Being an independent learner isn't always easy, especially if you try to do everything on your own and have no teacher or your teacher is too busy to answer all the questions that invariably pop up when learning a new language. Then you need to find help elsewhere.
Obviously, the most efficient way is trying to find the answer to your question online. If you have a problem or a question, it's quite likely that someone else has had the same problem or question before. It's also possible that someone has written a good answer.
So, before you use the resources provided further down in this article, make sure you check if there already is a good answer.
When using any of the resources below, make sure do the following first:
Do a quick search to see if someone has already asked your question. This is important, because the people who know a lot about Chinese and frequent the websites are people who probably feel annoyed by answering the same question time and time again. Not looking through the archive is not only being lazy, it's also a breach of etiquette.
Without being long-winded, add as much information as you can to your question. Don't assume that people know what you mean just because you think your question is obvious. Also add examples, context or anything else that might help people understand what you want to achieve. Context is essential if you ask any "what does this mean in Chinese" questions.
Show that you have made an effort to find the answer yourself. This is very important on some sites and people might not help you if you don't show that you have at least tried. In other words, answers that can be found quickly in a dictionary or on Google aren't very good and will earn you a bad reputation. If you have tried to find the answer and failed, go ahead and ask!
Be polite. You're asking people to help you solve a problem for free. They are under no obligation to help you and do so mostly because they feel like it. Even if it's free, you should be polite and treat the people who try to help you well.
5 websites to help answer your questions about Chinese
Chinese Forums has been running for a very long time and has gathered a respectable number of knowledgeable second language learners as well as native speakers. The forums cover almost everything related to Chinese or China. The archives are huge, so the likelihood is that your question has already been answered before. Chinese Forums is best suited for discussions, but work well for direct questions as well. This is the most versatile tool available. Be polite and people will be polite to you.
Stack Chinese is fairly new and in beta, but it's still very useful. Unlike Chinese Forums, this isn't a forum at all, but rather a place where you can ask direct and specific questions. The other users then try to provide the best answer to your question, adding and editing each other's answers. Users then vote for different answers, provide comments and so on. This is the place I go for really tricky questions, but do be sure to show the others that you have tried to solve your problem on your own before posting. Stack Chines is only about Chinese language usage.
Reddit is a social news and entertainment site where people post links, pictures or short posts that other users can vote up or down. Even though you can ask any kind of question, it's fairly clear that most users lean towards the lightweight end of the spectrum. For instance, funny questions, links or answers typically receive much, much more votes than interesting or good alternatives. Reddit is still a good place to hang out for some cool links and for posting occasional questions too, especially if you want a quick answer. The relevant subreddit is called Chinese language and is linked to above.
Quora is quite similar to Stack Exchange, but is much more chaotic. I spent quite a lot of time reading on Quora a while back, but I gave up because it just felt like a more sloppy version of Stack Chinese. However, they aren't quite the same, since Stack Chinese has quite strict rules about posting and Quora allows almost anything. Therefore, if you want to ask wider questions about language learning, Chinese society or anything else, Quora is still worth checking out. If you don't know where to start, check Mandarin Chinese and Learning Languages. Needless to say, Quora isn't limited to Chinese at all, so you could in theory ask anything about any topic.
Lang-8 is a website that helps native speakers of different languages to connect and help each other learning a foreign language. You help other people learning your native language and Chinese people help you learn Chinese. This is done through a neat system where you gain points for helping people, so you don't have to find someone who happens to want to learn your native language, the system does that for you. I use Lang-8 mostly to receive feedback on sentences or paragraphs and it's really good if you want to ask: Can I say/write like this?