pandanese case study

Should I Learn Mandarin? Honest Insights From A Self-study Chinese Learner

In all honesty, the reason for learning a language depends on each individual. You might need to learn a language for your work or school. Some of us might not have a practical need to learn a language at all. 

Many people think that languages like Chinese which use complex characters for their writing are more difficult to learn. But is learning the language as hard as it seems?  Should I learn Mandarin in the first place?

We’ll answer these questions throughout this article based on our interview with Rachel, a Chinese drama enthusiast, and language lover. She has a bright personality and a very admirable passion for learning, especially when you consider how far away from China she is located  —she’s living in Spain! 

She shared her experience learning Mandarin with us, and we’ll share her answers to help you figure out whether or not you should learn Mandarin.  

Let’s start with the question, “Should I learn Mandarin in the first place?”. Then we’ll introduce Rachel’s reason, method, and mindset for her Mandarin learning journey.

What do you need to know before learning Mandarin?


Interest is one of the first things you should consider when learning a language. Do you need to learn the language for a job? Or are you looking to learn the language for your hobbies?

Rachel shared that her sister was the initial cause of why she took an interest in the Chinese language. “She wanted to watch some Chinese dramas and asked me to watch them with her. I liked it a lot and have wanted to learn the language more ever since.”

Having an intrinsic interest in the language will definitely fuel your learning journey.

Reasons or motivation

But what if you have no interest in the language? A concrete reason or motivation is the second factor on the list that can help you decide if you should learn Chinese or not.

“The Chinese dramas that I watched came with subtitles. However, I wanted to be able to watch the dramas without the subtitles. Later on, I would like to be able to read the novels which some of the dramas are based on. I would also like to be able to interact with the Chinese drama’s fandom on Weibo.” (Weibo is a Chinese version of Facebook, check this article out for more information on Chinese social media)

Other examples of tangible reasons may include wanting to use Chinese for work or wanting to have conversations with family members who speak the language. A solid reason can become a great guide in determining what you might want or need to learn to achieve your goal.


You might start thinking, “How should I learn Chinese? I’ve got the interest and the motivation, but how do I start?”

Rachel shared that she started learning using the online flashcard tool Anki deck (an open-sourced flashcard program), courses on the website Edx, and later began studying with HSK textbooks and the learning app Duolingo. Let us introduce a little about some of these resources.

#1. HSK textbooks

HSK is a standardized proficiency test, usually taken by people to test their Mandarin fluency level. HSK books can be a great resource because they are: 

  • Structured
  • Designed for learning in stages

The HSK books give you a very good structure for how you can start. They’re a great tool for you to get an idea of how to start learning Mandarin. Their curriculum is designed in stages to start learning from the most practical conversational Mandarin and then progress through to harder material as you reach higher levels. 

#2. Language learning apps

Language learning apps are very different as compared to HSK books. HSK textbooks give more structure to learning as the purpose of the textbook. HSK textbooks’ main purpose is to help you pass the HSK test and so are filled with specific grammar structures and vocabularies that will come up during the test.  However, because of their main purpose of helping you pass the test, there is little room for you to practice the things you might actually be interested in such as pronunciation or dialogs for daily conversations and travel. 

Compared to HSK textbooks language learning apps are less structured and offer a more casual approach to learning. Instead of HSK-focused vocabularies and grammar in the HSK textbooks, language learning apps such as Anki Decks and Duolingo can offer you to learn vocabulary for specific purposes such as travel or daily conversations. You can definitely use language learning apps to learn Mandarin as is, however, they are also a great complementary learning tool to HSK textbooks. 

Most language learning apps use a flashcards-type learning method to help you learn Mandarin. They are becoming a great choice for many beginner language learners and are also great resources because they: 

  • Provide mobile access
  • Low cost or free to use up to a certain point

#3. Pandanese

Unfortunately, Rachel’s journey had to take a short pause due to her busy schedule. When she resumed her studies, she had the added advantage of finding us, Pandanese, an online platform that supports learning Mandarin.

Rachel shared some of the good points she experienced while using our platform:

“I find that Pandanese really helps me with vocabulary. There are a lot of words that are taught in Pandanese but not in the other platform I currently use. Every time I have cards available to review, I get a notification which is an amazing reminder which saves me from forgetting what I’ve learned. 

Pandanese also uses mnemonics which is very funny. I can associate the funny stories with the characters. It makes it easier to remember because you associate the character with the funny stories. I already knew some of the characters because I did study the language a little bit before signing up with Pandanese. However, I want to keep going through the lessons.”


Many of us think that learning Chinese is hard, but is it that hard? Motivation can keep us going, but eventually, we’ll run into a wall. Rachel shared with us the advice that she would like to give anyone looking to learn Mandarin:

“The key advice from me to learn Mandarin isn’t to think that it’s hard. When you think it’s hard, you’ll start thinking that the lessons are hard and it’ll actually be harder for you to learn. I like to think that the lessons aren’t hard and easy to learn, especially with the mnemonics, which I find very funny here on Pandanese.”

Bonus: Watch Chinese Dramas Online!

Learning alone is not enough to get you to master a language. You need to apply what you have learned to retain it. 

Watching Chinese dramas online can be a fun way to apply what you have learned while still getting entertainment.

Chinese dramas and films are growing in popularity, and there are multiple Chinese movies and drama streaming platforms out on the internet. Rachel shared that iQiyi or Viki are the two platforms she frequents to enjoy watching her favorite Chinese dramas and films. The movies and dramas come with subtitles, so you don’t have to worry about understanding the movie when you have only started learning Mandarin. 

If iQiyi or Viki are not available from where you are at, you can still enjoy watching Chinese dramas. Rachel shared that you can also watch some Chinese dramas on Netflix on YouTube. They are equally entertaining and useful in supporting you on your Mandarin learning journey. Rachel’s recommended YouTube channel includes Tencent and  Youku, where she can catch up on “The Untamed” and “Word of Honor” drama series.

Where is Rachel Now?

Rachel is now continuing her journey to learn Mandarin, using a combination of Pandanese and Duolingo, and still watches Chinese dramas and movies to help her apply what she has learned. The journey of mastering Chinese is long and might be never-ending  But remember if you:

  • Can find the right interest
  • Build you motivation
  • Find the right method for you
  • Continue improving your mindset
  • Apply what you learned

And soon, you’ll be a great language master for sure 🙂

Happy learning!

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