【Case Study】”You Don’t Need to Look Elsewhere for a Chinese Course” – Rudolf

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Phil Crimmins:
Welcome back to the Mandarin Blueprint Podcast. I’m here with Rudolf and Rudolf has been on the Mandarin Blueprint course for, well, when did you start doing the course, Rudolf?

Rudolf Krempasky:
Well, I think it was just before Christmas. I think I joined in December, starting with the pronunciation mastery course, which took me a little while and then I started with characters.

Phil Crimmins:
Awesome. Awesome. So, actually I’ll go back to that in a second, but before we get into your thoughts about the pronunciation course and the characters and all of that, just tell us a little bit about yourself and why you started to learn Chinese.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Well, to be honest, there isn’t any particular reason that I need it for my job or some particularly interested in Chinese culture [inaudible 00:00:56]. Of course it always came to my mind like, “Okay, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to learn a language that is completely different and from different culture behind.” But I never really imagines, as most of the Europeans, these characters are frightening. And so I did not really [inaudible 00:00:01:26]. And in fact, it was by chance because I was like, “Okay, I should learn German because I’m from central Europe, we are bordering them.” And so, okay, just to keep me some regular basis, I took Duolingo courses. And by chance I was like, “What do they have on Duolingo?” And when you put English as your native language, then you have a Chinese.

Rudolf Krempasky:
So that actually got me started, but I knew that Duolingo is not a way to go. Then I started doing some research on the internet, how to approach this and how to start because I wanted it on my own, some online courses, et cetera. And doing the research I came up on you with the best, in my opinion, with the best course available.

Phil Crimmins:
Gotcha, gotcha. So are you from Poland then?

Rudolf Krempasky:
No, no. I’m from a little bit south, Slovakia.

Phil Crimmins:
Okay, cool. Yeah. Yeah. I was just thinking of the geography there, you said you bordered Germany-

Rudolf Krempasky:
Yeah, sure. A lot of states, yeah. Tiny state in the middle of Europe.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah. Yeah. Cool. So, you were sort of inspired by Duolingo and so did you feel, my instinct would be like, geez, that’s quite the challenge, Mandarin as opposed to even German or German is kind of difficult to learn, compared to Mandarin. So did you feel intimidated at all by the idea of learning all those characters?

Rudolf Krempasky:
Well, I didn’t know how to approach this. So that’s why the research, in fact I’m not intimidated by the fact that any language is like, you can learn any language. And as one former professor of mine told me that all the languages are equally easy because all the children start speaking at the same age all over the world. So yes, it’s not like it’s not possible, but it’s more or less like how you approach this, what kind of tools you take.

Phil Crimmins:
Right.

Rudolf Krempasky:
But of course, normally as you said in your podcasts, it’s not so easy and the dropout rate is high because you get stuck and you don’t see any reason in continuing and how long it would take. So…

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That’s an attitude that is great that you’re starting off with because it’s amazing how many people just assume that they can’t do it right from the beginning and it’s good that your attitude, I mean it’s funny how professors or people who are significant influences early on in life, their things like that they say, can stick with you the whole time. I have, my fourth grade teacher, I still think of things he used to say all the time, and so that’s really cool that you knew right from the get go that of course you could do it. It’s maybe a question of how long it takes, but yeah, that’s great to hear. So it sounds like you weren’t particularly looking to learn Chinese for any professional reason or it’s not like you had a Chinese girlfriend or something like that. So do you find anything specifically, maybe about either Chinese culture or the language itself inherently interesting?

Rudolf Krempasky:
Well, no. I can generally, it’s always good to learn any other language apart from your own because it gives you a different perspective.

Phil Crimmins:
Absolutely.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Even if you learn the language of your neighbor, then you find out, okay this is what we thought of them. Now when you learn their language and can see from their side, that’s a different perspective or I haven’t thought about that and you change your attitude. And that’s the… Well, and if you take Mandarin, which is way different and the background is different. So I know like general things about most of the world and I’m really fond of geography. So I knew even the kind of language it is, it is analytical language.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, absolutely is an analytical language.

Rudolf Krempasky:
So [inaudible 00:06:18], et cetera. So I just never, okay, let’s do it, but when I started, I’m now decided to continue until I’m able to read and maybe watch. So it take, I guess quite a lot of time, but yeah.

Phil Crimmins:
Sure, sure.

Rudolf Krempasky:
My goal is not specific to go too fast, I work nice. But this hour a day that you, for example mentioned. I think it’s good to have this practice and to go on, and I hope that by the end of this year I will cover all those 600 characters on the foundation course and then continue until I am able to read without difficulties and speak maybe later on.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah. Awesome.

Rudolf Krempasky:
But I’m looking forward to get the… Because I know that it makes a difference if you know the language and you read and you look at perspective of the people who speak that language.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, absolutely. That’s been the constant source of joy for me, learning Mandarin is just there’s obviously the ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, which is fantastic and has helped me, especially in today’s climate where a lot of people are maybe angry at China for the recent events. I’m able to look at it a little bit more objectively, which doesn’t mean that I’m taking sides one way or the other, it’s just one of those things where I’m glad that I know the language because it helps me not be too quick to judge.

Phil Crimmins:
But then there’s also the element of it, which is when you learn Mandarin, it’s such a different sort of foundational structure for a language that it helps you think about things better, even if it’s not particularly to try to understand China better or Chinese people, you still have a different operating system in your brain to try to figure out a problem. So it’s really, really useful to have such differing kind of operating systems. And of course in your case you’ll be multi-lingual, so that’s even better. Now, let’s talk a little bit more about the course itself. You said you finished the pronunciation mastery course, what were your thoughts about how the pronunciation mastery course presented the information and did you find it easy to follow? What’s your general feedback about that course?

Rudolf Krempasky:
Well, basically this pronunciation course is the one that got me started or persuaded me to go with your course because it looked very well structured and thorough. I tend to, because I consider pronunciation is rather important for you to learn from the start. And if you know the rules, the better. You don’t have to correct mistakes later on. Even with English, it’s difficult for my fellow countrymen [inaudible 00:09:51], because they assume how words are pronounced and then they do not learn pronunciation as they learn words and then they are stuck, since the English is very messy about the pronunciation, but for example other languages like German, there are rules. If you learn them at the beginning then it’s easy.

Rudolf Krempasky:
So I find that it’s rather similar with Chinese and you showed us these rules. It’s a very well structured course. I was pleased with it because you pointed out all the main features like where to put your tongue with, what you call these problem initials, et cetera. And [inaudible 00:10:35] is so well structured that you can also see it for Germanophone or Francophone, is just give them a different idea with the words but the structure of the course is very well. So I find it really helpful.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Maybe at the beginning if there was a like, I’ve seen other examples on the net like this pinning chart that you have and you can click on each of the syllable and you have it, that would be maybe good for you.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, good little addition to the course.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Because when I listened to some examples they were okay, but I’m pretty sure any would do much better job and it might even draw some customers of yours because at the beginning everybody just looking how to pronounce that. But that’s a minor thing.

Phil Crimmins:
That’s a good idea.

Rudolf Krempasky:
You even explained, for example with [Mandarin 00:11:47], this ming syllable that you can pronounce it like [Mandarin 00:11:50] or [Mandarin 00:11:53]. Maybe the only one think, it’s not a flaw, it’s just, I was wondering, “Okay, what is the actual difference between like [Mandarin 00:12:14], you’ve got the word [Mandarin 00:12:15] and so you have this fake I and then you have [Mandarin 00:12:21], like [Mandarin 00:12:24]. And so what was the difference? When I was like, okay probably with this I, you put your tongue a little bit towards your teeth and with E, like in [Mandarin 00:12:39], you have it a little bit backward in your mouth cavity. But just to show the difference between all those.

Rudolf Krempasky:
But otherwise, it was really, really well structured. So it took me some time, I finished it in the end of January because I was putting all the additional, what you have at the end of an annuals, like doing some summary. I recorded it, put it into Anki, just in addition to have this. But very well structured, so that was the starter for me actually.

Phil Crimmins:
Awesome. Awesome. Yeah, well we completely agree. Pronunciation is the way to start any language. And it really does, because I, as I mentioned in the course, I believe, I didn’t really understand that pronunciation should be the main focus at the beginning, I was more focused on characters which isn’t the worst thing to do. But maybe two to three years into my study I found myself having to undo some bad habits. And that was obviously a waste of time if I had just done it from the beginning correctly, it would’ve saved me a lot of time. And so luckily Luke had the right idea from the beginning and his pronunciation is excellent. So hence why he taught the course.

Phil Crimmins:
So, then of course after the pronunciation mastery, we’d go into the regular course and it’s obviously this totally different kind of mnemonic system for learning characters, which a lot of people find very strange at first. Had you ever had any experience with using mnemonic visualization to memorize things before?

Rudolf Krempasky:
Not really. I was not completely unaware of it because in my case, for example, I have a good memory for faces and I remember when I’m exposed to some faces for some time, I remember usually them. But it’s terrible for the names, so I don’t remember names. And so I was just wondering, how should I improve it? And so I knew there are some mnemonic books teaching about this, for example, there’s Tony Buzan, there’s mind maps, I came across.

Phil Crimmins:
Oh right. Yeah. Yeah.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Never actually used it that much. So, I was aware and even when I was searching for how to learn Chinese, almost everyone, one way or another mentioned this mnemonic technique to help you. So not unaware, but not really using them.

Phil Crimmins:
Right, right. Yeah, well at least in that way you wouldn’t have been too overly skeptical. Some people see the course and they’re just like, “What is this? Are we going to have Arnold Schwarzenegger in my bedroom? What’s happening?” So obviously it can be weird for some people, it’s good that you had that understanding. So how long did it take you going through the course before you felt like you had a handle on the system? Because obviously each character, there’s about six steps to remembering it, you need the actor, the set, the props, and you have to interact and all of that. So about how long, let’s think of it in terms of characters, how many characters did you have to learn before you felt like you had a grasp of the method and that you were confident that moving forward you would have success? Just approximately.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Well yeah, after 50 characters I think I got it. I was looking at the videos now, but as you mentioned in your course after this 150, it’s not necessarily that I… I always look at the suggestions if there’s something easier that I can… But I tend to now rely on what comes to my mind and just note it. I have to admit that I was wondering, how did the people manage this? Because at the beginning you provided also sample scripts for example, and I was like, when I’m doing my reviews, I was struggling. Where did they put these scripts? Because you don’t have this feel for this, so I made my own and I put it somewhere because I’m going to forget what my scene was. So, I’m putting it directly to Anki as well. And sometimes I’m making a little sketch as well, depending on…

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah.

Rudolf Krempasky:
But I think, as you have these 155 characters and after all you should go with your own.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, well luckily-

Rudolf Krempasky:
It’s not…

Phil Crimmins:
Okay?

Rudolf Krempasky:
It’s not too early, I guess it’s enough, it’s a hundred characters for everyone to get familiar with the technique.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, sure. Yeah, absolutely. We made that and of course over the past year or so, we released the course on January 1st, 2019 so it’s now 16 months later or so and we have gotten something like 5,500 comments on the course of people giving their own suggestions. So, it’s kind of cool because we did say at character 105, we’ll stop having so many videos, but we’ve actually inserted a lot of videos now of us sharing other people’s scenes. So, there is still a lot to come. Not every character though because you’d actually end up wasting more time watching the videos. A lot of times you can just go in and be done in like 30 seconds if you’re just using your own mind for it.

Phil Crimmins:
And I will suggest that the writing down of the scenes is definitely useful when you’re getting the hang of the method, but one of the things that if you get really good at it and you start to get good at remembering, “Okay, so how can I add emotion to this scene? How can I do things to make things even more visually stimulating? I have a cup in my hand, could I make the cup bright and shining or it feels hot or something like that?” Where you can plug in to these memory sensors, I would reckon that you’ll eventually not even need to write them down. In the same way that if you have a genuine experience in life and you always remember it, it’s almost like you want to hack that process and go, “Well what was it about this real experience I had that meant that I didn’t need to review it? I just remember it?”

Phil Crimmins:
And so as you get better at it, and Luke and I, people when we were first doing it, they used to say to us like, “How do you guys come up with this?” And I was like, “Well, we had 3000 characters of practice.” So you get better at it as you go. So I’m sure that you won’t need to write down moving forward, but it’s definitely a great thing to do at the beginning. So, awesome. So I guess one of the questions that we always have is, you gave us a couple of suggestions regarding pronunciation mastery or do you have any other suggestions for how we can improve the first two stages of the course where we have the characters and the words that we cover?

Rudolf Krempasky:
Not really with the characters, it’s very well structured. At the beginning, I was wondering, what is it that patent pending, what this had to do with some kind of patent, because I just started and now I understand that, okay, all these techniques might have been known, but no one is stitching them together into a such a coherent way that you bundle up all these… Each is like, the character meaning and pronunciation, I haven’t seen anywhere else. So, for example, when I was actually researching, I saw some girl from Taiwan based in London, she would give some Ted Talks and then release some books called Chineasy with just a nice drawings of the characters, but it’s not enough. You don’t have any intonation or tones there. So, this one is really the most complete I’ve seen. So I now understand that took you some kind of effort and so I wish you all the best luck to getting the patent for it.

Phil Crimmins:
Oh yeah. Hopefully it’ll-

Rudolf Krempasky:
To be used later on.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, I mean it’s really just defensive. We just are worried because we’re just a couple of guys and we’re doing okay, but we’re not a huge company and so we worry that somebody out there would go with a lot more resources than we have, would just go, “Oh, that’s a great idea. Let’s just take it.” And so the whole patent pending thing is really just defensive. And the law about it is that if you are in the patent pending stage, you have to say it on your website or wherever your product is. So, obviously it does get across the idea that there is some uniqueness to it. But yeah, we don’t do that because we’re like, “We want to sue other people.” We’re more afraid that other company with bigger resources would take over. But yeah, so, okay, well great. So then the final question we have for you is just, would you recommend Mandarin Blueprint to anybody else out there who’s considering learning Mandarin?

Rudolf Krempasky:
Surely I will because it really is working in my opinion. You might be skeptical about this mnemonic techniques, et cetera, but you have to find out yourself, how would you know? Is it working, is it not? Well, you start learning, as in my case, and it really is helping, especially for this multifaceted I would say approach because I look at the character, I don’t know immediately by now, look at the components and then… Now many ways that help you either the props or the set and so you might not remember, but then you just start thinking about it and you just link it together and it comes up. So, it really is working so that’s a huge thing. So the method is good.

Rudolf Krempasky:
What I would stress here is that, what I like is that in my opinion, in any language learning, you have to do it regularly and you stress that a lot in your videos, in your emails that come up after you finish, you just don’t say, “You are great, great, great without any base.” So it is important. And I like that you’ve chosen Anki as a tool, which is I think a good tool, not very maybe user-friendly, but you make up for it because you make videos even for folks that are not very technical, how to use it. So that’s a good thing because it’s explained there, they can use it, everybody can use it. And it’s a good, I don’t imagine any alternatives, using some proprietary software, et cetera. That’s a good tool. And you stress that you have to do every day.

Rudolf Krempasky:
So it might be more than 90% of doing this on a regular basis. And you provide content and that’s something I would like to stress is that the content is very good. And in my opinion, personally, I usually get distracted because I think, “Okay, what would be good to learn? Maybe this book and that book and this grammar, et cetera.” And I know I do this often, but I know that it distracts me and actually hinders any progress. And in your course, it’s everything in it. So I decided for myself, I’m not going searching any other resource, I’m just going to this year to finish this 600 characters and just go on with it, not getting distracted by anything else. And I think it is sufficient. As I progress, I find it good.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Even now, after I finished this level 12 and seen the new Anki, the last thing… Because I think, okay, but it wouldn’t harm to know a little bit of grammar, just do not discover all the rules by myself, although I’m not a linguist. And in those new decks you’ve provided, that’s there. So these sentences, these web, how, what, the structures that you have. So again, I don’t have to worry and it’s just enough if I repeat and I’m pretty sure I’ll get the hang of it. So this is what I would stress, the content is very good and you don’t really need to look elsewhere. What you mention, this is like OCLA, there’s this learning order.

Phil Crimmins:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Optimal character learning order.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Yeah, that’s a very good thing. And you get the content that is interesting and you progress, so very good content and I appreciate that that was your job. Very well done for filling. You’ve got a good structure but filling in content is equally important. So definitely I would.

Phil Crimmins:
Well thank you so much, Rudolf. That was a ringing endorsement and we really appreciate that and we are continuing actually at the moment working on further grammar materials. We do obviously believe that grammar can be naturally acquired through comprehensible input, but like you said, sometimes you just want to see that thing that explains, why is it this way? And so we’ve been working on those articles. We’ve already released maybe about 20 of them which are in the sidebar of the course that you can check out as you, I mean they’ll come up as you go through the course, but you can look forward to that. We’re going to keep making those and I really appreciate you taking the time today. It’s not a requirement at all. So, we greatly appreciate that.

Phil Crimmins:
And we’ll hopefully, maybe we can have a chance to catch up again maybe in six months, see how you’re doing, see if you have any other feedback. And thanks again for coming on the call.

Rudolf Krempasky:
Thank you very much. Take care.