The Best Program on the Planet to Learn Chinese

Natalia Kovalenko Case Study

This post was written by Natalia Kovalenko. She’s a member of The Mandarin Blueprint Method video course, and this is her case study. Enjoy!


Hello, my name is Natalia Kovalenko, I was born and grew up in Russia, so English is my second language and Korean is my third (I married a Korean guy). So I am not a novice at learning languages. I was always interested in learning Chinese, as I love Chinese culture, movies, and dramas but the very idea of characters was too daunting. Oh, and the tones! I’m tone-deaf.:(

The first time I attempted learning Chinese was in 2008 in Korea. I took a class at a local community center. I enjoyed it at the beginning but quickly fell behind as soon as we started studying characters. Even though Koreans have their own alphabet, they also learn Chinese characters at school – although they learn traditional, not simplified characters, they are still at an advantage compared to me, and my classmates were progressing very quickly. I couldn’t keep up and eventually dropped out.

Next, I bought several textbooks that explicitly taught Chinese characters. The basic premise in them was – if you write each character for 40(!!!) pages, you will remember it forever. Guess what – I still keep two 40-page notebooks (specially lined for Chinese character practice) filled with ‘你好 nǐhǎo,’ and I still don’t know how to write those two characters! But only because they were not yet covered in Mandarin Blueprint. 🙂

I also studied with a Chinese friend – you’d think it’s a great idea, right? I remember once complaining that I couldn’t remember which word had which tone – she looked at me and told me that in China even deaf people speak with perfect tones and that I had no excuse. Well, that obviously didn’t last. 

We moved to Hong Kong in 2015 and I really thought it was my chance! Kids were learning Mandarin in school and there were many classes available. However, no one had a good way to help me learn characters, other than rote learning, and even the things taught were not very useful (I mean, how often does one get to say “giraffe’s neck is long, but turtle’s legs are short”, in any language?). 

I also tried an online program offered by, which was fun at first but as always, it became too hard, and I gave up.

What problem were you facing that caused you to search for a Chinese course?

We moved back to Sydney last August (2019), and for a long time, I couldn’t find work, which was very stressful. Then Covid-19 happened and my employment chances went out of the window entirely, which was depressing. Then suddenly, at the end of March, a doctor friend called and offered me a job as a receptionist at her clinic. I went there to see the place and was dismayed to discover that over 90% of their clients were Chinese, many of whom spoke little to no English! These are the people I’d have to talk to on the phone every day! So I went home to think it over. It was Friday.

The next morning I was scrolling down my Facebook page and I saw this Western guy (Luke) suggesting I learn Mandarin pronunciation while in the lockdown for a very reasonable price. I was intrigued – a British guy was offering to teach me how to sound good in Mandarin! So I signed up. I was immediately so impressed that I signed up for the whole program that very evening. I felt it in my bones that this was THE program I looked for all these years (where were you 12 years ago???) – two non-Chinese guys, who mastered the language themselves and succeeded at it. Perfect. And now I have the right motivation as well – my goal is to be able to speak to the patients of my clinic on the phone in 6 months.

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

I think employment opportunities for a person who can speak Chinese are limitless in any country. Plus I will finally be able to watch my favorite Chinese dramas without subtitles! I can’t wait. 

How long, on average, does it take you to learn a character?

And How long did it take you to get to that speed? 

In the beginning, it took maybe 5 minutes. Now – less than a minute. You get really used to it. I love my movies! I go all out making them. Some are a bit over the top, but some are really, really good! 

Which 3 parts of Mandarin Blueprint have made the biggest impact?

The most important part, which is probably surprising, is not about the way to learn the characters, or the pronunciation, or the grammar. It is that no one is going to push you to go out and speak the language right away. You have NO idea how incredibly liberating and also comforting that is! The stress to put yourself “out there” is removed. I don’t have to go out on the street and yell Nihao at Chinese-looking people! It may be a small thing, but for me it’s the most significant. 

How incredibly easy, compared to all my previous efforts, it is to learn Chinese characters! At first, I’ll be honest with you, it was a bit ridiculous. Jet Li in my English teacher’s bathroom! I mean, really? But it really works. Trust me. Give it a go.

The passion and enthusiasm of the two teachers is contagious. I remember thinking around the time they were explaining character #28 – can they really keep up this level of excitement? Yes, they can! I’ve never seen two people more in love with the subject they teach. Luke, Phil – I hope I can meet you one day. 

What aspect of each of the 3 parts?

Part One: Don’t force yourself to speak at early stages. Don’t memorize the sentences. Don’t worry about the grammar. Take it easy. No one ever said that to me before in a language class and this is precisely what I needed.

Part Two: Making movies is fun, and not a chore, and how easy it is to recall them, and to remember how to say them and to write them. And the tones!

The program is so enjoyable that it’s the highlight of my day. I can’t wait to review my Anki cards. It’s like a really exciting computer game where you get rewarded for moving from level to level. I never get tired of it. 

Part Three: Incredibly quick turnaround on any feedback. I had a small problem with billing. It was fixed within minutes. MINUTES, people!!!

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

So far it’s been about 3 weeks. I’m on character #106 and I know ALL of them really well thanks to the Hanzi Movie Method. It really is the most amazing thing. I’ve always been really good at imagining things, so some of my movies are cinematic masterpieces, if I may say so myself.:) I share some of them with my kids, both of whom have a background in learning Chinese, and they are really impressed!

The most amazing thing happened yesterday at the clinic. These days many people call to see if we have a flu vaccine, we are always out and never know when the next batch is delivered. I took a call from a patient, he didn’t speak English, I passed the phone to a Chinese-speaking nurse. And she said:

你要什么?Nǐ yào shénme?


没有。 Méi yǒu.


不知道。Bù zhīdào.

And she hung up.

I sat there, speechless. I understood every word! It was such an amazing feeling. Like Christmas, seriously. I nearly cried. 

What were you skeptical about? 

I wasn’t skeptical for a minute, especially after I watched videos of both Luke and Phil speaking Mandarin. MIND. BLOWN. This is what I always wanted – people who’ve learned the language themselves tried traditional ways, struggled, created a better program, tested it, and put it out there. 

Any suggestions for how we can improve the course?

You can’t improve upon perfection.:)  Well, at least at the stage I’m in, I can’t think of anything I would do to change the program. I’m your biggest fan. 

I make tiny tweaks to my own learning style – for example, I found that since we are making movies, and I love movies, I prefer to make most of my actors actual actors, and not people from my life. It just helps me personally, makes it more interesting. 

Would you recommend Mandarin Blueprint? Why or why not?

You left the hardest question for last!

Let me put it like this – do I think that Mandarin Blueprint is, hands down, the best program on the planet to learn Chinese, especially how to read and memorize Chinese characters (because that’s the part I’m doing right now)?

The answer is YES! Thousand times yes. 

Do I want other people to find out about it? NO! I’m with Ramona, your other student – I want this to be my special secret! No one else can know about this! Let them go through the torture of writing each character out for 40 pages!

But honestly, I think everyone should know about Mandarin Blueprint, and I hope they will, you so deserve it. I take my hat off to you both. 

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