I have been studying Chinese on and off for many years, but in the past year, I decided to take my study seriously. I am aiming to pass the 3rd grade on the HSK test next year. This is the lower-intermediate level. I aim to get 4th grade (upper-intermediate) later in the year.
I have bought a range of books and study materials, including the official test handbook and practice tests, but just studying those will not raise my Chinese proficiency to a satisfactory level. When learning a language, it is important to have quality comprehensible input from a range of sources. Each one feeds off the other. Words or phrases which I see in a textbook one day appear in a different textbook the next. The sentences which I couldn’t understand in my listening materials suddenly make sense when I start to catch words I have learnt elsewhere.
I am a believer in having one main study text, and a range of peripheral materials when learning a language. When I was learning Japanese, I had my main textbook, which grounded my studies in an organised way, and many other materials including test texts, reading materials and listening materials. I am doing the same for Chinese, and it is working well. I have finished my main text, and in the other materials I have, I find words and phrases from my main text which I thought I had forgotten. The secondary materials jog my memory and help reinforce what I had previously learnt.
Language learning is a circular process, not a linear one. For learning to be effective, it requires the constant movement back and forth between materials to reinforce what you have learnt, and to learn new things. I am now at the stage where things are starting to make sense. I attribute my progress to consistent reviewing of previously studied material and exposure to a wide range of supplementary material. It feels like pieces of the jigsaw are finally starting to fit.