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Learning vocabulary; how do you do it?
I pay a language site for a yearly subscription, gaining access to standard Mandarin word sets, which lets me hear the word and guess from multiple options. It will ask me to spell the word or phrase either in pinyin or Hanzi character, or even English. The sets have:

Mandarin characters

Sometimes it gives audio and one must guess one of either pinyin, english, or Mandarin characters. It then will provide either Pinyin, Mandarin, or English and give about 3 audio choices form which to select as a quiz. Of course, there are many other permutations of these quizzes, and it is superb.

I must learn vocabulary beyond the standard if I am able to provide information about my life to people in social situations. That way they can learn the most about me.

This site lets people create their own sets.
The words I enter in my custom set are from two primary sources:
  1. New words learned from my tutor, and including standard words I forget repeatedly during training. This study may help protect the sanity of my tutor who must tolerate my repeated failures with some basic words.
  2. My thoughts of my life, activities, hobbies, and emotions.

I enjoy writing about my food program, which is a healthy vegan one, so I gather words like 'calories', 'processed foods' get the picture. I also am involved heavily in computer programming, the internet, and Youtube as well as interested in science and medicine. These are custom words, of course, outside of the base words required for conversation.

Sometimes, I think about my life and naturally will construct and English sentence about it; but then, I think, how could I communicate this idea to a person who only speaks Mandarin? That is the end goal, so I try. I can get almost everything built in a sentence except maybe one word. I later look it up and add it to the set. I can practice it.

I can give this custom list to my tutor and future language partners so they know what's in my language toolkit, so to speak.

Do you memorize special words on your own and if so, what system do you use?

I don't want to mention product names for fear I get post deleted.
Apr 20, 2019 3:04 AM
Comments · 14
Hi Mei, you are correct, 中文作文 in English is "Chinese essay" or "Chinese composition." Thank you for sharing how native Chinese learn Chinese, this is very helpful to us.

Yes, I don't use any physical text books to learn Chinese. At the moment I can only read online short articles or essays in Chinese so I can use online dictionaries for words I don't know. I can also type using pinyin but cannot write with pen and paper. I don't plan to learn how to write Chinese, this is too hard ha ha!. Maybe when I finally retire and have more time, I will try :). 

Like you said, I did try to memorise the top 100 Chinese radicals(偏旁部首). This is a big help for me to recognise the characters. Sometimes you can guess the meaning of a character just by looking at the radical and the context in rest of the sentence.
June 7, 2019

@ Andy

"Do you use pen and paper with flashcards,... "

yes, I use both pen and paper/ flashcards, but what helps to reinforce learning new vocabulary for me is to utilize it as soon as possible. When I first started studying Chinese I would sometimes write a short story using the new vocabulary or engage in conversation with the  particular topic vocabulary in mind. 

If I learn 40 words per day, I know I will retain 45%. That's why it is important to review vocabulary incessantly. Quizlet flashcards are ideal for me.

I would also suggest that you find yourself several graded reading books (China Breeze, et al)  to boast your vocabulary as well. 

"Be patient, and enjoy the ride," and you will succeed .

June 8, 2019
I think it is good fortune that the Pinyin is used to type out the characters, by both English speakers learning Mandarin but also by native Mandarin speakers. I was watching a Chinese romance drama movie and saw it happening. I still would like to learn to write, but that is secondary at this point since I can type the Pinyin. Reading, though, I have to learn while working on 漢語水平考試 with my tutor. Memrise really helps me learn the characters and I will use the memory techniques to learn them fast and have it more permanent.
Andy Marks
June 7, 2019

Hi, I would like to add more details:

Chinese children usually know pinyin and memorize some basic words and pronunciations in grade 1. We also learn the structure of words -- we call them: piān páng bù shǒu 偏旁部首.

When we know the alphabet and the structure of pinyin, we can speak out all the Chinese characters!
( We use pinyin to type in our phone or computer as well)

Learning basic, simple words, and  piān páng bù shǒu 偏旁部首 (about 50? I'm not sure. Simple words: 日- sun, 月-moon, 木-wood,火-fire. ) can make us read character with out pinyin.
Since the difficult or complex words are usually made up of simple words and  piān páng bù shǒu 偏旁部首. We can guess what the complex words’ meaning ,or at least the difficult words is related to the simple ones.
Like: 火-fire; 火焰- blaze
When we can write simple words, we can read sentences/articles by ourselves  without looking at pinyin, gradually.
( However, we need pinyin when we type on our phone. we type pinyin and choose a correct Chinese character.
It's like a person said something, I know the Chinese word in my mind.  Pinyin and Chinese character should be matched)

After grade 2, we usually look up a dictionary to see a difficult Chinese character. this process will involve using piān páng bù shǒu (偏旁部首) . Then we get pinyin in the dictionary: so we know how to read/ pronounce it; and we can also get the meaning of the difficult word.

Apparently, as we communicate with our parents, friends and teachers in Chinese, we speak Chinese every day, we can speak sentences (of course, children speak short sentences  as long as they can express themselves).

Maybe it's our grade3. we start to learn making/creating sentences with new/difficult words and conjunctions. Then we learn to write a composition/short article/ essay(sorry, I don't know the exact word to say中文作文)。after many practice, we can express our ideas with more details and  in a precise way.

For the reading part, our learning process is also reading with short simple articles first, and then read some  longer and difficult ones.
As you guys said, maybe reading help us know how to use words in different  situations.

Ps. When we were in primary school, we didn't use the Internet. When we saw words that we couldn't read, we looked them up in a dictionary.
Now there is the Internet. If people encounter words they don't know on the Internet, they can copy them and paste them on the website to check pinyin and explanation.

So for foreigners, maybe your Chinese textbooks do not involve too much about the structure of characters? And then you don't have to learn this, right? I'm not sure.

Anyway, as foreigners may not learn ancient Chinese articles and our common used words are about 3000, so you should be able to accumulate them quickly. If you have some friends who speak Chinese, try to speak more, then you will master  Chinese  soon.
Enjoy your learning!

I hope you can understand my point in English.( I got the lowest score with writing part  evey time  in an English exam.  Crying😭).And hope our Learning method is helpful for you.
If anything of my idea makes you feel confused, you can tell me. And I will try to explain again.😁

June 6, 2019
Greg: Thanks, this is most useful. I will keep in mind I will probably have an evolving progression as you do. I can see how that will happen as I start to read. I look forward to reading and I'm 2/3 of the way through HSK 2 with my tutor. I can already tell that hearing the sentences my tutor speaks helps words sink in much, much faster than my memorization, although some of the words I do remember from my online memory training. I hope language learning really makes you happy as it does me. Andy Marks
June 6, 2019
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, Spanish
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin)