Let’s Get Some Meat on Them Bones!
Are you an intermediate Chinese learner? It’s a surprisingly frustrating stage of your journey. You have some foundation, but you’re missing the “meat” of the language. The Foundation section of The Mandarin Blueprint Method uses OCLO & The Hanzi Movie Method teach 80% of Mandarin Chinese by frequency. That’s a super solid foundation, much like how your skeleton provides your body with structure.
What About the Remaining 20%?
The remaining 20% of Chinese is, technically speaking, something that even Chinese people never fully acquire. Nobody in the world knows 100% of any language, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to something awesome like 99.8%. It will likely take you years to reach such a level, but achieving that level was never the point. In fact, the difficult part is already over if you know 80% of the language.
Let’s run a comparison between what life is like when you started vs. 80% proficiency:
Your State as a Learner with Zero or Little Foundation (non-exhaustive):
- Everything is fog.
- Your understanding of pronunciation isn’t strong enough to be able to pick out recognizable sounds in your listening material
- You don’t know what characters are, how you might figure out the pronunciation, or even simple components.
- You don’t have a systematic methodology for acquiring a new character
- You don’t know what a Chinese word is, much less how the characters within the word relate to each other
- You can’t read anything, so there’s no chance of determining a word through context.
- Naturally, without characters or words, you have no sense of sentence structure
- You can derive virtually no pleasure from reading
- There aren’t any situations where you can successfully communicate without relying entirely on body language
- You’ve not built up healthy study habits, and thus all momentum must be self-derived
- Unless you used it before, you are unfamiliar with how to use SRS (most people).
Your State of Learning After you Build your 80% Foundation:
- There’s a lot of light breaking through the fog.
- You understand the principles of how to pronounce every Mandarin sound, thus increasing the likelihood of recognizing more of the sounds produced in your listening material. You can even start to associate purely auditory input with characters.
- You know hundreds of components and understand how they can represent meaning and sound, therefore providing a layer of context for most unknown characters. You haven’t learned every component, but you’ve mastered the ones you are most likely to see in a new character (there’s that Pareto Principle again).
- You have a methodology for quickly committing a new character to memory. You know how to make an SRS flashcard out of it.
- The characters learned to construct the top 1000 words are the component characters in another 4000 lower frequency words. Because you have a strong sense of how the characters in compound words related to each other, there’s a high probability of being able to understand those 4000 words, especially in context.
- There is a lot of content you can read, and the resources available for graded material are continually expanding (including the tailored content from MB). As a result, you increase the likelihood of understanding an unknown word through your keen sense of sentence structure combined with your knowledge of components and how words related to each other.
- Not only can you derive pleasure from reading, but you start to feel how Chinese can change how you think.
- There are loads of situations where you can successfully communicate. If you don’t know how to say something, you have the vocabulary necessary to explain what you mean. “Hey, do you guys sell those big boxes you put in the kitchen to keep things cold?” You can’t communicate well in every situation, but getting by in China is far more accessible.
- You’ve already built up enough Myelin Sheaths around your neurons associated with the habit of daily study that it’s not difficult to continue. The momentum is already gained, just keep going.
Make the “Intermediate Plateau” of Chinese Less Scary
Yes, we understand that the intermediate stage of the journey can sometimes feel like a plateau, but that’s because we humans tend not to revel in our successes all that long. We achieve a goal, feel good about it for a surprisingly short period of time, and then our new achievement level becomes the emotional status quo.
However, until reaching the intermediate level, most of your achievement is self-referential. You know your progress compared to your past self. Recognizing your progress is essential for your motivation, but you’re not far from feeling your progress in the real world.
Yes, going from 80%-99% is a longer journey than you took from 0%-80%, but the rewards are far greater. Keep making Mandarin a habit, and you’ll look back at this time on your life fondly and not remember as being as challenging as it feels now. 加油！
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