Oral from the beginning?


Hi all,

I’m finding really useful info and resources in this forum (thanks for that). I’m still tracking the list in Directory of popular Learning Chinese forum topics but a sudden queston came to my head, so I hope is not a really common one, I don’t know…
In your opinion, should I start just by reading and writting, or also by listening and talking. In any other language I’ll try both ways at the same time, but Chinese seems so complicated… My goal is not te become an expert, but to learn enough to manage in a quit long travel (I’ll improve ther I hope).

Thanks in advance!


Contact TLI in Tianmu. For me a big help! Will surely help you further with speaking, readin and writing. Pingyin and BPMF.


You really should do it all at the same time. Even though you start with “baby steps,” you should practice writing and reading the characters as you practice speaking the words. And you should be listening to chinese conversation so you can imitate the tones and pronounciation.

Even if you forget half of the characters you learn, it’s still better to be semi-literate in your new language than to be completely illiterate!


Start with talking immediately, and bother with writing the least. For traveling, talking and reading may be most important ones. Also, don’t bother with tones that much, only a rational amount, they’ll come eventually on their own (but note that this may be seen as questionable advice).

  1. Find a CI-based teacher (“Comprehensible Input”).
  2. One who teaches Chinese specifically. It’s different from other languages because of the literacy challenges.
  3. Get concentrated, comprehended oral input over a small area of language. Listen and understand. Respond in short responses (not necessarily complete sentences.) Speaking is not necessary to acquire and will grow later as time goes on and you get more input.
  4. Read a text that is long and highly repetitive but unpredictable, and which covers exactly the language you have acquired thus far (for the first pass, that won’t be much). Not the same content, but the same language. You shouldn’t be able to predict it but you should be able to recognize and understand it when you see it. Notice I did not mention “memorize characters that will be in this reading”. Don’t do that. Just read it, with the teacher there for support if needed. Trust me on this one. It’s called “cold character reading”.
  5. Repeat.
  6. When you write, just write. Don’t futz around with stroke order and so on. Don’t copy characters 25 times each. Just write meaningful things, modeled strongly on what you have read, at first. Write what the “Chinese voice” dictates to you. It will be largely correct. And feel free to look back at your readings to remind yourself how to form the characters. Always go back to the readings, which are “frozen” forms of the language you have acquired thus far.

Literacy is best “spiraled” with oral Chinese, but oral Chinese has to be much, much more solidly mastered than it is in the typical buxiban class before reading takes place. There must be a “Chinese voice” in the student’s head to drive the reading. If that is the case, reading is easy. Really easy. And with enough reading, writing is also easy.

Source: spent six years experimenting on live students. I have data for all six years, including writing samples written under test conditions, reading test data, etc. and teacher testimonials from teachers using this method.


I totally agree!


Well, that’s an answer… Point 2 is basic, I think, and pount 4 is where I’ll find more problems, to have a teacher at disposal, choose a text.
I begin to understand that it will take some real effort, and the problem is that I’m a little short of time nowadays. But I’ll try. Thanks a lot for your recommendtions, really insightful! :blush::star_struck:


If you are really clear about what you want your teacher to do for you, you can usually “train” them to do it. It requires a lot of introspection first, but if you’re clear and can reduce what you need to steps for them, they will often do it. “Untrained” teachers seem to be better at it than those who have been trained in traditional methods, because there is less to let go of.

I’ve had really good luck “training” online tutors to give me the kind of language input I was hoping for. I have worked with one teacher who teaches through italki.com if you want to consider online lessons. I had her as a Cantonese tutor for some time, and then she attended a 3-week training with me in Hawaii in 2016 as well, so she’s good with this method. She’s based in Guangzhou so the Mandarin might be a bit “Mainlandish” but if you get correct grammar and general word usage, it’s not too hard to “Taiwan-ify” it if you’re surrounded by Taiwan Mandarin anyway.


I completely agree with you!
In fact, talking about online tutoring I’m exploring a 1-to-1 skype style platform called Lingostan (https://www.lingostan.com) which is not free :persevere: but seems honest (rates are fixed by tutors and nobody asked me for my credit card at least :relaxed:), and I’m trying this “mixed” methode you suggested. Well, I’m starting this weekend, I’ll come back with some feedback!