Guest Posts I’ve Done About Learning Chinese

I’ve written two in-depth guest posts about learning Chinese. My first instinct was to post them here, but John Pasden of and Olle Linge of were gracious enough to let me share my recent experiences with their audiences.

First, my guest post at about how I managed to pass the HSK 4 with just a little over 3 months of preparation. I go into considerable detail here outlining the exact schedule, drills and time investments. I even explain some tweaks I made to Anki to make that part of my studying more efficient. I wanted to be as specific as possible, so that anyone who also wants to learn Chinese quickly can replicate my experiment.

I did a brief interview with Olle in Chinese, which you can see below. I believe it fairly demonstrates my level of Chinese at around the 3-month point:

Second, my guest post was focused on how to achieve immersion, even at a fairly low level of basic fluency. I found immersion to be considerably harder in China than with prior languages, both because of cultural differences and language difficulty. Once again, I outline exact steps I followed to make friends in the language, from the first few weeks, so I could make faster progress and avoid getting stuck in an English bubble.

I also did a brief interview with John Pasden.


Once again, for anyone that missed it our mini-documentary about learning Chinese is worth a look:

  • Dawid

    Great article Scott. Do you mind sharing, if there was any particular order, you have been going through ChinesePod podcats? They have a lot of different courses out there. Which ones have you found the best to start with?

  • Mike Lindgren

    I have truly enjoyed reading your blog for the last 3+yrs.!
    Learning languages has been a goal for some time now.

    At age 33 with 3 daughters (two oldest doing Chinese immersion in school). I have wanted to learn Portuguese, Spanish, Mandarin, German (in that order). I appreciate how your able to share the process. Because I will not be able to leave the country (work & family) to learn rapidly.
    After research, I “guestimated” a schedule to learn Advanced fluency(AL level, see ACTFL) in 4.5yrs:

    Each morning would involve 2.5hrs of study 7d/wk.
    1. Portuguese 600hrs/35wks
    2. Spanish 600hrs/35wks
    3. Mandarin 2050hrs/117wks
    4. German 800hrs/46wks

    (From my schedule of course I must proactively look for opportunities to speak with native speakers everyday).

    A few questions:
    Could I learn it faster (say only 4yrs) with this small window to study outside of my heavy schedule?

    Does my schedule look realistic?

    Besides what you’ve already suggested in your blog, any additional suggestions or advice might you have?

  • Scott Young


    This is a bit of a sin according to many language learners, but I put literally zero thought into which ChinesePod episodes I studied. I did some of the courses, but later, I wanted dialog-only files so I simply picked the level and bulk downloaded about 50-100 at random and worked on those, regardless of any topical relevance.

    I prefer doing it this way because I believe topic focus is overrated until you get to an advanced level. Meaning, all intermediate phrases, structures and words are something you’ll need to know and usually aren’t too specific. Only when you start memorizing the unique characters for the chemical elements, let’s say, does it perhaps pay to be a bit more discerning in what types of study material you use. Second, the usefulness of ChinesePod content is largely independent of the topic they covered in that lesson. A given dialog file maybe had a handful of unique, low-frequency words for that particular topic, but 100+ words and structures which are fairly general.


    I think your hourly amounts are pretty reasonable, but obviously there’s going to be a decent amount of variance in what it will take to reach fluency. My suggestion is to work on smaller goals. Instead of 2000 hours for Mandarin to full fluency, focus on about 200-300 to get to a level where you can have a conversation without too much strain and then plot your next goal. Not only are shorter goals more useful for actually planning your activities, but they’ll be more motivating too.

    Intermediate goals are useful because it’s not as if your proficiency suddenly switches from nothing to fluency. I’ve likely put in around 600 hours into Mandarin, but I’m fortunately at a point where having a conversation about a wide variety of topics isn’t too difficult, and I’d imagine at around 1000, reading and writing on most topics would also be quite possible. That means the second half of a 2000-hour schedule would be much easier to implement since I could practice using Mandarin in real contexts instead of fake studying ones.


  • Maribel

    Scott, congratulations on passing the HSK 4. You have proven you’re using the right methods to learn, and I must say also that you have been very disciplined. I’m looking forward to hear from you, when you return home and begin to work in something else, how would you manage to continue studying all the languages (the 4 languages you’ve studied this year and French, isn’t it?)
    Because I think it is esay to work and advance in one language but it is complicated to advance in several languages, though I’ve been trying to do that. Not only with languages, I think that one of my problems is that I study many things at the same time, because I’m interested in all, but this may be a problem. What do you think about studying many things at the same time versus concentrating in only one area?

  • Dr. Milker

    As an American who’s fluent in Mandarin, I have to say that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment for 3 months of study. Interesting that you would choose Olle for an interview on your progress, considering his Chinese is extremely mediocre. A few more months and your Chinese would probably be better than his. John Pasden, on the other hand, has pretty impressive Chinese.

  • Sam

    Great! TutorMandarin is also interested in doing a guest blog post ( if you guys are open to it. Video looks great by the way.