148. 1000 Characters in One Week (Holy Smokes)

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The Mandarin Blueprint Podcast focuses primarily on The Mandarin Blueprint Method online curriculum. Creators Luke Neale & Phil Crimmins answer questions and comments, discuss topics related to China and Mandarin learning, and have special guests.

148. 1000 Characters in One Week (Holy Smokes)

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9:01 Comments & Emails

Keith Travis on What’s Next? Intermediate Course!

8 weeks and 4 days in now; I spent many off-track hours this last week with other things. However, I cleared my HSK 3 goal!Mind you, it was a full-length archived exam rather than an official, yet that’s enough in my book. I feel I should mention too that I ‘scraped by’ on the listening section using as much test-taking tactic as actual comprehension; so be it. It seems deliberately built in to the exam that the vocabulary far exceeds the ‘official requirement’, which an astounding number of characters were totally unfamiliar, even despite having reviewed both the MB HSK 1-3 Anki deck supplement as well as another full list of HSK 3 vocab. At some point – to check against the possibility of my imagining things – no doubt I’ll run an actual cross-reference from among several of the archived HSK tests relative to the official lists.

I suppose it goes to show the importance of how much gauging from context one must do not only with respect to vocabulary but also with respect to what would make sense in a a given grammar structure even when one doesn’t quite know the words. Listening to the archived podcasts is turning up all sorts of gold nuggets, both directly with regard to the language itself as well as with regard to attitude and motivation generally. I’m very grateful for the emphasis – in many places – which MB has placed upon rather than aggressively pursuing the learning of nuances or grammar bits, just being sort of ‘lightly aware’ of these things so as to have chance to notice by the by while practicing the erstwhile content.

On that note, I began reviewing a formal list of HSK grammar points by the number and yet – so far – the vast majority has already been commented upon by MB in some way in the various post-level emails, bonus links, or in-phase lessons. In keeping myself to the tune of transitioning from basic literacy to basic fluency by – at the earliest – 4 months, I’ve mapped out goals for the next 7 weeks. First and foremost is to initiate myself to all of the intermediate vocabulary and unlock those Anki cards ASAP with an HSK 4 attempt end-of July. Pushing new goals reminds me of a Ted talk in which the program director of Tesla Motors comments upon how – typically – there is a period of challenge and then a period of consolidation as one smoothens out how to maintain accomplishment. Meanwhile, the CEO is looking for the right moment to push the next challenge onto the Director before things get totally comfortable. I still haven’t given serious effort to shadowing and ‘polishing up’ any of the Phase 4 or 5 graded reading passages. After writing them all out – which seems to work best for me – and inoculating myself with the Intermediate vocab, the primary focus will definitively shift to shadowing, (as there will be nothing left for me to write, alas).

HSK 5 serious attempt by end-of-August. I love the benchmarking aspect of these exams: HSK 5 in 4 months flat based 99% upon Mandarin Blueprint. I think it’s possible. Might have to up my game somehow as of yet unknown: we’ll see. Totally open to suggestions.

Thank you again and in advance for all the gems of your program I have yet to discover.


darci mallon on Level 27 Complete

Started the shadowing back in Level 24 (Phil just insisted) and at first was so daunted, believing that I could never keep pace and struggled with this absurd thought that I had to know what I was saying (I often don’t, even in english!).

So put on my headphones everyday for a 45 minute walk and played all the dialogues and stories, barking out my own imitating sounds, when low and behold, I realized I do recognize some of what I’m saying. After a while I could just rattle off the sounds in sync (at first just got the beginning and ends but I got better), here and there instantly recognizing words. Then I had a stunning moment of noticing a sound I actually DIDN’T know. So I replayed the word to remember it and on getting home looked it up and sure enough it was a new top-down word. That meant I was actually, though unconsciously, really familiar with most of what I was hearing, enough to notice an unfamiliar word thrown-in. I was shocked. And rather proud of myself for catching that.

Finally I followed Luke’s instructions and sat down and read while listening, then read while listening and speaking, all in sync. Then, ‘Hot Dog! (something else but can’t say it here), of course, I would know what I’m saying because I’ve studied every single character on this page – I’ve focused on them individually, written movies about their antics and rewritten them several times. I actually do know what I’m reading and what I’m saying and to boot, I could write it all out if asked. I look at the pages of characters in the stories and dialogues at the end of Level 27 and Holy Smokes, I can read them all.

So, though reluctant to try at first, I am a convert to the ‘shadowing’ practice and now have faith that it’s worth the initial embarrassment. Thank you again Phil and Luke for all your efforts in building this remarkable course.


Christine on Level 57 Complete

Phew, made it 😁. Can’t believe I made it so far, although at some point through the Intermediate you do start to realise that this is all just the very basics of the overall mountain to climb! But honestly, this course is great and truly the best way to learn characters. Thanks so much for all the material and your personal dedication and the fact that you are always there to support us. It is really appreciated.


Jason Pon on Level 33 Complete

“Learning grammar in order to use a language is like learning organic chemistry in order to make a sandwich.” – Khatzumoto Wow, that’s deep.


Ceri Woods on 回来 in Context

I find it helpful to ‘translate’ certain phrases in a colloquial way in my head. for example ‘why have you come back’ makes sense using ‘how’ if I say ‘how are you back though?!’… like I’m not actually asking ‘how’ in that context.

Another example is imagining why (as in wei shen me) in the context of ‘for what?! for why?! howcome?!’ as none of these are how you might be taught to write ‘why’ but they are how I would say them.

Since starting to learn Chinese I’ve been way more aware of the way we use certain English words way out of context to convey certain meanings and that has helped the various meanings of certain characters and words in Chinese make more sense to me!


Keith Travis on Level 39 Complete

As ever amazed with the efficacy the combination of your OCLO and Hanzi Movie Method. This mental system really is starting to become an exciting personal story, almost with a life of its own.

青 – Qīng – cyan

请 – Qīng – please

轻 – Qīng – light

清 – Qīng – clear

I recall someone earlier had posted a comment asking whether there might be chance confusion having the same actors and settings for so many characters. However, I find it makes it even easier to memorize new characters. This is because the scenes are able to expand to encompass every meaning.

1) 青 – Qīng – cyan

2) 请 – Qīng – please

3) 轻 – Qīng – light

4) 清 – Qīng – clear

1) The {Queen of England}[qi-initial] is at the {entrance}[first tone] to my old loft at ‘Randle {ENG}lish manor apartments.'[eng-final] “what a strange new color on the moon” she says. The shape above the moon kind of looks like 丰-Fēng but with the bottom bit removed. The remaining shape has three horizontal lines. Color printing typically uses black ink plus three colors: CYAN, magenta and yellow. Okay then, it’s a CYAN Moon, kind of like a blue moon.

2) 请 – Qīng – please

I had straight memorized this one from seeing it so often, but after (1) the queen grabs her megaphone and asks: “please help me name the color of the moon”

3) 轻 – Qīng – light

She asks her guards for help, the ones who drove her up to the entrance of the loft. She’s there to get some candy from the dispenser prop on the top-right of the character. But it’s a lot of work. (Bottom-right character) She asks if someone could please shine some LIGHT on the candy dispenser. Her assistant – from the character 经-Jīng-to undergo – (who is of course out there by her at the entrance, and who was previously undergoing other work for the Queen, scribbling (left prop) notes on her silk paper about all the work the queen is doing with the dispenser (two right props) – further undergoes the process of….

4) 清 – Qīng – clear – …using an eye-dropper to sprinkle some

watre on the cyan moon, which makes the color wash off so that the white light off the moon is now bright and CLEAR enough so that the Queen of England can CLEARLY see what she’s doing with the candy dispenser. These stories have naturally…almost of their own accord…begun working in tandem to create larger stories in which new words with shared phonemes now work to reinforce and further help distinguish among other characters of the same phoneme as well – when convenient – to reinforce and distinguish other characters belonging to the same setting sub-location. Not necessary, but remarkably useful. With a goal of introducing all of the vocabulary from Intermediate in 7 days, I felt a bit duated.

The erstwhile 592-character core vocabulary to this point is almost tripling to 1,530. The erstwhile 959-word count almost quadrupling to 4,611. I was trying to write every new word down from each level. BUT then I realized that isn’t necessary. All of those multi-character words make good sense with a brief considered glance; only the new characters themselves really seem to need a higher level of attention to intitial reinforcement.

After finishing Level 37, I then wrote out the new characters for levels 38 and 39 and thought of initial Hanzi scenes. I immediately unlocked all of their corresponding Anki Cards (minus the prop cards since those seem to be rather self-evolving and reinforcing alongside the characters they are in) and so got a first day review already. Every review refines has the potential to give rise to a refinement of the intital Hanzi scene so I keep the intial scenes super brief and simple, just poignant enough to leave a trace by the time I review on Anki. Sometimes the initial scenes persevere just fine, sometimes not. Kind of unpredictable. As such, save time by making them all brief and see what sticks upon first review. I Look at all of the compound-character words but leave that for Anki.

I can use my 2 favorite on-screen google apps to simply skim over the grand end-of-level cumulative review sheets in order to give myself quick self-quiz confirmations or corrections as needed. Tomorrow, I expect to initialize levels 40 – 45 It’ll be easier now that I’m leaving aside the compound-character words and just doing the new characters. Day 3 levels 46-50 etc…through level 57…more or less. Imagine that: in 7 days tripling the character base that took two full-time months to establish in aclimating to the Hanzi Movie Method.

And now, OCLO makes the remainder so digestible. I get it. Doesn’t make me conversationally fluent yet of course, but I get it. Really looking forward to full-time shadowing and careful proper reading once the intermediate vocab is set to sinking in.


Keith Travis on Level 45 Complete

Whew! I found this level particularly challenging in my usual course of initially writing each character and reviewing the associated words. I’m not sure why; perhaps a combination of an amusement with the increasingly novel impressions that come with considering Hanzi M.M. stories with each new character. Still, 5 days to go to have intiated all the remaining characters through to the end of intermediate by 10 weeks’ time, after which it seems quite on (my) schedule to supplement any remaining characters and words for HSK 4 along with any remaining grammar bits.

I did discovered a wonderfully brief Youtube video which showcased 8 sentence structures…I found that it really simplified my understanding of how to simply rearrange English sentences to Mandarin format and vice-versa simply depending on sort of ‘reversing’ Verb->Object’ phrases with any phrases having to do with WhoTime, Place, and ‘How’ prioritized to the beginning of sentence.

[WT]->{Place}->{How}->[V + O] : For Mandarin

I reliaze there is much more to be discovered, but this was the most sophisticated of the Basic examples and, along with the other 7 basic structures, pretty much covers the majority of at lease t the first 2,000 Anki sentences. In trying to anticipate how to capitalize on having finished introducing all of the vocabulary and then transition from reading and writing to listening and speaking, it seems to me that writing my own sentences is becoming more and more attractive, as well as to read practice sentences ‘as though I myself’ were composing them from scratch and – slowly – reading the beginning of sentences while considering grammatically possible ways to end them…a little bit of extra surprise or appreciation upon finishing the sentence to see how it was completed by comparison.

I’ve disovered that I can now watch ‘Boonie Bears’ (cartoon for kids) and understand >95% of the captions. similarly, a movie called ‘New Gods: Nezha Reborn’ (an animation movie for older kids/teens) is also easily >95% with respect to the vocab covered by this point. I’ll be checking out ‘Wandering Earth’ (a neat fairly recent and well-made sci-fi movie) later to compare it’s captions. The native speed of these movies’ dialogues are still a bit too fast for me, although curiously the older the intended audience the easy the time I seem to have interpreting at-speed. It’s nice to be able to read it completely and merely replay a few times to practice confirming to myself that I heard the words correctly. So, from July 17th to August 2nd I’ll be entirely focusing towards the Audio Files (thank you Luke) and Shadowing, perhaps even trying my hand at writing out some of the Phase 4 and 5 passages from memory as it seems that I feel more confident about speech when I feel as though I can compose something myself rather than parrot too much.

The audio files are great. Spotify allows synching and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the audio files are 100% Mandarin only: each sentence one right after another with no filler or English to distract me. Sentences I know that I’ve already come into contact with at least once and had understood. In order to facilitate making known vocabulary more readily accesible/retrievable, I’ve also begun a grand excel-sheet in which all of the MB characters are additionally listed by tone, initial, final, and an alternate character with color so that I can develop a ‘thicker semantic network’ by means of chunking together groups of words in multiple ‘similarity networks’. Excel makes this nice since – of course – you can simply reorder the words by the properties of any column. The Level 57 End-of-Level review is exceeding nice, as the webpage link allows me to print out my own self-quiz materials in review of the characters and vocabulary. Soon as I get my smart-phone organized, I’ll finally be able to go on long walks and listen at leisure.

Similarly, with the incredible amount of vocabulary now and soon under my belt, I can practice mentally composing sentences at any time with no need for any other tools or reference. HSK 4 attempt on August 2nd (my birthday) and then a full month to continue transitioning to better listening and speaking skills while supplementing whatever remaining vocab might still be needful for an HSK 5 attempt by September 2nd: end of 4th month since beginning Mandarin Blueprint.

Although the listed character and vocab requirements listed for the HSK exams seems to vary a bit depending on which website I’m visiting, it seems that HSK 5 – at most – requires 1,709 characters and about 2,500 words. That’s starting to feel extremely manageable, especially considering that we are already at 2,292 words right now as of end of Level 45. HSK 6 requires what looks like 2,633 characters and about 5,000 words. That too is looking so very manageable, as by end of MB Level 57 we will be at 1,530 characters and a whopping 4,611 words. At the pace of character-learning the Hanzi M.M. empowers, learning an additional 1,000 characters (facilitated by OCLO of course) seems like would take only a week or so and so as to get started practicing with them. If I understand correctly, the HSK levels 7-9 is anticipated to require about 3,500 (the standard common index of frequent characters) characters and just over 11,000 words. Shoot…another 1,000 characters = another week or so to initialize and start practicing.. Sure, a bit of supplement needed, but a perception of the entire scale of learning and practice is beginning to feel very knowable and familiar.

On average, the speed of new character learning has increased from about 3-4 characters per day during the two weeks I spent on Phase 1 to currently about 150 characters per day as I approach the end of the the intermediate vocab by week 10. OMG The Table of General Standard Chinese Characters (Chinese: 通用规范汉字表; pinyin: Tōngyòng Guīfàn Hànzì Biǎo) is the current standard list of 8,105 Chinese characters published by the government of the People’s Republic of China and promulgated in June 2013. Estimates on the average number of characters an educated native speaker knows is about 8,000. Absolutely blows my mind to think that a person could ostensibly learn those characters – at a pace of about 2,000 characters/month, in about 4 months time, (albeit in a very basic sense of ‘learn’…perhaps I should say memorize.) But still…starting to see the scale of things is really helping me to feel reassured against the feeling of ‘endless struggle’. I feel 100% confident that I could visit China and get by on literacy with anyone willing to take the time to sit and read and write with me. I’ve shown my Taiwanese girlfriend a list of the characters I’ve learned so far so that she has an understanding of how to aim practicing with me a little bit. Just earlier today she showed me a new word meaning ‘pulse oximeter’ – one of which characters I knew, the other which was a traditional version of a character I knew – and I was able to patch together a sentence meaning: “If your pulse oximeter shows 95 or less then go to the hospital.”

A few days ago, while relatives were visiting, I was able to enjoy a fantastic conversation about languages in general with a cousin and his wife, (who is trilingual Danish, German, English). The cousin himself was a professional opera singer for a while and had sung in German and Italian. He mentioned having been extremely intimidated by previous impressions of Chinese language. And yet, I showed him a simple Anki flashcard sentence of 6 characters meaning “I’m happy to see you” (forgot the exact sentence) and broke it down for him two words at a time. He immediately grasped it, was excited, and proceeded to practice a few times and then record his voice before sending it as a audio-message to his neighbor, (who happens to be Chinese). The neighbor promptly texted back saying ‘perfect’. Lot’s of fun to come, I can’t even imagine.


Keith Travis on Make a Movie 规

Character #1,000. What?! no fanfare?

I recall that – in mathematics – a ‘magnitude’ is a ‘power of 10’. I’m trying to find the equivalent in Mandarin.

Let’s see…


Zhènjí – degree of earthquake (on a magnitude scale) pretty close…warm 十的力量

Shí de lìliàng – Ten’s power (more or less) colder…


Zhǐshù – (Math) exponent; exponential (growth) very warm…funny that this seems to mean ‘finger count’ at first glance. Yet, this word uses characters presented by this point; so I’ll go with it. I remember an excerpt from a presentation by Elon Musk in which he refers to ‘thinking in terms of magnitudes’ when estimating the scale of operations needed to make a business endeavor practical.

For example, instead of estimating that 10 to 20 battery factories might be needed, he will estimate 10 to 100. Instead of estimating 100 to 200, he will estimate 100 to 1,000. When I first began this course, I was definitely at a finger-counting level. Every single character was a massive increase. Then, learning 10 characters at a time was a pretty big leap. And now, at about 100+ per day, arriving at character #1,000 feels especially memorable. According to Jun Da 笪骏 and his list of character frequencies and percentage of Mandarin known relative to learning characters in order from highest to lowest frequency, arriving at the 1,000th character, one would be able to recognize 87.83% of written Mandarin. This is a 7%-8% bump up from where we were at by the end of Phase 5 at 592 characters. 408 more words…that’s @ 69% increase from Phase 5. an 8% increase in total character recognition for a 70% increase in character vocabulary…loosely speaking. By the time we get to the end of intermediate character vocabulary, we will be at @93.6% total character recognition. That’s another almost 6% increase relative to a 52% increase in vocabulary relative to 1,000 character.

In physiology and biochemistry, the metabolism is incredibly sensitive to slight changes in blood chemistry…a 1% shift in the relative concentration of a substance is significant and a 5% shift can be borderline traumatic in some cases. Again according to Jun Da’s 笪骏 list for creative writing, one passes the:

99% mark by about 3,050 characters and the

99.9% mark by 4,926 characters.

99.99% character recognition around 6,223 characters.

99.999% at 7,563

99.9999% at 8,348

99.99999% at 8,427

however, native speakers with at least 2,000 characters under their belts are ‘typically’ considered fluent. by comparison, HSK 6 has 2,663 characters on its full requirement list, so far as I can tell. In other words, knowing enough characters to pass the HSK 6 ‘should definitely be’ more than enough characters with which to establish fluency, yet only if one can recognize, integrate, and exchange well enough from among them to develop fluency. And the new HSK levels 7-9 extend to about 3,500 characters I believe, pretty much equivalent to the official full list of high-frequency characters put out as a national standard. That same types of standard lists relegate another 4,500 or so characters to ‘common’ rather than ‘frequent’. Fun Facts


Jason Pon on 推 in Context


What here is becoming the adverb via 地? Is it 用力? Like ‘pushed the house using force’?


Jason Pon on 难看 in Context

Is 电视 interchangeable between TV (set) and TV program/show? Or should 电视机 be used for TV set?


William Beeman on Vocab Unlocked from 辛

Hi guys

In 他从小没有了父母,是奶奶千辛万苦把他养大的。Is the 了 in the first clause necessary, superfluous, or emphatic, since从小 and 没有 already imply a past/completed event? I’m continually wrestling with 了 and I am sure that millions of others are too! Thanks!


Rick Angleland on 连 in Context

In 这两句话连不起来。what is the role of 话?

Is 句话 a longer version of 句?


Rick Angleland on 经过 in Context

I looked for more sentences using 坏了 and some of them referred to positive experiences such as 乐坏了, so it seems to work like 死了, for positive or negative experiences?

1:06:37 Vocab Living Links

This section covers “Living Link” mnemonic techniques to remember Chinese words of two or more characters. Here’s a video explaining the theory behind it.

Korneel Snauwaert on Vocab Unlocked from 随: 随时

Come to my “suite” any time.


Julie H. Lund on Vocab Unlocked from 有: 有人 – 只有 – 没有 – 有点儿 – 还有 – 有的 – 有用


A picture of the “Home Alone” christmas movie. He’s the only one at home, all alone, who can fend off the criminals.


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 穿: 穿衣服

Sounds like ‘chew on seafood’, your teeth pierce through the skin. They are rather large fish and then you can put on the skin like a wetsuit.


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 空: 天空 – 有空 – 空间 – 空气

天空 ‘Tea on (King) Kong would definitely be up in the sky; 有空 ‘Yoh! Kong! Do you have some free time?’; 空间 ‘Kong, Gee, Anne! would you all get out of my personal space!’; 空气 ‘Kong’s breath (another meaning for 气) is really stinky!