If you want to learn to speak Mandarin, there are two questions you should ask yourself to find study materials. First, find a “step-by-step guide” to help you save time figuring it out on your own. Next, make sure there are memory techniques integrated into the system that have scientific support. Before we go into the details, let’s have a look at how methods & memory techniques save time.
Brain Energy Units - BEUs
It’s self-evident that any two skills are going to take different amounts of time to reach competency or mastery. It’s mostly to do with the overall amount of information necessary to process ÷ brain energy. The brain energy aspect is highly restricted. Even the smartest people in the world need to sleep. The quantity of information, on the other hand, is mostly fixed.
Thought experiment: Let’s suppose you must know 100 specific pieces of information to construct a toaster competently, and each piece requires an average of 10 units of brain energy (henceforth referred to as “BEUs”).
Each piece of information drains 10 BEUs to learn, and thus 1000 total BEUs are necessary to know how to build a toaster. If you can apply 100 BEUs per day (restricted by energy and alternative commitments), then it will take you ten days to reach competency in toaster construction (1000 BEUs ÷ 100 BEUs = 10 Days).
However, suppose those metrics come from a model with no step-by-step guide. If there’s a new method introduced to the field, you may get more bang for your BEU buck. What are the criteria for an excellent step-by-step guide?
Quality Step-by-Step Guide Criterion #1 - The Order
In this thought experiment, the role of the methodology is to decrease the number of BEUs necessary to acquire each piece of information. Assuming we’re talking about the same toaster, you can’t change the amount of total ‘pieces of information,’ but that doesn’t mean that you can’t discover a faster way to move that information from your short-term memory to long-term memory.
One way that methods can change your speed of acquisition is the order you follow to receive new information. Suppose the “standard model” for toaster construction is just a pile of steps in no particular sequence. We get instinctually that this would waste a lot of time because each piece of information wouldn’t (at first) have any apparent connection to the previous piece. To fix this, someone could follow the following steps:
1. Collate the pieces of information
2. Look for the categorically related material
3. Determine the total number of categories (e.g., ten categories)
4. Go through the much simpler process of determining the best order to introduce the ten categories (as opposed to 100 steps)
The result of this categorization and sequencing is less time spent re-conceptualizing. Each step relates to the previous step, so only when there is a category shift do you have to expend extra BEUs. Suppose this making of an essential “step-by-step guide” saves 5 BEUs per piece of information. Already it only takes five days to construct the toaster, but it doesn’t end there. After someone creates the original guide, it will then be scrutinized and improved in the free market of toaster constructors, thus lowering the BEUs even further.
Naturally, step-by-step guides are now the standard and have been for years. However, the larger the project, the higher the probability that further scrutiny will bear fruit. In the toaster analogy, the proper order to see new information won’t take long to be virtually impossible to improve. One hundred pieces of information ain’t much. Want to learn to speak Mandarin? A LOT more steps. This might seem like bad news, but it leaves far more room for new methods to improve the “step-by-step” guide and lower the overall BEUs necessary to acquire it.
Quality Step-by-Step Guide Criterion #2 - Visualization
While the order you see new information indeed saves BEUs because of each step’s close relationship, you still have to remember new data for each one. Sadly, the standard is rote memorization. If you are using your hands to build something that you can see in front of you, this is fine. Natural visualization! What about abstract things like Mandarin?
Rote memorization fails to activate several extraordinarily powerful byproducts of our evolution. We’ve written several articles about this (here is an example), but the cliff notes version is this:
Humans naturally remember the following things very well:
However, we’re NOT any good at remembering text on a page. In evolutionary terms, written script is brand new. In other words, if you are not associating new learning material with visualized spaces, faces, objects & actions, you’re wasting BEUs.
Check out the articles linked above for more about this, but needless to say, you can’t expect to learn how to speak Mandarin any faster than average without both following a logical progression and playing to your evolutionary strengths through visualization. You also need to have an efficient system for reviewing, which we also wrote an article about. These are all crucial factors. Do you know what’s not all that crucial of a factor?
Note that we’re not saying that natural aptitude is not a factor, but it genuinely isn’t a crucial one. You can be incredibly committed and get lower scores on an IQ test than a super-lazy person. It’s also possible that a smarter person is approaching things in the entirely wrong order. Most importantly, the ability to visualize is not at all limited to intelligent people only. Even animals can visualize!
We bring up this point about ability for one simple reason: Belief. There is NO reason you should believe that you “just can’t do it” (brain injury or genetic disorders excepted). Again, it’s just pieces of information ÷ BEUs, and you’re there.
If you are using some lame, out-dated, rote-learning garbage method for Mandarin acquisition then yeah, smarter people will do better than less smart people, but that’s not the landscape in front of you. On the contrary, it’s fair to say that we’re the latest experts in the Mandarin learning free market to offer an improved “Step-by-Step Guide,” complete with an integrated visualization system. All you have to do is hit “next lesson” and follow the instructions. We call it The Mandarin Blueprint Method, and you can try it for free.
Luke & Phil