Family words + Compound versus isolation language exercises
2 min read

Family words + Compound versus isolation language exercises

Family words + Compound versus isolation language exercises

Welcome to this week’s issue of the Giant Mandarin newsletter. This week I cover words on the topic of the family. I also include my thoughts on the concept of compound versus isolation language exercises.


Approximately in ascending order from elementary to advanced

  1. 家 jiā - family; home
  2. 家人 jiārén - family member

家庭 jiātíng - household; family

家庭成员 jiātíng chéngyuán - household member; family member

妈妈 māma - mom; mum; mother

老妈 lǎomā - mom; mum; mother (colloquial)

母亲 mǔqīn - mother (formal)

爸爸 bàba - dad; father

老爸 lǎobà - dad; father (colloquial)

父亲 fùqīn - father (formal)

  1. 父母 fùmǔ - father and mother; parents (formal)
  2. 孩子 háizi - child; children; kid; kids
  3. 女儿 nǚér - daughter
  4. 儿子 érzi - son
  5. 姐姐 jiějie - older sister
  6. 妹妹 mèimei - younger sister
  7. 哥哥 gēge - older brother
  8. 弟弟 dìdi - younger brother

妻子 qīzǐ - wife

老婆 lǎopó - wife (colloquial)

丈夫 zhàngfu - husband

老公 lǎogōng - husband (colloquial)

  1. 夫妻 fūqī - husband and wife

关系 guānxi - relationship; relations

家庭关系 jiātíng guānxi - family relationships


In weightlifting, there is the concept of isolation and compound exercises. Isolation exercises primarily target a single muscle, while compound exercises target many muscles.

Applying these ideas to Chinese language learning, we could think of the “muscles” as falling into general and specific categories. The general categories are speaking, listening, reading and writing. The specific categories include tones, listening and reading comprehension, grammar, character recognition (how many characters you know) and much more.

In this context, isolation language exercises are those language exercises that target a single “muscle”. Examples include flashcards and writing a word many times.

难 难 难 难 难 难 难 难

Compound language exercises are then those language exercises that target multiple “muscles.” Examples include having a conversation with your Chinese teacher, which progresses speaking and listening, and reading aloud a passage you’re studying, which progresses reading and speaking.

Returning to weightlifting, these concepts are useful because the best workout routine is going to involve a mixture of compound and isolation exercises. Compound exercises allow you to get a full body workout faster and are a better simulation of real-world movements. Isolation exercises allow the targeted strengthening of muscles that might be relatively weak or whose strengthening would have practical benefits.

These ideas also fluidly transfer  into language learning. The best language learning routine will involve a mixture of compound and isolation language exercises. Compound language exercises will enable you to progress in many different language areas at the same time and more closely resemble real-world interactions like speaking to a Chinese friend or reading the latest headlines in China. Isolation language exercises will allow you to focus your efforts on progressing in a specific area like character recognition.

Questions to ask yourself:
  • How do you already use compound and isolation language exercises in your language learning?
  • Is there a way you can turn an isolation language exercise into a compound language exercise?
  • What isolation exercise is missing from your language learning routine?


The Chinese Family Tree, Explained (June 2021), Anias Stambolis-D’Agostino, CLI

China in Therapy: How Families in Crisis Will Affect China’s Future (February 2022), David E. Scharff, SupChina

China’s Twilight Years (June 2016), Howard W. French, The Atlantic

What did you think of this week’s newsletter? Please get in touch to let us know what you think. I’ll read every message.

Thanks for reading and see you next Thursday!

Giant Mandarin (@GiantMandarin) is written by David Wu (@davidwuio).