Epsiode 178 - NEW COURSE - Mandarin Immersion Masterclass

178. NEW COURSE – Mandarin Immersion Masterclass

Podcast Duration: 01:06:26

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178. NEW COURSE: Mandarin Immersion Masterclass

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14:35 Comments & Emails

Email from Gavia

Hi Luke & Phil,

I got great advice from you on how to use the course and switch my focus more towards immersion (podcast 167) and I want to let you know how I´m doing now, after about five months of practice:

Sentences & Characters: I like doing some of them, but I FINALLY got it and quit trying to do everything. Not even listen to ALL sentences. I now read sentences when unlocking the character, that’s it. I still add 1-3 to my SRS reviews every day, but mostly only vocab boost sentences that feel much easier and quicker to review because the characters are more familiar. This got me to a much faster speed for learning characters and I got back to the joy of feeling that I´m progressing. I actually finished the Intermediate charters this Friday! (My sentences are at level 51 now, and I keep reminding myself every day NOT TO WORRY about them.)

Reading: Not happening… not enough time and I feel very frustrated because of not being able to read something “interesting enough”. BUT that´s perfectly OK for now. Thanks to the advice I got from the Habit Building Bootcamp I have decided to “start small, make it easy.” I realize that smartphones and Netflix have killed my reading habits in ANY language so I decided to keep this easy and get back into the habit of reading ON PAPER, a real book, in FINNISH (my native language). This has helped my screen addiction a lot, no more mindless youtube watching! Besides, I am reading 射雕英雄传, The Legend of the Condor Heroes, a wuxia classic, so I am still reinforcing my Chinese enthusiast identity. The translation is fantastic, real, and well-written Finnish, it feels easy and I am really enjoying it. Now that picking up a book at night is becoming a habit again, it will be MUCH easier to switch that to a Chinese book sometime in the future. But I´m not in a hurry with that, my focus is on characters and listening now.

Writing: More on this another day, for now, I´ll just say it´s starting to feel amazingly natural. I write on HelloTalk every week and I do a LITTLE bit of sentence mining there, but not much. It´s more about connecting with people than formal learning. I just advance with the MB characters, practice pronunciation a bit daily, and LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN:

Listening: I have been through a process of finding out who I am as a language learner and accepting that learning to immerse is a PROCESS. You pick up content, try it, go on if it works, and switch to something else if it doesn´t.

I think the MB course with the order for learning characters and words is pretty much universal for everyone, it just makes sense for EVERYONE to do that and in that order, no matter who you are.

But immersion and how to do it is really how YOU adjust the method to yourself, your own goals, interests, learning style… There is no “right or wrong way” other than “immersion is right, not immersing is wrong”. Just do it, and do what is most important and interesting for YOU. Immersion in content that YOU like and that is adjusted to YOUR goals is what will make the course your own, totally tailor-made to your needs. I think there are as many different approaches to how to do it as there are students. Eventually, immersion is the key for every student to “own” the language.

So who am I as an immersion learner? I have learned a few things that are obvious to me now that I can’t believe how I didn’t think of them earlier:

First of all, I have that huge attitude problem: I don´t like graded material. Reality is NOT graded, ever. It will throw you curve balls and hit you in the face, it´s too fast, accented, and filled with cultural references you can´t get but will never learn from graded material. I WANT THE REAL THING! It is just so much more interesting! I know, I know, graded material is so GOOD for me… but I can´t say that I enjoy it.

I seem to have found my own hack for this: maybe, just maybe “too easy and therefore boring material” + “too hard, but real and interesting material” = “intermediate material and just right for me?” This is what I am experimenting with for now, listening to very easy material on weekdays when I am preparing food or getting ready for work and mixing it with quite a bit of native material that is too hard, a lot of it on weekends and a little bit every day.

I gave up Gushi FM very soon because the little that I understood made me see that the content might be a bit too emotional and tough for my taste. There are too many tough things going on in the real world already, I need a “nicer and lighter” place to go to in my Chinese world. Besides, the level is really too much for me for now.

I now listen to two different native podcasts that speak about “light, everyday things” and there are two or more people having a conversation. I realize this is just the type of podcast I like to listen in ANY language (on a bit more specific topics if listening in English to keep things interesting). Audiobooks or podcasts with only one person speaking tend to bore me (EXCEPT for the MB podcast, I’m a fan!) and make me “tune out” from listening even if I don´t have a problem with the language.

But when there is a conversation…. it seems to keep my interest going and listening to a conversation, well, you get conversational language! As my goal is to be able to have some sort of conversation in Chinese it kind of makes sense to practice listening to that! This is SO obvious, but it took me a long time trying to listen to series, audiobooks, documentaries, whatever to find out that this is what I need. If I don´t necessarily like to listen to that stuff in English and always prefer a conversational podcast…. why am I trying to make myself listen to some other kind of content in Chinese???

Also, the SPEED at which immersion happens listening to a native podcast is SO effective compared to watching a series where they are not speaking all the time! Series have their entertainment value, but they require watching and following a plot and I love that too, but not now, these podcasts are just right for me, even if they ARE too hard.

My two podcasts are still quite difficult, but I started out at getting a word or two and parts of sentences here and there. Then sometimes whole sentences. Depending on the episode I still don´t get more than maybe “the gist” of it, but I have found that first of all, having an IDEA of what people are speaking about can totally change the game and improve my level of understanding immediately. If I first copy the episode description into google translate and then listen I will get MUCH more out of it on the first go. The difference in my level of understanding is HUGE, just because I have an initial idea of what will be said. So big that it can make the difference in holding my interest in trying to listen to such difficult content or just give up and tune out.

Secondly, I have learned to make things more understandable by just listening repeatedly. This is obvious, but it has still been surprising for me how well this works. I used to listen 1-3 three times. Now I take short, 10-15 minute parts of the podcast and listen with attention 3-4 times and then re-listen the whole episode over and over and over again, X number of times. There is no transcript, so this is really just understanding what I hear. I am AMAZED to notice that I can now listen to an hour of native Chinese speech and feel like I understood pretty much EVERYTHING. Of THIS podcast, by THESE people, whose speech I´m already used to, on THIS kind of topics that are pretty simple and I checked before starting what they were going to talk about and then listened to many, many times. But still: it´s native Chinese content and I UNDERSTAND IT!

Third, I may not get every word, but it is SO cool to notice that “this bit I didn´t quite understand because there´s that one verb that I don´t get. How do I KNOW it´s a verb? I just do, because…. it has to be, it´s obvious from the context. This week I even noticed myself thinking “I wonder what that 成语 they just used means” and then thought “how do I think I know it was a 成语!?” Well, I don´t, but it was four syllables, the rest of what they are saying is understandable and makes sense, this part I didn´t get, four characters, placed like that in a sentence, has to be a chengyu right? I mean, just noticing what it is that you DON´T understand can be SO valuable, I´m SURE this MUST be useful for actually learning vocabulary or chengyu at some point much later! AND for word order and “sense of the language”.

The difficult stuff is still the most interesting to me, but now I think of that as a way of learning to understand what other people will say whereas the graded, easy stuff is there to help me start speaking myself at some point. It feels SO easy that I´m saying to myself, “Hey, that´s SO SIMPLE that even I could say that!”…. which gets me to actually starting to spontaneously shadow some words and parts of sentences while I listen and maybe thinking about how I could use that sentence structure for something I would like to say. I´m not trying to remember anything as such, just mostly getting used to that feeling “even I could say that!” Also, after a while on the too hard stuff, listening to something easy is a great boost to confidence.

Lastly, and this is weird…. but true: I have learned that I immerse best when I am driving. The difference between listening to Chinese when driving and anywhere else is SO big that if it wasn´t for environmental concerns and ridiculous gas prices I would take my car and just go for a ride in Chinese for a few hours every weekend!

My guess is that there are several reasons: There are no other distractions. My mind doesn´t interrupt me with thoughts on what else I should / could be doing, I can´t do anything else and what I “should” be doing probably involves driving from A to B anyway, so it is totally OK to just drive and listen. I don´t particularly like driving and I love studying Chinese so it takes away any boredom or impatience about driving and getting to places. And I think the key might also be in that driving is naturally a state of relaxed awareness where you need to be aware of what is going on around you, you need to see far, without fixing your gaze too much, be aware of what is going on in front of you but also on the sides and even behind, through the mirrors.

It seems that this SOMEHOW helps me relax my mind into not fixing my attention too much on individual words but the whole “picture” of what I am hearing, too. When I am driving I can get to that state where on one hand the speech is way too fast for me to consciously understand (that is, to translate in my mind…), but all of a sudden I notice that I´m AM understanding most of it. It feels so weird that I can´t even say if I really understand or maybe just THINK I understand?

But sometimes, especially when driving and listening to “prepared material” that I have heard many times before I get a very strange feeling that “I can listen to this just as if it was English or Spanish”. Can´t say what it is, just a feeling about how my brain “handles the information”. It feels absurd to say this as my level is NOT anywhere close to that. But it´s as if I was discovering “turning on a setting” in my brain where…. I just “naturally understand Chinese”. Or at least I can see that it is totally possible that someday I will, it will just happen. Practicing “switching on” that “setting” must be useful. Yeah, I am a bit strange… I don´t know if this makes sense to anyone…. but I do believe there IS a “switch” in my brain for that, I just need to remember how to use it…

I´m still not listening as much as I should or would like to, but this has been a very good start!

Identity: After listening to your advice in December I started to work on a few things regarding my “Chinese identity”. I started actively using my Chinese name 林星玫, changed my HelloTalk profile name to include it, and started asking my HelloTalk friends for their Chinese names instead of the western names they use there. Someone who CAN speak Chinese would call a Chinese person by their Chinese name, right? MY Chinese may still be very broken, but I´m sure 林星玫 is amazingly fluent!

There are days that I start listening to or reviewing characters with a little moment of visualizing “how would 林星玫 feel about this?” Sometimes it works like magic and makes everything easy. Most days I just feel stupid. 😀 But I´ll go on.

Speaking: So far I have only two HT friends I actually speak with. One only very occasionally and mixed with lots of English. But my best HT friend calls me EVERY Sunday night and we speak a happy mix of Chinese and Spanish (NO English, ever) for about 45 minutes.

**I may not get every word, but it is SO cool to notice that “this bit I didn´t quite understand because there´s that one verb that I don´t get. How do I KNOW it´s a verb? I just do, because…. it has to be, it´s obvious from the context. **

**After about two months of my immersion process and maybe two weeks into discovering and experimenting with my “too easy + too hard = intermediate and just right” theory there was a real breakthrough feeling. **

My friend was amazed at how much my speech had improved in so little time and was asking “WHAT have you done!!!???” In fact, I don´t know if my speech improved so much or if it was because I actually started to understand better what he is saying so I could maybe think of something to say myself. My sentences still don´t come out right and my pronunciation is terrible, but I feel like I CAN say at least something!

**That feeling when after a while of speaking mostly Spanish he says “好累啊。。。我们说中文吧!” and I can just NATURALLY say 好啊,没问题 and switch languages…. or when he´s looking for words in Spanish and can´t find them and I can say to him 你用中文说吧。。。” knowing that if he uses simple words I WILL understand…. PRICELESS! Don´t get me wrong, my level is still VERY low and very often I actually DON´T understand what he then says, but it still FEELS like Chinese is at least somehow becoming “one of my languages”.

I would never have gotten here without your course, your help, your advice on immersion – and the Habit Building Bootcamp! So a huge thank you, as always!

That said, I´m not ready to try to speak face to face or even on the internet with anyone else, there is something very “safe and familiar” in these calls, we know each other’s level and the topics we talk about so there is a lot of context that helps. His Spanish is not much better than my Chinese, it´s all an exercise in simplifying what we try to say. Even so, we have discussed even world politics, covid situation, literature, our hobbies, and interests… and SOMEHOW we manage to understand each other or at least have enough fun in the process to keep trying.

By the way, my Finnish reading project IS serving my Chinese skills as it turned out that my friend is a huge fan of the Condor Heroes book! Every week he will ask what´s going on in the book and we will talk about it in Chinese and Spanish. Me discussing wuxia classics in Chinese sounds something like this in English: “He wants to marry her. Another man also wants to marry her. Father makes them compete. He wins. But father very angry, does not want. They run away, leave island, boat not good. Boat sinks, bad fish want to eat them (坏鱼, my self-made, invented “Chinese word” for sharks, not Chinese but understandable, maybe?)”

We both laughed SO hard at all of this…. But I did end up learning the correct word for “shark”. I have not bothered learning the character, but I will probably remember the pronunciation forever without even reviewing it, just because I was willing to make myself ridiculous by trying to INVENT what I didn´t know.

Gavia Arctica aka 林星玫


Chad Ressler on Now Just LOOK at how SOLID that Foundation Is! Phase 5 Complete!

Phil and Luke, the OG is finally done. Seems like just yesterday it was January 2019 and I was watching Luke’s video of him on the park bench talking about learning Chinese, and then talking to my wife about signing up for the course. I knew zero Chinese and had no idea how to start learning it or if I would even be able to learn it. Today, I finished the Foundation course. I can read the breakthrough Mandarin Companion books and enjoy the stories, I can watch Chinese movies and sometimes understand things and I can always pick out our vocab, I listen to Chinese music, and I now am able to branch out and use many different resources to learn. I don’t have zero days anymore because, thanks to you guys, Chinese is just a part of my life. It’s something that I can’t not do on any given day. Thanks for everything guys, and I’ll see you in the Intermediate course once I solidify all this material.


James Skinner on BONUS: Helper – When You Can Omit 的

I’m a more advanced student that has studied Chinese for a few years and my Spoken Chinese is pretty decent, but it’s being held back by the 2-3000 characters that I don’t know. With that said, even though I’m trying to get through these easier levels as fast as possible, I come across gold nuggets like this video here.

Having lived in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province for the past two or so years I’ve spent all kinds of money on teachers and courses for Chinese. Every single 老外 In the Chinese higher education system (what ones are left, anyway) should be forced to take this course and be tested on it’s knowledge after a year.

The reason for this is that in order to immerse yourself in Chinese and aquire the language like a native you must learn 3000+ most frequently used characters in order to even start really learning the language effectively. I have a somewhat stable knowledge of probably half that, but this course is going to fix that THIS YEAR.

Thank you SO much for this course. I only wish I had found it when I first came to this country in October of 2019!

Before anyone goes and buys ANY other course, or does anything, tell them to take this course first. POay the $500 or whatever and just GRIND IT OUT. Chinese is a GRINDY language. This is the most pleasurable and way to limit the 吃苦 effect of the characters. If you are a complete newbie, take each lesson in stride and TAKE YOUR TIME. YOU WILL GET THERE. If you have a job, or you are outside of China, do maybe 5 characters a day until you get a hang of the method. Once you build the habit and you know what you are doing, go HAM.


Hannah van der Bijl on Level 13 Complete

I keep finding myself surprised when I reach the end of a level- like oh, where did the time go? You’ve truly created something incredible. So overwhelmed with gratitude for you guys. I’ve been trying to piece together what true acquisition looks like after studying linguistics, working overseas, and trying my hand at both Arabic and Japanese over the years. Anyone who tries to establish a meaningful life somewhere knows what a crucial piece language is, and the loneliness of constantly being aware of potential relationships to be had, but you can’t speak the language! I was already trying to soak up all the tips and tricks from polyglots, story methods, and more natural ways to reach fluency, but it was just so hard to find a straightforward, step by step game plan. I truly got that nagging sense of the money and time that was going down the drain because the pieces just weren’t clicking efficiently. I just started this course 4 weeks ago after trying to figure out a path to acquiring Mandarin since October (anticipating a move to China soon), and it has completely fit all the puzzle pieces together and filled the gaps I’ve been trying to figure out for so long. The guess work is GONE!!! I KNOW you guys know how huge that is- I believe you when you say you’re jealous of us! It is really an invaluable gift to know exactly where I’m going and how to get there. You have saved us potentially years of trial and error, and more than that, have given us the key to pursuing a flourishing life in a new culture and language. Can’t put into words how huge that is. Thank you! Thank you!


Annette Bicknell on Vocab Boost 信用卡 银行卡 进行 卡车 骑车 车辆 停车 停止 公共 公共汽车 共同

Are 公交车 and 公共汽车 used interchangeably?


Anjulee on BONUS: Relator – Using 为 to Express “For”

Can you please explain how to read and translate the meaning of the words that use the pattern ‘verb 一 verb’ like in “走一走” and “想一想”?

I did read your reply to another MB’r that, “…It’s a pattern that’s used for many verbs to make it soft/playful. 看一看,尝一尝…” So do we simply translate them to walk, think, look and taste with positive connotations?



Christopher Weeks on Vocab Boost 信用卡 银行卡 进行 卡车 骑车 车辆 停车 停止 公共 公共汽车 共同


In this instance can 才 acting in the same way as 比较 would?
I think I am just used to seeing it in a different usage.