chinese character process

135. Trust the Chinese Character Process

Podcast Duration: 01:35:19

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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.

135. Trust the Chinese Character Process

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14:48 Comments & Emails

Ernie by Community

I’d like to ask for some advice about making movies. I started this course with some knowledge of Chinese speaking and also know some characters.   

Some of those characters are already “engraved” in my memory. I know the meaning and can read and write them properly. I am sure I won’t forget those. 

Any suggestion about how to proceed with these characters? 
After coming across some of them already, I found that making the full scene with the props, actors, sets and all the interaction is just adding some confusion.  I was thinking about just making a simple “snapshot” of the actor and set/location, in order to consolidate what I already know, and also help me remember sets and actors. But I don’t know it that can be a problem in the long term.

any thoughts?

That would be only for the characters I am 100% sure that I already know and won’t ever forget, which are not that many. If I have doubts about the writing or the tone, I am making the full scene, just to be sure I learn it properly.



Jessica m by Community

In the intermediate couse, keywords become more abstract and less useful in scene creation. Many keywords I find too abstract to build a memorable story with, others I’ve already pinned to a chinese word, and still others don’t have any meaning to me. I’ve been changing keywords as the inspiration comes to me. 

A small hanful of examples:
I renamed 育 “review mirror” 
巧 Chocolate (and as a bonus, sounds like coincidence)
辛 Sysphus
传 To give away (e.g. makes more sense that to pass on)

So I’d like to suggest compiling a list of keyword re-names souces from us to provide suggestions for renamming keywords (and warnings to prevent choosing a re-name that causes a problem later.)


Al Berley by Community

Hey guys, sorry if this has been asked before but wondering how long you are spending on the ‘Grammar review cards’?

I am level 22/23 but feel i am spending too long on each one wanting to make sure i infer exactly the correct meaning.

I am also starting to try and visualise the meaning as the sentence goes on using only chinese instead of translating each word. This is actually really helpful but an obvious additional challenge! Inevitabley i also have translate to validate my answer.

Sometimes I understand just fine after the blank has been filled in but often cant think what that character should be. if you cant get the characters, do you mark it ‘wrong’ or ‘hard’?

Is it better to keep up the pace and exposure with grammar reviews, or slow down and really make sure I am inferring exactly the right meaning each time? With single characters this is alot more cut and dry but longer strings of words carry more ambiguity. I do all of the grammmar review cards and try to keep my daily card amount at 130-180 (including character reviews).

Loving the course though. 60 days, and 319 characters. Cant believe it when I look back!



Craig Cavanagh by Community

Hi everyone,

I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts about using their mother tongue (or a language that they are adequately proficient in) as a basis for learning another language.

I understand this is often necessary when starting out as you need something familiar as a reference but at what point does this become an ‘over-reliance’ and actually start holding people back?

I’ve seen lots of language resources mention that you should try to use the language to learn the language (I seem to recall Phil mentioning something to that effect as well in an early video). When is a good time to do this (besides the obvious ‘whenever you can?’)?

I’ve recently been trying to stop translating everything in my head back to English as it obviously leads to a bit of a delay and slows everything down. I’m getting better, and know it will come with time, but I’m wondering if the fact that practically all of my characters and scenes are tied to an English keyword (with many scenes being based on English wordplay) is adding to the difficulty of separating the two languages.

Watching resources that are purely in Mandarin and hearing them describe new words and phrases using vocabulary I already know really cemented this idea. I found myself having a different sort of connection with these new concepts and it is much easier to utilise them without resorting to English. Has anyone else had similar experiences?

Finally, to Luke and Phil, have you considered having the next part of the course entirely in Mandarin? I noticed that the intermediate course introduces a lot of characters that have similar meanings to earlier ones and this just gets more and more likely as the number of characters grow. Would it get too complicated having a scene connect to a separate character that itself has a separate scene? I could see how some confusion may arise there in the future. Did you both always use English for all of your scenes or did you eventually shift over to Mandarin keywords as well?

Sorry for the ramble but I’d be very interested to hear others’ experiences as they become more advanced and hope it might be a good topic for early learners to consider.




William Edmeades by Community

Hey MBers! Nothing too interesting but I just wanted to share that it’s been 2 years since I first bought a lifetime subscription and started the pronunciation mastery course! It’s really changed my life and where I see myself headed 🙂 and I know couldn’t have reached my current level without the MBM (and certainly not within the same timeframe :p), best money I’ll probably ever spend on something 

I’ve been listening to testimonials on other Podcasts and how they reached a comfortable level of fluency in chinese, and the vast majority of them describe their progress in *years* and the hard slogs they’ve had to endure, when this course makes it possible to measure that same progress in *months* and it’s fun! (Seriously I almost feel guilty that it’s this easy).

It’s been nearly a year since I finished the Intermediate course in May, quietly plugging away at Anki everyday and listening to Olly Richard’s ‘Conversations’ when I get the chance (it’s worth checking out, there’s 20 ‘episodes’ of roughly 3 minutes each that tell a story of a new couple arriving in quiet 苏州 from busy 上海 and there’s some drama too but I won’t spoil it too much ;). It’s aimed at an Intermediate audience and features native audio with transcripts, episode summaries and a list of top-down words).

Long story short I just wanted to give a big shout-out to Luke & Phil and everyone in the MBM community for making this course possible, you guys rock!! Here’s to many more years of ridiculous scene creation haha 😀



Lynn Ford on BONUS: Stroke Order (Rule 3 of 12)

It’s funny, when I began this journey before I found you guys, I thought I needed to learn the same way I learned to read and write, which is rope learning. So my plan was to write the characters like 50 times each, to try and memorize it. I quickly discovered on my first character that there had to be a method to it, because it looked terrible. I spent the next month studying stroke order, learning all the strokes and combinations, practicing endlessly. Mind you I had learned nothing about pinyin, how to say the words, radicals etc etc.

It was a really backward way to learn and I am glad I didn’t go too far down the rabbit hole before I discovered your, much more effective way of learning. That being said, I really am glad I know how to write characters so well. It gave me a bit of appreciation of the art behind characters, and idk, I now kinda get this thrill just seeing them. It is like each one is a tiny piece of art to me, beautiful, ancient, and full of meaning. It’s so far, the best thing I have going for me with learning Mandarin 😉 BUT I am gradually getting the hang of everything else. Great vids so far!


Jason Pon on Level 28 Complete

I absolutely love these end of lesson summaries, and the way you write is so personal & intimate. I’ve pitched MB a few times to people I’ve met and also on Clubhouse as well. I met someone on Clubhouse who says he knows you two. A Lawrence who lives in Chengdu as well!


Melissa Gyure on (BONUS) The Language Learning Tripod Part 2: Attentiveness

I really like the immerse yourself. Each time I listen/watch my drama, I am picking out more words. When I first watched it, I understood absolutely nothing, but now, I am able to hear many more individual words. I look forward to when I can actually understand so much more. Time. Practice. Patience. Practice. Practice. Patience. Time. I will get there. Thank you so much.


Kelli on BONUS: Relator – ‘Towards’ a Target with 对

What a relief to finally have this explained! I think it would have been useful perhaps around 8 levels ago!


Anne Giles on MAKE A MOVIE 寸

Fabulous and helpful answer! I was kind of drawing a blank when I looked at each of these characters. I think I’ve been focusing on how to encode info – you reminded me how to decode! Thank you!!


Eleanor McComb on (BONUS) Principle vs. Reality in Mandarin

I learned Mandarin informally in Taiwan and have lived in Qingdao on the mainland teaching English and the dialects are different but so are the accents! That northern accent seems so unnatural to me now and I’m trying to retrain myself but is there really a reason besides business and perceived professionalism to develop a Beijing accent? Is it like “Queens English”?. Ive been asked if I’m from Singapore but sometimes I get the impression that my accent is as though I chose to learn English in Scotland and just sounds a bit odd? (No shade to any Scots)

My Chinese has gotten really bad. (Bu Jin ze tui – ya know) and I am loving the course. Thank you.


Casie Moen on Problem Initial J & Simple Final I (YI): 几个 jǐge, 个 ge5

What does it mean that ge has a 4th tone “on paper”? I would think that tones are only applicable in spoken Mandarin.


Anne Giles on Time to Get Real About Sentences

WOW! I snuck ahead of some of the character videos to get a peek at sentences. I can’t believe I read this sentence aloud without pinyin and understood it!!!


This is crazy good! Thank you, Luke & Phil!!


Anne Giles on Make a Movie 几

Would this be correct?
Q: 你要几个?
Nǐ yào jǐ gè?
A: 我要几个。
Wǒ yào jǐ gè.


Jason Pon on 怎么 in Context


Why is 面 included here? I would think 后面 means ‘behind’


Soren Korsbaek on Vocab Unlocked from 凶


I’m curious about the usage of ‘手’ here, is it something with handily/conveniently having fled abroad?


Anne Giles on Make a Movie 呆

What is the difference in use between 笨 bèn – from the Pronunciation Mastery Course – and 呆 dāi?


Julie Hentschel Lund on 回 in Context


When I read this part at first, I thought it meant ” She lets you have the free time you want, but on the condition (就) that you give her a callback. ” In which part of the Chinese sentence, does it indicate “a moment”?


Soren Korsbaek on Vocab Unlocked from 通

用法 1 – “open; through”:



The sentence here didn’t make sense to me when considering ‘通’ to mean open or through, however I think the Google Translate is right as it seems sensible:

“He finally figured out that money is not the most important thing, and love is more important than money.”

Just flagging in case it is useful to know it isn’t immediately clear and I found it a bit confusing.


Philip Dong on Vocab Unlocked from 去: 去年 – 上去 – 下去 – 过去

Hi Luke & Phil. Regarding the Grammar Review sentence:我想明年去中国。(Speaker is not currently in China), does this assume that the listener / receiver is also not in China? As an example, if the listener / receiver is in China, does it change the sentence to: 我想明年来中国. ?



Kevin Lee on 点钟 in Context

When can we leave off the character 钟? In the example above: A: 几点钟了?

B: 5点了, 钟 is used to ask what time, but in the answer it is omitted. In other examples 钟 is used to indicate [time] o’clock, but then not in the answer of this example? Is it because the question implies it?

The usage (or not usage in this case) makes total sense to me, I’m just curious if there is a “hard and fast” rule that can/needs to be applied in this case.


Ric Santos on Vocab Unlocked from 刺

他一不小心把针刺进了手里。Is it alright to translate “一” as “a bit”, so that the meaning would be : He – a bit carelessly- stuck the needle into (his) hand ?

1:23:24 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.

Oscar Haglund on Vocab Unlocked from 忘: 忘记

The main character in “memori” needs to write everything down before he forgets.


Julie Hentschel Lund on Vocab Unlocked from 系: 关系 – 联系

联系 – A photo of LinkedIn. You’re literally linked to other people in some sort of a relationship and usually recruiters say “we’ll get in touch” after a job application.


Korneel Snauwaert on Vocab Unlocked from 会: 机会 – 一会儿

机会 : Take the opportunity, otherwise the machines will …

1:28:14 Movies! 

This blog post explains the theory behind Movie Scenes and learning characters.


Hank Elliott on Make a Movie 骗

骗 piàn

Actor- PINK
Set- Andi’s House
Room: bathroom
Props: 马 – Horse 扁- Slate

PINK is in the BATHROOM of ANDI’s house riding her HORSE all over the tile floor. The floor os breaking into little PIECES (another def. of Pian). She and Andi are complaining that they were DECEIVED by their contractor because they paid for SLATE tiles that the horse would not have broken!

John Nomura on Make a Movie 冬

Outside my ang- set, in the middle of WINTER, I see the taskmaster (夂) skating over a bed of popsicles (冫);


Ric Santos on Make a Movie 厕

C-Actor in the backyard ( 4th tone) of the -e set. C-actor was looking urgently for a cliff-like cover (厂) for privacy, in order to do his “business” . Specifically, it was to separate (刂) from something of value (贝) and be free from it. In the process, it relieved him from such a discomfort , and consequently , it gave him a great convenience (大便) ! Behold – the comfort room : 厕 所 !


Will Raley on Make a Movie 粉

粉 fěn Powder

1. Flynn at -en’s Living Room
2. Flynn has some Rice (米) to cook, but has nothing to cook it with
3. So Flynn tries tossing the Rice into his Star Trek Force Field (分) to cook
4. Unfortunately the Force Field is so strong that it turns the Rice into POWDER (粉)
5. Flynn is annoyed he will have to eat POWDER Rice now


Hank Elliott on Make a Movie 挥

挥- huī – TO WAVE
Actor: The HULK
Set: My son-in-law’s Dad’s house (Jay)
Props: 扌 – Finger 冖 – Crown 车 – Sports Car

First I’d like to explain that this scene is an exact replica of a photo that my Daughter’s father in law sent to me with my daughter driving his brand new Miata with her daughter in the car. They were both waving and both wearing princess Tierras.

So there they are in Jay’s driveway, Mariah (daughter) is driving Jay’s Miata with the top down and with Addilyn (grand daughter) in the front seat. Both are wearing Tierras and waving at us. But now HULK hops into the back seat wearing his CROWQN and also waving with his giant FINGER. What a spectacle with the front wheels practically off the ground and all three ginning and waving happily!!

Bam, Memorized forever!!


Will Raley on Make a Movie 格

格 gé Frame

1. Greg at -e’s Kitchen
2. Greg likes his Passport (各) photo so much that he wants to FRAME it
3. Greg cuts up a Tree (木) and makes a FRAME out of it
4. Greg FRAMES (格) his Passport Photo


Will Raley on Make a Movie 楚

楚 chǔ Distinct (clearly noticeable; clearly separate and different)

1. Chef at -Ø’s Living Room
2. Chef sees something Distinct from the rest of the Living Room
3. It’s Treebeard (林) coming right at him to destroy Chef
4. Chef gets a Rocket Launcher (疋) and blasts Treebeard away
5. Treebeard on fire is more Distinct (楚) than ever now

13 April, 2021