how to improve mandarin tones

130. Using Memory Palaces to Make Tones Unforgettable

Podcast Duration: 00:45:32

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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.

130. Using Memory Palaces to Make Tones Unforgettable

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0:04 Comments & Emails

Anne by Email

Greetings, Luke and Phil.

I learned of Mandarin Blueprint from Luke’s interview in episode #55 of You Can Learn Chinese.

I had a semester of Mandarin Chinese in 1981 and returned to my studies during the pandemic. July 7, 2020, was my first session with an italki teacher. In spite of working with multiple, well-intentioned teachers, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t learning well, so turned to the research to derive a research-informed learning protocol for adults. That attempt is here.

I’m only halfway through your pronunciation course but I’m sensing that you’ve already derived this. It will be nice to just study Chinese.

>…tell us what your goals are with Chinese…

So many. I’ll know I’ve achieved them when a person and I talk and listen about what’s on our minds and in our hearts and we both can truly say, “Wo3 ming2bai.”

…ask us about a solution to a problem you’re having with learning Chinese…

This is my opinion after 8 months of study and work with probably 15 or so online teachers: traditional teaching methods may never have worked too well but during a pandemic and in the absence of immersion, they almost have a negative impact. I minored in Chinese history. I love oracle bone script. When I hear, “Get out there and practice your Chinese,” I want to ask the person on what globe they are living.

I’ve tried so many courses and spent so much time and so many dollars…
Problem/question: I am thinking that I just need to accept that learning Chinese all alone in a house during a pandemic is suboptimal!

…tell us how attractive you think we are…

Made me laugh! Very attractive! I sense your belief that what you are saying matters. And you can’t know me individually, but I sense your goodwill to me, nonetheless. It’s quite beautiful….anything!

I’m working with a local native speaker of Chinese and a fellow businesswoman to develop an in-person seminar for 2022 for executives who are considering learning Chinese and/or initiating learning Chinese at the organizational level. I need to listen to this.

As an interim step, we’re going to submit this course proposal to our university’s lifelong learning institute.

I want to step back and praise your work. I have founded startups and I have created an online course. The work! The mind, heart, time, and expense! Your work is truly masterful and I respect it very much. 

I think that’s all I’ve got. Thanks for asking these questions. Now, to study.

With deep appreciation,


Scott Eisenmann on What About the Mandarin Tones?

Tones and I have never gotten along. Thankfully, this memory strategy is making it very difficult to forget them after making a movie. Lovin’ it!


Rebecca Wheble on Vocab Unlocked from 移


How can you have two 把 characters in a sentence?

…I feel so dumb! Of course, it’s a measure word. I just saw both of them there and I knew what the first 把 was doing and the second just threw me. Interestingly I’m increasingly more comfortable with 把 whereas when it first arrived on the scene, I didn’t like that grammar structure at all (so foreign to my English brain). Now I just accept and understand it without mental gymnastics; although I think it has taken a lot more exposure than the oft-quoted number.


Scott Eisenmann on Casting Call wu- 7/55

No actors for wu- were very memorable for me, so I read the comments and found Rachel’s suggestion, Wu Xie from The Lost Tomb. The problem is, I have never heard of him or his movies, so I found The Lost Tomb on Rakuten Viki and started watching Season 1, all in Mandarin. I loved the series and he is now fresh in my mind as my WU actor. I have also added a photo of him on the wu- entry in my Anki deck. Thanks Rachel!

The best part is that I discovered that Viki has a “Learn Mode” that shows Chinese and English subtitles, a quick rewind to rewatch the last 5 or 10 seconds, and a dictionary. Just click on a Chinese character in the subtitles, the movie pauses, and the definition of the hanzi pops up, including pinyin. It looks like a great learning tool while watching movies in Mandarin.

Luke and Phil, I hope this type of sharing is appropriate here in the comments. Maybe someone else can benefit from this. If not, 对不起, feel free to delete 🙂


Matt Dahse on Problem Initials Z & C (and S)

It seems like at this stage of the course, I need to be more focused on training my mouth than my memory, which means Anki alone is not enough. It’s not exactly the right tool for the job.

One tool I’ve found helpful in grading myself is the text-to-speech in Google Translate or similar apps. If I’ve got the tone or the tongue position wrong, the machine will not hesitate to tell me. If I say 吃 and it hears 去 then I know I can’t mash the “Good” button in Anki until I can consistently get the right pinyin to show up on the screen.

That’s an important part too, I’ve found. The pinyin is key. The word may very well be wrong as long as it’s a homonym (他 她 它)The machine is not perfect


Matt Dahse on (BONUS) The Power of Chinese Characters: 明 míng

I love these deeper dives into the characters! This sort of thing really helps that character take root and expand its connections in my mind. I’m unlikely to forget 明 after knowing it’s composed of a sun and moon, and after seeing so many of its nuances and uses spelled out and explained one by one.


Kairi Shikari on Vocab Unlocked from 据

I’m interested to know the origins of this sentence!

jùshuō rúguǒ xiǎoháizi báitiān wánhuǒ,wǎnshang jiù huì xiǎobiàn zài zìjǐ chuángshàng.


Hannah Sloat on “Tougher” Initials Explanation

Did you know females when speaking English tend to say their consonants softer? Closer to Chinese actually.


Brendon Gittins on Level 2 Complete

I’d like to second the positive comments above – this method is awesome and it’s really exciting seeing the initial results! Thanks so much for sharing your method with the world!


Heather Renfrew on BONUS VIDEO: The 6 Types of Chinese Character (Part 3 of 3)

I know that 淇淋 (cream) and 麦淇淋 (margarine) are examples of loanwords. (Only because the company I work for makes containers
that are used in China. I wanted to know what the products were.
I looked the characters up with my Hanping Pro camera.) Are foreigner’s Chinese names also considered loanwords? 任信芳 is what I ended up with from a name generator.


Kairi Shikari on Vocab Unlocked from 演

I’m wondering if the sentence 我演我们老师 means ‘I perform to our teacher’ or ‘I perform as our teacher’ (as in pretend to be the teacher).


Robert Toms on 这个 in Context

Just to clarify, 信息 means message, in addition to “to believe”? Is it related to 信 also meaning letter? What is the tie between belief and messages?

34:35 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.

Robert Toms on Vocab Unlocked from 哪: 哪个 – 哪儿

For 哪儿, I used a picture of Waldo, from Where’s Waldo.


Jeff Bryant on Vocab Unlocked from 内: 内心 – 以内

以内 – Yi Nei – “INNAte” – inborn, something already inside you


Jeff Bryant on Vocab Unlocked from 银: 银行

We’ve bEEN HANGing around this bank too long, they might think we’re planning to rob the place.


A useful visual: The Gringott bank scenes in Harry Potter have all the bankers in distinct orderly rows, counting money and doing paperwork etc.


Jeff Bryant on Vocab Unlocked from 长: 长大 – 长相 – 长得

长大 – JOHN, DAmn you grew up tall
长相 – Notice the JUNcTION’s appearance
长得 – That looks JUNKED


Ija on Vocab Unlocked from 扫: 打扫

Why do Arabs have clean houses?
Because Arabs 扫地


Hank Elliott on Vocab Unlocked from 酸

心 + 酸 = FEEL SAD
If your heart is sour of course you are sad. I love this language!!


Hank Elliott on Vocab Unlocked from 之

百分之 Percent
100 + Slice or Piece + Of
Again, amazing simplicity and logic of this language.
Percent IS ‘Portion of 100’
This language keeps showing us WHY the east is so naturally good at math!

40:21 Movies! 

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

Stephanie Arapian on Make a Movie 饿

Jackie Chan and Scrooge are waiting to eat lunch on the back patio. They are So HUNGRY. Finally, the waiter arrives with a bowl of soup – one mouthful! Jackie shrugs, and offers to share the bowl – but Scrooge attacks the waiter, planning to eat Him! He’s so Hungry!


Hank Elliott on Make a Movie 脉

My M-Actor is in my AI-Set swimming in the toilet with falcor.

The only light is from the Moon through the window. After a while my M actor was so cold his VEINS were sticking out and bright blue!

And if Falcor can not continue to swim through MY arteries and veins it will be MY MOON-SET and the end of My (MAI) eternalness!


Ric Santos on Make a Movie 黄

Humpty Dumpty escapes to freedom from the -ang set’s kitchen (2nd tone). He picks a pair of plant shears (龷) and cuts the tall grass leading up to a yellow brick road(由) . Still holding the shears(龷) in his hands, he gleefully walks down with his disproportionately thin legs (八), firmly “decided where his future lies…beyond the yellow brick road(由)” …singing exuberantly ” huuah huah Huáng (黄)…beyond the Yellow brick


Nick Sims (戴燚)on Make a Movie 表

电影: 表 Bethany (bi-) is in the gym at Lifetime Fitness (-ao) holding a load of bread (龶) practicing ballet ? while wearing her tutu (衣). She is gliding on the SURFACE of the gym floor but everyone is giving her a weird look. Oh so y’all don’t like me eating the bread ? while dancing? I feel your eyes EXPRESSING YOUR OPINION.

9 March, 2021