201. "I Need a Dictionary to Understand Myself!"

201. “I Need a Dictionary to Understand Myself!”

Podcast Duration: 00:32:55
I need a dictionary to understand myself! || Podcast No. 201

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0:52 Comments & Emails

Email from Gavia on needing a dictionary to understand her thoughts in Chinese

Hi Luke & Phil,

I´m having one of my happy moments with Chinese here and wanted to share it with you! I´m just saying again things I have said before and that you have told us before, but today I once again see it more clearly than ever before!

The last two months or so have been REALLY tough and I gave up trying to speak at all. I have even had some very serious “WHY am I doing this and do I even want to go on?” moments. It all felt like the characters will NEVER come to an end and everything is just so hard and I HATE SRS by now. I have given up on most of my ambitious plans and habits and I have been doing just some daily characters (and SRS, despite hating it…) and watching a series with Chinese subtitles mostly for entertainment now. I listen to some podcasts, but not nearly as much as I used to think I “should” or “want to” listen to. I even gave up studying with my language buddies for a while. In a way it has been the hardest but also somehow the laziest two months in my MB path.

Life has just been too much and besides that my language partner went back to China, so he is too busy to speak anyway. There´s an 8 hour time difference between us now. I do miss our calls but in fact it was also always quite stressful to speak since it feels so hard and I now got used to not speaking. He’s coming back to Africa next week, a different continent as always, but we are closer in time zones again. So today I was sort of thinking in my mind what I could tell him about the series I have been watching in Chinese, because that´s basically the only thing I have done during this time anyway. I´m not speaking out loud or writing anything or preparing formally, just thinking in my head while I´m out on a walk.

The funny thing is that I caught myself needing a dictionary to UNDERSTAND MYSELF! I mean, I would make up these sentences in my mind and all of a sudden start asking myself “Wait a minute! What´s that word, how do I know it, does it fit in this sentence or does it even mean what I think it means, I have no idea how to translate that to any other language”. So I actually went to check a number of my OWN words in Pleco to see if they even existed in Chinese or made any sense. It seemed like they did! I know much more Chinese than I know that I know! SO COOL!

I’ve had this experience when learning other languages before and I know this is what happens when you just listen and read enough, but I had not had the experience in Chinese yet. So happy! I need to run my sentences through the test of actually SPEAKING, that´s still a big step up from where I am now, but I´m getting there!

I also took a three week break from shadowing but maybe just relaxing has helped there, too. Listening and shadowing have helped me a lot in “hearing the pinyin” of what´s being said, I can now search for words on Pleco based on just what I hear because I mostly get the pinyin right and then just look at the list of words that comes up to find the word that fits to the sentence I heard. Tones are still very hard, but for the first time I´m slowly starting to feel that just like the pinyin somehow “focused” and became much clearer with listening and shadowing, the same process is in progress in hearing tones, hopefully in producing them, too. I´m not there yet, but I feel like it’s happening.

Relaxing and not trying to do much too difficult stuff has actually helped me. I didn´t “quit Chinese” but I sort of did “quit trying”. Pretty much completely quit thinking about “studying Chinese” at all, while still doing my characters and SRS and just watching that series.

Now I notice that there´s been this thought in the back of my mind for a long time that “when I finish the characters (aprox 2750 now) and immerse a bit more I will then at some point be at a level where I can study more systematically.” Like with a tutor, or study more seriously with my language buddies, actually start preparing for those calls and memorizing what I learn with them, do sentence mining and work with different SRS material, somehow “really” get started on this “studying” thing when I finally reach a good “basic level” and I can then start practicing output.

Today… I don´t know how to explain this… yes, I WILL practise output more, little by little. But today I can somehow “see” that I may NEVER need to “systematically study”, as in “try to think about or somehow “get”, study grammar, form sentences, memorize”… whatever you like to call the classroom kind of studying. Practising output will NOT mean a struggle to form sentences or thinking. It will just happen when it´s time. I´ll get a lot of laughs at my mistakes together with my language buddies. But it´ll get better with no need to think at all. Just through going on doing it.

Yes, I DO want to be in touch with people who are willing to give me feedback and correct my mistakes, strictly and regularly, I find that absolutely necessary. But I will NOT need tutors or anyone to tell me what to do and how to learn or what is the next “sentence structure” that I need to start using to take my level up or explain anything, whatever… I´m not good at expressing this and I feel like I´m boasting or something, just saying this feels quite preposterous. But I now know that I don´t EVER need to “systematically study” like I thought I would at some point. It´s just not necessary. One day I will just… speak Chinese, understand Chinese. And when I keep using it, little by little I will just speak better and better and the language alone and the native speakers I´m in touch with will be my teachers. And you guys will keep on being my coaches, always there encouraging all of us to just go on – and say for the 1000th time: “the answer is: more immersion”. 🙂

So yes, Mandarin Blueprint is doing precisely what you promised it would: It´s taking me to that place where I can learn Chinese just by using Chinese. Nothing else needed, no tutors, classes, “studying”, nothing. Not during the course, but probably not after it either. Just you guys, the course and having fun immersing and communicating with Chinese people. Yes, I have spent a lot of time with Chinese for the past three years, but NONE of it has been “studying”. And I am in Europe, there are no Chinese people in my life, it’s all online only. But not too long from now I WILL be in that place where I can learn Chinese by using Chinese and that´s all there is to it. In fact today I feel that I have somehow been there all along.

Speaking and communicating effortlessly is still more of a feeling of “seeing the possibility” rather than a reality yet. But let me tell you, looking at the future, the view from here today is just BREATHTAKING!

Thank you guys!



Email from Annette on the Character 处

Hi Luke, Phil,

Could you talk about 处 on the podcast or somehow more detailed, please? I am quite confused with the meaning you have and what I see when I check Pleco, Yellow Bridge and Baidu and think I might not be the only one. I have read all the sentences the dictionaries provide and Baidu has a lot if you click for more sentences. I am ok when it is a word with another character, except 之处 which I also cannot wrap my head around – 他为我们提供了安身之处。which as the best translation I get as: “He provided us with a place to rest.” with 之处 meaning “place” in this case.

It seems the additional character defines the meaning of 处. Do you have some recommendations as to how to think about this character? Is it always used as a morphene and if I think about the companion character I can sort of ignore 处 to understand what I read? Would that work? Of course it only adds to the confusion that there are third and fourth tone to choose from when reading text in the “wild”.

鼓舞 is hilarious. Drumming and dancing is to inspire, to encourage, to hearten. The language continuously makes me laugh – in a good way.

Thanks, have a greaty day,


Luke Neale

3rd Tone


Wǒmen zhèng chǔzài yī ge wěidà de lìshǐ shídài.
We are living in a great historic era

Tāmen liǎ chǔ de hěn hǎo.
They get along quite well.

chǔ yǐ liǎng nián túxíng
sentence sb. to two years’ imprisonment

4th Tone

tíngchē chù
parking place; car park

yǒu xiāngtóng zhī chù
bear a resemblance; have something in common

[for places or for occurrences or activities in different places]

jǐ chù rénjia
several homesteads 􎿿

fāxiàn liǎng chù yìnshuā cuòwù
find two misprints


Brian on Level 30 Complete, Phase 4 Complete and the importance of setting aside at least 30 minutes per day for language learning

Thought I’d check in. It’s been a little more than 500 days since I started the pronunciation course and finally finished Phase 4, showing up every day, averaging 30 minutes/day. Well, here’s to another 500 days, then another 500, and so on and so forth.

Thanks Luke and Phil for paving the road, and thank you to all the people who got here before me and good luck to those who will eventually get here.

Now I will ride on, on my 车 of preference.


Tim Malinowski on (BONUS) The Language Learning Tripod Part 3: Time

Thank you for being such encouraging, positive-minded, and kind instructors. You are making this course very enjoyable! This language learning tripod is just what I needed to hear to get me in the right headspace and has encouraged me to make my language learning time a priority and a daily habit. I’ve taken a brief course in Mandarin in the past, and I’ve tried some apps, but those never got me excited to learn and I felt discouraged.

Your program is doing the complete opposite! I am actually excited and determined to become a fluent Mandarin speaker. My husband is a native speaker and I am excited to one day be able to speak confidently in Mandarin with him… and perhaps even win over the approval of his mom, who only speaks Mandarin and lives in China haha. Onward! Cheers!


Karen DeWitt on Choose Your Challenge



Zaz Bloomberg on Choose Your Challenge

Learning Chinese is probably insane but I’ve studied Japanese. So adding some more insanity will be good. Insanity !!


Evere on 所以 in Context

…When I started struggling, I decided to follow the course blindly, because I couldn’t come to believe that it was created to make our lives difficult instead of give us joy.

So every time things seem challenging, I just re-read the instructions, because I strongly believe that the course was created to work.

The biggest example of my struggles is when I got overwhelmed with the amount of flashcard sentences that were piling up and taking forever to finish. So I went back to the instructions that say “read and repeat as MANY times as you need to pronounce them fluently before going to the next flashcard”. In a week’s time, all my difficult to pronounce cards became easy and I can now tick them off as done in a flash.

My advice to past self is to always trust the course. First, it will continue proving itself as efficient; second, the sheer amount of deep thought and hard work that has gone into its creation!


Merideth Ezell on  美女 in Context

I thought this was an interesting sentence: 美女,你好

Would this come across as cat-calling, or is it simply a complimentary way to greet a woman? Or does it perhaps depend on the context?


Hector Pulido on (BONUS) The Language Learning Tripod Part 2: Attentiveness

All these tips are really great, I have learned two languages before starting with Chinese and everything you say in this video really works. I absolutely agree on learning the phonetic and the proper pronunciation from the beginning because it is one of the keys to succeed and achieve great results, for instance, when I learned my second language (English) I made the mistake of not paying attention in learning phonetics and then it became a burden that slowed down my progress, specially when it came to listening and speaking: I had learned tons of vocabulary, advanced grammar and structures of the language but I was struggling a lot listening to native speakers in casual conversations, news, series, etc; also my lack of a proper foundation about phonetic and pronunciation was prevented me from improving my fluency in the spoken language.

After almost two years I finally realized that I should work seriously on phonetic, English reductions and pronunciation and after I worked on that, I started to develop a significant progress on my listening and fluency.


Sue Bridges on Building the Chinese Habit (This Video is Life-Changing!)

thanks guys. as you probably know I stopped about two years ago , after getting stuck on pronunciation and character recognition. This has really helped me put things into perspective and to stop being so hard on myself. Am going to start from the beginning with a fresh outlook and keep learning in short but consistent bursts.
– Sue