【CASE STUDY】John Hay & Cycling His Way to Chinese (and China!)

Case study John Hay

“To be able to understand Chinese characters seemed to me to be a black art in the past. With the mist slowly lifting before my eyes, it gives me great pleasure to realise that it’s not at all difficult to understand.”

This post is authored by John Hay, who kindly agreed to write down his thoughts about The Mandarin Blueprint Method. We provided the questions, and he did the rest! He’s a great writer and has a very cool story, enjoy :).


What a man! That’s me on the right. It is a typically atypical picture of me, as I am rarely photographed, usually being the man behind the camera, myself. Normally I don’t look quite as smart! (And the house in the background isn’t mine.)

I was born in Edinburgh 53 years ago and have spent the past 30 years in mainland Europe, mostly Germany. I left Britain on my bicycle, intending to go to China, but in those days getting a visa as a lone adventurer was as good as impossible. So I rode to North Africa instead, naively expecting to pick up a bit of Arabic on the way through Tunisia and Algeria. But everyone I met spoke French, so that was the end of Arabic. With my money running low, I returned to Europe from Lomé in Togo, and since then have led a relatively mundane and responsible life. Learning, studying, working, teaching, breeding: the sort of things adults do.

Still an enthusiastic long-distance cyclist and still with a bit of adventure in me yet, I have decided to revive my original plans of riding to and through China before old age catches up with me. This time with a bit of the language under my belt and a bit more money in my pocket.

​What would it mean for you personally/work if you succeed in learning Chinese?

how to learn mandarin

It has been a long-held dream/ambition to spend some time in China. Were I to succeed in attaining a level of confidence in Mandarin, it would go a long way towards fulfilling this. I can’t imagine it being of any help in my professional life but who knows…

Which 3 parts of MB have made the biggest impact?

  • What aspect of each of the 3 parts?
  1. Your motivational videos. Nearer the start of the course, I often considered giving up on my hair-brained scheme to learn Chinese. Phil prevented me with his omnipresent pep talks.
  2. The “make a movie” videos were perfect for setting out on the Mandarin journey. (Though you can’t stress it often enough: the scenes have to be unforgettable. Ignoring your advice and making weak scenes has cost me a lot of time.)
  3. Strangely enough, working through the pronunciation mastery course, although I didn’t understand a word, has proved to be invaluable. Now on the Blueprint course, the words and phrases that I previously fleetingly confronted all seem to effortlessly slot into place.

What results have you achieved & what impact has it had on your life?

As mentioned, I don’t NEED to learn Chinese so my progress so far has only had an impact at a personal level. I’m very happy to have learned 230 characters and encountered more than 600 words over the past two months. Indeed, now that I have got this far, I am sufficiently encouraged to continue and there is no turning back; it would be a waste to stop learning now. To be able to understand Chinese characters seemed to me to be a black art in the past. With the mist slowly lifting before my eyes, it gives me great pleasure to realize that it’s not at all difficult to understand.

What were you skeptical about? 

Had I been skeptical, even about your 80% claims, I wouldn’t have signed up to the Mandarin Blueprint. The only thing I might have been skeptical about would have been my own ability and determination to persevere. (By the way, there are many theories about the correlation between age and language learning. I prefer to ignore those that say: “the younger the better.” It is simply a question of priorities.)

Any suggestions for how we can improve the course?

There are a few things which could be improved (very minor but necessary.)

1) Please be more diligent when proofreading! As English speakers, mistakes in your native language don’t exactly instil confidence that similar errors aren’t present in your Chinese.

2) The Anki decks are great. The cards are plentiful and keep me hard at work. But these too need a bit of tweaking.

a. Too many empty cards, which although harmless are not necessary.

b. A minor point but in several of the dialogues, the sound recordings are in the wrong order. Sure, I can rectify that myself, but it looks better if they are in perfect order from the outset.

 3) At the beginning of the course you guided us through every lesson. Now you have abandoned us! (sob, sniff) Of course, it’s not necessary to make a video for every lesson; we know the method and should be able to just get on with it. However, sometimes a comment or explanation or two might help. Apart from that, I miss your words of encouragement. (But then again, that’s probably the purpose of your blog.)

Maybe they come later on in the course but I would really appreciate some graded readers and sound files – or a link to such resources. Not living in or near an area where Chinese is spoken severely limits input!

Would you recommend MB? Why or why not?

I certainly would. I have found MB to be entertaining and encouraging as well as instructive. We’ll see; there’s still a long way to the end of the course and I am under no illusion that the road to competence is even longer. Ask me in a year’s time…

Check out The Mandarin Blueprint Method today!