Year Abroad: Chinese Language Study Skills


Seeing as what I’m doing out here is studying a year of intensive undergraduate Chinese, I thought I’d give you a little peek into how I manage to work through four ridiculous 8AM starts (and one lovely 10AM) of  20hr week immersive language classes. Boy, did I have it easier back in the UK…

Mandarin is a fairly tricky language to master. We’ve not had the pleasure of taking any tests – yet anyway #midtermsimminent – so I can’t guarantee this the best way to work it. But, hopefully if you decide to take the plunge to head to Fudan University, or indeed studying Mandarin anywhere, it’ll give you the heads up that taken me a slow month to work out. All with a fairly sickeningly cute App that I’ve just found to edit my pictures with.

Sorry, guys… It’s just the hearts.
They’re so darn cute.


Chinese Language Learning: Bejing University Press Textbooks Fudan University


Eh-hem. So to start, classes in Fudan are broken up into five different classes: Comprehension (泛读)。Speaking (口语)。Writing (写作)。Listening (听力) 。 Intensive Reading (精读)。 Working from the ‘Beijing Language and Culture University Press‘ 10 Level Chinese series, in which the Intensive Reading textbook which, taking up eight of the twenty prescribed contact hours per week here at Fudan, leads the topic, discussion and vocabulary of the weekly chapters. The Level 6 textbooks (F3 in Fudan) work off real cited articles in Chinese, on the basis of which we learn vocabulary and grammar, and bulk out with extracts from the four supporting classes.

Eight weeks, Eight Chapters.
Pace is quick.


What’s useful for learning Chinese in this way?

OK, so it may seem silly when you’re already carrying around six textbooks and copious amounts of sugary snacks to class, for me to tell you to go out any buy more, but that’s exactly what I’ve done. With so many Chinese characters pottering about the place and grammatical patterns wrecking havoc, it’s been useful both in class and outside for me to pin them down in separate workbooks. I’ve got…

  • A. Vocabulary Book (below: front for class, back for extra reading; cover is a shamelessly cute Japanese illustration),
  • B. Grammar and Cultural book (above: grammatical patterns, notes and cultural tidbits that need in depth notes; grey with flowers and birds),
  • C. Character Practice Workbook (below: with Chinese style squares for writing in and thin rows for pinyin),
  • D. Homework Diary (above: pink with raindrops),and
  • E. On-the-Go Notebook (above: lives in my handbag to jot down phrases and vocabulary in when out; a black A6 moleskin).

Get the books, and use them. It’s great character practice, and if your brain seems to be constructed like a sieve (as mine is), it goes a long way in helping memorise phrases when instead of just repeating them after people: you can write them down, and perhaps even come back to them later!

Chinese Language Learning: Bejing University Press Textbooks Fudan University Workbooks

Chinese Language Learning: Bejing University Press Textbooks Fudan University Workbooks


There used to be a time where studying Chinese involved constantly carting 10kg dictonaries around classrooms, and being trapped at the pace in which you could search for characters in their endless, rice-paper depths. Nowadays, every student is hooked to some electronic contraption on their desks with more desperation than the waft of 8AM coffee.

  • PLECO. If you have an andriod/app-ready phone and your learning Chinese, get this app. Hand writing and pinyin ready, PLECO software lets you search their extensive dictionary for instant results – without the need for internet – which means if you’re stuck in class it’s a Godsend. At the point of writing, PLECO is free both from the iTunes store and for Android.
  • If you don’t have a smart phone, take a leaf out of my Japanese Classmates books and get an Electronic English-Chinese dictionary. At anywhere from £40-£200 there’s certainly a range on sale but unfortunately few reaching Japanese quality. A little online research suggests Besta, Instant and Casio for a starters, and if possible, try finding them in-store to test their search capabilities.
  • Of course, nothing beats the 17kgs of my luggage that I devoted to two humongous, old fashioned Chinese-English Dictionaries; you can’t beat the classics. Although I would really have like to have brought more clothes out here…

English Chinese Dictionary Chinese English Translation Oxford .

I may have some strange suggestions, and I can appreciate that this one seems a little specific, but hear me out. The problem I have with learning Chinese solidly every day, under pressure, in a fast-paced environment, is that can it become both a stressful activity, and a chore. So, pick up a bilingual edition of your favourite novel, a fashion magazine, a menu at your favourite cafe and download some smooth Chinese pop, and when you’ve got nothing to do ie. you’re milling about on Facebook – I mean, Weibo – get out your Chinese leisure reading, and kick back with your pleco app for a wee gander. If you can make the habit stick, boy oh boy, you might just make studying… fun?

Well, bearable at least.


Bilingual Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte Classic English Literature Chinese


This where all the dreams of watching cartoons even though you’re in your twenties are manifested: Chinese cartoons are a great way of picking up colloquial Chinese, not the mention the tones, accent and phrasing of that you’ll hear on the street.

Try 樱桃小丸子 or Chibi Maruko: it’s a delightfully grainy 1990s Japanese cartoon about the daily life of mischievous primary school girl “小丸子”. She’s utterly adorable in a true-to-life naughty child way, and her wonderfully honest dialogue cracks me up. Brilliant way to hone the listening skills, and reading – if you can keep up with the subtitles. Dubbed in Taiwan, it’s got quite a heavy accent and traditional characters, but worth a listen to even if you’re studying on the mainland. If that’s too hard, the fantastically Japanese Chi’s Sweet Family: a fabulously simplistic animation in the life of little kitten Chi, which although is entirely in Japanese, is a good test on super basic reading for the old noodle… And lastly, if cartoons aren’t your thing, Chinese soap operas are another option, with hundreds listed on from romantic soaps, to cringe-worthy brilliant chat-shows.



If you’re learning Chinese, it is not your first language, and chances are, there’s someone out there that wants to learn the language that you speak mindlessly everyday. Language exchanges are a great way to get free conversation practice, experience the culture of the language that you’re learning – and of course, make friends along the way. Whether you go about this through a University Exchange programme, make a flyer advertising your desire for a language exchange or use an online service such as, take time to sift through exchanges that clearly aren’t going to be beneficial for both of you, and don’t be afraid to say “It was nice to meet you, let’s just keep in touch.” Although it’s borderlining break-up awkwardness, not everyone clicks in these things, so don’t waste your time week after week if it’s not working. 

Just be wary and street-smart as of course, everywhere in the world, not everyone on these sites are looking for the same type of exchange you might be. Stay safe. Learn Chinese.

language exchange illustration

Wish y’all a hearty good luck!

Until next time,

Charlotte xx


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