Free Online Resources for Teaching and Learning Chinese

This resource centre is for both students and Chinese teachers who need answers for a few perplexing Chinese grammar points, who are searching for in-depth analyses of what it takes to learn Mandarin, or who want some inspirations for a class activity which can produce the best learning result. 

We are glad that we are able to share knowledge, both conceptual and practical, with students and fellow Chinese teachers around the world. Some ideas can be applied directly into Chinese classes or practice routines. Some ideas can bring out a conceptual change in how Chinese should be learned or taught. Topics are varied and indexed. New articles are added from time to time. Make sure you come back for more! 

A few small grammatical points about Chinese

Two in Chinese

二 èr and 两 liǎng

Don’t be confused about when to use “两 liǎng” and when to use “二 èr” any more.

de in Chinese

的 de - a structural particle in Chinese

When learning Chinese, it is important to understand the function of “的 de” is associative, not possessive.

le in Chinese

Attention! “了 le” does not indicate past tense

Chinese learners and teachers must pay attention that “了 le” does not indicates past tense. It is about change.

jiu in chinese

The often overlooked Chinese character - 就 jiù

Understand the origin and learn some of the meanings and usages of “就 jiù”, which is often overlooked or misunderstood.

yi dianr and you yi dianr

一点儿 yī diǎnr and 有一点儿 yǒu yī diǎnr

Understand the difference between “一点儿 yī diǎnr” and “有一点儿 yǒu yī diǎnr” in Chinese.

hen in Chinese

The mistranslated Chinese character - 很 hěn

Mistranslating “很 hěn” into “very” is only because we don’t have other options.

It is a mistake to learn Chinese using English grammatical concepts

What is the best way to learn Chinese grammar? Most people did not know that modern Chinese grammar has a Latin origin, which has created many thorny issues.

Chinese grammar

When learning Chinese Grammar, less can be more

Try a better and easier way to learn Chinese grammar. Ignore most of the grammar points and grammar exercises. 

Written Chinese

Differences between spoken Chinese and written Chinese

There are many differences between spoken Chinese and written Chinese. In this article, April introduces three of them.

Video Resources

video-Mandarin Express Intro Level

Review exercises for Mandarin Express Intro Level lessons

Short animated videos are made for students to review their lessons in Mandarin Express Intro Level, and to practice speaking Mandarin.

video-Mandarin Express Basic Level

Review exercises for Mandarin Express Basic Level lessons

Short and engaging animated videos are provided for students to consolidate lessons in Mandarin Express Basic Level.

Video-Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level

Review exercises for Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level lessons

Engaging animated videos are for students to practice and review what they have learned in their Chinese class, Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level.

video for learning Chinese

Extra interests related to learning Chinese

These short animated videos explain some interesting facts which students are likely to encounter when learning Chinese.

Mandarin Chinese courses at MSL Master

Commercial alert! Introductions of our Chinese courses

Watching these short videos, and get a quick understanding of what our Chinese courses offer.

Articles Written by April Zhang for in-depth Chinese Teaching & Learning

learn Chinese in Hong Kong

Seven things you must know when learning Chinese in Hong Kong

Cantonese or Mandarin? Traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese? What it takes to succeed in learning Chinese? Get your answers here. 

reading Chinese

Reading Chinese, where to start?

Choices of Chinese reading materials are limited. That’s why many students opt for reading children’s books. But that’s not the best solution.

Does “shi li” mean “strength” in Chinese?

Many Chinese words share the exact same pinyin and that creates so much confusion that the only solution is to learn Chinese characters.

Beginner’s Guide to Six Common Chinese Fonts

Start learning Chinese characters? Recognise some common Chinese fonts too!

Improve Chinese pronunciation

Five ways to improve your Chinese pronunciation

Five effective ways to improve your Chinese pronunciation. More importantly, improving your Chinese pronunciation without you knowing it.

Cantonese and Mandarin

Cantonese and Mandarin: the similarities and differences

Cantonese has some unique characteristics which are different from Mandarin. But they also have a lot in common.

persistent in learning Chinese

The most important factor in the success of learning Chinese

If there is one thing to guarantee the success of learning Chinese, what would that be?

The many dialects of Chinese

There are so many dialects in China, and Mandarin is one of the many dialect groups of Chinese.

traditional vs simplified character

The simplification process of traditional Chinese characters

Effort was made in two fronts to simplify Chinese characters, to reduce the number of strokes, and to reduce the number of characters.

The pros and cons of learning Mandarin in Hong Kong

There are disadvantages of learning Mandarin in Hong Kong, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

speak putonghua

Beijinghua is not Putonghua

There could be hundreds versions of Putonghua out there with slight differences from one another. One of them is Putonghua with a Beijing accent.

virtual learning tour to China

How to substitute for a learning tour to China

Instead of spending thousands of dollars, a virtual learning tour to China is cheap, and provides many benefits for students to learn Chinese.

Mandarin learning anxieties

Learning Mandarin can lead to anxieties. Overcoming these anxieties requires understanding them first. 

Top ten ways students can make a Chinese teacher mad

Understand more on how cultural differences and different upbringing environments lead to tensions between the teacher and students.

Why learn Mandarin?

Ten arguments for learning Mandarin are analysed and find out which one can drive students to the ultimate success.

Give me a word, any word

Many Chinese words are originally from other languages and Chinese people simply made them their own.

Can you judge a book by its cover?

Dragons are magnificent, but it is people whom students will talk to. Let's re-think about how to represent Chinese culture in textbooks. 

Strokes, components and radicals of Chinese characters

Both strokes and components are building units, while the latter gives us a deeper insight of the intrinsic beauty of characters.

Train for exceptional Mandarin listening ability - higher level students

Many resources are there for listening training. Understand them better and use them well.

Controlled exercises - How lower level students develop listening ability

This article offers actionable advice for non-Chinese students’ to train their ears.

Chinese radicals - a fact sheet

Find out what the biggest misconception is and gain some insightful ideas about Chinese radicals.

A comprehensive guide for choosing the right level of IB Chinese (Diploma Program)

Understand what IBDP Chinese curriculum requires and tests, and get help with choosing the appropriate level of IB Chinese to study.

7 things you should know about the HSK test

What is HSK? Why do people take HSK? Who benefits the most? Find out the answers to these questions and more. 

The gulf between pinyin and Mandarin Chinese pronunciation

Learning pinyin has great advantages. But it is not without its problems. Find out the real issues about pinyin and how to overcome them.

xiang xing zi

Pictures and Chinese characters

Chinese characters are visual, like paintings. They can make an immediate impact upon people, even if they can not read Chinese.

memorise Chinese characters

How to memorise Chinese characters?

For non-Chinese speakers, who start learning Chinese in their teens or adulthood, the difficulty inherent in the process of memorising Chinese characters is very real. It is something they have to overcome.

Why learning Mandarin using (only) Pinyin will create more hurdles

For students who want to have a meaningful grasp of Mandarin, they must look beyond pinyin, as pinyin will confuse the hell out of them!

What? Stroke-order does not matter (that much anyway)?

Stroke order is not the most important thing in learning Chinese reading and writing. Find out what really is.

Understand learning (Chinese) input and output

In the context of speaking and listening, we discuss how the input and output take place in learning Chinese.

Different ways of learning Chinese characters

There are several ways to start learning Chinese characters. A list of most frequently used characters is one of them.

pin yin

A beginner’s guide to pinyin pronunciations

This beginner’s guide to pinyin teaches you how to use English as cues, most of the time, to grasp Mandarin sounds.

reading Chinese

How helpful are bilingual books for students to learn Chinese?

English-Chinese bilingual books are used by many to learn Chinese. To what extent these books are helpful for adult learners of Chinese?

father and mother in Chinese

How to say father and mother in Chinese

There are different ways to address father and mother in Chinese. And traditionally, father and mother carry different connotations in Chinese culture.

books with both characters and pinyin

Can reading books written in both Chinese characters and pinyin help students develop Chinese reading skills?

Books printed in both Chinese characters and pinyin have their usages. Developing Chinese reading skills could be one of them if we know how.

The connections between a Chinese character’s components, its pronunciation, and its meanings

The connections between a Chinese character’s component, its pronunciation and its meanings are not foolproof.

The problems of using flash cards to learn Chinese

Beautifully designed flash cards are promoted to students who are learning Chinese. Let’s take a look at their problems.

Give yourself a good Chinese name!

Chinese characters, the sounds and the tones all can make a Chinese name beautiful, meaningful, and unique.

speaking Chinese in China

How much Chinese is enough for beginner students to have a good trip to China?

Now you have learned some Chinese, it is enough for you to take your first trip to China? Read our observations.

improve Chinese reading skills

Trying to improve your Chinese reading skills? Focus on words and structures

A few things students can do to improve their Chinese reading skills. Learning more Chinese characters is the last of them.

Class Activities to Expand Chinese Teaching Toolkit

Engage students' attention, give them opportunities to move around, and get some competitive spirit going on! Use these activities to bring your Chinese classes to life. And there are more practical and handy activities available in Teacher's Manuals.

Reading a long Chinese article

  • Involve students in their Chinese learning process

  • Practice analytical and critical thinking skills

  • Deliver presentations in Chinese

Topic Card - What is it in your mind?

  • Encourage authentic communications between students
  • Build mutual understanding among students
  • Gauge progress and discover areas for improvement

Find someone who ...

  • Encourage the whole class to stay active
  • Encourage communication and information sharing
  • Build trust and understanding among students and teachers

Listening contest

  • Increase students' awareness on pronunciation
  • Encourage students to speak and increase their confidence
  • Build class rapport among students

Other Great Resources Recommended by April

Books about China

The easiest way to gain understanding of China is to read about China. When reading Chinese is difficult, students can read books written in English.

Books about famous Chinese people

Read about well known Chinese people who have left permanent marks in Chinese history. These books, written in English, are must reads. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Learning Chinese

And our short answers

Is learning 2000 Chinese characters enough for reading Chinese newspapers?

Researchers typically identify 4000 - 5000 characters in prints or online, which includes both simplified and traditional characters. The breakdown is that most frequently used 1000 characters account for 86–91% of the characters occurring, and the most frequently used 2000 for 95–98%. It seems like that, after students learn 2000 characters, they should be able to read newspapers. In reality, they still can’t.

The problem is that, with a focus on accumulating individual characters, students miss a focal point of the Chinese writing system, that the foundation of Chinese texts is words, not characters. Even when students recognise every character in a Chinese text, it is possible that they still don’t understand what they are reading.

Is learning pinyin learning Chinese?

Technically, learning pinyin is learning to speak Chinese. In fact, pinyin is not so essential at all. Students can make up their own spelling system with their own languages and can still learn to speak Chinese.

Pinyin, especially tones, is being talked so much because it is closely related to Chinese pronunciations, which are often over emphasised. There is a joke saying a foreigner was trying to order dumplings in a restaurant. But he did not say the tones right, and got slapped because the waitress thought he wanted to sleep with her. This joke itself is a joke. It was in a restaurant for crying out loud! That is the trouble of emphasising pronunciations and tones too much. In doing so, we turn a blind eye to the material conditions of verbal communications in practical situations. 

Read more about pinyin here:

Is it necessary to learn classical Chinese?

Classical Chinese (wenyanwen) is difficult to learn, and people get by fine without learning it. Therefore, students don’t have to learn classical Chinese. Rather, learning classical texts gives them advantages.  

Over the millennia, classical Chinese texts have left many traces in the modern Chinese language, permeated in tones of fixed expressions, and been influencing people’s thinkings. Learning some classical Chinese texts help students understand the origins of many expressions, Chinese idioms and even behaviours, and allow them to establish effective communications with Chinese people. 

Moreover, classical Chinese texts offer students an opportunity to get a glimpse of Chinese historical, social and cultural changes over thousands of years. This is the coolest way for students to engage in dialogues and gain valuable insights on China. 

This is the reason that Mandarin Express Intermediate Level B includes a substantial amount of classical Chinese.

Should English translations be included in Chinese textbooks?

Many people believe that English translations should be provided to beginner students in their Chinese textbooks. They thought the translations will make learning easier. If students don't understand the Chinese text, they will if they read the translations. And quite often we see three different scripts in Chinese textbooks, Chinese characters, pinyin, and English translations.

We don’t agree. Translations laid side by side with the Chinese texts often have the following undesirable effects: (1) students often compare the Chinese texts word by word with the English translation, and arrive at the wrong conclusion, attributing a false translation to a Chinese character or word; (2) Chinese structures can not be translated well into English. Thus the English translations makes it hard for students to fully appreciate the Chinese texts; (3) students' attention is often drawn to the English texts which they can read quickly, and lose their focus on the Chinese texts; (4) the worse of all is that translations prevent students from thinking in the targeted language - Chinese. 

In short, English translations discourage students from engaging in the process of learning Chinese. This is the reason that both the Mandarin Express series and the Chinese Reading and Writing series do not have English translations in print.

Do students have to learn Chinese radicals?

Radicals have played an important role in learning Chinese. However, spending too much time on radicals no longer makes any sense.

Before, learning radicals was an effective way for students to understand the “bushou”, which was pretty much the only way for them to look up a character in a dictionary. Nowadays, students can use their Chinese learning Apps. 

Before, many beginner students learned characters according to their radicals. Now we have a better way for them to do the same thing with more efficiency. 

Also, it is often claimed that, learning radicals helps students understand the meanings of characters, such as イ relates to people, 口 relates to mouth. But it is only true to a small portion of radicals. It is also claimed that radicals help students guess the sounds of characters. Again, it is not always the case. Many radicals can not explain the meanings of Chinese characters, neither give clues to the sounds.

It is good to know some facts about radicals. But it is not necessary to spend too much time on radicals, especially not spending too much class hours.

Are movies good resources for improving Chinese listening skills?

Movies are fun to watch. But using movies in Chinese classes with the expectation that they can improve students' listening skills is to be carefully thought out. 

For lower level students, it is more effective when they are exposed to controlled listening exercises, including: (1) listening exercises which come with the textbooks and work books; (2)  moderated and authentic communications between students and teachers; (3) communication oriented exercises among peer students. Read more here: Controlled exercises - How lower level students develop listening ability. 

As students make progress, the following resources will gradually show up in Chinese classes and with some help from the Chinese teachers: (1) field trip to a Chinese speaking environment, or learn how to use a virtual tour instead of a real one; (2) YouTube clips in Chinese; (3) Chinese movies and TV dramas; (4) Chinese news and other TV variety shows. Read more here: Train for exceptional Mandarin listening ability - higher level students.

Share some of your exciting ideas!

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