A Good Chinese Learning Habit

Forming a good habit is a key to learning anything. 

You have to be consistent with a skill to get good at it. Sometimes trying multiple ways before finding something that fits your lifestyle. 

Learning Mandarin is no exception to this, in fact learning a language is a complex monster to tame. It requires finding a  suitable routine that makes you feel good. Gives you a sense of achievement and doesn’t bore you after a week, a day or after your first try. 

There are so many different things you can try to improve your the way you retain information when learning Mandarin. 

We have asked dozens of our patrons and hangouteers what their Chinese learning routines are so we could note them here and give you some useful suggestions in improving yours. 

Chinese learning habits

Here are some of the things that people we have surveyed find that work for them when it comes to building a good Mandarin learning routine. 

I use micro habits, have four apps I use everyday, at least five mins each. (Skritter, Anki, HelloChinese, TCB), sometimes once I start I will spend a lot longer but have that easy goal as a minimum daily routine. Three 1hr lessons a week with teachers. audio/podcasts during exercise/gym sessions

Jarryd likes to use apps as mentioned above, he will study in quick bursts to make sure his attention stayed strong when learning. 

He uses ANKI and Skritter for the spaced repetition work, reading and writing but also building vocabulary. He takes his listening to the gym with him and listens to podcasts and some other Mandarin audio. 

Jarryd uses a private teacher for 3 hours per week. 

Getting on the treadmill and listening while you work out will help with your listening. It might not be as motivational as listening to dub step while doing a 500lb deadlift but you may remember a few Chinese words while you sweat! 

Podcasts on commutes and dog walks, two 60-min private lessons a month, two language exchanges a week (one hour each but speaking English for half of that and Mandarin for half), mess around on Duolingo once a day to keep streak going (usually just 5-10 minutes), two 3-hour “study retreats” (self-imposed) a month at a local library with study space to prep for HSK, then any time it takes me to prep for private lessons and exchanges because I usually have some sort of reading homework. I’d like to do more tv/film study but haven’t found the time yet...but paid work has to take priority obviously... I use the Yabla app too and would recommend it if anyone wants to learn watching videos.

Side note: Susan is American but lives in japan. She is a professional translator and fluent in Japanese and English. 

Susan uses the time she spends getting to work to brush up on some Mandarin listening skills. We have had many listeners of the Mandarin Monkey Podcast say they listen on the train or on the drive to and from work. 

Perfect time to listen. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that you must concentrate 100% of the time to learn anything, you can zone in and out and still pick up words. 

Often in our podcast we will use very commonly used vocabulary in spoken Chinese so they will keep popping up again and again. Giving you extra time to notice. 

Susan also likes using apps like Duolingo to practice and doesn’t like breaking her ‘streak’. In Duolingo is you study every day for a certain period it registers your attendance and as long as you come back tomorrow you won’t break that streak. 

Interesting article on streaks and Duolingo.  

Susan also likes to set aside two 3 hour sessions per month to swat up on her Mandarin skills and prepare for some HSK exams she would like to sit. 

Susan also has private lessons with a native speaking teacher. 

Podcasts I usually listen while doing chores or going to sleep. My routine is an hour of “something” every day (usually the evening) - private lesson, hangout, listen to podcasts, youtube videos (MM, Shuoshuo Zhongwen, Grace Mandarin, Blondie in China), pleco flashcards, online courses (I use YoYo Chinese). I also translate children’s books/annotate with pinyin so that I can read them to the children. What I have found really useful is when we do stories for the hangouts. It takes a bit more effort but I tend to write them up with photos like blog posts I can share with family in Taiwan and/or use then in class with Amy.

Michael uses multiple input streams to bolster his learning. He will shift between either private learning with a native teacher, hangouts, listening to podcasts, watching videos.

What Michael mentions that he finds very useful, is a game we play in our weekend hangouts where we ask the attendees to plan and script a story to tell everybody in the group. All the other listeners then draw what they hear and recite it. Often with funny outcomes. 

We meet 5 times every weekend, so is a routine in itself. 

Michael also has the benefit of having a Taiwanese wife and being able to use his new vocab with her and his children in daily life. 

side note: Amy is a Mandarin Monkey teacher. 

The only thing I practice periodically is flash cards I take 2 or 3 private lessons per month, and in each lesson I collect new words and sentences and I create may own decks of flashcards then I upload those to Tofulearn (app/SW similar to Anki), Tofulearn put audio automatically to words (not for sentences), I practice everyday like 30 minutes a day; In weekends I try to advance in the yoyo Chinese course and only in weekends I try to practice how to write hanzi, Other resources that I use but not consistently are, YouTube channels as Mandarin Monkey, Grace's channel, Mandarin Corner, and the other ones mentioned before.

Adrian likes to use Tofulearn with is a spaced repetition app/software. This helps with retaining new vocabulary and is based on the same principle as Skritter and Anki. 

Also Adrian has scheduled at least 30 minutes per day to studying Chinese. And has also subscribed to an online course hosted and made by a company called YoYo Chinese.

Finding that free time to study can be difficult if you have a fulltime job, children or way too many cats.

We often say on the podcast you don’t need to  set aside several hours a day to bury your nose in a language book. You can get away with 10-20 minutes a day while studying and still make significant progress. 

side note: Adrian is fluent in English and Spanish. 


Your schedule is going to look very different from the peoples above. 

You may have more or less free time than the people mentioned. But you will always have enough time somewhere. 

I will give you my own example. I have a part time job, run a start up and have 2 children. I try and maintain a healthy loving relationship with my children and wife and will NOT sacrifice time with them. BUT when I have finished dinner with them and my eldest is taking her sweet sweet time finishing hers and asking complex questions about life to try and do anything but eat. We have quiet time. 

During this quiet time, I will jump on the phone and use an app, like Skritter, ChineseSkill or another for the ten minutes of silence we impose to allow her to eat. 

I will try and pick up something new during this time, and then practice it with Ula. Validating my learning and trying to make it stick. I will then try and use this new vocabulary as many times as possible during the next few days to build up those neural pathways. 

We hope the above may give you some ideas for your own routine or habit when learning Chinese. 

If you have an interesting language learning routine please let us know in the comments below. Or on chat@mandarinmonkey.com

Building a good routine while learning Chinese is key to gaining real results. Here are some of our Patrons routines to give you some ideas.

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