Love 说话 but shudder at 看书? Websites for improving various skills in Mandarin

Made by Cat using Word Swag app
Made by Cat using Word Swag app

Learning Chinese? How many times have you come across articles emblazoned with promises of ‘the BEST websites for learning Chinese!’ with hope and heart-flutters only to be disappointed when the sites don’t quite work for you?

I’ve always wondered how one type of learning can be universally beneficial. For example, I have many friends who swear by flashcards, and although I dabbled once or twice, I found they were only useful for short-term recall, passing the time on long journeys, or an excuse for me to buy over-priced flower-printed notecards. That being said, one of the oldest tricks in the (text)book – rote learning – worked wonders for me. While others shrinked away from the sight of reams of scrap paper with characters scribbled in every conceivable space, I wouldn’t rest until a character was compartmentalised into muscle memory.

So here’s my deal, rather than throwing glitter into the air and proclaiming websites to be ‘the best’ or ‘the ultimate’, I’ve put together a short list of websites that have been more than helpful in improving my various skills in Mandarin:

  • Memrise (vocabulary, character recognition)

Starting with a well-known name, Memrise holds a wealth of user-produced content in the form of flashcards (yes, okay, sometimes I like them), usually using pictures or sentences as visual cues. Memrise has also been particularly handy for learning HSK vocabulary, tracking your progress until it is certain you have committed words to your long-term memory. Unfortunately however, words are not grouped together in topics, so it can be a little bit of a stretch to remember the word for ‘fireman’ when learnt straight after ‘irrigation channel’, but it’s an efficient and reliable way to study for vocabulary tests.

  • The Chairman’s Bao (translation, reading)

The Chairman’s Bao is an online newspaper printing various news, tech, and humerous articles with both English and Chinese translation, perfect for reading about current affairs and for picking up vocabulary that would also be simultaneously circulating on Chinese media. The Chairman’s Bao also ranks articles in terms of HSK level, so if you’re studying for HSK 4 for example, articles ranked under HSK 4 will contain the corresponding vocabulary that you’ll be aiming to learn – no doubt useful for improving your reading skill. The site has also introduced the ability to create personal vocabulary lists for registered users.

  • ChinaSmack (slang, translation)

ChinaSmack is a collection of English-language articles translated from various Chinese media outlets, with the added benefit of translated comments from Chinese netizens. This has been really useful in the past for gauging Chinese online opinion of current events, particularly if you struggle to read/navigate sites like Weibo. ChinaSmack also has it’s online dictionary of slang to help users identify common abbreviations or homonyms used on Chinese websites. Just be aware that sometimes the news outlets used will include some NSFW images, or images a little more graphic than what you might see on the BBC or CNN. However, a warning is usually present before you scroll down.

  • Lang-8 (writing, grammar)

If you really wish you could contact your tutor 24/7 to check your work, Lang-8 might be the perfect solution. Users of Lang-8 can practise writing on whatever topic takes their fancy, and submit it to native speakers to correct or suggest improvements. Pieces of writing can be long or short, and if you’re keen on improving your flair, or nervous about using a complicated phrase, it can be reassuring to learn from the best: native speakers. What’s particularly interesting is that this is one of the few sites wherein you can practise your writing, although as with Chinese, it can’t check how well you actually write characters with pen and paper (a rarity, in any case!)

  • Popup Chinese (listening, vocabulary)

Having only just discovered Popup Chinese, I can confirm that I am in lingustic love with it. Registered users have access to a wealth of podcasts containing real-life Chinese conversations on everyday topics, spoken by native speakers and then explained line by line in English. This has personally been a massive help improving my listening, particularly as the Intermediate and Advanced level podcasts speak at full pelt, something which has in the past had me quaking in my Converse. The podcasts also come with a transcript and a list of helpful vocabulary.

So there we have it, a little list of websites to improve your skills in Mandarin. I’m sure there are many more websites out there that Mandarin-learners hold dear, so if you’re willing to impart your secrets, please don’t hesitate to comment below!

Coming soon: Some common and not-so-common ways of improving your language level.

Links to websites mentioned:

Happy learning and 好好学习!


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