Using HH New Vocabulary in Everyday Conversation

Hey Hanzi Hero team,

I’ve recently noticed a pattern that I felt would be interesting to share and wonder if anyone else has had a similar experience.

I’ve been using HH since January and I’m at right around 1,000 words. I’m also concurrently studying at a chinese academy in Guangxi province so I’m using Mandarin extensively on the day to day and have a pretty decent vocabulary outside of what I’ve learned through the application.

What I’ve found is that words I’ve learnt through conversation I tend to use way more frequently because my recall of them in the moment tends to be way better than words that I have learned using HH.

As soon as I start my reviews and see a word I immediately know what it means and how to pronounce it but when I want to say a word, let’s say conspicuous, I find that I often struggle to recall 显眼 (xian3yan3) even though it’s a word that when I see it in Hanzi Hero I can immediately recall it.

I think part of this phenomenon is that I have yet to link the word with many real-world examples. I do read the examples provided in the word description but I think unless I come up with my own sentences and write them down those connections are not very strong.

I also think that when I want to say something like conspicuous I probably am thinking in my mother tounge and then trying to find the Chinese word with that meaning. When we review in HH, however, we are going from Chinese to English so it uses a different “look up table” so to speak.

I could see, while perhaps challenging when words have several synonyms, adding a review option for English to Chinese could be useful. That being said, I wanted to focus more the describing the challenge rather than proposing a feature directly.

Cheers and excited to hear if folks have similar experiences.



This is true for me (as someone around HSK3).

After much trial and error and false starts, what really helped me make Anki work was setting up multi-directional deck. Cards that show/play Chinese and ask for Eng, and then cards that request I produce Chinese from English (and to answer I literally say out loud with the right tones etc). If I don’t study that output direction, I cannot use that word in conversation.

As much as I love HH for helping with reading, so far I’m in the same boat as you that it’s not directly helping with active speaking vocab expansion (and never really expected it to so not unhappy about that at all). For me if I really want to start using a word it just goes into the Anki deck, along with a few sentences for it - nothing else works for me.

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This is a common thing when learning languages. Until you get enough exposure to the words you are learning on Hanzi Hero (rather that be through reading, watching shows, or hearing it enough in conversation), it won’t be something that comes to mind in the moment when you are trying to produce the speech.

Our active vocabularies and passive vocabularies are drastically different, even in our native languages. A common misconception is that having inverse flashcards (such as going from English to the target language) will help make it so that you are not thinking in your native language or that you will have a larger active vocabulary in your target language. For the user above me, I would argue that it is not the English → Chinese flashcards that helped, but rather being exposed more often to the content that helped. The same benefit would occur via exposure to the words via books, comics, shows, etc.

The above can come off as rude to kaysik, and that is not my intention. I just wanted to provide an alternative explanation as to why that approach works. If you find an approach that works for you and provides the benefits you are hoping to see, then by all means I encourage you to continue with it :slight_smile:

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint), this process just happens naturally through exposure. Read, watch native material, and you will internalize the language over time (alongside your studies of course), and this will no-longer be an issue.

When I learned Japanese I went through this same journey, and especially the bit about “using words that you learned in conversation more often than words you learned via other methods”. Keep at it and keep immersing in native materials and the rest will come with time :smiley:

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For the record I don’t think it’s the Anki cards themselves that is important but I also don’t think it’s just as simple as more exposure (if it was that simple then why would people’s active vs passive vocab be different in their native languages you rightly point out?).

From my (admittedly limited) experience, it’s being forced to actively recall something was the key missing piece to adding words to my active vocabulary. I can read a word in Du-Chinese 50+ times in multiple different stories and still not be able to produce it, but throw a similar word into the Anki deck for a week or two and suddenly it’s suddenly easy to use in conversation despite having less overall exposure to it. The act of practicing how to recall what I need, combined with training the muscle memory require to physically produce that sound that has for me been way more effective in getting close to conversational than mere reviews ever were. In the same way that people who want to hand write can’t simply read a lot, they must actively practice writing itself.

I also think it is completely possible to gain new words from passively coming across them, it’s just (for me at least) not common/easy - practicing output has a significantly different result than simply getting more input. Anki cards with Eng->Chi are just a very convenient way to practice output, but tutors/lessons are better if sadly less convenient and far more expensive!

I will however say that I expect diminishing returns - for B2/C1+ level learners, learning a new word is I’m sure a very different experience than my meager level lol

(And I didn’t read your post as rude in the slightest, just a different perspective!)


Speaking from experience, I have found two approaches pretty good for expanding active vocabulary:

  1. Speaking and writing. Whether out loud to yourself or to others. Everytime you come across a concept you can’t recall the way to say, look it up and say it a couple of times to try to cement it.
  2. Shadowing and repetition of set phrases. A la Glossika and similar approaches. But even just repeating phrases you hear in shows. I think writing it down could also help, if you type out something you just looked up or something.

I can see how English->Chinese mode could be useful in some cases. For characters I think it is less useful. After all something like “look at” or “see” could map to 看 見 瞧 視 and so on.

However I can see us adding an “extra study” mode that allows this for words maybe. I imagine it working by pulling a random set of words one has and showing the primary English meaning for them. The fact it uses words means the amount of overlap should be reduced greatly, as it also guarantees the answer is >= 2 chars long. And we can also make it so overlap is handled correctly by accepting any word that that English text (e.g., “look at”) as either its primary or alternate meaning. Hell, maybe the top of the card could also show the example sentences with the word cut out or something.

However, I don’t see us getting to this anytime soon. But it seems like a nice extra feature to add at some point.


Yeah, I think to do something like this you would have to include the example sentence, otherwise we get into the situation where one English word or concept can be translated into a handful of Chinese words (assuming the same thing applies here as applies with Japanese, where outside of concrete nouns there’s about a billion ways to express an English concept, haha).


In Japanese what helped me a lot to actually get exposure to words that i am able to read but don’t know in context was reading books. I plan to do the same with Chinese when i have enough characters and vocab to do so. I don’t think I’m there yet and we’re about the same hanzihero level so maybe give it another few months.

I started with books that i already knew. Back then, I read the chronicles of Narnia in Japanese and the first 3 Harry Potter books and a lot of Japanese Manga which helps actually reading words in spoken language patterns. And then i transitioned to Japanese Children books for like end of elementary school level kids. and later to young adult fiction.

I also watch Chinese media with Chinese subtitles, to catch the words that i didn’t get from listening but can already read. Then i go back and listen to the same scene again.