Writing targets and burnout

How many words does a professional writer type in a day? What if they get burnout? How do I set a writing target? These are all going to be answered in this article.

Sometime a few years ago, I stopped being an unemployed person who also wrote a blog and I became a writer. It was a gradual process and it’s still not a bombproof career – it only works if I keep releasing books, writing blog posts, and sharing these on social media and in my author newsletter. I believe this is the case even for James Patterson although his income is obviously several orders of magnitude greater than mine.

That means I have a target for how many words I write every day.

It started when I was living in China and I was contracted to a publisher to get 1 book to them every 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my own projects I wanted to write and self-publish. A lot of the time these days, I don’t have enough words left over at the end of the day to write my blog which is a shame.

At the height of my productivity to date, I was writing at least 4000 words a day. In fact, four thousand was a bad day. On a good day, I could do 8k or more and I worked 12-16 hours a day, taking long breaks only to cook or shower. After about forty published books, I am working at a point where those words usually only need one or two rounds of edits to be publishable.

It all got a bit too big and unmanageable around late 2018, when I found out I was pregnant. The first trimester hit me especially hard. Due to pregnancy concerns, and the hormones making it impossible to think clearly, my productivity plummeted to about 2000 words. It felt like I was working through treacle. At the time, with my bipolar misdiagnosis (I don’t have bipolar, I have ADHD and PMDD), I thought my productivity was linked to mania/depression, although I now know that’s not the case.

After I had a baby, I thought things would get better, but then I was lost in a mist of severe post-natal depression that kept coming in waves, so every time I thought it had lifted, it came back again. At first I thought this was writer’s block, but I had no shortage of ideas, I just couldn’t execute them.

There were weeks at a time when I couldn’t write anything at all. Not a book, not an article, and I withdrew from social media completely. I became a recluse because I couldn’t handle the pressure from all the things I’d been so good at, which were now on fire.

I. Was. Burned. Out.

The trouble is, like depression, it’s hard to recognize true burnout until you’re so deep under the weight of failed commitments and broken promises that you’ve drowned and they’re fishing your blue corpse out of the river you used to float on top of.

I had to get rid of every pressure, every target, every expectation, that I or anyone else had of me. I had to stop doing and just be. Lockdown didn’t help. I took up running. That helped.

Like a snowdrop poking through the snow I finally started to emerge after about a year. The storm was over. I had survived even though there were many times when I thought I hadn’t.

For about six months now, I’ve been writing again. Some days, more words come out than others. There’s also the constant pressure of needing to drop everything whenever my baby needs something. And trying to hash out a fair arrangement between my husband and I, since we are both working from home.

I have realized that even 1000 words a day is enough to release a 30,000-word book a month (luckily the romance genre supports this length of book), and 1000 words is about an hour of effort (a little over an hour). So now, my target is 1000 words a day. This means at the bare minimum I am writing enough to pay the bills, and if I have time to write more, then great, it can be a more satisfying book.

Even releasing one book every two months will pay for the bare minimum, as we have no mortgage or other big loans (and we are ninjas with a food budget), but to save for bigger and better things, a book a month is optimal (Craig Martelle, founder of Twenty Books to 50k, suggests that rapid-release brings in more money for all the books in a series than releasing on a slower schedule).

I don’t have the luxury of writing that mystery that’s been on the backburner for about 9 months, yet, but if I keep plugging at 1000 words a day, I will get there. And one hour of work time a day is really not that much to ask of my family. In an ideal world, that would be one undisturbed hour in a room of perfect silence, but as anyone with kids knows, that’s not how life works as a mother.

Usually, that’s an hour while my little jellyfish watches car videos on Youtube. I make up for it by taking him outside for a walk and to splash in puddles before or after (or both. He loves splashing), and playing cars with him when it starts to go dark. I was worried about letting him watch TV when he was a lot younger, but now I realize that was unrealistic. As long as the shows are chosen with care, the television is a key weapon in the parenting arsenal. Like any weapon (such as an adjective, adverb or flashback scene) it must be used sparingly.

My point is, if you want writing to be a career, rather than a hobby, you have to set yourself an achievable, realistic goal and make yourself stick to it. Recognize your limits and go easy on yourself. Don’t do what I did and push yourself past the point of not being productive. “Pushing through” burnout is nonsense. It’s a lie spun by people who want you to fail, or who never experienced genuine burnout.

No one ever wrote a book by… not writing.

Goal setting advice for finding your word count and making it stick:

  1. How many other commitments do you have? How much free time do you have? Don’t overestimate all the time spent in between other things. If it’s dead time, such as sitting on public transport, you can use that to write. If it’s time spent driving or similar, don’t count it as free time.
  2. How many words can you realistically write in an average (not perfect) hour? 200? 500? 1500?
  3. Now do some math. Don’t fill every waking hour of free time with writing, unless your lifestyle supports this. Your laundry still needs folding (although I use speech-to-text when I’m doing tasks like this in a quiet house). A good rule is to start by setting yourself half an hour or an hour a day of absolute ringfenced time to write.
  4. You can’t control other people or their interruptions, problems etc. You can tell them that if it’s not bleeding or on fire, not to bother you, but they might still, especially if they crawl or toddle and don’t understand words yet. Embrace the distractions when they are unavoidable, be present with the people who need you, and come back to writing. As Barbie says, positive attitude changes everything. If you spend all your interruptions stressing, you will return to your desk stressed. If you spend your interruptions generously, with the intention of helping people, you will return to your desk feeling good.
  5. Have a dedicated work space. Actually use it. I have a terrible habit of working on the sofa. I am more productive at my desk. You are too. It’s basic psychology. You spent all your youth being conditioned to work at a desk by schools.
  6. Plan your work before you start writing. Know what you want to say. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, this is going to help you stay focused during writing sessions. You don’t need to know every fine detail, but some vague info will mean you spend your writing time typing rather than thinking.
  7. Never edit until the book is finished. Don’t waste your writing time stumbling over what you want to say. Write cliches, misuse the subjunctive, use twelve adverbs to a sentence. You can unpick it all later.

You can do it! The main thing is to get writing and keep writing.

Confusion: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the new weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week, the challenge is to show confusion.

Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.

Roger Ebert

As photographers, all the advice we get given is to have a clear subject, follow this rule of thirds, follow that rule of using a tripod, follow yet another rule about the right lens, the right ISO, the right exposure time, the right sort of post-processing…

Throw it all out. Right now.

Start from an empty slate. Don’t even try to make sense. Just take a photo!

My photo is of a taxi I saw near Shanghai. I’d been living in China for about a year at this point. I snapped the picture while we were both moving at around 50mph. I was inside another taxi (you should be able to see the window reflection). This guy was just driving down the motorway with his boot open and seemed to have no idea that the white lines were supposed to show you where to drive!

I wanted to get the shot, because I’d never seen anyone driving like this before; most drivers in China are excellent. But there was no way this would ever fit those rules we impose on ourselves as photographers.

I was so confused about how anyone could just drive down the road so oblivious to the fact his boot was open (he must not have looked in his rear view mirror once the whole journey) or the fact that he was straddling two lanes.

What can you come up with?

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Jagged: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome to the new weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is jagged.

When something is jagged, it is pointy, uneven, and dangerous. We think of the jagged teeth of a shark or the jagged rocks near a lighthouse. But some people believe jaggedness is a positive attribute, because without it, nothing would ever change.

The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design.

Harry Crews

My photo is of a cactus I found in Arizona, which looked exactly like a skater doing a spiral, or a ballerina doing that really hard part with the suitors in Sleeping Beauty (I forget what it is called). The jagged spikes surrounding it almost fade away but they are still there, protecting the plant from being eaten.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

How to homeschool your children during lockdown 2.0

Are you trying to homeschool again during the new lockdown? One thing many people new to homeschooling worry about is how to get their children to do the homeschooling, especially when they have several children. Now it’s half-term, you might be able to take a few minutes to up your homeschooling game.

Part of the problem for why homeschooling is so chaotic right now is that teachers are used to only having one age group in their classroom, so even though they might be using different work for different groups, those groups are still learning the same topic. There will always be times when the whole class do things together, regardless of their abilities.

At home, unless you have twins or triplets, they are unlikely to be doing the same lesson, so you need to organise your home learning differently to how it’s done in the classroom.

The following is adapted from my new book Homeschooling 101: How to Homeschool in the UK available here on Amazon and free with Kindle Unlimited, which I co-wrote with the amazing Dr. Jason Szulc from Scientifica Now, who really knows his academic stuff!

First of all, don’t try to do everything all at once. Let’s say you have three children you want to work with. A teacher in a classroom can’t teach three lessons at the same time and neither can you. It’s not possible. So give two of the children a task that doesn’t require any direct teaching, such as colouring or a home exercise YouTube video, and get the third child on task.

My personal preference is to start explaining the work to the child who will need the least help, and move through your children to the one who will need the most help, so you can spend as much time as you need sitting with them and getting them on-task with their learning.

Another option is to get the middle children on-task first, then get the one who needs the least help to help you with the child who needs the most help getting started. This approach works when all your children are close in age and when the child needing the least help is older and more academically able than the others. It won’t work so well if the child who needs the least help is five and the one who needs the most help is twelve.

Sometimes the hardest part can be getting the children to sit down and listen to you. Patterns of behavior based on years and years of the way parents and children live together will make it hard to use the sort of behavior management that works in a teaching environment.

It makes sense that the parent-child relationship is very different from the teacher-child relationship. You are there when your child wakes up in the night with a nightmare. You’ve sat through fevers with them. Taken them to the doctors and held their hand.

Your bond with your child is completely different to the way your child relates to their teachers. And that’s how it should be. But it means that what works in a classroom won’t necessarily work at home to get the children to sit down and do their work. Especially given that home is where all their toys and games are. So cut yourself some slack, you’re asking things of your children that aren’t part of your usual parent-child relationship, and this can cause conflict or outright refusal.

Another issue with the current situation is that most teachers have never actually homeschooled their own children and don’t know how it is different. Naively, some teachers (and head teachers) seem to expect children to do exactly what they would do at school… but at home. This is unrealistic.

Homeschooling lessons should be shorter and more productive, because the children don’t have to wait for all the classroom crowd-control. Many homeschooling parents have said that their child gets through very little content at school compared to at home.

What some teachers don’t understand is that the children should be spending less time learning at home to achieve the same outcomes. Mass video calls with a whole class of children are very unproductive, yet this is what many have fallen back on. This is because they don’t know what else to do.

Many normally-homeschooling parents (parents whose children aren’t registered at a school) only do 2-3 hours of table learning (learning at a desk) a day! These are parents of children who go on to take exams and then get into university. The rest of the day is often learning things like cooking, gardening, going on bug hunts or drawing/painting.

Here are some tips to help you get your children into a learning head space:

  • Make space: Have a dedicated part of the house such as the dining room where you can do homeschooling. This helps your children know that when they are here, they do learning. This area ideally needs a table and chairs, which is why a dining area or dining room will work well.
  • Zero distractions: Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn off the TV. Switch off the Wi-Fi if you’re doing a learning task that doesn’t require it. Ask everyone to put their phones in the middle of the table or in another special place and only allow them at designated breaks (once everyone is in the habit of doing their schoolwork, you can allow them to use their phones to do research).
  • Make a plan: Studies have shown that children who have a clear idea of what to expect from the day are more productive. Think about it. If you know what someone wants you to do, it’s easier to organise yourself. Using a piece of paper or a planner pad, write down times for each task (don’t forget breaks) and leave this sheet where your child can see it. If they can’t tell the time yet, just write down the order of the day, e.g. “Maths, break, English, break, P.E., lunch…”
  • Take a break: Research shows children’s brains can pay attention to a task for about forty minutes before they lose focus. Plan ten- to fifteen-minute breaks for the children every forty minutes. During breaks, children should have the option of snacking/drinking as this helps concentration.
  • Make noises: Some children work best with music. Others work best in silence. If your children are struggling to focus, try either putting music on or turning it off. Typically, what works for one child won’t work for another. In that case, earphones are the way forward. You can even put white noise on YouTube and play that through earphones if it helps!
  • Experiment: If your children are struggling with this kind of setup, change it up! You are free to do anything with your homeschooling, so you could sit outside to work (in coats and hats in winter), or even completely change the type of learning you’re doing with your kids, there are ideas in my book for ways you can homeschool with an outdoor classroom environment.

Some children will thrive working in the same room as their brothers and sisters. Others will struggle. Some schools during the current lockdown are saying that children need to be working alone, but this is unrealistic (and not what happens at school). Other schools are saying children need to be wearing school uniform (what absolute nonsense). Schools have clearly gotten notions this time around.

If you are really stuck for things to do with your children, do check out my free printables which you can find on the resources page and my article on ideas for things your children can do with Lego.

Don’t be afraid to hire a tutor, either. The advantages of a tutor are that someone is with the child, checking they are working for set times in the day, as well as being there to answer questions. A tutor is an investment, so don’t go for the cheapest, go for one who has good reviews, their qualifications are verified, and most importantly, who works well with your child. If the first one you try isn’t the best fit, let them know ASAP (so they can update their schedule for their other clients), and get a different tutor!

It is far better to get through this new lockdown with your mental health and family relationships in tact than to do every single thing sent home from school. If you follow these tips, you will soon be homeschooling like a boss!

Homeschooling 101 is available on Amazon or get a free sample packed full of tips when you sign up to my newsletter (unsubscribe at any time). Do also check out my free resources.

If you have any questions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

The two-minute Valentine’s breakfast that will melt your heart!

Forgot Valentine’s day? Looking for a quick way to say “I love you”? Or do you just love eating fun-shaped toast? Whatever your reason, here’s a quick and easy Valentine’s breakfast that you can do in two minutes! Feed it to your husband, your wife, your kids, or even just make it for yourself. Nothing says “I love you” like a heart-shaped Valentine’s breakfast that’s so easy, a six-year-old could make it (adult supervision required)!

You will need:

Two slices of bread.

A pair of scissors.

Your favourite spread.

A toaster.

That’s it!

Here’s how to make your 2-minute Valentine’s breakfast:

  1. Take the scissors and cut the bread into heart shapes, by cutting along two of the crusts then shaping the other end of the bread (leave as much bread as possible) into a heart shape.
  2. Put your heart-shaped bread into the toaster, leaving the pointy end up to make it easy to get them back out.
  3. Wait for your bread to pop.
  4. Boing! It’s popped! Put your favourite spread on the toast.
  5. Arrange on a plate.
  6. Take to your beloved (or your child, or to your favourite sitting spot).
  7. Eating time!

Once you’ve got the knack for shaping the bread, you could go crazy and do this toast with scrambled eggs, baked beans (sorry, Weetabix, you’re not needed today) or even something fancy like eggs benedict or eggs royale (check out my easy vegan hollandaise sauce recipe if you’re planning one of these).

Did you enjoy this super-easy and quick Valentine’s breakfast? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter, or on our Facebook page!

Wheels: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel.

Alan and Marilyn Bergman

This week’s challenge, then, is wheels. My baby adores wheels! He loves watching cars go past the house, or play with his toy fire engine, pushing it around the room. And his favourite song is The Wheels On The Bus. But wheels aren’t always literal, as this week’s quote shows. It’s from The Windmills of Your Mind, a song made famous by the (now-largely-forgotten) film The Thomas Crown Affair.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Dr Jart+ Cicapair beauty tips for the new year

The weather is improving, and the Chinese Lunar New Year is approaching quietly. The Spring Festival symbolises the start of the New Year, bringing new surprises and joy. In this warm festival, the temperature of the heart brings people to resist the cold of the season and brings a glowing new beginning. In the laughter, they tell the hopes and expectations of the upcoming year, and puts kind blessings into joyful sweet gifts. . In this happy and warm season, Dr.Jart+ presents new beauty tips and brings new facial mask products: the Cicapair range, with a repairing and rejuvenating soothing mask, and a new lock moisturizing repairing mask, creating a New Year’s beauty for the skin, making you smile this New Year! At the beginning of the New Year, skinimalism starts!

Tips for perfect skin this year:

  1. Sleeping mask: Getting your beauty sleep has never been more important. And now, with the Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Sleepair Ampoule-In Mask you can ensure your skin is repairing while you drift into the land of nod! Inspired by the legends of tigers in Asia, this mask is infused with K-beauty wonder-ingredient, Centella Asiatica (tiger grass). Get yours here.
  2. Color correction: For those with problem-patches of redness, the Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF30 is your new hero. Pricey for only 50ml (2oz), nevertheless this product is currently getting rave reviews amongst K-beauty aficionados in the know. Get it here.
  3. No more irritation! If your skin is dry, red, irritated by daily life and you have swollen blue veins beneath your eyes, the Dr Jart+ Cicapair Cream could be the answer you’ve been looking for! Check it out!
  4. Double up: Always use any face cream with a serum as part of your K-beauty routine! The matching serum is designed to work with the cream and increase the bioavailablity of ingredients. Here’s the serum.
  5. Spritz your way to perfect skin with the Dr Jart+ Cicapair facial spray available here.

These products are selling out fast because they are the new beauty trend of 2021. They may not be available by the time you read this article. Cica has taken the K-beauty world by storm and is the miracle ingredient on everybody’s lips right now, so this is definitely 2021’s hottest skincare trend.

This article contains affiliate links which do not affect the price you pay. All opinions my own.

The beauty trends to know for 2021 (Guest post by Wang Fang in Mandarin)

这些美容和化妆趋势将主导2021年 
无论您是要更新妆容,头发,指甲还是皮肤,我们都会请专家(例如Vincent Oqendo和Elle)来告诉我们本年度最佳的美容和彩妆趋势。
去年是改变一切的一年-包括我们的美容习惯。我们中的许多人发现自己在家里被隔离,无法修指甲,少化妆,甚至剪自己的头发。豪华水疗,睫毛膏和鲜艳的唇膏的时代已经一去不复返了-我们将它们换成面膜,环光灯和精选护肤品。
随着我们翻开新的一页并进入2021年,美容趋势已经适应了这一时刻-明亮动人的眼睛在面膜后弹出,大量有趣的指甲趋势等等。我们聘请了化妆,指甲,头发和皮肤方面的专家,向我们提供了一些有关到2021年将要出现的最大趋势的内幕信息。
多彩的眼睛
在2019年,亮妆出现了。从那时起,五颜六色的化妆就变得最受欢迎了-特别是现在我们戴着口罩。名人化妆师文森特·奥肯多(Vincent Oqendo)预测,大胆的眼影膏颜色将在2021年流行,在每种彩虹色中都如此。
裸钉
名人指甲艺术家埃勒(Elle)预测,今年中性凝胶修指甲将成为主流。她说:“它可以是哑光或有光泽的,可以看作是手的延伸,可以延长手指的外观。”如果您想使外观更上一层楼,她建议您添加金色饰物或一些火花,以打造精致而又不至于过于压倒性的外观。专家提示:选择杏仁或圆形指甲形状可以使手指看起来更长。
大胆的眉头
奥昆多说,他今年已经看到了更多的眉毛。“我听到很多人说,隔离区使他们终于长出了眉毛,”奥昆多说。走。”
柔和的指甲设计
根据Elle的说法,花卉印花设计在2021年春季的跑道上非常庞大。您可以在沙龙里索要花卉粉彩,但在家里比您想象的要容易得多。挑选出香蕉黄色的阴影,然后选择淡粉色或绿色等花瓣颜色。将牙签浸入花瓣阴影中,使点围绕中心点形成花瓣。薄荷色阴影也可用于在花朵周围创建叶子。”
秀色可餐
现在是时候用前所未有的眼妆玩游戏了:“我发现眼睛周围有很多贴花,” Oquendo说。考虑在眼影周围添加珠宝或闪闪发光,或尝试使用阴燃的眼线笔-这是本季的另一大趋势。
自然皮肤
许多人选择抛弃沉重的粉底和遮瑕膏,以不间断地炫耀其皮肤。这种趋势全都围绕着您所处的皮肤。Kagha博士说,她看到越来越多的患者进入办公室,例如填充剂和提拉皮肤,这些过程可以使皮肤无需化妆即可看起来新鲜。
您想尝试什么新趋势?在评论中让我知道!谢谢

Translation:

The American trends in 2021 are very exciting. Make up artists share their fashions for the face and nails in this article.

Our beauty habits have changed. We did not make our nails, wear cosmetics or cut our hair. In the new world, trends transformed into the new era.

  1. Eye color is bright and inspirational.
  2. Nails are plain with neutral colors and gel manicures.
  3. Eyebrows thicker and darker people will not have thin eyebrows because they were at home with no threading.
  4. Flower nails a second design for nails is flower blossom or lotus flower design.
  5. Jewel eyes stick jewel to eyes to make attract attention on video conference.
  6. Natural skin with no foundation or powder, skin will mention the times without hesitation!

What new trends do you want to try? Let me know in the comments! Xiè xiè!

Flow: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Anyone can join in, all you need is a WordPress blog and a picture you have taken with your camera!

This week’s challenge is flow. This is a super open-ended one, so it’s going to be hard to choose your picture!

Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.

Lao Tzu

Mine is from an artistic waterfall in the Dubai Mall near the Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Mall is possibly my favourite shopping centre in the whole world. I really adored visiting Dubai and look forward to going again in the future.

Alongside all the myriad literal interpretations of flow, you could go metaphysical and look at the flow of life’s rhythms, or perhaps examine the impact of too much or too little water flow, cash flow or electricity flow on a community. If you’re in Minnesota or Canada, a frozen waterfall might be the way to go! I look forward to seeing what you can come up with.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Reviewed: The best courses and apps to learn Chinese

If you are planning to move to China or travel there, you are probably thinking of learning some Chinese. Which Chinese do you need to learn? Mandarin is the standard Chinese, and that is what I’m talking about in this article. Nearly everyone speaks Mandarin in addition to their local dialect. It would benefit you to learn some before you go, but also to take a class once you arrive. In this article I am going to review:

Apps:

Duolingo:
Type: App
Cost: Free
Duration: No time limit

As a concept, I really love the idea of Duolingo, however, in practice, the app isn’t grounded in enough context for a beginner, and it’s certainly no good as a standalone language-learning app.

It starts with asking a question, and if you are a total beginner, you have to obviously guess the answer. This is supposed to be based on a particular type of learning theory but as a qualified teacher, I have long-felt this type of learning, by guessing and getting things wrong, might improve understanding/participation at the time of the learning, but it doesn’t encourage long term retention of the information. As an example, I spent about 8 hours working my way through Duolingo and I learned only the word for milk. And now I can’t even remember that.

I think as an accompaniment to an organized course it can be useful but you absolutely do need to take a proper course, especially if you are serious about going to China. With Mandarin, the most important things you need to know are the sentence structures.

Without these, knowing random words is really unhelpful because people in China don’t guess what you are trying to say, they will wait for inspiration to hit you and for you to magically speak the correct complete sentence. Since there are no “yes” and “no” (your guidebook lied), you must learn how to say each sentence in the positive. For example, if you wanted to say “I understand” you would say “wo dong” and if you didn’t understand, you couldn’t just say “no” to “do you understand?”, you have to say the whole sentence, “wo bu dong”.

This is the same for all Chinese (it’s also true of Irish). So an app where you learn single words will help you expand your vocab but it will not help you to get by in China. I still recommend it as long as you’re not expecting to rely on it to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Courses:

Peking University: Chinese for Beginners
Type: Online
Cost: Free
Duration: 7 weeks
Sign up here.

This is a free online course, but it is delivered in realtime (if you want a certificate you have to complete it in a certain timeframe), so you need to complete each week’s work before the next course. It has a lot of videos in it, and honestly I found that each “week” took more than a week to learn. If I was just passively watching the videos rather than trying to learn and digest the course material, I could see this taking 7 weeks, or if I wasn’t working full-time.

It did cover a lot of content, although using my Chinese out and about, I found that people didn’t always understand what I was saying, and I feel like this course skipped over the most important basics for learning Chinese — the tones and how to properly shape your mouth/throat to pronounce words. Without that basis, any course in Chinese is not aimed at complete beginners.

I did like the fact we covered Chinese characters from the first week, and this was what I learned best and remembered the most from this course. One advantage of this course is that it is the “official” approved Chinese lessons taught by registered Chinese teachers.

With that in mind, this was a really good, comprehensive course, but it is not really for beginners, it’s more for people who have already done some basic Mandarin but now want to learn it in more depth or if they are rusty. There is a lot packed into every “week” of this course. If you have the time I think you could learn quite a lot of the basics from this course.

Queen’s University Belfast Languages Course: Chinese
Type: Online
Cost: Free
Duration: 6 weeks
Sign up here.

This is another free online course. You might be wondering why Belfast would be the place to learn Chinese. What I liked most about this course (and it’s tragic I only took this course after I had left China) was the way the teacher covered pronunciation in more depth than any other course I’ve taken. I felt like after taking this course, I had a much better foundation in pronunciation of the tones than I’ve gained from any other course I’ve taken.

Having said that, it did suffer a little from the same problem as the Peking University course, in that they were trying to cram too much learning into one “week” of study. It would better for all these courses to cover about half the amount of content so students have time to properly memorize it, especially since they all build on the content week-by-week. I felt like I was in a hard position of either skating over reams of content or missing large chunks and maybe learning 2-3 new phrases each week. Luckily, this course wasn’t done in realtime but there was still the pressure that I never knew if or when the course content would be taken down.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University: Learn Mandarin Chinese
Type: Online
Cost: Free
Duration: 15 weeks
Sign up here.

This is a longer course than the first two, and aims to teach you 1000 words of Chinese, including 30 real-life situations. There are regular starting points around the year and you do need to complete this course within a set time if you want to earn a certificate.

I felt like this one took a slower pace than the previous two, but because it ran for 3 and a half months, it meant there was time between classes to be able to digest the information and to practice the new phrases while I was out and about in China. I don’t know if it’s because this one was run by a Shanghai university, but I felt like I learned a lot more Chinese that people responded to from this course than from the one run by Peking university (I lived about 200 miles from Shanghai).