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Easy Steps to Build up Chinese Vocabulary
14 Jan 2019

Building Chinese Vocabulary


Vocabulary refers to all the words that make up any language. Words are the building blocks which make up linguistic expression. Sentences are formed by meaningful arrangement of words and use of proper grammar. A rich vocabulary improves language comprehension and writing skills. A good knowledge of Chinese characters is one of the essential pillars of Mandarin Chinese learning.

Where to find new words to learn?

There are innumerable sources from where you can read and learn new words in the Chinese language. A few easily available ones are books, novels, dictionaries, music videos, podcasts etc. – basically anything that is written in the Chinese language or comes with subtitles in Mandarin Chinese. Initially collect a few resources from each category till you find the medium of learning you are most comfortable with and then you can spend your maximum time using it.

Be keenly observant to catch new words from places such as signboards, advertisement hoardings, label stickers on foods and cosmetics printed in the Chinese language. You can recognize more Chinese characters if you are confident with the basics of Mandarin language and the pinyin chart. Actively search for new words, take pictures and keep a notepad handy.

Ways to learn new words – Memorization tips and more…

One way to learn new words is by rote memorization of a long list of words with their meanings. Though this may work for some but it isn’t the best way to learn Mandarin. This method does not help in long term retention of words, also it doesn’t teach the student how to use the words.

A better way to build one’s vocabulary is by applying new Chinese characters in example sentences and by studying the different ways in which a word can be used, for instance some phrases are commonly used as idioms, while some words are used as local slang. When you come across an unknown word while reading, first you should try to figure out its meaning on your own by taking hints from the text and story line before looking up the actual meaning. Chances are that your reasoning will be close to the actual meaning. This is a more engaging and informative way to learn the Chinese language.

Make categories of different lists under which you can put in words such as colors, days of the week, months, numbers, conversational phrases, food items etc. you can simply make a spreadsheet of these lists. Add more information to this by putting the Pinyin form, Chinese language form, the meaning of the word and a couple of example sentences. Keep adding words to these lists. You can also make your collection interesting by compiling words which sound similar but have very different meanings.

Apart from learning new words it is also very important to go back to the words you learnt initially so that you don’t forget them. Repeated repetition consolidates the new information. You can use online resources such as flashcard apps to make this process easier. Make sure to go over the words you forget easily on a priority basis.

Stay consistent with your practice and never give up. You can ask a friend to quiz you or attempt online tests and worksheets. Ask your Chinese language course teachers to provide you with extra reading material.

Application of vocabulary

Apart from simple memorization two very important concepts are sentence usage and pronunciation.

Brush up on your reading. You can reread books in the mandarin language. The new words which you have learn will help you better appreciate the author’s words. Maybe you can find different ways a poem or a story can be interpreted. Watch movies in the Chinese language to see how the words are used to convey different emotions. An added benefit of learning through movies, songs, TV shows and other adios in the Chinese language is that they tell the correct pronunciation of the mandarin characters. Try to use the words in your daily conversation, so that even you become fluent. Avoid picking up sources which use heavily accented versions of Chinese language as they will be difficult to comprehend.

To learn how to use the words simply write more. Find topics to write every day, you can check out online writing prompts for this purpose. Alternatively, you can also maintain a journal in mandarin Chinese language or start a blog entirely in Chinese. If you are someone with an artistic temperament, you can paint beautiful Chinese poems, quotes and saying in calligraphy. Put them up as wall art or decorate your table with them. They also make beautiful gifts.

No learning is complete without feedback. It is natural to make mistakes along the way, take feedback from your tutors and Chinese friends. Find ways to rectify errors. After all success is the fruit of consistent hard work.

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