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Any good advice for studying strategies for shoring up my grammar?


Hello! So, I’m an upper intermediate learner. I have a number of teachers and language partners, so I spend a good amount of time speaking mandarin (at least, for someone not living in china or taiwan). Up until now, my emphasis has been on being able to converse… I’ve focused on understanding and being able to express complex ideas. The plus side is I’ve had a lot of success in this. The downside is that the emphasis on conversation has made my grammar a bit weak…confounding this is the fact that once you reach a certain level, if you express yourself 80% “correctly” (from a grammatical perspective), many teachers will struggle to stop the conversation and correct you (even if you yell at them to do this :P). While I can of course seek out stricter teachers, I think that there is space for being a bit more strategic about this. I’m curious if you have any advice or suggestions for resources? This could be activities to do with teachers, things to read, etc.

I’m definitely planning on going through some sites that have fairly comprehensive intermediate and advanced grammar lessons (this one and others), but beyond that I’m not quite sure. One nice thing is that for a long time, I haven’t translated in my head – I can just express myself. This means that conversations flow fairly naturally. The downside is that the grammar that comes out isn’t always correct! So I need to bridge that tendency!


My advice would be, work your way through this playlist we have:

As well as going through this and checking how much you know:


That second link is pretty cool! I mean, as cool as grammar can be…

I personally don’t ever think about it (grammar). But I guess every now and then it’s good to look at a site like that and see how up to par one is. I’m just a disciple of the Steve Kauffman way, read and listen. Massive input!!


I definitely think that massive input and lots of conversation is the way to go. That said, I think at some point if a bad pattern sets in, you have to break the cycle somehow. I think massive input is a way to develop a lot of skills, but I think the lack of feedback means that it will take a very long time for fixed to be made – longer than it could in other ways. Another is having people correct you, and another is just being immerse (not all input is created equal – I find that I learn a lot more from input when it’s in direct relation to my life etc).

@GwilymJames: I’ll definitely prioritize the intermediate grammar list :slight_smile: I guess the issue I’m facing is I have some bad or at least grey habits, and I’m trying to figure out the best procedure to correct that.



As a beginner I’d love to have your grammar problems. I think you’re focusing on the glass being half empty rather than half full. You can see where your challenges are and, at an upper intermediate level, are striving to perfect your knowledge. This is a big deal. Honest. You’re either consciously or unconsciously competent. Wish I was!

In my opinion, a studying strategy to shore up grammar would be to listen to and to see language musically. Hearing rhythms and tones allows us to understand the ebb and flow of conversation. The spacing, pitches, pauses, projection, etc. each have grammatical/musical placement. Each sub-element (grammatical/musical place-finder) adds to the communicative message. In the TV news, each CPOD podcast, and/or family dinner the oral linguistic message must (albeit invisibly!) use grammar. This works just as well with written language using any character set(s). The only difference is that with written language we have the luxury of reading the music as well as pretending we hear it!

Kudos on thinking in Mandarin. As a beginner, I have a glimmer of that ability. I roll into a sentence trusting my knowledge, then panic, and stagger to a halt, thinking I’m wrong. This is where the pattern reinforcement and social interaction you address comes in. At best I’m now consciously incompetent working hard just to see/hear my errors (aka characters/tones). One positive note: Studying Mandarin makes studying Spanish and other languages much easier!


Gwilym’s grammar point outs helped me too. Seeing the reduplication rules there was was fantastic. Massive input and conversation are great if you can do that. To avoid information overload when doing so, I cycle through audio, visual, and hands-on (writing!) days to reinforce different learning pathways and check the CPOD Forum (like I’m doing now) for incentive and motivation.

The positive role model Mr Kaufman provides as a polyglot is inspirational. It is frustrating to me to see people think a one language worldview is enough. In Uzbekistan, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I found most Uzbeks spoke 3-4 languages as a minimum, so I did too! It was simply normal. Basic Peace Corps language courses are here FYI.

As a PCV, living with a host family, people who don’t care too much about your primary language, seemed to be the fastest and best way to learn a language and its grammar. It was so natural. Having little kids around to chitter chatter with was always cool. They’re very nonjudgmental and easy to communicate with. As an adult language learner seeing kids learning many languages at once was humbling, yet marvelous. :footprints:


The chinese grammar is a bit confusing for foreigners. There are people who says “chinese has no grammar!” but you can find some chinese grammar books of more than 300 pages. Of course you don’t find conjugation or declension like in German language, but you still have rules in other aspects. The syntax (words order) is very mportant and all the so-called empty words like 了就 to give two examples among many.

For foreigners the biggest problem is that the chinese grammar is more a catalogue of usages than a set of logical rules. So if we try to infer a rule from an example we often fail because in some cases you can apply a rule in other cases you apply a different rule.
The books for beginers gives only the most frequent rules but there are a lot of cases where others rules apply.

The HSK examination has a important part on chinese grammar, if you really want to learn chinese grammar the HSK preparation is a good way.

The Qing Wen serie of chinesepod gives a lot of useful clarification on usage. In chinese there is often a sort of blur between grammar and lexicology.

If you don t want to rack yours brains, you can just try to reuse sentenses that you have heard, but if you modify the sentence you easily can be wrong. Maybe the best way is to listen to a lot of chinese TV, films and so on and read a lot of books, internet sites and reuse the whole sentenses without modifications.( the popular copy-paste process)


If you are comfortable with Intermediate Chinese then you are ready for Intermediate Chinese Grammar from Peking University found at The course is taught with videos and text and is a college course in basic grammar, and as such requires the type of perseverance needed to get through a college course at a basic level. The course is free unless you desire a certificate.


I have followed this mooc when it was first issued a couple of years ago. Very well done, I reccommend it too :+1:


For more advanced learners there is this serie of courses ( 10 videos) by Liu MeiChun on Spoken Mandarin. This course is aimed for future chinese teachers who have to teach chinese to foreigners students. This is not a course of grammar but a course about grammar and comparison between english and chinese languages on linguistic point of view.


A French teacher gave me good advice on this. She said “Think about the native English speakers you know with the best grammar. They read a lot, right?” Polished grammar might be best approached by reading a lot. Another exercise, very difficult for even the best language learners I know, is writing. A mistake that will slip by you in speech will glare at you in writing – as you say happens when you think in Chinese.


Read fiction in Chinese. I have found that this is the best way to develop a feel for grammar (in both English and Chinese). It seems like it would be less effective than memorizing rules, but it has a way of causing the grammar structures to seep into your brain and make their home there. At least, that is my experience. It is certainly something I am planning on doing more of myself. It is probably something you have to keep up. In my experience I get a lot of compliments on my use of elegant grammar when I have recently been putting in a lot of time reading in Chinese, but the effect slips away when I stop.


OldMartin, I remembered your graphic character charts when I stumbled across this site and wanted to share it with you, if you hadn’t already seen it. Their source seems to be “The Confucius Institute” at the University of Manchester, Manchester, U.K, but I couldn’t find this chart on that site. As a Newbie/Elementary level it helps me to visually link characters pretty well. Best! Stevin