Feeling a bit lost

Hello LTL friends :slight_smile:! I was debating if I wanted to create this post or not, but I decided that it couldn’t hurt to ask others who are also studying language.

I have been studying Mandarin, on and off, for about a year and a half; I studied by myself with a plethora of mobile apps. I find the language fascinating and clicked with me easier than romance languages with such strict grammar rules. As winter approaches and being inside more often, I found LTL school and decided to get more serious about learning Mandarin. I have thoroughly enjoyed my courses at the Intro level. However, I do feel that I struggle to fully understand what the teachers are saying sometimes; I become frustrated with myself for not comprehending. From studying Mandarin on my phone, I have picked up on plenty of words, but when it comes down to conversation I feel I’ve learned very little overall.
I do think one issue that I have run into is that using many apps at once has sort of regressed my ability to recall everything.

My main question for you guys is, do you have any tips or suggestions for getting on the right track to study effectively? I use the material from my courses, but I would be interested in memorizing and perfecting my basic foundations, numbers, and grammar too.

Sorry for the novel haha, thank you in advance for the tips!

Hi Sydney,

Dan from Hack Chinese here.

I imagine many others will have great ideas, but I thought I’d share my thoughts here too, as I’ve talked to many students who have gone through this stage.

My thoughts will cover:

  • Motivation
  • Apps
  • Study time (Knowledge vs. Practice)

I am a firm believer that if your language-learning habits aren’t generating motivation, you will eventually run out of willpower and give up. The fact that you took the time to ask this question on this forum is a good indication that you should probably shake up your study habits a bit, so it’s awesome to see you take the initiative to ask for help. In my eyes, this trait makes you very likely to succeed in the long term.

Language apps are a double-edged sword, as I think you’ve noticed. They make certain aspects of studying “easy” or “motivating” (which can be great).

But they can also give you a false sense of progress. If you collect a thousand experience points on DuoLingo (or learn 1,000 words on HC or ANKI), yet aren’t able to follow teachers in class, it can be extremely de-motivating. Was all that work for nothing?

So how should you look at learning on apps? I like the metaphor of language learning like race-car driving. Learning on apps is like adding fuel to the car (something you need to do!) But to get better at race-car driving, you need to practice driving around the track (listening, reading, speaking, etc.).

(I tell Hack Chinese students that learning words with our app is not ‘mastering’ those words. Rather, it’s simply preparing them to engage in other forms of learning with less frustration.)

So, what to do with apps? Use them when they’re filling you up with knowledge, but make sure you leave time to practice with that knowledge!

Study Time (Knowledge vs. Practice)
Virtually every time I audit a student’s study habits, they are lacking sufficient practice with their knowledge (especially listening).

Most learning resources (let’s take textbooks as an example) go something like this: In each chapter, you have a page or two of ‘dialogue’ (written text you can read and/or listen to), 30-120 new words, and a bunch of grammar exercises.

Then, when you finish that chapter, you move on to the next chapter, which again introduces a ton of words and grammar alongside a single additional page or so of text.

I understand why textbooks do this – students want a feeling of progression, and adding more ‘knowledge’ is a great way to provide that feeling.

But what the student really needs after learning so many new concepts is an additional 10-20 pages (several hours at minimum) of reading/listening practice, without learning anything new.

So, regardless of what your main ‘learning’ activities are, try to add in more ‘practice’ activities.

There are many ways to do this:

  • Graded readers
  • Discussions with LTL teachers in class (where you aren’t explicitly trying to learn “new” things)
  • Podcasts
  • Listening to textbook dialogues

If you are a textbook user, one thing I often recommend is to get the textbooks of several series (NPCR, Integrated, Boya) around the same level.

Especially at earlier levels, there will be a lot of overlap of content, so you’ll be able to practice with words and grammar patterns you are already familiar with.

Don’t bother with the grammar exercises, just let comprehensible input do its thing by listening to the dialogues. You can get a lot of mileage out of this. Listen before you “study” the text. Listen again after you learn the words. Listen while reading along. Listen without leading along. Listen again tomorrow, and the next day. Listen until you have memorized the text, and your brain can basically finish sentences before they are spoken. Your brain is doing a ton of work behind the scenes, putting patterns together and making you more likely to recognize them in natural speech later on.

Finally, one surgical approach to understanding your teachers in class could be to record the audio of the class, then transcribe it later, looking up words you don’t know. You then have a nice bit of text to listen/learn from that you know is applicable to you!

These are my 2 cents. I can’t wait to read some other suggestions from other folks!



Not understanding and having to guess is simply normal.
It also depends on a teacher’s way of teaching, some speak slowly and use easy words, some think, you will guess somehow and want to expose you to the “real” language.
Too many apps - no, no problem, but I advise you to do some things regularly. Review vocab, listen to anything, and speak out loudly.
Review vocab: especially the tones, learn them perfectly ALWAYS
Listen: you can find lessons on youtube for every level. (Listen without reading at the same time!)
Speak: Build 5 to 10 sentences each day. Introduce yourself, how is the weather, where are you, what did you do yesterday, today, tomorrow, what time is it. And also ask the questions. Speak out loud, say the same things daily or find new easy short sentences, and check with google translator (good enough for the beginning) or books.
Prepare your next (LTL) lesson. Learn the vocab, listen to the audio, try sentences that fit to the topic.
Simply go on, don’t think about what teachers might think about you, don’t compare with others, enjoy learning itself.
Mandarin takes a long time in the beginning. I often started from the very beginning, which is an advantage in the end. You need to have a solid base. Tones!!! And first easy sentences.

Hi @Sydney-Mandarin_Simplified_Int - thanks for posting and never be sorry about writing “a novel”! This is exactly the reason the forum was set-up and you’ll find a host of amazing students will provide you with a plethora of great ideas.

On that topic - I will keep mine short and immediately actionable.

Set yourself a target every single day. Just one, it doesn’t have to take hours to achieve, but something that denotes progression.

These could be:

– Learn 5 new Chinese characters
– Study a particular Chinese radical
– Take an LTL Flexi Class
– Spend 10 minutes reviewing characters on Hack Chinese
– 30 minutes study using X App

It might be worth setting these in advance (on a Sunday evening) for the week and then rolling them every week so on every Monday you do the same thing and every Tuesday likewise. This gives you consistency and a pattern.

Stick to this for months and then a year and you’ll see how far you came.

Hope this helps and well done again for sharing your concerns - we all have them :slight_smile:

1 Like

super agree with all of the above, and I had the exact same start point. I came from tons of hours with about a half dozen regular apps and listening apps but then I started with LTL and in talking to teachers I realized just how little command I had of the language.

Since doing LTL classes I have changed my strategy and noticed a significant increase in ability to listen and speak. I do daily practice with Hack Chinese to help build the vocab foundation, while mixing with daily LTL classes (attempting to use as many new vocab as possible). I also sprinkle in daily Pimsleur audio lessons that play when I drive, shower, workout etc… (times when I can learn while doing other non focused activities). I also like to throw in monthly “tests” where I go to local areas and embarrass myself attempting to speak with native language speakers lol (it’s actually always positive and a lot of fun)

at least for me the above has had noticeable improvement to get me out of that “stuck” feeling that so many of us go through in the early phases of learning Mandarin.

1 Like

Wow, thank you all so much for your suggestions! :grin: Reading these made me feel a lot better about my position with where to go next on learning! I think the most important thing I’m taking away from you guys (and my teachers too!) is to repeat words I’ve learned over and over again and study every day even for a few minutes, especially with Hack Chinese flashcards. Often with my mobile apps I would learn new things every day with very little review afterwards, which explains why I wasn’t grasping what I was learning. I’m glad I reached out!

My 2c:
I’ve had new teachers on LTL Flexiclasses who seem to want to prove they are good teachers by speaking quickly. Or they concentrate on the better student in the lesson and ignore the slower student, because it is less trouble for them. You are paying for the lesson. It is your right to say they are speaking too fast for you. If the teacher becomes frustrated or shows surprise because you are asking them to slow down, and you may have to ask a few times, then you can actually report this, because they’re not showing sufficient patience. It’s not good for teachers to be unable to adjust to the student’s level.



Dear sydney!

As you are a beginner , just follow the lessons one by one as recommended to your level!

The most important thing is: learning as well by yourself: repeat!

You can combine another course on you level in another school, because the Hsk level lessons are in Flexi much shorter then in other schools!
So I think here :

flexi group class are good for learning new things, repeating what you have already learned and for listening and talking!

Flexi 1-1 you can use to emphasize on your defined problem(s), and training on listening and talking!

I love to be here, but I do another course at Konfucius Institute and another private 1-1!

So keep on going! :hibiscus:regina