85. Mastering Mandarin in the Modern World

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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.

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0:00 Mastering Mandarin in the Modern World

New Book from Mandarin Blueprint, check it out here.


The evolution happened right under your nose.

Foreign language learning has been masquerading as an
academic pursuit for centuries. People can even get
university degrees in a language (I did), which betrays that
we’ve made a category error when it comes to language

Achieving literacy and fluency in a language is NOT an
academic subject, and therefore, using techniques derived
from academia to acquire a new language is a mistake.

Here’s the bad news: The legacy momentum of our
educational systems has prevented foreign language
departments from upgrading their curriculums. If you go to a
university to study Japanese, you’ll end up in one of the worst
environments you could ask for to properly acquire a
language: The classroom with a whiteboard, teachers, and

That’s not going away, and it’s only going to go from
“horribly expensive” to “prohibitively expensive,” but here’s
the good news
: Technological and theoretical evolution in
language learning has eliminated the need for academia to
play any part.

The resources and technology available today are far more
powerful tools of education that classrooms ever were. For a
fraction of university tuition, you can reach far higher levels of
fluency and pass state-certified exams, therefore rendering
the “higher” education of university obsolete.

Here’s the rub…the evolution is decentralized. A new book
here, a web-app there, and countless online courses all with
different levels of exposure. As a result, many people simply
don’t realize that they have other options. They see an
overwhelming ocean of content online, throw up their hands
and say, “Welp, I can’t make heads or tails of this, might as
well bite the bullet and go to a university!”

Stop punishing yourself.

Let us remove the obstacle called “I don’t know how to
navigate this ocean of online content.” We’ll tell you exactly
what works and what doesn’t, and we’ll use Mandarin to
make the most persuasive case. If you can learn frikkin’
Mandarin with only free or affordable online resources, then
you can learn any language.

Treat this book as an opportunity. It will be your guide to all
the resources, technologies, and mindsets necessary to
master language acquisition in general, and Mandarin in particular.

Not only can you master Mandarin, but the tools at your
fingertips have made it faster & more fun than ever before.
The best part is, after reading this book, you’ll even be able to
do it without leaving your house.

3:26 Grammar Point


给 gěi is a high-frequency character that has a few essential functions:

1. A verb meaning “to give.”

2. A ‘relator’ (preposition) meaning “for,” (e.g., ‘All my hard work I do *for* my family’).

3. An emphasizer in spoken language (combined with 把 bǎ, will discuss in a future article).

4. A passive voice indicator (will talk about in a future article about 被 bèi).

Mastery of 给 is crucial. Let’s look at some example sentences:

Sentence 1:

我给你钱。 – Level 24
Wǒ gěi nǐ qián.
Here’s some money for you.

When 给 is a verb, it means “to give.” In fact, if you are handing someone something, you can directly say to them “给” to indicate you want them to take it. The way you can be sure that 给 means “to give” is that it’s the only verb in the sentence.  

If there are other verbs in the sentence, 给 is likely in its “relator” form.

Sentences 2 & 3:

他经常打电话给我。 – Level 17
Tā jīngcháng dǎdiànhuà gěi wǒ.
He frequently calls me on the phone.

他给你打了电话以后要出去吃饭。 – Level 23
Tā gěi nǐ dǎ le diànhuà yǐhòu yào chūqu chīfàn.
After he gives you a call, he’ll go out to eat.

In both of these sentences, 给 relates who is giving a call *to* who. In other words, 给 helps show the *target* of a verb. 

Sentence one: Subject + Action + 给 + Target

Sentence two: Subject + 给 + Target + Action

What’s interesting is that 给 can come both before and after the verb. 

给 comes before the verb more often than after it, but let’s look at a common scenario of it coming after:

Sentences 4 & 5:

请把你右边的那本书拿给我。 – Level 24
Qǐng bǎ nǐ yòubiān de nèi běn shū ná gěi wǒ.
Please hand over that book on your right-hand side.

妈妈送给女儿一台照相机。 – Level 25
Māma sòng gěi nǚér yī tái zhàoxiàngjī.
Mom gave her daughter a camera.

In both of these sentences, 给 comes after the one-syllable verbs 拿 and 送 respectively to indicate the target (我 & 女儿). Again, this is not an iron-clad rule that one-syllable verbs precede 给 and two or more syllable words come after 给, but it comes up most often in this format. 

Now that you know the potential structures 给 can have as a relator, you’ll notice it all the time. Use this article to note the ways that you can correctly use 给, and your input will be that much faster. Remember, grammar rules are meant to help you recognize patterns, not teach you the pattern in the first place. 

To see more sentences with these structures, click GW-Relator-Give-To-PPT-介词-给 in the “browse” function of your flashcard app.

11:14 Comments & Emails


Hi everyone!

I just wanted to share my personal experience with The Mandarin Blueprint.  I have been wanting to learn Chinese for many years.  So, about a year ago I decided to finally give it a try!  However, like what was mentioned in some of the posts, I tried many of my own strategies (either completely top-down or completely bottom-up, both of which were based solely on rote memorization) and I just became discouraged. One day, however, I just became so frustrated I decided to start back at ground 0.  So I just did a Google search about Chinese curriculum.  I was fortunate enough to discover The Mandarin Blueprint.  This has allowed me to DRASTICALLY increase the rate at which I learn the language.  Finally I feel like I’m actually accomplishing something.  I just began Phase 3 and it just feels so magical that I can read and understand complete sentences without pinyin! The method is fun, and more importantly, highly effective.  I just wanted to send a shout-out to Luke and Phil and the rest of the team at The Mandarin Blueprint!


Aaron Michael Ho BY COMMUNITY

Morning all!  Started working on shen2 this morning…and the video brought in the syringe prop.  I was wondering…what is the difference between the prop syringe and the prop crucifix?  What made the prop crucifix better for gan2 and ban2?  And the prop syringe better for shen2


Phill Challinor by Email

Loving the course. I first tried learning Mandarin with the Michel Thomas method about 12 years ago. It was good but I was frustrated that I had no clue how to read Chinese so I could take control of my learning and all the books I looked at had no actual ‘method’ for learning the characters. They just said unhelpful things like, ‘lots of the characters are pictographs’ and would show the character for mù. That’s obviously not helpful for most characters that don’t look anything like what they represent. They’d also just show you how to draw the characters and I didn’t have the inclination to spend hours learning them by constant repetition as I speak other languages too and wanted to read stuff in those languages. Plus I have a full-time job. I pretty much gave up for that reason though it’s always been a nagging regret that I did so. I saw your ad on Facebook and was really interested. I got the pronunciation mastery course first and loved it and then subscribed halfway through for the full course. The Hanzi Movie Method for learning the characters is terrific. It’s really addictive as well. I’ve blasted through the first twelve levels and 100 characters in 11 days because I was really enthused by the method and I know it’s going to get quicker now I’ve learned so many of the components that make up the other characters. It’s great being able to have a mnemonic for each character so I understand why it looks like it does. I have been using AnkiWeb for over two years now to keep me up to speed with vocabulary in the other languages I speak and so the spaced repetition was a really good aspect of the course for me. I still learned some things I didn’t know about Anki from the lessons you include on it though. I’m due to start level 13 today and really looking forward to getting into the sentences now I’ve got enough characters down to start reading without pinyin. Really brilliant course. Well done for this. Phill


Al Roy by Email

With the arrival of warmer weather, I’ve taken my Anki studies out to the back yard. Very much enjoying this process of having conversations with imaginary people as I go through the cards (the neighbors, if they can hear me over the background noise, must think I’m pretty weird by now, but it’s all good).
The 末 card just rolled around  and I made an ‘end’of it pretty quick; I just looked up at a tree that towers above me (see attached photo), pretended to fling a razor blade at it  and yelled, “That’s the END of you!” (I guess I’m the Tree Nazi, lol)
Side note: it’s interesting to note that the very first time I encounter a mostly new sentence (meaning containing words I haven’t spoken out.loud before), I struggle to get the words and intonation to come out correctly, and at about 1/4 of normal speaking speed. After they roll around the deck a few times, they just roll off the tongue, and if anything, I have to make myself slow down to ‘keep down’ with Annie and Jerry!
This stuff is awesome!
Moving forward…


Joseph Sutcliffe by Email

Hi Luke and Phil,
I would like to quickly leave a review to tell you how thrilled I am with the MB course so far. I am studying and working full time at the moment so my progression through the course is quite slow. But so far it has been fantastic. 
I have spent a short period of time both living in Beijing and studying at a Confucius Institute and neither has helped me develop an understanding of the language like the MB.
Pronunciation mastery is able to break down what seems like endless waves of similar sounds that can make a huge difference when using Chinese in the real world. Additionally, the way it breaks pinyin down into recognisable sounds and points out small tricks that really go a long way to help. Although in lockdown, I have been able to have some basic conversations over Instagram voice messages with Chinese friends in Melbourne and around the world. I am far from perfect in how I speak, but that has not stopped them complimenting my pronunciation or being able to understand any feedback they have given me when I go back to reference the videos on MB. 
After this virus passes, I am planning to travel to SJTU to complete a Masters in Political Science and develop my language skills. The MB has been the first educational tool that has given me hope that the latter is not beyond me. I hope the next stages of the course are as effective as the pronunciation mastery. But there is nothing to suggest it won’t be. 
Best, Joseph Sutcliffe


Al Roy by Email

One interesting thing I’ve been finding with your system is that it even works when I get my props confused, in that once I’ve really learned the props (which with some of them takes extra time), I find that I notice when I used the wrong props in a character.
Case in point: I’ve been reviewing several characters today (most recent one is 因) that contain the 大 prop, which in my usage is the giant, Paul Bunyan. However, when I was learning the pitbull (犬) character, I chose Hulk (Dog Dynasty) the pitbull, because he is a huge pitbull, and therefore easy to remember.
Over the past two days, as I do my Anki reviews, I’ve probably found more than half a dozen characters (not sure exactly how many) where I had written my movies with the pitbull prop, instead of the correct prop, which in my case is Paul Bunyan. But what I’ve discovered is that when I go through the reviews and see the character, and then play the movie back in the theater of my mind, is that right away I recognize that something is wrong with the script. I think it through, and each time I realize that I used an incorrect prop.
Here’s my 看法 on this: because of the way TMBM uses memory, I see the process as holographic. This actually ties in with the little boy of how I understand the brain to work; at least from some science articles I’ve read. Apparently (at least in some cases), brain injury patients who have lost some memories from permanent damage to parts of the brain (where it was previously assumed was the sole location for memories to be stored), have been able to recover at least some memories. This seems to indicate that different parts of the brain, to at least some extent, are capable of sharing the job – or perhaps ‘sharing the load’ might be a better way to say it – of storing thoughts and whatnot. 
It’s all more or less just theory at this point, as I understand it. But as the decades roll by, we will undoubtedly learn (hopefully exponentially) more about such things. But in the meantime, purely on a subjective level, I am finding that the premise seems to hold true to whatever extent as I learn words and characters. It’s a truly fascinating thing to look at how we ourselves learn something, even while we learn it; but for me at least, I find it even more fascinating to observe how the mind is able, if given the right tools for the job, to actually discern with some efficiency when a mistake is made. I don’t recall ever having that happen when learning things top-down.

Al – 王泰光


Al Roy by Email

One other thing that seems to be happening more freely now, as 我在我的椅子坐, it that as I roll through the decks (perhaps because I am outdoors today, and feel somehow more free), the movies are almost 自动 playing in front of me (see photo to see what I am looking at, at this present moment) as I see each character.

I reviewed 回, and right away, there was a big glass (made with top-secret alien technology) sitting in front of that sea can that you see in the photo. Inside was the Chatterer cenobite (Google ‘Hellraiser movie’ for more info on that) as my 口 prop, with a pile of dirt 土 hovering over him in mid-air, inside the glass cage. Jet Li ran up, leaped onto the top of the sea can, and dropped down through a hole that is located at the top of the cage (which I’ve just discovered is about five or six feet taller than the sea can). A fight then ensued between them, which lasted for a full week, before Jet Li jumped up on the dirt pile and exited the enclosure, leaving the Chatterer behind. During the fight, hooked chains shot out from the nether regions of hell (extra dimensionally) and dug into Jet’s flesh as the two of them fought. Jet, of course, had his own superpowers, by virtue of his playing the lead role in the The One movie, so there was no clear victor in this battle.
What’s interesting though, is that all of what I’ve just described took place in a matter of seconds, right in front of me. It’s like having a very lucid dream while wide awake, in the sense that I decide what happens, what is ALLOWED to happen, and how and when it happens, etc
This is powerful stuff. A few weeks ago it was a real struggle just to do a simple hanzi movie. Now I find that as I roll through the decks, I am constantly tweaking them, typically to simplify the script and toss out unneeded cruft.
One wonders what other practical applications there could be for such techniques. Maybe stock markets? Who knows?
I remember reading through a book called Mega Memory, by Gary Trudeau. This was roughly 25 years ago. It was a fascinating concept, and mainly out of curiosity, I attempted to employ his method (similar in ways to yours) to learn the names of about 30 people that I had just met, as we all sat in an introduction circle. This was 1993.
I found that I was easily able to say the names of everyone in that room. And I was just as shocked by it as the others present seemed to be. Decades later, I’ve forgotten almost everyone who was there. It was a mere point of curiosity at that point in time, and seemed like an AWFUL lot of WORK to actually make myself go through the motions of linking all those names together. And truth be told: it WAS a lot of work, mentally. It was tiring. 
Looking back, I realize that I never saw any real practical application for such methods, and also had no idea that although it felt quite unnatural for me then, it could get easier with time and constant application – MUCH EASIER. It took my somewhat casual interest in Mandarin Chinese to give me the impetus needed to be willing to exercise some long unused mental faculties,  to discover that with constant application, not only is the process not tiring now, but also feels like second nature.
Back to work…


Norman Bahr by Email

Hi Phil,
My reason for wanting to learn Mandarin? Well, I am married to a Chinese woman. When we met in China 18 years ago, she didn’t speak any English so we used an interpreter while I was in China. When I returned home to Australia, we met on Skype for quite a long time and during that time she learned a little English and then when I finally married her she immigrated to Australia and then took ESL lessons. Her English is quite reasonable but she has stalled at a low level and doesn’t want to go further. Australia has a large Chinese Community and therefore she really has no need to go further. I am interested in speaking Mandarin so that I can have a better relationship with her and with her daughter and the daughter’s husband. By the way, the daughter and husband speak good English but whenever they are together all they speak is Chinese so it is very difficult and even frustrating for me to sit and not know anything about their talking.I am feeling very overwhelmed at the moment because I seem to be getting an overload of information from your course. I have studied the first three parts and using the Anki decks I feel that I am doing well but also decide to go back over the first three parts to consolidate my learning. I haven’t been studying the Chinese characters as is suggested as well so I need to start on that as well. I want to take my time but at the same time feel like I am moving forward which is not happening at this time. So there you have it. I’d like to hear your comments on my situation.
Norman Bahr


Christopher Millsap on Pick a Prop 半

Thank guys! Got it! Super clear now. I figured out where I was
confused and it’s not with the prop of the character and
component being the same. It’s the keyword connection and
component being the same. So for example, for “Ban” my keyword
connection is a “half-pint of beer.” Also, my prop for the “Ban”
component is a “half-pint of beer.” This is perfectly acceptable,
yeah? You guys rooooooock! Thanks again.


Howard Soh on ANKI DECKS INSIDE – Now Just LOOK at how SOLID that Foundation Is!

Hey Phil & Luke, thanks for putting this together! It’s been
a fun learning journey. It took me just over a couple of months
to get here and am eager to get started on the next phase 🙂

Before that, I was hoping to get your advice on the following.
Please excuse the long post:

1. I’ve gone through the course relatively quickly so I have a
backlog of several hundred new Anki cards. I don’t feel 100%
confident about my recall just yet. I’m planning to hold back on
learning new words for 2-3 weeks and just review more new cards
so I can get the Anki number down to a more manageable level.
Would it be better to just keep going?

2. I’m able to recognize certain characters immediately when I
read them but sometimes struggle recalling certain aspects of
their movies (e.g. I’ll forget the location or a prop). But I’ve
probably read them so often that I’ve acquired them in a top-down
fashion. Should I put in the effort to recall all the details
just in case, or is it safe to assume I have them down cold now?

3. I’m struggling with writing words that sound similar. e.g. is
it 运气 or 运汽? Reading is fine but it’s tricky when I write as I
need to know the precise word. Any advice?

As always, thanks and keep up the great work!


Charlie Weston on BONUS: STRATEGY is Everything While Learning Chinese

I really value hearing your experiences Phil, because it’s so
similar to the frustration I’ve had with Chinese! You’ve helped
bring me back from the brink of just packing it all in. Thank


Barry Hill on Nasal Final ANG: 帮 bāng

Thank you for the reply, it was very reassuring! I have download
the pinyin app and will use that as well. My only question is can
I reset the Anki cards to let me practice more than once a day?
At the moment it says after one round that’s it for the day?
Incidentally, my partner is Chinese and isn’t a great help, but
your course is the best most useful and clear course I have done!
Thank you!


Rebecca McCarthy on BONUS! Conversation Connectors 😀

This is brilliant, I am going to use this for my French
students, as well as, for myself in any language! The course gets
better and better! You guys put so much thought into Mandarin
Blueprint Method…it is amazing.


Phill Challinor on Time to Get Real About Sentences

Really great. The only one I didn’t recognise was 或 but when I
read the translation I was able to recall my Hanzi movie for it
and it suddenly jumped out. Great stuff! 👍👍


Jack Brady on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 儿子 – 日子 – 勺子

Agree – this course is so well done and intricately planned by
using old vocab in sentences we’ve learnt already


Dom Thomson on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 门口

Question about 一楼 and 二楼:

In English, the ‘first floor’ is up one fight of stairs from the
ground floor. In Mandarin, does 一楼 refer to street level or the
level above that?


Rudolf Krempasky on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 身体

Our Grammar Building has this sentence:
你身体看起来不舒服。- You look under the weather
Should it not be with 的? 你的身体…
Similar to another sentence we have there – 我的身体不舒服,很想吐。


Al (泰光) Roy (王) on Level 21 Complete

Not wanting to be overly simplistic here, but while some great
points were brought up in the video, I suggest that at the same
time, we humans can have a bit of a tendency (myself included) to
overthink things we are learning. Perhaps that is more true with
learning a new language than it is with most other things.

With the above in mind, I’m going to suggest that it can actually
be helpful to just take some things in stride, and accept that
the clearer understanding will come later with use. One example
of this is 还 (hai) and还 (huan). There is a sentence I read today
where the speaker says in effect, “I still haven’t been paid
back”, or something similar (don’t remember just at the moment).

The same character occurs twice in the same sentance, each time
with a different pronunciation. Taking into account that the
speakers are Annie and Jerry (both native speakers), I just took
the usage and pronunciation in stride, trusting that inasmuch as
the native speakers are comfortable saying it that way, then it
will make sense later, if not immediately (which it did, simply
because I accepted it in its context).

So yeah – it’s good to understand things, but it can also be good
to let some things go, trusting that the understanding will come
later. So I say try not to sweat all of the details, guys.


Galiya Warrier on YOU DID IT!!!

Phew! I’ve done it, wow! Thank you very much! It’s been the best
habit I’ve picked up during these lockdown-because-corona-virus
times! Really enjoyed your guidance through the unusual and
tricky pronunciation points. I’m looking forward to continue
exploring this language, and 100% to get back to some of the
videos of this course again and again.


Trey Sisson on Pick a Prop 从

I’m a bit confused by the request to create a prop for a
component that is also a character. In this case, I originally
chose 2 umbrellas as suggested, which were a part of my movie
scene for cong. Now, it seems like I should be coming up with a
separate prop that represents the pair – e.g. siamese twins,
ducklings, etc. Why not just imagine 2 umbrellas for this
component? Why the request to have a separate prop? Thanks!


Jack Blood on Unit 3 Wrap-Up

Man my mouths getting sore haha

1:00:36 Movies! 

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


Jeanne Clayton on MAKE A MOVIE 半

My friend Ben is in the bathroom of my apartment in Japan. We
are off to a gay bar for Halloween and he wants to be half devil
and half Jesus so he is wearing horns and wearing a huge gaudy
crucifix around his neck. Ben decides he wants to be a smooth
shaven young adonis so asks to borrow a razor blade. I’m half and
half he says proudly as we step out the door and guaranteed to be
half cut in no time at all.

Too broad to catch the meaning?


Al (泰光) Roy (王) on Make a Movie 随

ei set, kitchen:

Regan McNeil (The Exorcist) is sitting on a bloody red carpet on
the floor in the kitchen at Jade Springs Restaurant, propped up
against a brick wall, with her head twisted around backwards,
CASUALLY watching Placeboing’s new Joe Biden video
https://youtu.be/3RpxJT5w7Tc); no wonder she’s so twisted!

Superman shows up, dressed his CASUAL duds, scoops up the girl,
the carpet, and the brick wall, and takes them away. This is just
a CASUAL job for him, as he usually has bigger fish to fry.


Al (泰光) Roy (王) on Make a Movie 信

en set, back yard:

My xi actress BELIEVES that Chuck Norris and Donald Trump are
literary legends, so she invites them to the back yard of the en
set so she can recite Vogon poetry to them (some people never
learn!). She’s concerned that no one will BELIEVE that she had
them over for tea, so she poses for a groupie photo with them
while they’re visiting.


Daan Helsloot on Make a Movie 不

Batman is in the bathroom of my childhood home. He stares at his
reflection in the mirror and u can see he has both a samura sword
and razorblade attached to his back. With the magic wand in his
hand he points at his reflection in the mirror and suddenly it is
NOT there anymore. Then he points it to himself and he himself is
NOT there anymore leaving an empty eerie scene.