Learn Chinese vocabulary. For real.

New server, new frontiers!


Hey there, Nuli!努力! was out for 15min this afternoon, but don’t worry, it’s all good news!

Due to the increasing number of users and users coming every day or even several times a day (*), we moved the main application server from a tiny to a fairly big machine. Plenty of speed and space for more users, more features, more content! We looked at each other with Regis today. Less than a year ago, all this was just a skeleton of code hosted in a shoebox behind Regis’ sofa, and we were meeting once a month over a coffee in central Paris. Yeah, it even saved polar bears for a while (read here), but we’re getting serious now. In case you

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asked, our server is in London, baby!

A new school year is about to start, we did our summer homework with the code, don’t forget yours by reviewing some Chinese! It’s not too late, and a few minutes a day are enough. If you feel guilty, small tip: talk about Nuli!努力! to your colleagues or classmates who did NOTHING during the holidays and have obviously forgotten much more than you did 😉

You know what to tell them now: http://nulinu.li/ Nuli!努力!

(*) yeah, Nuli!努力! looks good on your mobile when commuting, then on your laptop at work, and last but not least on your tablet before you go to sleep :)

Ideally it’s like a toothbrush, a twice-a-day-habit.

The FOCUS list: store anything and learn from it!

One of the major features we were asked was the ability to store any content, and to study only the vocabulary inside, instead of practicing on the list of everything you know. That’s why we are glad to introduce the “FOCUS list”, a Chinese Reader that helps you learn anything by focusing on the vocab from a specific content.

Sign-in or sign-up in Nuli!努力!. Access the FOCUS list directly from the left menu. You can :

Load a predefined FOCUS list or create your own.
– See your progress on this specific

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list of vocabulary.
Learn or review words from this specific list of vocabulary
– Use the other Nuli!努力! features on any word of this list, like the dictionary that gives you example sentences at your level, word decomposition, etc.


Just a few examples of the library you create yourself to studyChinese this summer:

  • Pick a lesson from any of the textbooks available, and prepare your next class or exam — Select it here
  • Read an article, like the latest development in the Snowden 斯诺登 story — click here to read, then copy paste within Nuli!努力! to study. Another great source of articles is the Marco Polo Project, which you can find here
  • Pick a song, a subtitle, a transcript, like the latest trending song on QQ: 封面恋人by 魏晨 — click here to see the lyrics, then copy paste within Nuli!努力! to study. You can mix English and Chinese without any issue within Nuli!努力!
  • Choose an excerpt from a book, an e-book, like 小王子, the Little Prince in Chinese — click here to read, then copy paste within Nuli!努力! to study
  • Use a vocab list of glossary you may use at work or in your studies — contact me if you have specific requests, thomas [@] nulinu.li
  • You can even use an email from a supplier, a colleague, a friend, that you want to learn from (please, stop using Google Translate, and start learning for real)


Now you have

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the tool to study from any Chinese written material you find on the Web! How cool is that?
We are making updates and fixes everyday, if you want or need something, or if you have any issue, contact us!


Public beta released: Nuli!努力! available for all

Beta bannerOk, today could be considered as “The Big Day”: we are switching from private to public beta, a bit more than a year since the first paper sketches were drawn, and our decision to work during our free time on this project (and full-time for the past couple of months).

Everyone learning Chinese can now register at http://nulinu.li, and we hope you”ll discover a new tool to learn efficiently new vocabulary and remember it on the long term. If we feel excited and proud, we will stay humble considering the work that is still ahead. As Paul Graham just recently stated on his blog:

It”s easy to see how little launches matter. Think of some successful startups. How many of their launches do

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you remember? All you need from a launch is some initial core of users. How well you”re doing a few months later will depend more on how happy you made those users than how many there were of them.

So that”s obviously our next goal: that the hundreds of beta users that are using Nuli!努力! in English or French will still use it daily – or online casino a least frequently- in the next few months. Our goal is pretty simple: We want you to enjoy learning Chinese, and stay motivated. Because at the end of the day, your motivation will ultimately define your efforts, progress and achievements in learning Chinese. If we are proud of our platform, you should be proud of your Chinese, and we”ll help you achieve that.

In the coming days, we”ll blog about our features and unexpected ways to use Nuli!努力!. We discovered them with our private beta users during the last months. Naturally, we”ll keep you updated about features, fixes, the good and bad days of our next development steps!

Feel free to interact with us directly via the embedded chat when using Nuli!努力!, via the contact form, on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, or directly by email at contact [@] nulinu.li. We really love user feedback!

We wish you a very good July 16th learning Chinese*!

Thomas -CEO- and Régis -CTO-, co-founders

* -yes, Paul, that”s a Tuesday-.

Get to know Régis, Co-founder of N!N!

Régis at work

How long have you been studying Chinese? In what context? For what purpose?

In 2006, on my first day in China, I took a Bejing taxi and tried to ask the driver to take me to Carrefour, where I was planning to buy a bicycle. I didn’t know a single word of Chinese at the time, so I just tried to enunciate “Carrefour” with a lame English accent. The driver asked something back. I repeated “Carrefour”. The driver asked something again. That little show went on for five minutes. The taxi never left my front porch. That was a problem, obviously, since I was planning on staying in Beijing for at least six months.
So I studied!

Do you have a specific approach learning Chinese?

My biggest pain point with learning Chinese in China is that I find it very hard to pick up new vocabulary just by living there. In Germany and The Netherlands I had it easy: I just had to watch films subtitled in German or Dutch, or sift through magazines. In Beijing, I found myself severely limited by the few characters I knew. For me that’s the main benefit of using Nuli! 努力!: learning and remembering written vocabulary.

What do you enjoy the most in learning Chinese?

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It’s a very satisfying feeling to be able to read an entire sentence or text without the help of a dictionary. I’m really looking forward to the day when I can read entire books or newspapers.

Any good memories in your Chinese progress?

I was having dinner at a restaurant with a friend of mine and his Chinese girlfriend: she and I are now great friends, but at the time I could not speak a single word of Chinese, so all communications had to go through his boyfriend. At some point he had to leave the table for a couple minutes. I remember how we just sat there, both deeply unconfortable in awkward, absolute silence. In the months that followed, as I started taking Chinese classes, we managed to communicate, crack jokes and learn about each other. That just felt great.

How do you keep yourself motivated, have you ever wanted to give up?

For me it’s essential to be able to measure my own progress curve in order to see the practical, quantitative effect of my efforts. I have found this to be the most powerful encouragement: to know that my efforts are not wasted, but instead spent on meaningful, useful material.

What in your opinion people should NOT do when studying Chinese?

Many people seem to believe that standard language learning techniques don’t apply to Chinese — just because Chinese is not an alphabet-based language. In my opinion, too many people turn to rote learning of vocabulary lists to boost their Chinese. Rote learning works, but honestly: it’s not very efficient, it’s difficult, and there are better ways. That’s the whole point of Nuli! 努力! I guess :)

Get to know Thomas, Co-founder of N!N!

Thomas in Beijing


How long have you been studying Chinese? In what context? For what purpose?

It’s probably been too many years. I started learning Mandarin in 2004 as my 3rd foreign language. I discovered that a couple of hours a week in Engineering school where not enough (after a week in Beijing you practiced more). I spent some time in India then part of my gap year in Africa, started learning Arabic. All my Chinese was gone. The next 2 years, I was in and out of China, but mostly surrounded by non-Chinese classmates. The last 3 years I just decided I had put too much effort in Chinese, I can’t keep forgetting, I needed a way to study what I wanted wherever I was, whenever I wanted. And about topics I liked!

Do you have a specific approach learning Chinese?

I learned English, German, and some Arabic the hard way. With endless lists, tests and multiple choices, about topics I have mainly forgotten about ever since. I was a teenager, then a student. Now this cannot work anymore. When I get back home from work, I want to see my friends (that I don’t

see at school anymore), we go out for dinner or for a movie. There are so many other excuses and activities, the hard way has just become too hard. It’s probably longer, but I learn when I want, what I want. I forget things I don’t use, anyway. Chinese is not my primary field of study, it will stay a mean to get things done (in China or with Chinese colleagues)

What do you enjoy the most in learning Chinese?

I just love the combinatory essence of making up characters from components, and words from characters. Combining the ones I know to learn more, finding it completely logical, or illogical. When I see a sign or something I couldn’t read before, and now I learnt both characters, haha! I feel so happy about it. That how I started collecting ads, or even fast-food menus, it’s a kind of benchmark.
Each trip in China I just have a look and I can read more! More I can eat, more I can discuss about. That means more to share with people. Sharing is also why I enjoy learning Chinese. I know it’s normal but I enjoy it even more with people that don’t know or don’t try to speak English with me. I struggle to make myself clear, they try various ways to explain things to me. Feels better than the “Café Latté 46 yuan xiexie byebye” you can hear in major cities.

Any good memories in your Chinese progress?

Listening to the radio in the taxi. The first time I landed in China, I couldn’t get anything, or

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maybe just the pronouns and some numbers. Then it was phone numbers in commercials, then the weather forecast. For talk-shows and news broadcasting, the way to fluency is still pretty long…

How do you keep yourself motivated, have you ever wanted to give up?

I wanted to give up so many times! I even started Russian last year when I was fed up with Chinese. It lasted a week, then I was back to Chinese. When you’re tired because of work and commuting, or just cannot attend the classes you registered (and paid) for just because you’re on a business trip, you can just apply the “5 min rule”. I logon Nuli!努力! and review for 5 min. The magic thing is that I always spend more time because once started, I enjoy it and won’t stop.

What in your opinion people should NOT do when studying Chinese?

Ho… a couple of things I tried and failed. When you stop learning from some time, don’t lose time trying to review past lessons before you really get to new stuff. You’ll end up bored before you learn anything new. Just start with the next lesson, and look up for words you forgot. And also, avoid repeating or copying things you don’t fully understand. It means you will hard-store them in short-term memory and will forget them eventually. It’s means that’s a waste of your time and resources. Call your mom or go for a walk with your dog instead, you’ll make 3 people happy (you, and them)

We are ready for the public beta!

In 7 days, Nuli!努力! will switch from private to public beta!

Since the first common -paper- prototype in May 2012 with Régis, we finally found time to dedicate to the project, spend several months full time on it, get rid of the most obvious bugs, and already serve several dozens of beta users daily. We cannot be grateful enough to them, their feedback, their patience. THANK YOU!

They wanted to share Nuli!努力! with their friends, colleagues or even family, so the next step came naturally. You can follow the various announcements directly on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. We have a couple of surprises for

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followers 😉 😉 😉

This is also the opportunity to set alive this blog again, with a few coming posts about what Nuli!努力! is, what it is not, and how our various learning experiments led to the current product.

So with great excitement and honour, we’d like to invite you to keep an eye on Nuli!努力! and test it for yourself in the coming days! And on July 16th for the great D-Day!

Go and check on http://nulinu.li

Enlarge Your Vocab! (Learn More Characters)

One of the parameters for rating your knowkedge of any language is the amount of vocabulary that you master. Of course, this truism holds for Chinese, too. Except that in Chinese it’s pretty easy to quantify the amount of vocabulary you are supposed to know at any point during your learning process: basically, it’s proportional to the number of characters you master. Thus, if

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you want to better speak, read or write Chinese, you need to know more characters. Let’s quantify this!

In Chinese, words are the combination of one or more characters. At Nuli! Nuli! we have ranked simplified Chinese characters by order of increasing frequency. Using this scale, we can easily compute the maximum number of words that you may know given the number of characters you know. Say, you know 100 simplified Chinese characters; because you are a very thorough and dedicated student, you know all the words and expressions from the CEDICT Chinese dictionary that contain these 100 characters. How many words is that? The answer is on the curve below, somewhere in the bottom-left corner:

If you know 100 characters, then you know at most 1289 words. That’s not bad actually!

Brand new blog!

And here is the traditional first blog post, so moving! Everything is still a bit rough around the edges currently, I’ll try to find some time to polish everything in the next couple of days.

Alright so who are we?

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We are Nuli! Nuli! (yeah, you guessed that much) and we want to change the way you learn Chinese characters. To be more precise, we will focus on simplified Mandarin sentences. All textual content was automatically sampled from Twitter. The tool was designed to appeal both to beginners with less than a month of Chinese classes and advanced learners with more than 3000 characters under their belt. Yeah, that sounds great, and I dearly want to convince you that it is :) Details of

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the method will be outlined soon. Until then feel free to try it out. The handbook is given in the “Help” section. Oh, by the way, it is entirely free.