each episode is about one hour long, with the entire podcast providing more than a hundred hours of diverse and interesting listening content.
    • My main problem with listening material was, that I was unable to find something that would be appealing, interesting and enjoyable to listen to. After 12 years of searching, I think this is it :)
    • https://soundcloud.com/drink-with-mario
  2. 狗熊有话说 (Mainland Mandarin)
    1. A very nice podcast about book reviews, technology, personal improvement.
    2. http://voice.beartalking.com/
  3. 二分之一強 (Taiwanese Mandarin)
    • A talk show from Taiwan with foreigners living in Taiwan in Mandarin.
    • Hundreds of episodes each about one hour long.
    • The content is not so good, but listening to foreigners speak Mandarin is much easier than listening to native speakers and is thus very motivating and good listening practice for beginners and intermediate students.
    • https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrRJRIIH_ku2rd8Ne6nR4cQ
  4. Voa Chinese (Mainland Mandarin)
    • News and political talk shows in Mandarin from the USA updated several times a day.
    • Individual broadcasts last from one to two hours which means you have a ton of material to listen to. 
    • Good for working on higher level Mandarin listening skills and vocabulary and getting the US perspective on international news and China. 
    • Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/voachina
    • Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/voachina/
  5. Nhk Chinese (Mainland Mandarin)
    • 10 minute news blocks in Mandarin Chinese from Japan updated daily.
    • Good for improving your higher level Mandarin listening skills/vocabulary and getting local Japanese news and a Japanese perspective on international news and China. 
    • pcast://www3.nhk.or.jp/rj/podcast/rss/chinese.xml
  1. Interviews
    • Reading interviews online or in printed newspapers or magazines is very good reading practice, because they are almost exact transcripts of spoken Mandarin. This language is much easier to read than Written Chinese (Written Chinese is the language in which newspaper articles and almost all text in regular books except direct speech are written) which is almost a language on its own.
    • Since they are transcripts of the spoken language, reading interviews will enhance your speaking as well.
  2. Read manga online (http://www.dm5.com/)
  3. Chinese translations of western books
    • Easier to read than books written by native speakers because of cultural norms and sentence patterns.
  4. Youtube/facebook comments
    • Even better when it comes to spoken Mandarin transcription than interviews.
    • Same advantage as reading interviews.
Look for native speakers:
  1. iTalki
    • https://www.italki.com/
    • A website to look for native speakers of Chinese. 
    • Booking lessons is not free, but looking for native speakers is.
    • Many Chinese will be more than happy to talk to you in Chinese in exchange for English practice.
P.s.: Hope the picture doesn't offend anyone. I felt it was a great representation of how I feel about language learning resources: real-life language resources are better than those found in artificial classes/courses.


    1. Thank you for sharing the resources for learning Mandarin. I'm Japanese and I'm learning Cantonese and Mandarin.

      Above all, I am also a fan of "馬力歐配你喝一杯"!!
      I was also a heavy user of NHK World Chinese, but unfortunately, the news anchors are not always native speakers these days...