Learning Chinese: Part 1

The greatest attraction about moving to China for me was to experience a different culture and learn a new language. I wondered if by living in China this year, I would be able to learn enough to do things like talk to Chinese friends at work, have a job where I interact with Chinese organizations, or to simply order Chinese food back in the United States using Chinese.

Would I be able to walk into the local Chinese restaurant and say:

Hello sir. I would like to order the General Tso’s Chicken. Yes, also a box of white rice. No, I don’t want fried rice. Also an egg roll… And of course I want fortune cookies!

Today, 7 months after moving to China I have definitely learned enough to be kindergarten conversational and have some entertaining and simple exchanges. I’m curious now to see how much more I can learn in the time I have left.

Sadly… learning to place my meal order above won’t be happening while in China. In China there is no General Tso’s Chicken. I haven’t seen any egg rolls here. Chinese restaurants do not have fortune cookies. I will need to learn these Chinese words back in the United States.

On the other hand, I can say:



The translation would be:

Good evening boss (good form in China)! This evening I think I’d like to order one of your specialties. I’ve heard your Dan Dan Noodles are very popular. Both hot and numbing spices, and extremely good! Please give me 1 order to go. I not only need that dish, though, I also need to bring other stuff back home with me for my family. I think they would like the Peking Roast Duck. What? You don’t have it? Haha, my mistake, I should have known because you have a Sichuan restaurant. Anyway, I want 3 orders of steamed dumplings, 1 bowl of fried noodles, 2 boxes of rice, and also your Ma Po Dou Fu (specialty tofu dish here).

I have another question: Do you have ice cream? You’re out, but you’re saying the store next door has it? Awesome! After paying here I’ll go there and buy 1 tub of ice cream. Correct, 1 tub. I know it’s a lot, however my cat loves it. Anyway, altogether how much is it? 300 US dollars, way too expensive!!! Although I am really hungry, so I’ll give you 300 dollars. See you next week!

For the above Chinese text I didn’t use any Google translate or reference a dictionary. It’s certainly a weird conversation (albeit similar to what I might say in English), but it’s pretty cool to be able to string some thoughts together and write it out.

We ordered our Chongqing Hot Pot in Chinese! 我们点了重庆火锅用中文!

We ordered our Chongqing Hot Pot in Chinese! 我们点了重庆火锅用中文!

Generally speaking, given the time and a patient non-dialect speaking partner, I can now communicate a lot of what I’d want to. And interestingly, I can actually read and write more than I can speak since I’ve spent a lot of time learning Chinese characters (plus having the benefit of time to think about what I want to say and digest what’s written in front of me). My biggest weakest (in my opinion) is my listening ability, which obviously has a huge impact on my ability to have a conversation.

All that said, in the next couple weeks I plan to write a couple more blogs to describe the following:

Learning Chinese Curriculum (the last 7 months)

  • What books, classes, apps, and online resources have I used
  • How long have I studied with a guess on hours
  • My assessment on each of these resources and whether I’d recommend them

Learning Chinese Plan (5 more months in China to go!)

  • What current resources I plan to double down on and continue to use
  • What other resources are available that I haven’t used, that I currently would like to try out
  • Additional blogs and useful websites for researching how to learn the language

Learning Chinese Results (post-mortem in December most likely)

  • What are my results, including quantification with HSK Chinese Exam
  • What have I learned and what would I recommend
  • What’s next – how I’m thinking about studying and practicing Chinese after leaving China

Finally… in each blog at the end I’ll post up my current Pleco Flash Card Stats so you can see a few snapshots on how fast/slow I’m going.

Pleco Card Statistics: 2014年7月9日

Total Cards: 3,337 (currently practicing on approximately 2,200)
Total Card Repetitions: 22,508
Average Repetitions Per Card: 10
– Per Day: 194
Average Correct: 74%
Total Cards Learned: 1,949
– Per Day: 16

Note 1: Pleco is one of the more popular apps for learning Chinese with a fantastic dictionary, flash cards, and a number of other useful features. I’ve heard of other apps having better flash card and memorization systems, but I am a simple man and like the integration of the dictionary and flash cards. 

Note 2: These statistics are for the total number of cards repeated and learned, and should not be confused with words or Chinese characters. A card can be 1 Chinese character. A card can be 1 Chinese word (multiple characters). A card can also be a phrase or technical term. There are also a few duplicates.

Note 3: I am not currently practicing on 3,337 cards. This card count includes all of the cards I’ve created as well as all the cards from HSK levels 1-5. I also just began practicing on the HSK 5 deck of cards — which is a massive 1300 cards — so my total set of practiced cards is about 2,200. 

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