how to learn chinese without going insane

154. Saving You From Chinese Insanity

Podcast Duration: 00:59:36

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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.

154. Saving You From Chinese Insanity

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2:19 Comments & Emails

Anonymous by Email

Hi Luke, Phil,

I had one of those “moments” yesterday breezing through my Anki cards not really struggling with the movie/story recall which had been the case up till now. With the finish of level 10 I looked at the Level Review page with all the characters and decided to flex my typing pinyin. I pulled up a blank Word page and started typing every single character in the list, all 83 of them. 

You may wonder why typing rather than good old-fashioned handwriting, but the truth is that I have always hated writing by hand. Probably because of back in the 1970s / early 1980s when exams had to be written in triple copies and it took quite the physical power to make sure everything was legible through the carbon paper, not to mention the annoyance of not being able to edit anything properly without making a mess of the page when inserting more words, crossing out words and moving them or half-sentences around to avoid rewriting everything. 

After typing all the characters, I typed all the two character words and the one three character word. After that, I wrote next to each character its translation/meaning. The result? There were 6 out of the 109 (83 character + 23 two character + 3 three character words) characters/words I had to look up the meaning of (5 characters and 的话). There were an additional 2 where I remembered other meanings of the characters, just not the ones you suggested (讨, 才). In those instances I had the curious experience of knowing the pronunciation, but was unable to remember the translation/meaning. I look at this as being halfway there, just now quite. Obviously, the movie scenes in those cases are not memorable enough. If a retention rate of 90% is the ultimate goal, I think I can say for certain that your method works looking at the numbers. 

Thank you creating such a good thorough easy to follow course


Richard by Email


Luke and Phil, I know you must get a similar email constantly but what’s one more, right?!

I have tried the following Chinese learning apps / courses:

1. Lingodeer;

2. Lingodeer Plus: Language Games;

3. Rosetta Stone;

4. Duolingo;

5. ChineseSkill;

6. HelloChinese;

7. Chineasy;

8. Memrise;

9. Microsoft Learn Chinese;

10. Domino Chinese.

The best out of the above has been Domino Chinese, however, (and this is a big however), although using building blocks, is no patch on Mandarin Blueprint’s patent technique. All the 1. – 10., apps still require a learn by repetition and then, I still couldn’t decipher tone, nor learn write characters.

Mandarin Blueprint (and here comes the part of the email, to which, you would have read a million times), I can not only read, write and know the meaning of characters … insane!

Thank you Luke and Phil, you both have saved me from Chinese insanity. I have about five days left on my free trial, to which, I will purchase a lifetime membership.

Thanks lads, you have made sense of a language that I thought would be lost.




Glen Creek on (BONUS) The 3 Main Factors of Pronunciation Part 1: Hearing

Why is it important to learn characters early?


Anonymous by Email

Hi Phil Luke,

That was a really interesting interview. I remember back to when I first learned English which was my first second – although in reality third – language. I was lucky in that I had very good teachers both in school and high school who were ambitious teaching their students. I started high school with a teacher declaring we would do second year in the first year, third year in the second year and first year university level English in the third year and sure enough, we read Shakespeare in the second year, that is otherwise done in the third year. Good teachers, or in your case, guides matter. A few takeaways from waaaaay back then were these two teachers telling students to start thinking in English, do not use a dictionary to translate, use an English to English dictionary to really understand what a word or phrase means, and if you do not know how to pronounce a word, say it out loud anyway and “give it an English swing”. Surprisingly, this last advice often lead to the correct or almost correct pronunciation. All these pieces of advice are still applicable to Chinese. I hear it in Luke telling us to type in the Chinese word to find an image to get the Chinese interpretation of the meaning. I hear it in the reference to using Baidu and the passive intake of hearing the language to subconsciously take it in. I can’t wait to start reading stories.

For Luke, you mentioned briefly having a one year old and speaking English and Chinese to raise him bilingual. Here is my recommendation speaking from experience having been raised bilingual Danish/German. My mother moved to Denmark and had to learn to speak Danish, my father only had some school level German, not enough to move to Germany to earn a living which was why my mother moved to Denmark. This was in the 1960s when many women still didn’t work. When I was born, my parents made the decision to speak German at home because I, and later my brother, would get plenty of Danish outside the home anyway, think school, friends and kid’s activities/sports. We did attend the German school in Copenhagen, the equivalent would be an English language school in China if it exists. My parents were very strict with speaking only German at home and the result was full bilingualism in all aspects. It didn’t hurt to spend the summer vacations in Germany either, in your case spending time in an English speaking country if not steady visits to England. My father’s German skills improved over the years to the degree that his company sent him to Germany on many occasions to conduct business. In conclusion, I would recommend you and your wife speak English at home to your children and let them speak Chinese when interacting outside the home. 

I have to say, I do enjoy the journey


Steve Muir by Community


I’m Steve, 49-year-old professional musician and music lecturer from the North of England. I was always pretty good at languages at school, taking French, German & Russian alongside Music for A-level, and then studying Music & Russian at Uni. I can read a bit of Hebrew too (approx. 5 words per minute 😀 )

I actually bought the full Mandarin Blueprint bundle a few months ago, but have been ill and unable to engage. But I’m determined to get going soon! Aside from loving languages and different cultures, a few colleagues and I had the opportunity to take a few intro Mandarin lessons at work to help us understand basic information about our many Chinese students. Whilst the teacher was lovely she simply couldn’t fit much into the few weeks we had. But it whetted my appetite for a totally different type of language from any that I’ve learned before.

So I looked around online, and stumbled upon Mandarin Blueprint. After listening to Luke & Phil in a few intro videos I could tell that they knew what they were doing, and was blown away by the fundamental simplicity of their methods, and how natural it looked like it would feel.

I really want to make the Chinese students that study in my department feel as welcome as possible, and how better to do that than show that I’ve made an effort to learn some Mandarin? I remember when studying in Russia for a few months just how lonely and tiring it was when very few people understood English – fantastic immersion for me, but still exhausting!

Of course our students will want to speak English most of time, but maybe we can help each other once I have a little bit of the language under my belt 🙂 And who knows: if I make good progress, maybe I’ll get sent to China to talk to prospective students and forge new partnerships that can benefit both “sides”.

Finally, I’m fascinated by the prospect of being able to sing in Chinese and understand the extraordinary world of Chinese opera a bit more!!!

One quick question, and a very naive one that I’m sure has been asked hundreds of times: is there a typical daily time commitment below which it’s simply not worth bothering because you won’t learn enough to carry you through to the next session? I don’t think it’ll happen to me, but I might as well start the way I mean to go on!

Sorry to write so much – I have a bad habit of burbling on too much….



Jonathan Glazier by Community

Morning, my first question in a while. This is a good thing because I have been struggling with my learning habit recently. I hope this shows a renewed vigour!

那边 isn’t it nàbiān and not nèibiān and in a similar vein
那样 isn’t is nàyang and not nèiyang?

or did I miss something?


Simeon by Community


My name is Simeon. I am 18 years old and live in New Zealand with a Bulgarian family and currently only speak English fluently (With a bit of Bulgarian). Mandarin interests me because its very pictorial and each character is full of history and meaning. I’ve always wanted to learn more languages, but the method of teaching languages at schools is hollow and ineffective, so I decided to give up. 

After looking around through online courses, I couldn’t help but notice none of them had good review systems for recall. It was frustrating that none of them had a well structured learning pathway for Mandarin or any language for that matter. That’s until I stumbled across Mandarin Blueprint, and it seems to have everything I could ever want. I have so far only done the crash course and a bit of the pronunciation mastery, but from what I can see so far, it looks like an excellent course. 

Spaced repetition NEEDS to be the future of education and studies, and I’m glad to see Mandarin Blueprint helping pave the pathway. I also recently started using a Bulgarian language learning website that uses spaced repetition too (Bulgaro). 

This course has only been active for a few years so not too many people know about it, but hopefully it can become mainstream someday. 

P.S. I actually purchased this course back in May 2019 when it just came out, but I was already learning Mandarin in school (Had a bad teacher, ended up learning nothing over a year). Now I am ready to pick up the course again and fully commit to it this time. 

I look forward to engaging with the course that Luke and Phil created using their hard work and sheer passion. 


Greg Clare on BONUS VIDEO: The 6 Types of Chinese Character (Part 3 of 3)

I really love the way things are explained in this course. Not just the “what” but also the “why”. Not only do we learn Chinese but in this course you also supply additional knowledge such as this to keep things fresh and interesting.

I’ve only been on this course for a few weeks (Finished Pronunciation Mastery & End Of Phase 1 / Level 5 ). I feel I have more interest in learning and have learned more in less than a month than when I was trying to grind through tutoring and workbooks for 3 months. Usually, I begin to lose interest.

It’s not the Chinese that I’d lose interest in, it would be the teaching style.

So far with your course, I keep coming back everyday just like eagerly wanting to watch a new episode of my favorite show. When I miss a day I do feel guilty but I ALWAYS at least make sure I completed Anki for the day.

So far, things are not overly challenging where I’m afraid of getting behind yet also challenging enough to know I am breaking milestones and making progress.

Though I am less than a month in, I hope that progress continues the same way. I am quite hopeful.


Liam Llamazares on Now Just LOOK at how SOLID that Foundation Is! Phase 5 Complete!

Hi guys, it’s been a while since I left a comment and I just wanted to take advantage of this milestone to thank you all once more.

What stands out to me about this course is how you’ve masterfully put together and explained the best techniques of language learning. Firstly, your course shows what has to be to date the best way of applying memory techniques to learning Chinese characters. However, it doesn’t stop there, as you simultaneously show us the value of SRS (this has literally changed the way I consume any information), comprehensible input, shadowing, habit building, temporal motivation theory (you win if you show up!) and the list goes on. Furthermore, you do this while cheering us on all the way (those messages at the end of level reviews are superb).

Crucially, you also show us the value of enjoying ourselves as we learn. As one of my favorite authors likes to put it, “journey before destination”, and that said, what an adventure you legends are taking us on.


Gavia Arctica on Vocab Unlocked from 场

Thank you! You guys are incredible! It was in no way urgent for me to know this, but still: getting an answer to any question within 15 minutes on a Sunday… just fantastic! I love the course, but it´s the podcasts, the community and the feeling of “not being alone in this” that really makes the difference and keeps me going on! THANK YOU!


Kolia on Nasal Final EN: 很 hěn,他很笨 tā hěn bèn,它很慢 tā hěn màn,们 men

I wonder how many students learning Chinese have been wrongly (or only) taught that 很 = very, such a source of confusion for thousands of us at some point =)

“How to say “I’m good” ?”
“I’m good, not VERY good, so how do I say that??”

I’m very (like, feichang) impressed by your course. I’m not a beginner in Chinese and it just validates so many things I painfully understood myself often after many years of wrong assumptions.

*For those passing by with an already advanced Chinese and wondering if it’s worth to follow this “Pronunciation mastery” course: yes it totally is !*


Rose Black on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 一点(儿) – 一点点 – 早点

There is so much tone change happening in 一点点


Karma Senge on BONUS: This Secret Will Put You LIGHT YEARS Ahead in Chinese

I like how you value input over output in the early stages. I really value the “Refold” method that “Matt vs Japan” started. And they are heavy input methodology. So I am happy that you all feel the same.


Tammy Liu on 我要回答您十三次

I’m enjoying this new text tracking format a lot! It’s much easier to navigate to different parts of the text with this – awesome! The storytelling is also great with the right rhythm that made me feel very emotional over this story.

It’s interesting how there’s no 80% speed vs native speed option anymore. The text is overall slower than the previous stories, and I’m curious to hear what the reasoning for removing that is? Not that I particularly mind since it seems like there’s many more characters per level so my reading is definitely slower.


Soren Korsbaek on Level 57 Complete

I am here too now! At the foot of the mountain as the journey has only just begun.. Thanks to Luke & Phil for a cracking course and the massive help, patience and support along the way. I’ll delve into Mandarin Companion, Little Fox Chinese and a few selected TV series while we await the release of lvl 58 🙂


Micaela Ellison on 慢走 in Context

I’ve heard this before, and never knew what to say in response. Suggestions? Or is no response needed? Typically I had already said 谢谢 beforehand.


William Beeman on Vocab Unlocked from 柿

Hi guys, in 有些中国人学英语的时候总是分不清楚西红柿和土豆。what is the function of 分?


Gavia Arctica on Vocab Unlocked from 场

I had heard 部 as a measure word for movies, “我非常喜欢这部电影”

Are 场 and 部 interchangeable or is there a difference in the tone of a sentence using one or the other or is one more correct than the other?

55:12 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.

Hajna Detre McGrath on Vocab Unlocked from 做: 做饭 – 做爱 – 叫做

For “Safety” option: Make love not war


Tina Clark on Vocab Unlocked from 因: 因为

“Because” by the Beatles. (You can even sing along and replace ‘because’ with 因为.)