Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes [18 Ways]


Most of us are hard-pressed for time, meaning we may be unable to dedicate an hour a day to sit down and learn Chinese. However, if you know what you are doing, you can learn Chinese in 5 minutes. How can you learn Chinese in 5 minutes every day?

You can bring flashcards and a writing book with you. Whenever there is a short idle time between tasks or engagements, you can use them to learn Chinese. Flash cards help you to review characters, while writing books helps you to practice writing. 

This article explores if you can learn Chinese in 5 minutes. We will also examine how you can learn Chinese in 5 minutes by taking small, daily actions.

Can You Really Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes?

Before I go ahead and explain more, let me explain what this article is NOT about.

This article is not sharing some magic shortcuts to master Chinese in 5 minutes. 

Of course, you cannot. You will be foolish to even believe this could be true in the first place. Believing in this could be similar to you believing that by taking a single pill, you will lose 10 pounds the next day.

Learning a language takes many years of study and dedication. And with Mandarin Chinese, you are talking about learning one of the hardest languages for an English speaker. 

Linguistically, Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, which are very distant from English. The further the distance, the harder it is to learn.

READ MORE: Hardest Asian Languages To Learn, For English Speakers

Chinese is a tonal language with thousands of characters. You cannot spell these individual characters, which means you need to memorize them. This means a great deal of time studying and practicing. 

It would take much longer than five minutes to learn basic conversational skills. Trying to get the Chinese tones right may take at least months!

On top of that, you need to also pick up Chinese grammar and sentence structure. One thing good here is the Chinese language has a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order, similar to English. You will also need to dedicate time to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing in the language. 

Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes

The Right Way To Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes

This means one thing – please wipe off the thought of learning Chinese in minutes out of your head.

Instead, consider it this way: How can I learn Chinese in 5 minutes daily?

Suppose you think about the subject this way. Instead of thinking about shortcuts, you will think about how to spend a little time learning Chinese. This is much more productive since you will think about learning Chinese in short bursts over the long term.

This can also be helpful in some ways. In fact, some studies show that short bursts of learning may be more helpful than long studying

The idea here is that learning in short bursts prevents mental fatigue. You should also remember better since your heads are not overloaded with things. 

Fortunately, there are many 5-minute activities you can take to learn Chinese. Let us look at them below.

18 Ways To Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes [For Beginners]

If you are looking for suggestions on what 5-minute activities you can do to learn Chinese, consider the tips below. These are the tips I have seen beginning language learners use, and some I have used myself.

These tips are suitable for basic-level learners because they help develop character and sentence recognition.

You may not want to try speaking with native speakers or language exchange partners since you may not have speaking and listening skills yet.

You also may not want to go into Chinese grammar, such as trying to study Chinese grammar structure. This is because you still cannot pick up words yet. Without words, it makes no sense to study Chinese grammar since you cannot form sentences yet.

Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes by using flashcards

Create Flashcards

Start by creating a series of flashcards, each containing words from the HSK level 1. These are the most basic and common Chinese words. If you can recognize and read these, you should be able to do quite well as a beginner. 

You can write the basic characters up front and then have the pronunciation at the back, together with its meaning. If you prefer something easier, you can always shop for a flashcard pack. There are also things like an electronic flashcard deck.

You will carry these drilling flashcards everywhere you go and use them as daily practice whenever there is a short window of time. In your free time, you review, revise, and test your word and character recognition using flash cards. 

Get A Writing Practice Book

Another thing you can do is to prepare a writing practice book. Since Chinese characters are logograms, it means you cannot spell them.

It may be better if you can practice writing these characters to help you develop character recognition.

A writing practice book usually contains many squares, and you try to write down the characters. A good writing practice book should also show you the steps in writing the characters. 

To make it easier for yourself, you can look for flashcards and writing books online and use them to help your learning. I suggest using this book.

Use An Language Learning App

Suppose you dislike the ‘manual’ approach to learning Chinese. In that case, there are many language learning apps that you can use to help you develop character recognition. These may become one of the fun study materials in your arsenal.

These apps may also be more interactive since they have digital flashcards with colors. You may also get instant feedback if you get your answers right or wrong. These flashcard function may be useful for you.

However, you lose the most on the writing part if you use apps. You may develop better character recognition when writing with your hands than simply using your eyes. This means if you learn using apps, you win and lose some.

Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes by watching video

Watch Chinese Language Videos

Suppose you prefer to break the monotony of using flashcards all the time. In that case, you can also spend your 5-minute short learning time watching videos on places such as YouTube.

Many short videos there teach you Chinese words and phrases and some simple Chinese songs that help you learn.

These videos would be good daily language learning material for you. However, you may be carried away and try to watch too many, so be careful about that.

Find Opportunities To Practice Throughout The Day

Now that you know what to learn and have the tools to help you, the next thing is to find the time to learn it. 

If you look at your daily life, there are many times when you may have a short 5-minute window between your major tasks. These pockets of time may be a good opportunity to develop the habit of language learning.

We will look into these small pockets of time and squeeze in some practice time. You do not need to use all of them to learn Chinese, but you can choose one or a few.

Morning teeth brushing

Brushing teeth in the morning? Rather than look at your messy self, why not flip through the flashcards? If you feel like it, you can also have a whiteboard marker and practice writing on the bathroom sink mirror while you brush.

Toilet Time

Let’s face it, most of us spend our toilet time checking Instagram, TikTok, or other useless things. Why not be productive? Take your flashcards, and review the words and characters while you sort them out yourselves. 

Shower Time

Shower time may be relaxing, but you can also integrate some learning time while inside. You may not want to bring your flashcards into the shower, but would you consider an erasable marker? While showering, you can always practice writing some of these characters on the glass or tiles.

Commuting Time

If you take public transport to work, you may have more than 5 minutes to learn Chinese. Consider taking out your writing book and practicing writing the characters instead. You can also review your flashcards if you prefer a less intensive task. 

If you drive or ride bikes, you may be more limited. However, you can always whip out your flashcards and review a few characters at the traffic light.

Learn Chinese In 5 Minutes by using coffee break

Coffee Break

Standing in line to get coffee? You may be one of those that spend that free time browsing Instagram aimlessly or checking stock prices for the tenth time that day. 

Why not spend time and review some flashcards? You may be surprised that those behind or in front of you may be interested and help you.

Lunch Break

One of the things you can do while taking a lunch break is to review your flash cards. If you are joining someone for lunch, you may not want to be rude and do this in front of them.

However, you can find time during lunch breaks to do this. It could be the first 5 minutes or the final 5 minutes before you have to get back to work. 

If you take lunch alone that day, consider reviewing flashcards while eating. You may even have enough time to put in some writing practice too. 

While Waiting For Someone

Most of us may spend a lot of time waiting for someone. During this time, most of us either check social media, email, stock prices, or read the news. If you care about productively using your time, you can use this short timeframe to review your flashcards.

Pomodoro Breaks

Some of us work using the Pomodoro Technique, where we schedule short 5-minute breaks between tasks. Many end up using them on bathroom and water breaks. Most, again, end up on social media or Youtube breaks. 

Why not use one or two of these breaks, and get into reviewing flashcards instead? Since you are working, you may be able to whip out your writing book and write a few characters.

Working Out

You may be sweaty and moving too actively to so much Chinese learning when working out. But if you plan well enough, you can still schedule some flashcard time, for example, while performing pushups. 

You can also review some flashcards while resting between workouts, especially when lifting weights.

Cooking

Many of us enjoy cooking meals, and when you look into cooking time, there is plenty of idle time. These include waiting for the food to simmer or while boiling water etc. Why not pull out your flashcards and review and characters? 

Walking Your Dog

Chances are you may have pets, maybe a dog. Your dog would love some daily walkies and some exercise. See if you can squeeze in some flashcard time while walking your dogs.

For example, you can review your flashcards if you enjoy sitting on the bench while letting your dog loose in the park.

Laundry

Depending on where you do your laundry, you may have some short time to squeeze in Chinese learning. If you do your laundry at your local laundromat, you should have plenty of time to practice writing while waiting for your clothes to wash and dry up.

If you are the type that irons your own clothes, you may be able to squeeze in some flashcard time while ironing too.

Before Bed

Finally, there is that precious before time bed, where you chill and relax before calling it a day. You may take it a little easy during this time and use it to practice writing. Flash cards may also work.

What Should Beginners Focus On When Learning Chinese?

Now that you have any suggestions on how to learn Chinese in 5 minutes daily, the next question would be, what should you learn about?

I suggest you look at the HSK test level 1 Chinese words and basic Chinese phrases. 

Focus On HSK Level 1 Chinese Words

To start learning Chinese, I think the most natural way for language learners to start would be to look at the most common Chinese characters and words and go from there.

This is when the HSK comes in.

The HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试). You can see it in the IELTS or TOEFL test, but for Chinese. The test is broken down into 6 levels, with level 1 being the basic.

Within HSK level 1, they have listed 150 Chinese words for you to master. These basic vocabulary are also the most common words you see in Chinese. 

Mondly has proposed that just by recognizing the most popular 100 characters in Chinese, you could already understand 50% of standard Chinese texts. 

Now that’s how you get quick wins. Who says you need to learn the whole 55,000 Chinese characters to read and write them well?

READ MORE: How Many Chinese Characters Are There?

Pick Up Basic Phrases For Quick Wins

Aside from words, you can also consider picking up some basic Chinese phrases. Here are the basic 105 Chinese phrases you can pick up.

Phrases are extensions of words, but shorter than a sentence. You can tell apart phrases from sentences by the ‘completeness’ of it. Phrases tend to leave you feeling as if the sentence is incomplete.

For example, 我要吃 (wo yao chi, meaning “I want to eat”). This phrase may immediately make you think about what the person wants to eat. The phrase becomes a sentence when it is written as “I want to eat a burger.”

However, I would leave the phrases first, and concentrate on the words and characters in HSK level 1, since these are the fundamental building blocks.

Wrapping Up

Learning Chinese in 5 minutes every day is possible since there are many small, 5-minutes time gaps. You can squeeze in some learning time and get on from there. The key is to ensure you are working on things that may be helpful for you, such as character recognition. 

I recommend you get flashcards and a writing book, which is generally helpful for most Chinese beginners. They are also easy to use, making your five-minute study plan easier. Over time, they should help you achieve your daily study goals.

For English speakers, learning Chinese will not be as easy as learning other Asian languages, say, Malay. But it is a worthy endeavor. You may thank yourself later when you can speak the language spoken by over a billion people worldwide.

Dr. Nigel Ong

Dr. Nigel Ong has a Ph.D in Applied Linguistics. He started this website to share his interest and passion in languages, and language learning. He speaks four languages.

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