Finding the Best Way to Learn Chinese Vocabulary at a Faster Rate

By OptiLingo

One of the worst things about learning a language is the fact that it’s tedious. You have to learn a completely new vocabulary, master syntax, and then apply it in actual conversation. A very difficult proposition for a world were smartphone technology has chipped away the human capacity to focus. Luckily, there is a shortcut for everything, and in the world of language that short cut is vocabulary.

If you dissect the act of learning a language you find the hardest part is Application. Application requires both syntax and conversation. Vocabulary is the easiest part because at its base it’s simple rote learning. However, in order to reach syntax and conversation you must first master vocabulary. So the fast track through a language like Chinese is a shortcut through vocabulary. This begs the question, what is the best way to learn Chinese vocabulary?


The basic principle behind rote learning is to memorize information through repetition. Therefore, the best way to learn Chinese vocab is by repetition. Using this method allows a student to learn 20 to 30 words per day with a minimal amount of study and a maximum rate of retention.

Basically, you want to expose yourself to vocabulary words as many times as possible so they get locked into your brain. Successful repetition is not achieved by the amount of exposure, however, but in the way your brain is exposed to the information. If you do it all at once your brain will become overloaded. The trick is to convince your mind that these words are important.

The best way to learn Chinese vocabulary is in a relaxed, natural, and stress-free manner. The exposure needs to be spaced out over time. You also need to select a source for the vocabulary that you attach to. A huge setback to rote learning is lack of retention which can happen if the words do not matter to you.

Finding the Right Vocabulary Source

Chinese vocabulary sources can be found anywhere. You do not have to focus primarily on lists. Yes, an academic website will have full lists of words, but a more practical place to look would be a T.V. show. Chinese podcasts, radio broadcasts, film, and T.V. use the Chinese language in regular conversation. As most come accompanied with subtitles they are an excellent source for finding practical Chinese words used in their proper syntax.

Essentially, your choice of a vocabulary source has to relate to you. As everyone is different you have to find the words that grab your attention and build lists that your mind will better retain. Academic sources are great but you do not have to put all your eggs in one basket.

Pay Attention to Context

The best way to learn Chinese vocab is to ensure that your vocabulary list is in context. Finding words in context allow you to memorize their meanings in the exact way they are used in conversation. Remember, eventually you will use what you have learned in a real conversation. Knowing the context behind the words you master allows you to be better prepared for that conversation.

Use Technology

The Internet is a great place to not only find vocabulary words but record them as well. This allows you to generate lists, flashcards, and any other teaching aids you can reference later. Technology provides many avenues to create such teaching aids but it is up to you to choose the one that is right for you.

Academic sites carry full lists of Chinese category words that can be easily download on any device. This can be a little overwhelming, however, and many of the words are taken out of context. Yes, you will receive a full list of every word in the Chinese language, but it will not give you any idea of syntax.

Chinese pod casts, radio broadcasts, TV shows, and film are great places to harvest words used an actual everyday conversation. This is great for getting a jump start on syntax but you will not learn every Chinese word you need to know. In addition, you have to record these words independently as no lists are provided.

Software like Memrise, Pleco, and Skritter are great resources for finding and recording Chinese vocabulary words. Some software even allows the creation of Flash Cards. You can also use standard computer software like Microsoft Excel to generate databases or Word to produce lists. In any case, technology makes the process of developing vocab lists easy so use it.

Chinese Characters

Chinese characters can be hard to master but learning to identify them is a great way to speed up your general understanding of the language. In order to fully master a language you have to be able speak, write, and read that language. So what is the best way to learn Chinese vocabulary in written form?

In order to effectively learn how to write Chinese characters you have to grind. Once again repetition is the best way to learn Chinese vocabulary in written form. Even people native to China will tell you the best way to master its written form is by writing each symbol 15 to 20 times. Of course, you have to do more than just write the symbol over and over as Chinese characters are nuanced.

Chinese characters serve a function. A symbol is more than just a written form of a word it is also an action. This means you have to understand why the symbol looks that way and what the exact stroke order is. This may seem complex, and it is, but available resources like the Outlier Dictionary can make it easier. Do yourself a favor and take full advantage of all software and online sources available to you. They can be instrumental in helping you understand the method to this madness.

Start Writing Chinese Characters

Once you have mastered the reading it is time to start writing. Luckily, there are great resources like Skitter to help you with this part as well. In an age of such technological advancement and access to information going traditional pen and paper is a mistake. Spaced-recognition software like Skitter allows you to create your own flashcards. You can write a character down and then rinse and repeat. So be sure to download beneficial hardware and use it to master your writing.

Unlike learning basic vocabulary you are going to want to schedule a time to work on Chinese characters. This does not have to be spaced out or exposed naturally. Software allows you to move at a faster pace so learn a character, practice writing it down, and then go on with your day.