Developing The Discipline To Consistently Study Mandarin

Last Updated on May 3, 2017

Learning any language can be hard. Learning Chinese is especially hard. But, you can make progress every day. In order to learn Mandarin, you must develop the discipline to consistently study Mandarin, and this article will discuss many ways that you can do that.

A Little Practice Every Day Is Better Than A Long Studying Time Once In While

Memory research has shown that we recall things much better if we study effectively and frequently review. Effective studying can very often take much less time than cramming for hours at a time infrequently. Reviews can be very short.

Some Keys To Effectively Studying Mandarin Chinese

  • Remove as many distractions as possible or remove yourself and go to another location which is better for studying
  • Study in a quiet area
  • Try to put 100% of your effort on studying. Studies have repeatedly shown that multitasking is counterproductive. So, focused study for 20 minutes is probably better than 1 hour of studying in which you are bouncing back between studying and doing some other tasks.
  • Frequent reviews – Review material from the last study session for a short time before you learn new material. In addition, review the material that you have studied that day at the end of the study session.
  • Make notes. Use whatever note-taking method(s) work for you. For example, If you like physical flash cards use those. If you would prefer digital reviewing software, I recommend Mnemosyne and Anki which I wrote about here. If nothing else, write for yourself some quick notes that include questions you had which you can try to investigate later and other notes that might help you remember the material better.

Active Vs Passive Learning

Active learning implies going above and beyond and uses intrinsic motivation. If you genuinely want to learn Chinese, you will continue to work at it long after you would have quit if you were just passively studying. If you feel kind of lackluster about Chinese, you might only study Chinese if it comes together. Passive learning involves basically just listening to a teacher, but not doing the hard work of reading, writing characters over and over etc.

Take Advantage Of Free Moments

You might not have, for example, a full hour to study, but you might have short breaks like 15 or 20 minutes long, so you could use that time for studying. In addition, if you commute to school or work, you can listen to Chinese podcasts, Chinese music, etc using your smartphone.

Set Smart Chinese Learning Goals

Having a goal like “I want to learn Chinese” is probably too vague. In order to accomplish specific tasks, you should have specific goals. For example, a specific goal could be to learn enough Chinese in the next 6 months in order to pass the HSK test level 3 or 4 (HSK is a Chinese proficiency test). For the topic of goals, I recommend you use S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

  • Specific – You should know exactly what you want. Have a target to go after. The more specific the goal, the better.
  • Measurable – You may never know if you are actually making progress unless you can measure your results. For example, learning 20 new words today is something that is measurable. You should keep track of your progress as well. Keeping track of your progress will hopefully motivate you to study even more.
  • Achievable – This means don’t create unrealistic or even impossible goals. You know yourself best, and should plan accordingly. Expecting to learn Chinese and become totally fluent within 1 month is probably unrealistic for most people.
  • Relevant – A goal should be relevant to what you want to actually be able to do or become. Don’t work on random goals if they won’t help you achieve what you want.
  • Time-bound – Finally, this may be the most important, make sure your goals are time-bound. This means setting a deadline. You may not always achieve the goal by the deadline, but at least you have a target to go after. Having a deadline can motivate you to study more, and to stick with studying. If you don’t have a deadline, you may rationalize not studying and continually put off studying.

Schedule Chinese Study

If it helps, schedule studying Chinese. That way, you know for certain you will study for a certain amount of time.

Build Your Willpower

Learning Chinese will take a while, and you must stick with it to get good. It will take willpower to do so. Of course, you may have numerous distractions or things you might rather do day-to-day. But, consider how valuable being able to speak and/or read Chinese. By learning Chinese, you could then communicate with over 1 billion people and could have lots more job opportunities etc.  A good book for developing willpower is called The Willpower Instinct and you can get it here.

Other Suggestions For Developing The Discipline To Consistently Study Mandarin

While I do always recommend Mandarin textbooks, if you don’t like textbooks, there are of course many other ways to learn Chinese.

  • Chinese learning apps – There are many good smartphone apps for learning Chinese. One of them, which I highly recommend is called Memrise. I wrote about using Memrise with Chinese here.
  • Listen to podcasts, watch Chinese movies, watch Chinese TV, or even read Chinese children’s books to slowly build up your skills.


Studying Chinese with the goal of becoming fluent or at least conversationally fluent takes dedication. It takes time, but you can study a little every day to slowly improve your abilities. Frequent studying for shorts amounts of time is generally much better than infrequent studying for long periods of time. Did you like this article? Let’s discuss it in the comments below.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *