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Top 3 Tips for Taking Notes while Learning Chinese

Hi, All, after I revealed my “Tops Secret about learning Mandarin,” today I will focus on the details of “Notebook,” your lovely friend that you write in and read every single day. From this article, you will learn how to manage new vocabulary in your notebook!


In the notebook, I divide content into 2 zones, first is “Words Zone” and then “Example Zone.” This not only help you having a tidier notebook, but also when you want to make a “Quick Review”, you can just read only vocabulary list! So, let’s see how they work!

1. Words Zone

As its name implies, you will gather and collect your new words down here, and this is the way that you will organize them.

A. Character Section

– Make sure that the new vocabulary that you’re going to take note of is correct. Quite easy, ha!

B. Pinyin Section

– Kick pinyin to the curb! Make it small as much as possible, so you will not see them so easily. For me, I always put it behind the meaning, and this will help you to not rely on it. So you won’t see them!

– Please check if the vocabulary is a multi-sound character. Some words when they are used as nouns, they will be pronounced one way, but when used as adjectives, it will be in another way! For example, “空”, if you mean “vacancy/space (n),” you have to say kòng, but if you mean “empty (adj),” you have to say “kōng”!

C. Meaning Section

– What you have to decide is: does the word has related words, or synonyms? If the answer is yes, there will be 4 points that you need to know more about, and yes, we have to note it down, for sure!

i. Is the vocabulary a specific word or an abstract word? Some words are only used for specific, and the related word will be used for specific. For example, 增加zēng jiā and 增添zēng tiān; they both mean “increase” but 增加 is used with countable things (specific), such as numbers, and 增添 is used with uncountable things (abstract), such as feelings.

ii. For some synonyms, you must know the occasion that it is used too. Is it able to be used in every occasion? Is it slang or spoken Mandarin? Official word? Literal, written, or classic word? Try to know and you will use it right! When I take notes, I will write the word that stands for these occasions, such as 正 (for 正式 official), 古 (for 古文 Classical), 口 (for 口语 Spoken), etc.

iii. For some words, we need to know that what does the meaning exactly place emphasis on, such as 故意gù yì and 特意tè yì; you can see that it means deliberately, but 特意 emphasizes doing good things, while 故意 emphasizes doing bad things.

iv. Is it a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb? As every word doesn’t have a pattern that we can see like in English, you need to know how it is used. Some vocabularies can be used in many forms, but some cannot. Example: 礼貌 lǐ mào and 礼节 lǐ jié, they both mean “Courtesy (n)” but only 礼貌can be used as an adjective and mean “be polite.”

*Tips: Separate idioms and phrases from other short vocabulary, because they have long meanings and this will help you find them easier when you want to search them. For me, I put it in the last column of the vocabulary list.

2. Example Zone

This is the zone where you will write down the vocabulary, phrase, or sentence structure that you need some example of, so you can review and always understand!

A. Arranging

– Bring the new vocabulary that you need some examples of to the front, and don’t forget to hi-light them when you write in the sentence so you can find them easily.

B. Writing the example

– The best example is the example that you create by yourself, but don’t forget to ask your teacher if it’s not weird; this will help you remember it better, and help you practice using those vocabularies.

* Tips: Don’t forget to hi-light the words that you have examples of in the Words Zone. This will help you know whether you have examples for those words or not.

3. Top of the Tops Secret

Use less mother language in your notebook! Try to use Mandarin to take notes as much as possible. That’s how we can make more progress, and also have more chances to use it!

And that’s how I took notes when I was learning Mandarin. However, no matter how good your notebook is, you have to review it; the more you review it, the more value your notebook has! Thanks for reading, I hope you can apply something in your cute notebook!

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Chen You

陈有 is the founder of very popular Facebook page “All about Chinese.” He has been learning Chinese for about seven years. He is a Thai who is passionate about Chinese learning. He just received an award from The Beginners of Chinese Forum in Thailand (泰国汉语初学者论坛), as he has made many contributions to Mandarin learning in Thailand.

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. 谢谢陈有!我觉得你的学习汉语方法真帮!我下次在笔记本上写笔记,我肯定会用你的方法!!啊我也想说, 我明天要上大学, 我要上的大学用繁体字和简体字。我现在在中文课学简体字, 你有没有学繁体字方法? 如果你已经知道简体字吗? 我知道如果你知道一个字的部分会更容易,比如说, 说话 那两个字的左边是说话的radical。 那么我也知道 如果你要写那个词在用繁体字,我知道是說話。 所以我知道那个radical总是是那样。不过有一些词语很复杂。你有没有学过繁体字吗?

    1. 小时候,我学过繁体字,但是那时候我真的不喜欢,所以没有继续学。所有现在我还会写,会读。

  2. Thanks so much for this excellent tip, I started learning Mandarin 2 months ago and this is helpful so early in my learning.

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