I have a 50 minute commute to and from work each day. Originally I thought that wouldn’t be an issue, my commute in Tokyo was about 35 minutes so +15 minutes didn’t seem that big a deal. Unfortunately I didn’t think about where I was commuting. Working in downtown Tokyo meant I could walk 10 minutes in any direction for instant entertainment. Food, Friends and Fun were only minutes away.

Now though I work in San Jose and live in San Francisco so it’s arguably 50 minutes of commuting before I can do anything. That’s quite a difference in my lifestyle that I’m not yet comfortable with.

Anyway, because I have 50 minutes in my car each way I decided to try to start learning Mandarin by listening to lessons. I checked on the net and I found and I gotta say I’m pretty happy with it.

They have an interesting business model. They provide free podcast lessons you can download. They have almost 500 lessons so far and they upload a new one every 4-5 days. They make money by charging for all the other materials. If you want transcripts of the lessons or vocabulary lists or homework they charge $6 a month for access. That might sound like a lot but that’s actually pretty cheap. They have other plans as well up to very expensive plans where they will have someone call you several times a week to practice speaking.

I’m on lesson 16 so far and I’m enjoying it. My impression so far is Mandarin is possibly easier than Japanese. The hard part is the tones. Mandarin has 4 tones so many words can be pronounced 4 different ways and they mean completely different things based on their tone. That part will take some getting used to. On the other hand there is no conjugation in Chinese. In English the words conjugate (eat, ate, eating, run, ran, running, drive, driving, drove, jump, jumping, jumped etc…) In Chinese there is just eat, run, drive, jump. “yesterday eat” implies past tense. “now eat” implies present tense. “tomorrow eat” implies future tense. Basically that means you have to remember a lot less words and rules to speak or understand Mandarin.

There is one plus in that I know a few kanji from my Japanese class. For example 普通話 is the word for Mandarin in Chinese. I can read that from my Japanese. It says “Normal Talk” or “Regular Talk”. In Chinese it’s translated as Standard Language which is what they call Mandarin.

I don’t know how far I’ll get. I’ve given a little thought to trying to take lessons. My experience with Japanese though suggests that anything less than moving to China and taking class fulltime is pretty ineffective. Who knows what the future holds.

  • Another Chinese podcast…

    There is another podcast to learn chinese, as well as many online tools on
    Hope you’ll like it too…

  • on your mobile phone


    I agree with you about — it seems like a cool approach to learning Mandarin. I’ve become a big fan of the Nokia N-Series phones (N80, N95), and they have podcasting software that allows me to download on to my cell phone to listen to via headphone or phone speakers. Hopefully, this summer, I’ll have enough determination to make a real go at learning Mandarin.

  • I believe that Mandarin is a lot easier to learn than Japanese. Most problem people have with learning Mandarin is getting past that 4 intonations. You already got the kanji base so it will be very easy to figure out what the words mean just by looking at them!

    On my side, my French studies are not going too well. I failed my test last week. French grammar SUCKS!!

    Anyway, good luck and next time I see you we should speak Mandarin!

  • Feed teaser

    I almost didn’t read this (very useful) article because the feed’s item content did not contain an ellipsis or any other indicator that there was more content at the url. I hope you see fit to add some sort of indicator to the feed item’s content to indicate that there’s more content at the URL in the future.

  • zwei

    Japanese Kanji is based of traditional Mandarin which is largely only used in Taiwan these days. The Mandarin that you learn is most likely based on PRC standard chinese which uses simplified Chinese. You may probably recognise some characters but the meanings aren’t necessary the same. Note that the input style for traditional Mandarin and simplified Mandarin are entirely different from each other.  

    Example: 大丈夫 in Japanese have a totally different meaning in Mandarin.

    Until then ,祝你好运。



  • anonymousTroy
    I’m afraid of mandarin

    since the hardest part of getting good at Japanese was trying to say such on-yomi words as shukudai and (especially for me) ryokan.

    A whole language of nothing but (loosely speaking) on-yomi is daunting. Plus I doubt they use as much ‘katakana-eigo’ as the Japanese do.

    “traditional Mandarin which is largely only used in Taiwan these days”

    woah . . . while it is true the commies ruined the beautiful characters soon after they took over, the transformations were rather systematic so transferring from Japanese to simplified isn’t that big a deal.

    Not that I want to be programming in my 50s in Japan, but I wonder if the Japanese demographics will be turning more favorable to foreigners in the future. China has the economic prospect perhaps, but too many people to really need foreign work.

  • ike
    Mandarin aye

    Maybe I should try this. I haven’t really done much studying Mandarin these days, although I have plans set for studying abroad hopefully next year.

  • myname
    footsteps of…

    Are you thinking about following in the footsteps of American McGee?

  • anonymous1

    FYI “putonghua” is mainland Chinese usage. People in other Chinese-speaking regions may refer to Mandarin as “guoyu”.

  • Putonghua

    The correct way to translate “putonghua” is “language that everyone understands”, i.e. a common language for all of China.

    I think if you are proficient in Japanese, Chinese is easier to learn (except for the pitches, which you almost have to grow up with in order to have them correct to the level of natives.) If you “really” understand Japanese kanji and all the “on” pronunciations and meanings, you can already read maybe 50-70% of Chinese. Only thing you need to learn is the grammar.

    In literary Japanese you kind of have to learn two languages, native Japanese and Old Chinese, in order to master it.

  • mikecojay
    Studying Chinese


    I found an interesting site about learning Chinese.  Check out the link

    The good thing about this site is that its free and has a podcast to download.  Happy studying!


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