“I’m too busy.”
It’s a phrase we’ve all said a time or two before.
No matter what it is we’re trying (or dreaming) to accomplish, it simply feels like there’s never enough time in the day.
We all know we have 24 hours. And to be honest, that’s a lot.
But it’s how we make use of those 24 hours that makes them count.
Contrary to popular belief, if you want to learn Chinese—or any language for that matter—it doesn’t have to take two or three hours a day. Although, if you have that much free time, then go for it! But be wary of running out of steam.
Lucky for us busy people, there’s still a way to learn Chinese, even in as little as five minutes per day.
In fact, according to Medical Xpress, studying for shorter amounts of time leads to much better recall than a few hour-long study sessions.
So, how do you learn Chinese without dedicating 14-21 hours a week? In this guide, we’ll give you all the tools you need to learn Chinese in just five minutes a day!
How to Learn Chinese in 5 Minutes: The Busy Learner’s Guide
1. Learn the Characters for HSK Level 1
The HSK, or 汉语水平考试 (hànyǔ shuǐpíng kǎoshì), is the official Chinese proficiency test. It consists of six levels, with Level 1 being absolute beginner and Level 6 being native-like fluency, similar to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) levels.
HSK Level 1 is the most basic level and consists of 150 vocabulary words.
These 150 words are some of the most frequently used vocabulary in the Chinese language, making them incredibly useful to learn. Plus, if you want to take the HSK test for career purposes or to work in China, you’ll definitely want to hammer these down first.
A great resource for mastering these first 150 words is the free HSK Level 1 course on Memrise. It teaches both the pinyin and the characters of the words.
Memrise lets learners choose a daily study goal, which can be set to five minutes a day, 10 minutes a day, 15 minutes a day, etc. Depending on how fast you learn (and how many times you get a new word wrong), you can learn about five new characters a day.
2. Download an App for Learning Chinese
Want to know the best way for busy people to learn a language? Downloading an app.
Think about it: We’re constantly on the go, whether it be commuting to work, cooking in the kitchen or browsing the grocery store aisles. And, believe it or not, these everyday tasks are the perfect opportunities to get in a quick five-minute Chinese learning session.
When you have fun study materials directly on your phone, they go wherever you go, and there’s no reason not to use them. Here are a few of our favorite apps for learning Chinese in five minutes.
If you like watching movies and listening to music or are a Chinese drama fanatic, then you’ll love FluentU.
FluentU teaches Chinese in short lessons using popular videos from all over the web. The program takes real-world videos—like movie trailers, music videos, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language lessons. You get access to hundreds of entertaining Chinese videos and can immerse yourself in Chinese culture.
You can also easily learn new words by clicking on the interactive subtitles, where you’ll get example sentences and a contextual definition. Finally, reinforce the vocabulary you’ve learned with fun quizzes and flashcards.
Sign up for a free trial to see the program in action for yourself!
We recommend LingoDeer because, unlike many other language learning apps, it’s specifically designed to teach Asian languages. From the vocabulary to the lesson structure to the grammar notes, LingoDeer makes learning an Asian language like Chinese fun and easy.
They boast more than 10 million learners, a 4.8 star rating and more than 200 lessons that cover vocabulary and grammar.
If you’re a beginner, LingoDeer courses are a good choice because they take you through the intermediate level. Their lessons are also voiced by native speakers, and the curricula have been crafted by experts.
With a free subscription to Drops, you get one five-minute learning session per 10 hours. And, if you want more, the premium subscription is very affordable at just $9.99 USD a month.
Drops is a fun—and, I must say, extremely satisfying—app to learn with, from its vibrant colors to the video game-like structure of the lessons.
You get to choose from a variety of topics, from language essentials to politics to transportation, in over 35 languages.
Drops also hosts an annual “90 Days of Drops” challenge, where users around the world commit to learning their target language with the app for 90 days straight. Some people even share their progress online!
We couldn’t forget one of the most classic, beloved language learning apps of all time.
While many language learners have mixed opinions about Duolingo, it’s a great resource to get in daily practice and exposure to Chinese, learn a few basic characters and make short learning sessions a daily routine. Duolingo has recently added new features to the platform, including badges, crown levels and new lesson levels to each unit.
If you like a little competition, you’ll love racing to the top of the Duolingo leaderboards and receiving badges. Not to mention, holding a week-long streak or higher is extremely motivating!
3. Watch a 5-Minute YouTube Video
If you’re on a budget, have access to a computer or phone or simply enjoy using YouTube, you can leverage the insanely popular platform to learn Chinese in five minutes a day.
Content creators from around the world make and publish videos to the site on a minute-by-minute basis, meaning there’s plenty of creators from Chinese-speaking countries like China, Taiwan and Singapore.
That also means that it’s fairly easy to find short, timely videos to enjoy and learn from. Here are a few of our favorite YouTube channels and video series for learning Chinese.
This short, engaging series includes nine videos that walk you through the basics of Mandarin Chinese. And the best part? They’re only three minutes long.
The lessons range from counting numbers up to 100 to asking the price of an item.
Plus, the lessons are hosted by a native speaker, which is a great opportunity to tune your ears to the way Chinese really sounds.
For a sample, check out the following video on introducing yourself in Chinese:
This series was created by ChineseClass101.com, part of the Innovative Language Learning, LLC family of language sites. ChineseClass101.com has nearly 1,500 video and audio lessons on their site, so if you like their YouTube series, be sure to check out what else they have to offer.
They also provide vocabulary learning tools, like flashcards, and PDF lesson notes. Plus, their lessons go beyond vocabulary and grammar, covering interesting cultural topics as well.
Did you know that FluentU has a YouTube channel specifically for Chinese learners? We sure do!
The channel consists of playlists of short Chinese conversations covering topics like having dinner with a friend, shopping at a clothing store or going in for a job interview.
The conversations are acted out by native Chinese speakers who speak at a moderate pace, making them easy to follow along with and offering great listening comprehension practice.
For example, check out this one-minute video of two friends deciding what to do with their afternoon:
If you decide you’re in the mood for something longer, there are even videos about how to learn Chinese with movies or songs, such as this video on 17 Chinese classics you can watch to brush up your language skills.
Litao Chinese has a great elementary Chinese video series. The videos are designed to take you from HSK Level 1 to HSK Level 2, so they work perfectly in combination with the Memrise HSK course we discussed earlier.
Each lesson is an average of four minutes long, making it easy to fit these videos into your busy schedule. The lessons are taught by a native Chinese speaker and include both vocabulary and grammar topics.
The video series is made up of 20 lessons and covers topics such as how to send an email in Chinese, making comparisons and inviting friends to hang out.
Try starting with the following video on weekend activities:
4. Incorporate Flashcards into Your Routine
You’ve heard it a million times, I’m sure: Flashcards are a must-use technique when learning a new language.
Well, it’s true!
And what’s even better is using a flashcard app that’s designed to help you master vocabulary and remember words for a long time.
Whether you study with flashcards for five minutes every day or five minutes once a week, here are our favorite flashcard apps and websites you can use for absolutely free.
One of the most widely used apps for learning anything and everything, Quizlet is perfect for honing your Chinese vocabulary skills.
With features such as Write, Learn, Games and even Practice Tests, Quizlet offers a variety of methods to spice up your learning routine.
I personally use Quizlet after every lesson I complete in a language course. My favorite routine is to complete the Learn option first, then use the Write mode and finally play the Gravity game once a day for about three to four days.
Anki is perhaps the most popular spaced repetition software program on the planet.
Spaced repetition is a method many language learners use. It’s the process of reviewing vocabulary in between break periods. For example, first, you’d review every new word you learned. You’d make a pile of words you missed, a pile of words you got right but struggled with and a pile of words that you found easy.
The next day, you’d review the pile of missed words and the pile of difficult words.
The day after that, you’d only review the pile of missed words.
Sounds a bit complicated, right? Well, Anki takes care of all of that for you.
Something to keep in mind, however, is that while the Anki website is free to use, the iOS app is $24.99.
5. Find a Language Exchange Partner
The great thing about language exchange partners is…
Well, there are multiple things actually.
Language partners are a free resource, can become great friends, give you access to native speakers, are easy to talk to, are accessible from anywhere you take your phone and are a great way to learn Chinese in five minutes.
If you aren’t sure where to find a language partner, below is a list of our favorite language exchange apps.
Perhaps the most popular language exchange app, HelloTalk connects you to people who speak your target language and are within the same age group as you.
You can create a bio, add interesting facts about yourself and call, video chat or message native Chinese speakers. HelloTalk also has helpful in-app translators (if you use the free version, you get a limited number of translations per day).
Similar to HelloTalk, Tandem connects you to native speakers for free and allows you to translate words you don’t know if your partner uses them in a message.
You can also correct your partner’s written English and they can correct your Chinese. Or, you can choose to interact with them via a call or video chat.
This website is famous for its large number of language tutors. Whether you want to find a quality Chinese tutor online or connect with a language partner, italki allows you to chat with as many native speakers as you like. You can learn about Chinese culture and improve your speaking skills at the same time.
Plus, you can chat in as many languages as you’re learning for free (both HelloTalk and Tandem limit the number to three languages).
Suddenly, learning Chinese in five minutes seems perfectly doable, right? With these tips and resources, we know you’ll be making impressive progress no matter how busy you are or what level you’ve already achieved.
So what are you waiting for? Start trying out resources, draw up a five-minute study plan and begin learning!
Brooke Bagley is a freelance writer and passionate language learner. She’s learned Mandarin Chinese for seven years, Spanish for three and Indonesian for one. Aside from languages, Brooke runs her freelance writing business, Writing & Thriving, and specializes in B2B copywriting, content marketing and holistic health and wellness.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.