Video for CHN 101, Shi Laoshi 石老师, University of Oregon

(Chinese/Pinyin/English Translation)

1. 大家好

2. Dàjiā hǎo
wǒ jiào Neal
wǒ zhù zài jiāzhōu
wǒ xuéle zhōngwén yī nián bànle

3. Hello everyone
My name is Neal
I live in California
I learned Chinese year and a half

Made this video at the request of your teacher of CHN 101, Shi Laoshi 石老师.

It seems like most people in China start learning English at an early age, however, they often learn to read/write more than speak and therefore many Chinese people would like to practice speaking English. If you are learning Chinese, that means that potentially there are many Chinese people who can help you learn the language. This website started as a way of explaining a game I created to practice.

Most things become more fun and useful as you get better at them, same case with Chinese.

In terms of learning characters, if you want to really get them, you may want to start with the radicals. There are about 200 Chinese radicals, kind of like our letters, what the characters are built out of. Memrise can help quite a bit for that. I’m using this course there now,

Feel free to ask any questions using the comments form and check out this website more.

Six Words in 1.2 Seconds! Hearing the Wrong Thing, Examples in English and Chinese

The other day I was playing the Listen Speak Game and a couple rounds made me laugh.

I got only one word right out of six! And with a different person in a different round, the other person got two words (out of 10) that I said correctly!

We were playing in HelloTalk, so when you miss more than half of the words, the whole thing gets crossed out (even if a few words are right).

Here is the round in Chinese,


I have been learning Chinese for a year and a half, so I recognize a few characters, but not too many. I convert characters to pinyin most of the time. Have been working on learning the characters better though.

The first word, 您(nin), I actually know, but most of the time I would use 你(ni), so I didn’t expect that. Part of the reason I could get mixed up was that although it says 5″ (5 seconds), the actually speaking lasted for about 1.2 seconds.  So six words in 1.2 seconds, a little bit fast!


Here is the round where the other person got two words out of ten. Really, almost three since the person said ‘learn’ instead of ‘learning’.


Two of those words are important to the meaning of the phrase, Chinese and learn, but overall the attempt did not get an understanding of what I said.

I said the ten words in about three seconds, so at what I thought was a fairly slow speed.

10 words 3 seconds

I did not feel bad about missing most of the words though, it was said quickly. And by seeing that I missed most of the words, the other person can better gauge my level and either simplify or slow down the rate of speaking a bit, slowing down would have helped a lot.

For the example with English, since I did not speak too quickly, the other person can listen again to the recording and learn from it. I can do the same thing, although it would help to have a slower recording!

What I can realize from the English example is that I should not try to say sentences that are more complex than that and probably should use some of those same words in another recording to see if the person can now recognize them.

Listen Speak Game with Advanced Speakers, Mixing Things Up

weiwei pianoHad a conversation about the Listen Talk Game the other day. Basically, from the perspective of a Chinese English tutor in China.

Basically, she was able to play the game and make very few mistakes most of the time. A few here and there. The game ended up being more useful for me since my level of Chinese is lower than her level of English.

She thought that the game is better for beginning/lower-intermediate. So I think that would translate to A1, A2, B1, and possibly B2.

It’s easiest to come up with sentences for the other person actually if their level of language is a bit lower. Basically that means that anything will work. If it’s too hard, you adjust, but it’s less likely for you to come up with something that is too easy.

Essentially, when practicing language with someone who has an advanced level of your language, you can use the Listen Speak Game, but you will need to put more thought into what you say out loud. It will need to be both challenging enough and useful for that person.

You can also think of the Listen Speak Game as just one tool for practice, especially if it is useful for one of the two people.

Other activities that you can mix in include,

  • Pronunciation Correction
  • Free Talk
  • Asking questions about a specific topic

There are many ways to practice language.

But just as ‘free talk’ would probably not be as helpful for someone on day 1, the Listen Speak Game may not be the only way you should practice with someone who is more advanced. And if you do play the game with such a person, make it challenging and useful.


Listen Speak Game Demonstration

Program used: Wechat
Languages: English/Mandarin Chinese

How to Play the Listen Speak Game on Wechat, Chinese/English

I first played the Listen Speak Game on HelloTalk. The corrections button makes it easier to correct things for both people, highlights the changes and no need to copy/paste.


You can play the Listen Speak Game with Wechat also though, just takes a little bit more work.

First step is to explain the rules if the other person hasn’t played before.

You can tell them to check out the guidelines on this website and you can ask questions here too.

If you go first and see what the other person writes, you can then copy and paste it and make corrections by putting parentheses around the words that have been changed. I find that makes it pretty easy to see.

Another way in which Wechat is slightly more work to use for this game is that you have to start audio messages from the beginning each time. In HelloTalk, you can drag the blue bar to any point in the message once it has started.

You can translate what is written in Wechat, but you can’t convert it to Pinyin automatically, so I find that I’ll copy and paste and then go to Google Translate to see the Pinyin sometimes.

There is an even more effective way to listen to the recordings (especially when they are challenging) but it involves using more tools and software.

Scheduling to Talk to China

Scheduling with China
Figuring out a time to connect can be difficult when you’re practicing Chinese. China is fifteen hours ahead of California. Another way to think about this is that it’s nine hours earlier, but the next day. China does not have daylight savings time, so this shifts depending on the time of year. When the days are shorter, China is sixteen hours ahead of California or you can think about it as eight hours earlier.

For about eight months of the year, California is fifteen hours ahead. I’ll include ~November -March (16 hours ahead) in parentheses.

Essentially people are waking up in China at about 7:00 AM. That’s 4:00 (3:00) in the afternoon in California. If you have a job that you work during the day, you may not be trying to practice Chinese earlier than that. However….. People in China are also tending to work or go to class. So whether it’s for paid lessons or connecting with language exchange partners, you’ll have to keep the time difference in mind much of the time. Occasionally you will find people in Canada, the UK, or the US that want to practice English, but not as many as are in China.

3:00 PM in China is midnight (11:00) in California, 5:00 PM in China is 2:00 (1:00) AM.

7:00 AM in California is 10:00 (11:00) PM in China.

If you talk to students, they may have breaks during the day.

Basically though, you need to plan ahead to connect with people in China. Very early morning, California time, can work and/or afternoon/evening and potentially late night. Depends on schedules.

Keep that in mind and ask about schedules. It’s possible that you really can’t talk to some people easily during the week and you will need to use the weekend.

Remembering/looking up the difference
If you are practicing Chinese with people in China quite a bit, you will probably need to look up the time difference at least a few times, but after that you will likely start to remember it.

You can always type in “time in China” into Google and Google will tell you.

With HelloTalk, the app will tell you the local time of other people.

Chinese Skill, Like a Chinese Duolingo

What is Chinese Skill?
If you have used ‘Duolingo’, then Cchinese_skill_pandahinese Skill is almost the same thing, except that it is only for Chinese and has a few small differences.

It is an app for phones and tablets that is ‘gamefied’, meaning that you progress through 17 short exercises for lesson and you have four ‘pandas’, kind of like energy levels in a video game.  Every time you answer incorrectly, you lose  panda and if you answer a question incorrectly when you have zero pandas then you must quit or restart the lesson.

There are a total of 45 levels right now and each level can have from two to six lessons. So fairly extensive, it’s a tool that can help you build a foundation.

A recorded female voice says most of the words out loud and you usually can click on words to hear them said out loud and even to translate them to English in certain exercises.

There are several different types of exercises and you can change a few settings for them.

1. Translate a single word or phrase by picking from four options with pictures, characters, and pinyin.
2. Translate from Chinese to English by selecting words and placing them in the correct order
3. Listen for the missing word (in Chinese), pick from four options.
4. Draw characters by dragging and dropping different parts of the character
5. Translate from Chinese to English by seeing and hearing a sentence in Chinese and then selecting the correct option out of four possibilities.
6. Translate a Chinese sentence to English by typing it yourself.
7. Translate an English sentence to Chinese, using either characters or pinyin.

That first exercise may seem easy. You have the four photographs to help you. The last type of exercise with translating an English sentence to Chinese may seem a lot harder, because it is. Listening for a single word usually is not too hard, unless the four options include very similar words that only differ in tone.

The exercises have quite a bit of variety and as you progress through the levels the difficulty level will increase.

For the exercises with writing characters, you are not really taught these in a step by step way. I often clicked on the ‘hint’ button to see how the characters are written. At that point, if you spend some time on it you will get some practice in recognizing and being able to form characters. I think, given the option of typing in Chinese using pinyin, learning to recognize characters ends up being very important. If you ever do want to write in Chinese, you will need to do that, Chinese people write in characters, not pinyin. However, they may use pinyin as an intermediate step in typing characters.

The options include displaying the Chinese as characters, pinyin or both

You can also use simplified characters or traditional

You can also have it require that you input the tone as you enter pinyin.

Personally, I display both the characters and the pinyin, I use simplified characters, and I don’t have it require inputing the tone. Possible that I’ll change the first setting down the line if I get more comfortable with characters. Not planning on learning traditional characters. And inputing the tone on an app does not seem especially helpful to me.

Why should you use Chinese Skill
Chinese Skill offers a fairly comprehensive set of lessons that can help you form a foundation for learning more Chinese. You can listen and repeat things back as well as use images to help you learn new words. It is challenging and you may have to repeat some lessons to get them right. It’s also a free tool.

Unlike Pimsluer, it does use writing, which is an important part of learning Chinese.

How to use Chinese Skill
I had used Duolingo for quite a while with Spanish (tree completed) and a bit with German. Since it feels somewhat like a game, it feels fun many times. Though it can be a little frustrating. Chinese Skill is similar.

Something that Chinese Skill does that duolingo does not is comparing your level for any given exercise to other users.

I used Chinese Skill for a bit, then focused on other tools such as Chinesepod. But I have come back to Chinese Skill and started to use it more. If Pimsleur was unavailable, I think it would have been useful to help build a foundation. And later on it does get more advanced and provides some useful things to work on.

Rules of the Listen Speak Game

The rules are up on the menu for the Listen Speak Game.

Started by writing them in English, my native language.

The other two languages I speak decently are Spanish and German. The other language I speak, studying for 16 months at this point, is Chinese. I still make some mistakes with Spanish and German and more mistakes with Chinese.

So I got some help translating the rules to those three languages.

If you would like to see the rules in another language, go ahead and ask!

Pimsleur Chinese, Building My Foundation

What is Pimsleur?
Pimsleur is an audio program for teaching languages that was developed in the 1970s. They used spaced repetition to teach you languages. It’s a fairly effective approach.

Why use Pimsleur?
It seemed to be the best audio program available at my library. It focuses on listening and speaking and it can help build a foundation.

How I used it
Once I had the Pimseleur, I began to listen, mostly in my car. On longer drives, I had some time to work on it. The first lesson seemed easy to jump into. Words and phrases are said and you repeat them. Some seemed easy to grasp, others tended to be harder.

The Pimsleur course suggests repeating lessons until you get about 80%. I ended up repeating the lessons many times. The first few times, I would often make many mistakes. Eventually the lesson would become more comfortable. Overall, I probably listened to the first 10 lessons about four times each and later lessons that were more difficult more like 5 or 6 times.

When things were more comfortable, I could start fine tuning things more. My pronunciation of a certain words was not quite right or the tone was off with that word, etc.

One thing that began to help a lot with learning Chinese was building a foundation. If I could connect a certain word to another word, things started to make a lot more sense. Sometimes it seemed like my mind started forming these connections a bit randomly, my subconscious pieced things together. The connections could be strange even.

Three examples:

英文, Yīngwén (English language) sounded kind of like ‘onion’ the first time I heard it.

飞机  Fēijī (airplane) had a similar sound (in my head) to Flugzeug, the word for airplane in German.

The color white, 白 Bái, is used for the alcoholic drink baijiu, which is a clear ‘white’ drink.

Sometimes the connections were strange, other times seeing part of another word in a different place helped.

Starting by hearing something that sounded like ‘onion’ for the English language, I slowly started pronouncing it more correctly. Having a rough, but memorable, starting place was helpful and then there was gradual improvement.

And as I started to learn more about Chinese, I started seeing patterns and other elements that were actually simple. The verbs didn’t require conjugation. In German the verbs are somewhat simple compared to Spanish, in Chinese they are more simple. Another thing was that adding a suffix to certain words made them similar but slightly different.

Overall, Pimsleur does a pretty good job of making things approachable and helping build a foundation that you can expand. It seems to have been made with an American man with a family going to China on business as the audience, which is not a bad thing but may or may not apply to your situation. Many words that are taught are important regardless of your specific situation.

I like the idea of focusing on listening and speaking early on, especially because writing in Chinese is quite complicated.

When I began using Pimsleur, I didn’t know about many other resources, but it seemed like a good one to focus on for a while. Sticking with a program that is fairly comprehensive can help you move forward with Chinese in a consistent way. Everything builds in the program. That can cut back on frustration that might result if you go between many different sets of materials.

Slowly, with quite a bit of repetition, most of level 1 Mandarin from Pimsleur became comfortable.  I could say a few things and was beginning to understood more. Most importantly I developed a foundation which I could begin to expand with other resources.

Starting to Learn Mandarin Chinese

People designed Esperanto to be easy to learn, not the case for Chinese. The rulers of China had even restricted literacy for quite a while. And the tone system shifts the meaning with a small change in pronunciation.

However, a few years back, I thought Chinese would be interesting to learn. Took Spanish in high school and then German in college, enjoyed learning languages and exploring cultures. In college, I also joined the Wushu club for a couple of years. But then I started checking out learning Chinese a little bit and it seemed a bit discouraging initially. The tone system appeared to take a great deal of study and the writing system….. did not seem especially easy to pick up. So I stopped thinking about learning Chinese for some time.

One day I saw a TED talk by ShaoLan Hsueh called ‘Chineasy’. Thought it was a great idea and made the written element of Chinese seem a lot more approachable. So I got the book and learned a few characters. Working on the characters was interesting and overall made the language seem like something I could actually do.

Pretty soon though, I realized that I didn’t really know how to correctly pronounce the characters I was learning! So I set down ‘Chineasy’ for a while and looked for some other resources to work on.

At the library, I went through their options in terms of audio recordings. A few had ‘common phrases’ and the like. The one I found that seemed the most comprehensive for a beginning level was the first set of Pimsleur for Mandarin.