Mandarin Chinese foundation

136. Finishing Your Foundation & Trusting Your Brain

Podcast Duration: 01:04:44
136. Finishing Your Foundation & Trusting Your Brain

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2:00 Comments & Emails










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0:05 Comments & Emails

John by Email

Hi Luke & Phil,

I’m still very much enjoying the course and appreciate all the hard work that you two have put into the course.  I’m 100% positive I could never master these characters without your course and the community you’ve built. 

I’m at 587 characters now. I’m trying to maintain a pace of 8 characters per day. I’ve noticed that it has become harder to maintain my memory of the characters now that I know more characters. I noticed that more and more of the characters I know I have to rely on the movies to remember. Back when I was at 300 characters, it seemed like I didn’t need the movie scripts so much.

I write characters & pinyin in a notebook after looking at the English keyword and then check to see if my character is correct.  On average I write about 2.5 pages of Hanzi/pinyin per day. I periodically show these characters to my wife. This has helped me catch many errors that I did not catch myself. Practicing writing the character incorrectly is counterproductive. Also, because I’m spending so much time writing characters, I’m getting much better at it. My wife says that my characters look much prettier – more proportional than before.   I would say that I aurally knew most of the words I’ve learned but I think that they are clearer in my mind now that I know the character. Maybe in the intermediate course, I will start to see more words that I didn’t know aurally.

I find that hearing other people’s stories is very helpful.  Sometimes their stories just give me some other ideas on how to approach the character. Also, I find it very motivating to be part of a community that is are all going through the same thing. I’m trying to learn guitar and piano and I’m spending less time on those because I’m spending more time on MBP. I was a little worried that the MBP method may not scale up well but I think it is definitely working. I’m sure I would not be able to remember so many characters without these movies.  

I think compared to others, I may be less visual. I learn things best through my ears.  Maybe I should be trying to add more sound to my movies.  Before MBP, my favorite way to study Mandarin was to listen to audio.  I still spend at least 1 hour per day listening to Mandarin. But I think visualization is a skill that you can develop by practice.

One of my long-term goals is to attend a dinner party with my Chinese friends and to understand what they are talking about. The last time I saw them was before the pandemic started.  At that time, I could hardly understand much. Not sure exactly why.  My wife, who is Taiwanese, says that a lot of people mumble and are more difficult for a non-native to understand. But I think the chief reason is my vocabulary was too small and there are many people all talking at the same time and talking very fast. Also, the Taiwanese use some different words. When I meet with mainland China friends, I do understand more but I have a lot of trouble with the thick Beijing accent – just can’t parse the words fast enough to keep up.

Thank you for MBP,

I was going to do the interview but your time availability doesn’t work for me.

What I like & don’t like about the course:

There’s nothing that I really don’t like about MBP. I think that people learn things in different ways so there may be things that appeal to some people and not others. This course would be best for people who are very visual. I’m not a visual person but I’m learning to be more visual with practice I think it is quite a useful skill to have.

I think the course is set up well for people who work and just have an hour a day to work on Chinese. Also, people come to the course with different goals. I think some people primarily want to learn to read because it is one of the best ways to expand your vocabulary and that is one of the most important things in acquiring a language.  The course is well set up for that.

My goal is to be able to read and write. I spend more time probably than others writing characters.  I want to be good enough so that keeping a diary in Mandarin will be easy. Of course, I also want to learn to read. I think MBP provides a lot of comprehensible input (input where you know 98% of the characters).  This is extremely helpful.  

If writing is your goal, you can always practice writing characters more. I think they may add more writing exercises in future courses once people know more characters and have more than they can write. Even with 593 characters, you can write quite a lot.

I can’t imagine learning Chinese any other way. I’ve just completed the foundation course with 593 characters.  I can honestly say that I know them very well. Here’s how I test myself. I look at the English and write the Chinese character and pinyin. When I’m done, I have a native person check my characters – I also am checking my characters but sometimes I miss things. I also test myself going the other way:  Look at the Chinese character and say the English keyword & pinyin.  Reading & listening to the stories is another way I’m testing myself.

After completing the foundation course, I decided to take a week and do more reading. I’m curious to see how much I can read now.  I have some kid’s books in Mandarin. Then I plan to start the intermediate course.

Below are the main things I like about MBP:

1. MBP has figured a good order for learning characters so that learning characters that are used in later characters.  Also, having you learn the most frequently used characters first.
2. They have created a memory palace system that is all set up for you.  Everything in the characters has a name – sometimes you provide the name but they give you ideas. So, these characters are no longer abstract – everything is an object that you could touch.
3. They give you lots of sentences, paragraphs, and stories that use the words you have just learned.
4. They provide a platform where members can share their movies. I find this extremely helpful.
5. Phil & Luke are always available to answer questions. They take this very seriously. A lot of the time the answers are in video format.
6. You need to know about 3,000 characters to be really fluent.  They have a plan for how to get you there. Right now the foundation + intermediate course takes you to 1,530 characters. They will add other courses in the future to take you to 3,000 and beyond.
7. Their website is well organized.  You can search for a character that you learned in the past if you want to hear videos again. 

If you are really serious about learning Chinese, this is the way to go.



Lynn Ford on BONUS: This Secret Will Put You LIGHT YEARS Ahead in Chinese

So I read your ebook at the beginning of taking the PM and I have followed a lot of your suggestions. I have a Mandarin audiobook playlist that plays in the background of my house, all day long, I don’t actively listen to it, but sometimes when I stop working, I will hear a word or two I understand. I also signed up to Du Chinese, for me, their app is better than the Chairman Bao app, which crashes for me all the time. I have been reading the same newbie story every day, shadowing the narrator, with the pinyin and characters up at the same time.

Sometimes I just sit and listen and other times I read it by myself. I was thinking about getting The Secret Garden (which I loved as a child) and the accompanying audiobook in Mandarin. I really don’t know 99% of what it is I am seeing on the page, the characters, or what is being said. In the PM course, I focused more on the pronunciation, than the characters, and we are only 25 characters in on this course. So my question is should I be reading and listening, following along when I don’t understand but a word or two in several paragraphs? Should I wait until I get further along? I can already tell that listening is going to be my biggest hurdle. I want to make sure I am doing this correctly. Perhaps I am overthinking things. What do you suggest?


Fadzi Kasambira on YOU DID IT

This course was brilliant! I learned so much and can’t believe how manageable this was. Looking forward to learning characters and to continuing my learning. Thanks, guys!


Oscar Haglund on Cao Chong Weighs The Elephant 曹冲称象 – Full Story 90% Comprehension

For those interested, 曹冲 is the son of 曹操 who is one of the main actors in the “romance of the three kingdoms” story which is arguably the most famous Chinese piece of literature together with “journey to the west”. In the original story, 曹冲 weighs the elephant using water displacement in a boat. I imagine it was changed here to use simpler words.


Susan Walsh on BONUS: DON’T Make These Mistakes Learning Chinese

Before I found The Mandarin Blueprint, I had about given up on learning Mandarin. So many programs! So much rote learning! But now, I know I will not only learn Mandarin, but be fluent before my first trip to China. Thank you, Luke and Phil, for creating this dynamic and fun program.


Anne Giles on 桌子 in Context

Case in point about solidifying learning of characters in context! I kept confusing these: 寸 勺. Now that I’ve seen 勺 a couple of times in the past few lessons, of course, that’s a spoon! Thank you, Phil & Luke, for encouraging us to keep hanging in! So much comes together from keeping on going!


Ailee on Problem Initials ZH, CH, SH & R Overview

I think people have trouble with the R because it’s a little harder to isolate that sound. It’s easier to get it right when you have an SH there in front, but by itself it’s not quite so easy. Especially when it’s taking the role of an initial, it can be easy to start… tipping over into a slightly different sound I guess? But then I think that kinda happens naturally, as even native speakers will pronounce it a little differently in different contexts.

I find myself sometimes pronouncing it a little like a Japanese or Korean R, except maybe with a little more air, a little more of that hollowness that comes with those SH kind of sounds, and maybe a little closer to the English R. I know my pronunciation isn’t perfect, and idk if doing this is GOOD lol, but it’s something I find myself doing sometimes… It’s hard to describe, because it’s so subtle and precise of a sound. But I really think the best thing you can do (and this is true of pronunciation in general) is to just *listen*.

I find my pronunciation of things is often much better when I listen a lot and then just try to mimic what I hear, as oppose to getting caught up in complicated explanations and trying too hard to get something JUST RIGHT. It just seems to backfire sometimes. I mean if there’s a particular problem you need to work out that you want to focus on, that’s fine. But first and foremost, listen.

Which reminds me, is a site where you can search specific words (there are several languages available) and it will give you youtube videos where that word appears so you can hear how it’s pronounced in context. And you can easily click to the next and the next and just hear it dozens of times in different videos. I highly highly recommend checking it out if you’re having trouble with something. It’s an awesome resource.


Casie Moen on MAKE A MOVIE 干

Before finding the Mandarin Blueprint, I spent about a year going through the book Remembering the Simplified Hanzi, (authors are James Heisig and Timothy Richardson) which introduces the idea of using story to remember a keyword meaning of a character, but doesn’t go as far as MB (doesn’t do anything with pronunciation or tone). I don’t know if I’d do things the same way if I knew about MB a year ago, but it still was a useful primer for the MB method, because I do have quite a few props and stories already built up (I’m at about 1,000 characters using the book) that I can now tweak to the MB method so that I can now learn the proper pronunciation and tones. I would still recommend the book to anyone starting from scratch using MB, just because it does have a lot of memorable props and stories to use as a resource.

For gan1, Heisig/Richardson recommend seeing the character as a pictograph of one of those circular clotheslines (which works well for me, my neighbor has one that I see him hanging clothes on everyday). Since I already had that prop, I adapted my story to take place in my Aunt Carla’s front yard (pinyin final AN, for aunt, and 1st tone), where Gandhi (pinyin initial G) was happily hanging up his clothes to DRY on the clothesline (he is happy because my aunt lives in Texas, which is super hot, so Gandhi knows his clothes will dry quickly and allow him to get on with his busy schedule) until the sprinklers came on, at which point he furiously knocks on the front door, and starts yelling at my aunt to turn them off so that his clothes can dry and he can get going with his busy day.

I’m just starting out using this method, but I can already tell how useful it is going to be. A lot of my stories from using just the book are a bit fuzzy, I think because I didn’t have a lot of concrete people and memorable action. The concrete people doing things in specific places really helps to solidify the memory.



William Beeman on Vocab Unlocked from 赶

in 等大家都赶到那里的时候,已经是晚上七点了, is 等 děng a kind of preposition? Like “until”?


Soren Korsbaek on Vocab Unlocked from 显


I don’t understand this one, ‘臭钱’ is filthy money in Pleco (I think I am let down by not being a native English speaker here) but also the first part I can’t work out the meaning for.

显 xiǎn = 显摆 xiǎnbai = To flaunt/Show off


Soren Korsbaek on Vocab Unlocked from 疯

他是一个疯子, 你不用理他。

I can’t work out what this means, the second part ‘你不用理他。

理 lǐ = 理会 lǐhuì = To pay attention to

Comments from MB Team

理 lǐ is Highly Dynamic

Noun Usages:

Reason, logic, truth



to understand

ideal, an ideal

lǐxiǎng zhǔyì

lǐxiǎng zhǔyì zhě

Natural science

理科 vs. 文科
lǐkē vs. wénkē
Natural Sciences (e.g., Physics)
Liberal Arts

物理 (物理学)
wùlǐ (wùlǐxué)

地理 (地理学)
dìlǐ (dìlǐxué)

Grain of wood or skin


Verb Usages:

Manage, run

to manage (e.g., a company)

to deal with

to manage finances

Put in order; tidy up

to put in order, tidy up (some stuff)

Completely tidy up or put in order

barber/ to get your haircut

Pay attention to; speak to (most often in negation)

Ignore, not pay attention

to pay attention to, give heed to, speak to

to ignore completely, to not respond to direct attention from someone else

bù ài dāli rén
be standoff-ish

45:15 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.

Jason Pon on Vocab Unlocked from 特: 特别 – 特点

特点 Mona Lisa


Chris Young on Vocab Unlocked from 网: 上网

If you remember dial-up modems, an image of an old phone modem may be a good trigger. For me, the characters visually remind me of a (phone on the modem) + (a boxy old computer).


Rick Angleland on Vocab Unlocked from 改: 改变 – 改天

Or the Paul McCartney song “Another Day”.
It seems that 改天 is similar in use to 哪天.

52:05 Movies! 

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

Nick Sims (戴燚)on Make a Movie 热

Rico (r-) is in the bathroom (4th) at Barton Elementary (-e) stuck in there because someone locked him in there as a prank.

Only thing is…he’s been in there for two days with no food!
Desperate he gathers up a cockroach ? (执) and cooks it over a HOT campfire (灬).


Gavia Arctica on Make a Movie 硬

Diamond, the hardest substance in the world! I had a hard time coming up with a way to represent the meaning of the character in a movie, but then thought of just adding a diamond to the script and that´s it, now it´s clear and memorable. 🙂


Ric Santos on Make a Movie 紧

At the bedroom of the -n set, Ji-actress nervously wants to be secure at all times. So her right hand (又) is tied tightly (紧) to her sword (刂) by a silk thread (糸) so that the sword (刂) is ready to use when urgently needed especially when time is tight (紧). jǐn.


Hank Elliott on Make a Movie 孤

Gandalf (g-actor) is outside (tone) my childhood home (null set)eating Chicken Feet (prop) with Jesus (prop). They are enjoying their chicken feet when suddenly Gandalf accidentally ELBOWS (prop) Jesus who gets up and leaves Gandalf all alone eating chicken feet by himself. Eventually Gandalf becomes quite Lonely (key word) and no longer enjoys his chicken feet. He looks dejected and sad. Finally He begs Jesus to come back. Finally Jesus rejoins him and Gandalf is no longer LONELY and they continue to enjoy eating their chicken feet!!


Oliver Morris on Make a Movie 藏

This is a pretty complex one – I was fortunate that my prop for 片 is photograph so 爿 are just the photograph negatives! Still writing a story for this one has been a challenge.


Will Raley on Make a Movie

咳 ké To Cough

1. Keanu Reeves at Elena’s Kitchen
2. He meets The Rolling Stones Mouth (口) suffering from a nasty COUGH
3. Keanu calls the Dirty Dozen (亥) over to beat the COUGH out of the Mouth
4. The Dirty Dozen surround and grab the Mouth and then squash the Mouth with their hands till the COUGH is gone
5. Keanu Reeves says he could have done it himself but he didn’t want to catch the COUGH (咳)


Ric Santos on Make a Movie 述

Shubert @ null set’s backyard (4th tone) : when it is difficult to explain a technique (术) to his students, Shubert instead opts instead to narrate (述) a story –something like walking (辶) them through on how the above-mentioned (上述) technique is done. 述 = Narrate ( shù).


Nick Sims (戴燚)on Make a Movie 九

Janet Jackson (ji-) is in the bedroom at Wilson Hall (-u/-ou) combining her martial arts skills with dancing in a new routine. She is twirling a samurai sword (丿), ninja star (一) and Maui’s Fish Hook (乚) while dancing to the song “Get Low” by Lil John.

Brrr dum dum dum, dum da da da da dum 3, 6, NINE, stand real fine Move it to you sock it to me one mo time Get low, get low, get low, get low….

Janet is twirling so fast it looks like she has NINE weapons instead of three.