Getting Started Archives | Jinbupal

Beginner Series Summary

Alright! You made it! You’ve now read all the steps you’ll need to be a proficient Chinese speaker in record time. I hope you’ve found these posts interesting and you’ve learned how much easier learning Mandarin Chinese can be than you may have once thought.

You may be thinking, “Okay, great! Now where do I start?” First of all, keep your eyes on because we are currently working hard on some big plans which will revolutionize the way you learn Chinese characters using frequency data. You’ll be able to track your progress and study characters like never before. But it’s not quite ready yet, so make sure you sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date on all the details.

Until then, I’d highly recommend start off by running a quick Google search for “Chinese Characters by Frequency” where you can find characters listed out in order of their frequency usage. From there, you can start learning from the top or download the text and sort the characters however you like in an Excel spreadsheet.

Another great place to start is by reviewing the word lists which have been compiled for official Chinese Language Proficiency exams called HSK. There are 6 HSK word lists of increasing difficulty (all available here). They start with HSK1 which includes 150 of the most frequently used words and progress up to 5000 words in HSK6. Each HSK level includes all words from previous levels with each level being around double the size of the previous one. The only downside to the HSK is that some words are included which are not particularly high frequency.

As you begin your learning journey, be sure to check back here at JinbuPal for more articles packed with tools, tips, and tricks to help you along the way. Good luck!

How to get started learning Chinese Series

Pick a Go-To Source of Chinese Reading Material

One of the most important things for learning any language is having access to content that you are interested in and want to read, watch, or listen to, regardless of the language. By immersing yourself in content you truly enjoy, you are using the language for it’s intended purpose: to communicate thoughts and ideas. The language should be merely the medium through which you accomplish that goal. By following the steps in this guide, you will quickly become familiar with 80%-90% of the characters in Chinese texts so that reading this content will be much more approachable.

I prefer reading news from and I especially like the New York Times because it offers side by side Chinese-English versions of almost every article. Not to mention, it doesn’t require a subscription! It’s going to be really important that you are trying to read difficult Chinese text as soon as possible. This will help you not only gauge your progress, but also help you see for yourself how much Chinese you can recognize very quickly simply by focusing your learning in the most efficient sequence.

To accompany your reading, I would highly recommend that you install the Google Chrome Browser extension called Zhongwen; it is a must-have for learning Chinese! This will allow you show the pinyin, tone, and definition of all words that you encounter online by simply hovering your mouse over the word. It’s pretty amazing! This will remove any time that you would normally have to waste looking up definitions in a dictionary. Similarly, for mobile reading you can use the Pleco app Add-On we already discussed in the iPhones Apps post of this course. With Pleco Web Reader, you can just tap on an unknown word for a quick definition.

Lastly, there is another great tool to help you read in Chinese: LingQ. LingQ is an app and website that allows you to read content in your target language, including Mandarin. Each word in an article or book is highlighted and stored in a database based on your current knowledge level of the word’s meaning. This information is shared across all of the articles you read on the app. As a word becomes more familiar, you can gradually reduce its highlighting. Eventually you mark words as Known and the highlight complete disappears. And the best part is, you can import articles from pretty much any website to the platform for easy reading. This is a paid platform ($12.99/month). I’ve found I gained the most from it after I was already familiar with top 1000 high frequency characters, so that might be something to keep in mind.

In future posts, I plan to discuss more of my favorite books, music, websites, and YouTube Channels in the hopes that this will save you a lot of time.

*I have no affiliation with either of the tools discussed in this post.

Next up: Beginner Series Summary

How to get started learning Chinese Series

Get an Overview of Chinese Grammar

For the most part, Chinese grammar is considered to be pretty simple, so this is a big advantage.  Also, Chinese sentence structure isn’t too incredibly different from English. Like English, sentences have a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) form and often take the form of multiple clauses separated by commas. Verbs have no conjugations so this makes learning and using verbs much faster than in languages with many different conjugations to memorize. Verbs take on extra meaning about their completion or when they occurred by adding particles and understanding through context. There are also no plurals, definite articles (like “the”), or grammatical genders for nouns. There are more rules making typical sentence word order different from English, but we’ll get to that soon.

To familiarize yourself with basic grammar, I’d recommend working through the grammar articles on this website from It has extensive grammar points for all skill levels to get you started. One of the reasons I really like this website is that you can see the grammar points sorted within each level (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) all listed on one screen. I’m a huge proponent of this way of showing a lot of information at once as opposed to scouring through different articles and posts for information buried inside.

As a start, I would recommend that anyone first review the word order post, which will provide necessary understanding of basic sentence structure and its differences from English. After that, we can start filling in the gaps with more specific grammar points. I would recommend skimming through most or all of the Beginner A1 grammar points before starting to study characters. While you’re working on learning your first characters, I would recommend working through the Beginner A2 at the same time. This should give a good general idea of how Chinese grammar generally works for basic structures. The example sentences are directly translated so you will quickly become familiar with essential beginner words such as:

  • pronouns like 我,你,他,她,它
  • markers and particles like 们,的,地,得,吗,呢,吧
  • basic verbs and adverbs like 是,在,有,去, 要,很, 会, 能,可以
  • question words like 什么,谁,哪里, 怎么
  • negations with不 and 没
  • measure words like 个

After going through these grammar posts, you should have a basic working knowledge of Chinese grammar. This way, as you develop your knowledge of characters and words, you can begin combining these skills by reading in Chinese as soon as possible from sources that interest you. If you run into more complex grammatical structures that you don’t understand, you can always go back to the AllSetLearning website for more advanced grammar topics.  Reading books or even the news in Chinese might seem a little daunting this early on, but there’s another tool that will really help you tremendously for this. That’s one thing we’ll be discussing in the next post.

Next up: Pick a Go-To Source of Chinese Reading Material

How to get started learning Chinese Series

Tech Pit Stop: Must have Apps for Your Phone

As you start learning Chinese, there are several apps I would highly recommend you download on your phone that will help you tremendously. Don’t wait, grab your phone and download them right away!

1. Pleco

Pleco is an absolute must-have app for learning Chinese and it deserves a spot on your home screen because I guarantee you’ll be using it a lot. This is a Chinese-English dictionary with so much to offer. The dictionary is completely free and I have found that I use Pleco to look up words many times every day. It will give you not only definitions, but also lists of words containing specific characters, character stroke order, example sentences, and audio pronunciations. I would also highly recommend purchasing the in-app Add-On called Document Reader ($9.99) which will allow you to use a Pleco-based web browser to read Chinese. In this browser, you can simply tap words for a pop-up definition or have your phone read the text aloud. (We’ll discuss sources for reading Chinese on the web in the following post). You can do the same with notes and PDFs on your phone. Another function I have seen a lot of people use is the Flash Card System Add-On ($9.99), but I personally have not tried it. They also offer a bundle of features that includes both of these Add-Ons and more for $29.99.

2. Google Translate

Having Google Translate at your fingertips can be very helpful if a thought pops into your mind and you are wondering how it would be translated into Chinese. Google Translate might not be perfect every time, but it definitely offers very useful insight in these types of situations. Also, Google Translate allows you to input characters by handwriting if you don’t know the pinyin. I’ve found this very useful when reading physical books or embedded subtitles. You can even hold up your phone’s camera and use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to translate the characters on the page! It’s pretty amazing!


Especially if you are starting out self-teaching Chinese, HelloTalk is a very useful app to have. This app allows you to find native speakers who are seeking to do language exchanges. The main purpose is that you can find a partner to practice conversing with. However, I have found it so helpful to have from the very beginning because it has a social media style feed where you can make posts with text and voice recordings that others can reply to. Using this function, you can ask for guidance on your pronunciation or ask others to read out something you’ve written to hear it in a native speaker’s pronunciation. It’s a great way to get quick feedback!

*I have no affiliation with any of the apps discussed in this post.

Next up: Get an Overview of Chinese Grammar

How to get started learning Chinese Series

Tech Pit Stop: Setup Chinese Input on Your Phone

It will be really helpful from day one if you’re able to input Chinese on your phone. This can be quite useful for dictionary lookups, Google Translate, texting on WeChat, and many other things. (We’ll discuss some of these apps later on).

-On iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard… > Chinese (Simplified) or Chinese (Traditional).

Now that your keyboard is setup, you can easily access it an any application by pressing the globe key on your keyboard to cycle through your installed keyboards. Just like the computer input method we discussed in the last post, iPhone will offer different options of characters as shown in the animation below.

-On Android: Unfortunately, I don’t have an Android phone to play around with and create as much detail as I did above for Apple products. But hopefully it’s just as helpful following the instructions provided directly by Google here.

Next up: Tech Pit Stop: Must have Apps for Your Phone

How to get started learning Chinese Series