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If you want to learn Chinese, take your time with the tree

I saw a post from a few days ago from someone who raced through the tree. While that's cool, I imagine most of us here are trying to learn Chinese as opposed to speedrunning a game. Racing to complete the tree may be fun, but it's counterproductive. Here's my experience.

I finished the tree at level 1 relatively quickly, then went to China. I realized that it was very hard for people to understand me because I had almost no speaking practice. My muscle memory for pronunciation simply wasn't there. I realized that I had to completely change my strategy, and start treating Duolingo like the tool that it is. Here's what I do now:

  • Focus on reading aloud along with translation exercises from Chinese to English. I find these exercises pretty useless as set up. Clicking on cards to write down something I already understood immediately does not add to my language proficiency. Instead, trying to sound as much as possible as the voice does. I try really hard to read along at the same speed. I focus on pronouncing every sound right and following the tone of the sentence.

  • Sometimes I talk into Google Translate to see if it will correctly translate what I say. I don't trust it too much, but once in a while it's reassuring to know that at least Google understands me.

  • Jump around between skills, within reason. Focusing on a single skill until you finish it is not useful; we're trying to bring our whole language proficiency up, and it's well known that spaced repetition is the way to go.

  • Duolingo does not provide enough listening, so it's important to find other sources to complement a lesson. After learning new vocabulary here, I try to find videos online that use it.

This is just a bit of what I've learned over the past few months of learning Chinese. The gist of it is that this site has its own particular incentives which are not necessarily aligned with ours as learners. It's key to keep in mind that it's a tool, and not get sucked in by the game if your goal is to really learn the language.

July 8, 2019



Tone, stress, and rythym are all vital to being understandable. If you get the tones right but don't get the stress or rythym right don't be surprised if the people you talk to get a deer-in-the-headlights look, or double over with uncontrollable laughter.

I don't think duolingo does a great job of discriminating between whether I said something right or not. so just because duolingo passes you, don't think it's necessarily ok.

Rushing through the tree seems like a really bad idea just because you'd be swamped with new characters. i'm going slow and practicing a lot just to keep it manageable.


Great advice! I would also recommend using sources as lingodeer, hellotalk and hellochinese to improve your skills.

Everyone's learning methods are different, I focus on one skill at a time until I'm comfortable to test my knowledge of it, even when I completely gold the entire skill. I go through study sessions that last about an hour at a time

The trick is to not let your mind get sidetracked by negativity, that'll only slow down your learning. I would also recommend learning the most commonly used words before you start with grammar


Did any of those just mentioned such as lingodeer are free to use like Duolingo?


If you want some free stuff: HelloChinese is for free, at least the normal lessons, Lingo Deer has some very limited free stuff as far as I know (just one lesson or so), HelloTalk seems to be similar to Tandem and they both have a free and a premium version.

Some stuff that hasn`t been mentioned:


-ChineseSkill has a lot of free stuff

-Mondly seems to have not much for non premium users BUT if you take the daily bonus for seven days you will get free access to all the premium features for a whole day, and that every seven days, and you have a daily excercise.

-LearnChinese (completely for free with a focus on speaking chinese)

And then there is Viki.com, where I really like to watch Chinese series with English subtitles (they also have a learning mode for some series where you have chinese subtitles and can klick on them if you dont get a word and then can see the pinyin and a translation).


My experience with going to China and speaking Chinese and even listening to it is the same! I began the whole tree again when I went back. I am Swiss German and the translation first to English and is more difficult


Thank you for a good post!

Testing it out on Google Translate was a fun idea! Didn't think of that. I immediately went on and tried some things and to my surprise they understood what I meant. Then I tried another sentence and it got it completely wrong, then I said it three more times sounding pretty much the same and I got 3 completely different results, hahaha. Needless to say, some work to be done.


thank you for this! I really want to start learning chinese.


What do you think of the "reverse Chinese tree"? I've found it pretty useful to go through.


Hi there, I see that you are currently learning SO MANY languages! I was just wondering how many of these you feel confident in speaking and how long you been learning them? Thanks in advance


Hi there Sevi, good question. I'm only really confident to speak Chinese, Korean and Thai. My wife is Chinese and currently live in Northeast China and I have lived in both Korea(learnt Korean since 2001) and Thailand (learnt Thai since 2010) for quite a few years. I can speak basic Japanese to get by when I travel there as I learnt some at university. As for the others apart from a bit of German at high school I'm a complete beginner since joining Duolingo 159 days ago. I use youtube and lingq as well. Now I'm mainly focusing on Russian and Spanish. I feel like I'm making good progress but need to travel to those countries in order to speak well. Mostly, I'm interested in writing systems hence Arabic, Greek, Hindi etc.. are very fun and hope to keep motivated to learn those Languages. I'm aiming to complete a 1000 day streak in order to see how much I can achieve. How about you? what is your native language?


I´m a native Spanish speaker and fluent in English, If you want to practice your Spanish, Yo te puedo ayudar amigo.


Thanks Elgor, I hope I can have a conversation in Spanish before too long! The key is to stay interested and words like "amigo" give me that :) I guess you also have an interest in Chinese since you are here?


That's amazing @Kieran-Moore! I only speak English and I'm from the UK. I've currently been learning Italian for around a month and its been really enjoyable! I hope that I can build up to more languages after I'm happy with my Italian (probably in a year or so). Do you have any tips for learning Chinese as that's definitely going to be my next language?


Thanks Sevi! Keep the good work in Italian! As for Chinese, don't be intimidated as it is not as hard a language to learn as many people say. An app such as "trainchinese" is useful to get started with tones (color-coded =》red, yellow, green, blue, white), writing characters, basic vocab and sentences(download from play store, they have a few different apps) ... of course there are many more.. and you can't beat Youtube as a learning resource. As for tips... just find many Chinese friends, they are usually very friendly and like to make language exchanges... I noticed today that four more languages were added to Duolingo for Chinese speakers: Korean, Japanese, Italian and French so that Chinese/Italian tree is something you could look at in the future. As for Chinese character writing, the stroke order is most important, then you can use an app such as google translate to practice your Chinese handwriting. Eventually once you have enough practice you can guess the meanings of many of the Characters. As "Steve Kaufman" says.. the key to language learning is to stay active, that's why for me the Duolingo Streak is the best feature is has to keep a student motivated rain or shine, haha.. take it easy


Where do you live in Northeast China? Just curious as I am in Jilin Province, Changchun, are you a teacher?


Shenyang.. we are close! No i'm not a teacher but help out from time to time :)


By reverse tree do you mean target language is English and you learn using Chinese? If so then I too find it very useful.


yeh, reverse tree is just learning english in the language you learnt


I don't think the speed that you go through the tree is an issue. The problem is that you can't expect Duolingo to be your only tool, or even a long term tool. It will get you off the ground, but you can't expect a whole lot more than that. There's just not enough content in the course to take you any further than A2 at most.


Maybe. I think there is a fair amount of content, but really the hardest part of Chinese (for me at least) is speaking clearly and understandably. Duolingo really doesn't help with that very much. The issue is that if I get wrapped up in Duolingo then I don't practice speaking or listening.


Yeah, that's true. If you want to improve your speaking, then Duolingo probably isn't the best avenue for doing so. Duolingo is better for listening, but still not as good as real speech (TTS is better than nothing, but.. yeah).


Speaking it really the most difficult thing to practice. Even writing can be done with pencil and paper as you work through the tree, but I feel much more confident messaging or typing than remembering what tone any word is.


Thanks, it is a good advice


Thank you so much for the suggestions!


Maybe people learned Chinese before and only use duolingo to remember.


yeh, I learn chinese in school so I use duo to help me remember


Its so hard for me to learn traditional chinese but when i tried korean it was a lot easier.Do you have any advice about what languages that would be good to lead up to traditional chinese?

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