Trey’s using Mandarin to enhance his life

Below is a transcript from the podcast. Check out more testimonials here, and click to learn more about The Mandarin Blueprint Method.

Luke Neale:
Hi, everyone. We’re here with another case study and today is a very special guest, Trey. So Trey, hi there. How are you doing?

Trey:
I’m doing well, how are you?

Luke Neale:
Awesome. Awesome. So, first of all, why don’t you start, the way we always like to start, with a quick introduction and how you found us.

Trey:
Sure. So my name is Trey. I live in Santa Monica in Los Angeles in the States. I’m 35 years old. I’m an entrepreneur. I own and operate an eCommerce business. My wife, who I met seven years ago, is originally from Taiwan, but moved to the States when she was nine. So she’s actually natively fluent in Mandarin and in English. But I decided, about three, four years ago, that I would like to learn Mandarin, partially to be able to communicate with her family better, partially because I end up spending a lot of time in Taiwan, but also for work. I spend quite a bit of time in Asia. I’m there four or five times a year in countries all over the place, but Mandarin would definitely come in handy in several situations. So a couple of big motivations for wanting to learn the language.

Trey:
We don’t have any kids yet, but we likely will at some point and we will raise our children to be bilingual. So don’t want to be left out of a conversation. And also just want to be able to share in that part of my future kids, culture and history. So because of all those reasons, I decided, three or four years ago that I wanted to learn the language. And to be honest, for three or four years, it’s been a continual start and stop, and I’ve restarted many times, have failed many times. Really to be properly motivating and getting a groove and truly make it a habit and a daily part of my life.

Trey:
At various points in the past few years, one of the things that I was always drawn to is sort of the meta-learning aspect of it. So I would always go down these rabbit holes of reading articles and watching YouTube videos and sort of learning how to learn. And that always motivated, at least in the short term, that always motivated me. And I was in Taiwan this most recent Chinese New Year, right before COVID took over the world, and typically coming out of a trip to Taiwan, I’m also pretty motivated.

Trey:
So I went down another one of these rabbit holes and just started sort of exploring different ways that people were learning a language. And I think I ended up on a track of looking at different polyglots and I got to finding Steve Kaufman, who I know you guys are familiar with, and watched a bunch of his videos and getting really sucked into his method of lots of comprehensible input and listening as much as possible. And I think one YouTube video to another may have led me to you guys and discovering the Mandarin Blueprint.

Trey:
So a long winded way of getting there, but I think about a month ago now, I kicked off with the pronunciation course and then quickly thereafter started the foundation course.

Luke Neale:
Fantastic. So, your wife’s family, the parents and stuff, do they speak English at all or is it all translation for you at the moment?

Trey:
So, they lived in the States for about 10 years and then moved back when my wife went to college. So her father I can communicate with. It’s not great. It’s not fluent by any means, but we can have conversations and we can communicate. Her mom, my Chinese is better than her mother’s English at this point. So that’s pretty much, pointing to food and talking about super simple things and not having very meaningful conversation at this point. So I definitely would love to have that improved relationship with her.

Luke Neale:
Yeah. That’s such a great reason to deepen your connection with your wife’s family. I mean, that’s one of my reasons and it’s a great sort of motivation for you. Awesome. So you found us just randomly sort of through YouTube, just happened to stumble upon us. So you weren’t searching actively for a Chinese course?

Trey:
I think I was searching for a combination of a reason to get motivated again and a method or something that would lead me down that path. So I actually started using LingQfor sort of a… What is it? The reading. I forget. What’s the term? When you’re sort of reading along and listening?

Luke Neale:
I believe he calls it interleaved learning. I’m not 100% on that, but yeah, like listening and reading at the same time.

Trey:
So anyway, I started going down that path and they actually have a pretty extensive library for simplified Chinese, but not for traditional. And I, in all of my learning over these past few years, I’m always seeking something that supports traditional characters. And so I started using it, but they didn’t have much content and I sort of was still searching. And I think after just watching a handful of videos of both you and Phil, I got sold on the pronunciation course. I figured, regardless of character usage, this is going to be valuable anyway. And so I started watching some videos and signed up for the pronunciation course.

Trey:
And I think I was three days in and I was like, “All right, I’m sold. Whatever these guys are doing, it’s fantastic.” I just was blown away by the content. And so at that point, I think I sold myself on, you know what? Speaking and listening and conversing is by far the priority for me. And so it’s worth it for me to kind of go this path of still learning simplified characters, so that I can learn to speak.

Trey:
And eventually the plan, the goal is obviously still to learn traditional, as that’s what’s primarily used in Taiwan, but I think I always let that be a barrier in the past. And to be honest, your guys’ content was so good and the pronunciation course was so good, that it convinced me to learn the different character set.

Luke Neale:
That’s great to hear. Thanks. We rarely to get to talk about the pronunciation mastery, because usually when we do these sorts of interviews, we jump straight into the character learning method and things like that. But as you’ve mentioned it, what about the pronunciation mastery sort of drew you in? What was the best part of it for you?

Trey:
It isn’t just the video content itself being so strong, I think it was how simple you guys made it. I probably have 20 Mandarin apps on my phone and some of them have pronunciation components to it or exclusively pronunciation. And there’s a billion blogs and websites and articles that talk about it. And for the most part, I found all of those to be way too complicated and way too particular to an individual initial and ending, to the point where it felt like, all right, depending on this, one of a hundred different ways I might say something, this is exactly where I put the front of my tongue, this is how I exhale breath here, this is… It just felt all too complicated, and you guys just simplified it so much of like, tongue at the bottom of your teeth, the top of your teeth or curled back.

Trey:
And that was such a relief for me and a game changer. And the way you guys organize the tones and the complicated ones or the troublesome ones and the simple ones, it just became so clear and obvious the way you guys laid that out visually. That really hooked me.

Luke Neale:
Oh, brilliant. Thanks. So, this is kind of a moot question, because you kind of already touched on it, but we just like to ask this because sometimes something comes out that we didn’t expect, which is what did it mean for you, Trey, when not if, but when you speak Chinese with a reasonable level of fluency? I don’t say fluently because fluent is just a very… Like happiness. Like what is that? It’s a very wide, sort of broad term. If you speak to a level of fluency to be able to communicate well with say your parents in law and stuff, and you’ll be able to read novels or whatever you want to read in Chinese, what would that mean for you and what might you do with that skill?

Trey:
Not to sound extreme, but it would just completely change my life. I would have much more meaningful relationship with that side of my family, but also when… I love Taiwan. I love traveling there. I love the country, the people, the food, and it would just I think dramatically enhance my experience while I’m there several times a year. And I think there’s a high likelihood that I’ll live there at some point. So the ability to communicate easily and read the signs around you and be able to navigate easily, I think it’s a complete game changer.

Trey:
And on the professional side. I mentioned I spend a lot of time in Asia all over and regardless of where I’m at, I actually spend most of my time in sort of Hong Kong and Vietnam. But a lot of people that I’m working with and interacting with are actually Taiwanese. And so Mandarin would still be useful. Everyone I interact with for the most part speaks some level of English. But as you know, even just a bit of Mandarin fluency goes a really long way in terms of relationship building and rapport and respect. And so I think there’s a lot of fruitful things that could come from that professionally as well.

Luke Neale:
Yeah. Especially if you’ve got… We say this a lot. You’ve probably heard us say this. If you’ve got the slick pronunciation, even if your grammar is a bit off, you’re not particularly that fluent or whatever, if you speak with good pronunciation, man, I mean that alone just gives such a deep impression. I don’t think it’s exaggerating whatsoever to say that it’s going to completely change your life, especially when your life is already so interwoven with the Chinese culture and the language itself. Of course. I mean, yeah, I live in China and I’ve got a Chinese wife, but I plan on moving back to England and even then I’m sure it will make a huge difference.

Luke Neale:
I don’t know about you, but just in terms of how I spend my spare time.. I mean, this is about you, this interview isn’t about me, but I’m going to talk about myself for a second. So I completely quit alcohol, like probably coming on a year now. Just completely quit it, just cut it out on my life. And one of the reasons why I did that is because I wanted to focus more on learning and reading. And if you know me, you know that’s so unlike me. I was certainly not an alcoholic, but I am British and it’s all like, “Oh, I’ve got some spare time. We’ll go and have a beer with John or whatever.” It’s just such a big part of our culture and to cut that out. And also to read more, I mean, I wasn’t really a reader. So, have you found that yet? Or maybe it’s a bit early days yet, but have you found that just the idea of learning Chinese, that the daily activity has altered your daily life quite a bit?

Trey:
Yeah. It’s funny. Some of the changes you’re talking about, I definitely resonate with, but in particular right now, we’re recording this during COVID coronavirus, right. And in the US at least this is like full on quarantine mode, right?

Trey:
So I’m very fortunate that I’m not affected from a health perspective or a financial perspective right now. And I’ve more or less been holed up in my apartment here for seven, eight weeks. And since I started the Mandarin blueprint, I’ve just noticed all of my habits changing, not just language learning. I mean, I’m eating healthier, I’m exercising more.

Luke Neale:
Exercise. Absolutely.

Trey:
Like one thing feeds into another, to the point where I wake up and I can’t wait to look at my Anki flashcards, which I never would have felt six months ago even. And given that I’m in quarantine and there’s not a lot of socializing happening right now, it’s sort of given me this chance to build this incredible habit where I’m spending three or four hours a day on this now. And it just feels like how I want to live my life, even on the other side of this. So that all really resonates with me. Yeah.

Luke Neale:
Absolutely. I mean, there’s something called a keystone habit. Have you heard of that before?

Trey:
Yep, yep.

Luke Neale:
I only heard about this recently and they say that there’s certain habits that if you keep them or drop them, that affects all the other habits. And I think a big one is exercise, but I think another even big one for me is study. Language, my daily language learning. If anything else starts to drop and affect that, then I need to get it sorted out very quickly.

Trey:
Even just the gamification of Anki, like it must be zero every day.

Luke Neale:
Yeah, flashcards are a big one. Got to hit zero.

Trey:
It has to get to zero.

Luke Neale:
Yeah. I’ve recently started doing them again, my Anki cards, because I’d dropped off for two years. I was more focused on reading and listening just in general to just general content, which is fantastic and that’s what we encourage, but I just wanted to get back into. I wanted to be a bit more, what do you call it? Surgical, I guess, with my learning. And I started doing Anki cards and yeah, just that the addiction is right there still.

Trey:
It’s a good thing.

Luke Neale:
Yeah, absolutely. Let’s jump into the actual… Talk about the method and what you think about and how you’re doing with it. What level are you on at the moment of the Mandarin Blueprint method?

Trey:
I’m about to start level 19.

Luke Neale:

  1. Wow. So we usually send out an invite for this interview once you get to level 12. So you signed up for the interview and then in that short period of time, you’ve already gone up like seven levels. That’s brilliant.

Trey:
Yeah. So I started with the pronunciation course and on, I think it was the fourth day, I signed up for the foundation course, and I did them in parallel until I finished the pronunciation course. And I’ve been going pretty aggressively, to be honest, I’ve been basically doing one level every single day. So, I ended up, especially in these later levels now, the video content itself can take an hour and a half or two hours. But like what we were just talking about, I have the time and I’m more motivated than ever. So I’m just kind of plowing through at this point.

Luke Neale:
So it’s not just watching the videos, of course, because the videos, for people that don’t know, it’s walking you through the character learning mainly. And also we talk about any words that you unlock and there are sentences to read once you unlock the sentences. So there’s a lot of content. It’s not just about watching videos, right?

Trey:
Yeah. Yeah. For sure. It is a lot.

Luke Neale:
It’s not just, “All right, next video, next video.” You actually have to apply what you learned. So there’s on average between 20 and 50 characters per level. So how many characters would you say you’re actually learning a day at the moment approximately?

Trey:
Well, so the initial sort of learning and movie-making process, I’m completing everything per level on a daily basis. What I did realize, and it was an error on my part, in the last few days, I realized that I wasn’t as aggressively reviewing to coincide with the initial process and the initial learning process. So I found myself, and now I’m playing a little bit of catch up. I was probably five, six levels behind. So what would happen is I would go through the initial process of learning a character, make the initial movie scene in my mind, and then I wouldn’t actually see it in Anki for five or six days. So a lot of times I’d be completely blank. Sometimes I would actually remember, but I would have to sort of recreate those scenes.

Trey:
And so since realizing that a few days ago, I’ve now sort of changed the ratio and I’m spending way more time reviewing on a daily basis so I can at least catch up to where I’m sort of even on my reviewing and initial learning process.

Luke Neale:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good idea. Because that’s a nasty surprise and it’s not very good for your ego as well. You make all this effort to learn and then you forget to review immediately. Because you’ve got to review really quickly, otherwise your brain, no matter how good the method is, your brain will lose it after a few hours or days or weeks or whatever.

Luke Neale:
So you have to get in there quick, while it’s still fresh. So I’m glad you realized that and you’re sort of back on track with that. What would you say are your three favorite parts or most impactful aspects of the method itself, the course?

Trey:
Certainly the pronunciation method to kick things off. The pre-made Anki decks, frankly. I mean, in other methods and textbooks and courses that I’ve tried to some degree, there may be some preset Anki decks, but a lot of them, you have to make them on your own. And the fact that everything is sort of queued up in such an organized, structured way, even despite the shortcomings of Anki and how un-user-friendly it can be, once you get the hang of it, it’s just second nature. And so having that sort of queued up, and I have the browse window and Anki open up as I’m going through the course, as I’m going through the videos, and one by one, as I hit on the next video, I then go to those specific cards and edit if needed or at least review it and unsuspend it. And I do it sort of one by one. And just that structure that you guys have sort of teed up, and so it’s very easy to just learn and absorb as opposed to have to do the extra work of creating those materials. I’d say that’s by far the biggest value.

Trey:
And lastly, it’s not any one in particular thing, it’s just the content of the course, how you guys mix it up and vary teaching a character with creating some props, with teaching a grammar lesson, with just having a little video of you and Phil talking and it’s a bit of motivation, perhaps. The way that you guys sort of mix that up, it just feels like the perfect mix where you never get too bored. You never get too challenged. It just is a sort of a refreshing variation of content to keep you motivated.

Luke Neale:
Great, great. I’m glad we judged that okay, because we were trying to get a decent balance in there of baby steps, holding your hand and also just sort of letting you go and say, “Okay, you’re sort of ready now, you’ve grasp this concept by now or you should have done, hopefully.” And then we just sort of help you less and less as the course goes through. Yeah, that’s fantastic. So what have you achieved so far? You’re on level 19. So what literal results or tangible results in terms of number of characters and words, approximately, and any sort of less tangible results, more sort of ones that maybe I wouldn’t have considered?

Trey:
So tangibly, I’m on level 19, so I think I’ve at least initially learned around 225 characters, something like that. As I mentioned, I’m a little behind in the review, so it’s not as though I’ve completely 100% retained all of that. I’d say, it’s more closer to 150 characters, maybe. I’ve gotten a few steps in of retention. I’d say the biggest impact or thing that I’ve learned has been more on the process and habits side though. So a lot of the things that we’ve talked about in terms of, I wake up every morning, I do at least my first little session of Anki, I’m doing several sessions throughout the day, but just that about 20, 21 days in, people typically say it takes about that long to build a habit. And I feel like I’ve built that habit here in 10 days just because I was so hooked on it. So I think that’s been the biggest change.

Trey:
So regardless of what content is to come or how many characters are ahead of me or I have to learn, it feels inevitable now. And I don’t think I’ve ever felt that in any other course or textbook or app that I’ve used before. So now it’s just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep waking up every day and doing the same steps. And I have great confidence now that I will get there.

Luke Neale:
So I mean, that’s a huge thing. I mean, we mentioned that a lot and that relates back to, I’m going to big up Steve Kaufman again, because one of the things that inspired me when I was just learning, just starting out with Chinese was something he mentioned about the three… He calls it the tripod of language learning. I’m not sure if he still uses this at all, but it still resonates with me, where a big part of it is attitude. That’s one of the key pillars of how you’re going to do on a daily basis on a medium to long term basis with language. Whether you’re going to succeed or not depends on your attitude in a huge way.

Luke Neale:
And part of the attitude is believing that it’s possible. And when it comes to learning Spanish or something, we all learned Spanish in school. And even though it didn’t go well for most of us, we believe that it’s possible. Yeah, sure, we can learn Spanish. A lot of people know people that speak Spanish and stuff, but Chinese is always seen as that completely impossible one that no one can actually learn. Even my Chinese teacher from, I remember at university, I took a short little tiny Chinese course, like an extra thing, I don’t know what you’d call it, an extra part of thing, extracurricular, whatever. And even she was just like, “No, you guys will probably never get to my level or any sort of native level, but anyway, let’s continue.” Because she’d never met anyone who had done it.

Luke Neale:
But to actually believe that it’s possible, I’m really glad that we could do that for you. We can get you-

Trey:
And to that point, I forgot to mention this earlier, but in my initial discovery of Mandarin Blueprint and I think it was around the time I was either starting the pronunciation method or just before that, I saw the video, I think it’s relatively new, that I believe Phil put out, where he basically did the math and said, “This is how long it will take you to learn with our program.” And he broke it out by review hours and speaking hours and video course hours.

Trey:
And it’s still some crazy high number, 26,000 minutes or something like that. But the way he laid it out, I think that was actually the moment it hooked me, because regardless of how long it was, it was just such a clear roadmap. It’s like, all you have to do is spend this time and then you’ll achieve these results, as opposed to just some ambiguous never-ending pursuit that you may or may not hit. So that was a really good video.

Luke Neale:
It’s so clear to me that you’ve looked into the actual process of language learning and you’re aware of it because as long as you can just say, “Okay, as long as I know this method works, I don’t care if I have to spend a thousand hours on it,” or whatever we calculated. I think it was 800 and something hours in order to learn 4,000 words and 1,500 characters, essentially 94% coverage of the language.

Luke Neale:
These crazy numbers don’t matter. As long as you know it’s going to work and you can just divide that by 365 days of the year and go, “Okay, how far can I get in a year?” And we’re happy with that as human beings. No one out there actually expects to learn Chinese in 10 days, even though some people do write that down. And we even say, “Reach a level of fluency in two months, as long as you spend three hours a day solidly every single day without zero days.” A lot of people are willing to do that and it looks like you’re one of them. So I’m very sort of hopeful, not hopeful because hopeful implies that you might fail, but basically I believe in you. How about that, Trey? I think if you keep at it on a daily basis, I mean you’re going to get there, right?

Trey:
Yeah, I think so. I truly believe that. Yeah.

Luke Neale:
Going into sort of signing up, you mentioned that it took you three days and then you were sold. But in that three days, you were only watching the pronunciation mastery. And the pronunciation mastery is very clear. It’s very simple. It’s not particularly controversial in any way, whereas the Hanzi Movie method and the remainder of the curriculum can be quite weird. It’s not, can be, it is. It’s weird, trying to learn characters, especially if you have no experience of visual mnemonics, all this sort of stuff. So going into the character learning method, was there any point where you were skeptical and just like, “What? What this goes on about. This is not going to work.”

Trey:
Well, if I recall, even in the pronunciation course, you guys sprinkle in a number of videos that are sort of not necessarily pronunciation specific, but sort of allude to the course, or perhaps I was watching just other videos on YouTube-

Luke Neale:
No, you’re right.

Trey:
I can’t recall, so I definitely felt like I was getting still a broader picture than just a single track of pronunciation. And I knew about the concept of memory palaces and I’ve watched some of the TED Talks that you guys have referenced and things like that. And to me in the same way, it’s a very cerebral step-by-step process that doesn’t rely on intellect necessarily. And it’s just like, if you do it, you will remember it, if you do this process. And I was very much a believer of that before I even started the program, just knowing what I know about memory palaces and things like that.

Trey:
So I’m not actually answering your question. I’d say that of any skepticism, it would have just been not particular to Mandarin Blueprint, but just of the next thing I’m trying. But based on my track record, why would I have faith that this next thing is going to be any different? And that skepticism was squashed two or three days in.

Luke Neale:
Awesome. Awesome. So final question for you. You probably know what it’s going to be. Would you recommend Mandarin Blueprint? And if so, why? If not, we’ll just call it a day and we’ll leave it. We’ll end the call right there.

Trey:
Would you be shocked if I didn’t recommend it right now?

Trey:
Yeah-

Luke Neale:
That’ll be the twist in the story, wouldn’t it?

Trey:
I absolutely recommend it. Based on all the things that I’ve said in this video, in this podcast, but the one thing I alluded to is that I’ve been doing this or making several attempts over the years and I’ve tried what I feel like is more than most people probably have tried in several years, and I have a little Mandarin folder on my iPhone with literally 25 apps on it. So I feel like I’ve seen the world of content and methods when it comes to learning Mandarin. And I’m still early days obviously, and still need to prove myself and get to these next stages. But from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say this is 100 times better than the next thing that I’ve seen.

Trey:
And I frankly think it’s undervalued and under priced. I think it’s something that anyone who’s remotely considering learning a language at the very least, spend a small amount of money on the pronunciation course and then decide. And I’d be surprised if everyone didn’t convert from the pronunciation course over to the larger Mandarin Blueprint.

Luke Neale:
Thanks man. I’m a bit ‘moved’ by that. That means moved in terrible on-purpose Chinese accent. Thank you very much for that. That was one of the nicest things I think I’ve heard about the course. That’s awesome.

Trey:
Of course, I mean it.

Luke Neale:
Yeah. That’s great. I really appreciate it. And that’s a perfect, I think, point to leave the interview. We’d love to do a followup with you if you’re available in maybe a few months down the line, if you want to have another followup call, we’d love to do that if you’re available.

Trey:
Absolutely. I would love to. Appreciate all that you and Phil do.

Luke Neale:
Thank you very much. And again, thank you for your time today. Thank you very much, Trey, and I’ll speak to you soon.

Trey:
Sounds good. Cheers.

Luke Neale:
All right. Bye bye.