61. Lesley Nearly Quit Learning Mandarin Before MB!

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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.

Below is a transcript of the conversation from the podcast.

Phil Crimmins:
Welcome back to The Mandarin Blueprint Podcast. I have on the line Lesley, who is in level 22 of the course, and she has kindly agreed to talk about her experience on the course in learning Chinese. Before we get into anything specific about The Mandarin Blueprint Course, Lesley, tell everybody a little bit about yourself and why you started to study Chinese.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, I’m Lesley. I am living and working in Beijing … Obviously, I just don’t want to be … You can stay in that expat bubble where … I remember there was a funny meme. It was like, after five years in China, man bravely passes HSK 1. I just don’t want to be … Right? I’ve got the survival part down, but it’s frustrating when you can’t communicate with the lunch lady or your Kung Fu instructor, understand people who stop to ask you directions, and you’re like, “Huh?” I don’t know. It’s just I don’t want to be in that expat bubble, especially in Beijing you can, but …

Phil Crimmins:
Right, yeah. I used to live in Beijing for a couple of years. During that time I didn’t learn Chinese.

Lesley Scott:
Did you?

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, because it was so easy to get away with.

Lesley Scott:
Right? It’s amazing, yeah.

Phil Crimmins:
There’s such a huge [crosstalk 00:01:23]

Lesley Scott:
It’s kind of … I mean-

Phil Crimmins:
That you’ll have lots of different activities you can do. There’s a whole economy of expats, so it’s definitely possible to avoid the Chinese, so good on you for not falling into that trap. That’s great.

Lesley Scott:
I’m trying. I just don’t want to be that guy, if I can help it.

Phil Crimmins:
Got you. Got you. So, you wanted to make that you’re able to participate more in the society around you, not just be in the expat bubble. Have you tried any other methods for learning Chinese in the past? You said you’d learned some survival, which you could probably just pick up eclectically, but did you take any other attempts at learning Chinese before Mandarin Blueprint?

Lesley Scott:
Well, I think the more accurate question is what didn’t I try. Oh my God, yeah. I tried a Chinese teacher, and I just don’t really vibe with the local study methods of rote learning. Even with your guys’ course … The memory palace things really work. It’s amazing how the props reinforce it. It’s still daunting. It’s still an undertaking. I can’t say I’m excited every day to sit down.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, I tried a couple local teachers. I tried a couple different courses. I did the usual suspects, the apps. They weren’t worth my time investment. I admire what Duolingo is doing, but it just wasn’t worth the time. I just wasn’t getting … It’s just a lot of repetition, and that just doesn’t stick for me, so it’s time I could be doing something else in the morning. I’ve tried all of them. Seriously, man, there’s not one I can’t give you some kind of an opinion, and not just based on hearsay, actually having tried it, unfortunately.

Phil Crimmins:
Right, right. Yeah, that’s a story we hear a lot. One of the problems … We were just checking out Gabriel Wyner’s awesome app called Fluent Forever, which doesn’t have Mandarin, but it does have a number of other languages. We were checking it out. It’s really great. It’s really interesting, but we realized one of the problems here is that Chinese has this extra stage that other apps, their basic structure doesn’t adapt for.

Phil Crimmins:
If you need to learn Chinese, and you want to learn Chinese properly … Let’s just say you want to learn any language properly. You need to be able to read and listen to stuff you can understand. Reading is especially effective, but you can’t just start reading Chinese. Without that structure at the beginning to make sure that you’re staying within the realm of what you can understand, and just learning character by character as opposed to word by word, which is how most language apps do it. You end up in this situation where the app gives you the freedom to do whatever you want, but it’s almost too much freedom.

Phil Crimmins:
With French, I could start reading French today if I wanted to, or I could start reading some Spanish today. You can’t really do that with Chinese, so you can’t have that eclectic click on any word and find the definition. It’s way too complicated for that, so that’s a story we’ve heard a lot.

Phil Crimmins:
When did you find Mandarin Blueprint, and what sort of was different about it for you?

Lesley Scott:
I must say, the Fluent Forever, he’s the one who got me turned on to Anki, so I give him … When did I find you guys? I was actually about to give up …

Phil Crimmins:
Oh, really?

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, seriously. I was on Facebook, so it’s actually, see, good things can come from killing time on Facebook. I saw your guys’ ad. Any time I saw any ads for Chinese I would always just check them out. I had read this book, Encoding Chinese, about memory palaces. When I looked at your sort of free little demo, you were incorporating the stuff that Fluent Forever talked about that I liked. You were incorporating the memory palaces, and I was like, “Oh!” Plus, the promise of literacy, because it’s one thing to speak it, but … I used to volunteer, teaching people who were trying to learn to read in the states. That’s just a terrible way to go through life, surrounded by texts that you can’t understand. I had kind of just given up. I was like, I’m never going to get Chinese, and I’m definitely never going to understand the characters.

Lesley Scott:
And then you guys took WeChat Pay. If you’ve ever worked and lived in China, you know that transferring money is a thing, so I had all my money here. You were like, yeah, we’ll take WeChat Pay. It’s amazing, people who don’t, very short sighted if you’re going to teach Chinese. So I was like, screw it, I’ll try it. You guys were kind of my little life preserver being thrown out, I guess at just the right time, because literally I was about to be like, all right, I’m just not going to stress about this anymore. It would bum me out that I couldn’t even pass the basic things. It’s like, well, either do it or just don’t, but stop being in this gray area.

Lesley Scott:
But it’s really hard if you don’t … I just don’t have the energy for rote. If you have a full time job, there’s no way you have energy for rote learning.

Phil Crimmins:
A comment on the point you made about how … sort of the not having the energy for rote learning, and then also just feeling like you want to give up. Chinese has such a low success rate, and I think a big part about it is because it’s not just that it’s a longer language to learn, it’s that you don’t have a clear path to get there. You mentioned earlier that it’s not like it’s not still an undertaking to learn Chinese, but if you at least know the next step is not going to throw me. The next step is not going to make me go, oh, I can’t possibly handle this next step. You just know, okay, it’s a lot of steps. Maybe if there’s 10,000 steps to learning Spanish, maybe there’s 20,000 steps to learning Chinese. The problem with not having a clear path is you don’t know where to go next. You’re just lost in the dark, so not only is it a lot of steps, but am I even going in the right direction? It can be quite frustrating in that way.

Phil Crimmins:
I’m glad to hear that we got you out of the feeling of just wanting to give up. Tell us about how that came to be the case, because, sure, we could have just been another one of those Chinese courses that’s like some of the other apps you mentioned. Maybe it was slightly interesting for a little bit, but then it just brought back the feeling of wanting to give up. So what was different about Mandarin Blueprint for you?

Lesley Scott:
Well, I think … like I said, I had read that book, Encoding Chinese, so I was aware of the memory palaces. I had done a bunch of my own flashcards. I just hated it. I just did not enjoy it. I remember the Fluent Forever guy was like, “I really love doing flashcards.” I’m like, oh man, we are cut from different cloth. You guys have these awesome Anki decks. It’s amazing how much work you did on those. Those Anki decks are amazing.

Lesley Scott:
I think what kind of, not sold me, was A, listening to Luke, just that opening part where he’s like blah, blah, blah, this could be you. It’s like, yeah right, shut up. His pronunciation, and the fact that you said you use memory palaces so that you could fix your tones, because I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had this experience. I remember I went to the bank to change money, and I really did my best to get those tones right, and the guy just looked at me. They’ll look at you and be like, huh? I remember I went to a coffee place, and I was like, “Coffee.” He was like, “Huh?” I’m like, really? This is after I had been doing you guys for a while. Then I spoke to him. I was like, “Oh, we can do this in French,” since my tones aren’t … “Oh, we can do it in German,” in German …

Lesley Scott:
It was the memory palaces and Anki, and listening to you guys just speak in a way that people weren’t … There’s a clip of you pitching your … Mandarin Blueprint to investors.

Phil Crimmins:
The little speech about the course? Yeah, yeah.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, and just watching them. Instead of nodding their heads or looking at you like, oh … Then you get overly praised for saying ni hao. It’s like, oh shut up. It’s so annoying … Just you’re comfortable and you’re like, yeah I sound like an American, but I’m intelligible to locals. You could tell that they were just caught up in the content of what you were saying. I think it was those three things, actually, the memory palaces, the Anki, and then watching the locals’ reaction to you guys speak. It obviously wasn’t staged. It was just b-roll from the event, so people were just being themselves … so probably those three things.

Phil Crimmins:
That is a great feeling, by the way. In any language, when you’re acquiring the language, when you get to that point where you realize, oh okay, the person is no longer engaging with me on the level of, oh, you’re trying to speak Chinese. You’re now engaging with me on what I’m actually saying. It’s kind of funny how quickly that happens now. Even just yesterday, my friend and I were on a run, and we got to an intersection. We had to wait for a red light. This guy next to us was saying, “Oh, there’s more and more foreigners around here doing exercise.” I just took it as an opportunity to speak him and just be like, “Yeah, I love to exercise.” Then he was like, “Wow, you speak Chinese.” Then, very quickly, I asked him about how long he’s been in Chengdu and whatever. It’s flabbergasting to them in a way, but then they’re really excited, because then they’re like, oh, cool. Where are you from?

Phil Crimmins:
It’s kind of funny, though. The reaction to me saying I’m American has changed a little bit recently, because I guess of geopolitical things going on. They’re still super friendly. It’s almost gone from maybe … They would make a comment and say America is the best. Maybe they don’t say that now … Yeah, it’s a great feeling.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, when they actually just engage in the content, rather than either … Oh, you say ni hao, or you’re at the bank to change money, and then to just stare at me and like, huh? It can be super off-putting, so it’s nice to feel less off-put, because I do feel like it is an undertaking, especially because of the tones, honestly. A, hitting the tones, and B, remembering them, because it just completely changes the meaning.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah … There’s a great story about this. My friend, Kelsey, from when she was on the show Fei Cheng Wu Rao. I also was on that show one time. It’s basically a dating show. They shoot it in Nanjing. She was on the panel of girls who keep their lights on or they turn their lights off and a guy comes up and they decide whether or not they like them. They’ll talk to him and all that. She meant to say, “I like a guy.” She’s American. She meant to say, “I like a guy who likes adventure,” and that’s màoxiǎn, so fourth tone, third tone, màoxiǎn. Then she accidentally said, “Màoxiǎn,” second tone, fourth tone, which means I like a guy who enjoys yarn, because màoxiǎn is yarn. That was a pretty embarrassing moment for her on national television.

Lesley Scott:
Knitting is a thing.

Phil Crimmins:
You think that these small changes, but … I think that my best advice for you there is to keep practicing the tone pairs that we talked about in the pronunciation mastery.

Lesley Scott:
Every day. Every day.

Phil Crimmins:
Good. Excellent. Yeah, you keep doing that, you’ll eventually … It’s just because those patterns, they come up all the time, and so eventually it’ll just become second nature. Like you said, it sounds like you’re doing it every day, so how’s your experience been so far of keeping the consistency day to day? In my opinion, if you don’t have that, it’s really hard to succeed, so tell me a little bit about that.

Lesley Scott:
Well, I think you actually said something that kind of made a click go for me. You’re like, “It’s a habit that will get you to the finish line.” You were like, “Protect the habit at any cost.” I was like, oh. In that case, I already … I teach English [inaudible 00:14:32] spendy, Beijing spendy people. I’ve used that line on them. I’m like, “The habit. The habit will get you there.” It makes me feel less bad, because some days … I’m just not one of these … I like Chinese culture. I train Kung Fu. I’m here, but I’m not over the moon about learning Chinese … I guess I’ve found it so daunting that I’m just tired, so-

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, it can actually create negative feelings, so yeah.

Lesley Scott:
So, the days when I … Yeah, and it’s like this baggage. How you have a resentment towards a language I’m not sure … When you said the habit is what you need to protect, because the habit will get you there, I was like, okay. I never have a zero day anymore after you said that. I feel a lot less bad, because I was like, all right, the habit is the baby I don’t want to throw out with the bath water here. Did I feed the baby today? Yeah. I didn’t give it as much nourishment. It got junk food today, but it’s still in play. It’s not cold. That was tremendously helpful bit of advice for me, when you said that. Protect the habit. It’s the habit that will get you across the finish line. That switched my focus from, oh, I didn’t do five characters today, because I have a little set thing.

Lesley Scott:
I’m using that November novel month is my November productivity month. I switched it a bit. I do a certain number of characters. I cover a page every day. That’s my goal for productive novpro. I really focus more, though, on protecting the habit. That was a hugely helpful bit of insight.

Phil Crimmins:
I’m glad, yeah. That was some of the stuff that really stuck with me on a number of different levels, including … So, I just recently, this past weekend, I participated for the first time in my life in this type of event which was called a kabrathon. It’s a triathlon, but instead of it being whatever the normal triathlon is, it was cycling, kayaking, and running.

Phil Crimmins:
On a few occasions, I actually had myself thinking about those types of things on the smaller scale of these five hours while I’m doing this exercise. It was thinking, okay, don’t right now go for the fastest speed on the kayak at this moment, because you still have 20 kilometers to go, so you need to just keep the flow going of the paddling. It’s sort of a metaphor a bit for … Well, in that case, it’s not really a metaphor since it’s actually happening. It’s a bit of an analogy to what it’s like to build up a skill, because you can always want to be like, okay, I want today to be the day where I have that equally super productive day. You have some perfect golden day one day where you learn 30 characters easily, and you’re in a great mood and all that. Then your brain does this annoying thing where it goes, well, that’s what every day is like now, right? It forgets that sometimes you’re tired, you’re stressed about something else, whatever the situation. You’re sick or something. It’s like our brain goes, well, if I didn’t reach the top of my potential ability, then I might as well just quit. It’s this weird illogical thing that our brain wants to do, and I do it all the time.

Phil Crimmins:
For some reason, I was luckily able to get it with Chinese where I went, it doesn’t matter, just do something. Just do something today. That was largely inspired by Katsumoto as well, and his website All Japanese All the Time. I’m glad to hear that was helpful for you.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, and sometimes it’s … The way you say it. When the teacher’s ready, or when the student’s ready, the teacher will appear, type thing … Like I said, I’ve passed it along to my own students.

Phil Crimmins:
Excellent. Excellent. The good news is spreading around. That’s awesome. The good news of [crosstalk 00:18:33]

Lesley Scott:
Trying to, yeah.

Phil Crimmins:
The next area I wanted to talk to you about is specifically the character learning, because this is the area where … Mandarin Blueprint, probably our strength is the character learning system. I’m curious about how that process has gone for you. You’re in level 22, so that means you’re now in phase four of the course, where you’re going to start to have some longer form content. Phases one, two, and three … Well, all the phases have the character learning as a part of it, so kind of a twofold question. One is about how long into the course did you feel like it took before you really understood the character learning method? That is to say, how many characters did you have to learn before you were like, okay, I get it. I see what needs to be done here for each character. Do you have a number on that? Probably like 20 characters, 50 characters, something like that?

Lesley Scott:
I think in the first 50. I kind of didn’t really understand … why I was using the [inaudible 00:19:35], the female character, so I just went with it.

Phil Crimmins:
So how long did it take you when were going through the first two phases of the course before you felt like you really understood how the character method works? When you do the first ten characters, a lot of times people are like, okay, this is a brand new way of learning, so it’s a little bit complicated. Eventually you kind of get the hang of it. You’re like, okay, no problem, I understand what I have to do for each character. About how many characters did that take before you felt like you had a good grasp of the method?

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, probably … 25 to 30 characters. Basically, I just followed your instructions and was like, you know what, I’m sure it’ll become clear, and it did. It did.

Lesley Scott:
I remember … But what I didn’t anticipate was how having props for the characters would reinforce learning the character. I remember one in particular was my prop for manly man is Clint Eastwood. There was a scene I had, a movie scene, where Clint Eastwood had a notebook, and he was talking to Tina Fey about her body. I remember seeing the character. I was like, Clint Eastwood and a notebook. What was he doing? Oh, yeah, talking to Tina Fey about her body. I [inaudible 00:20:53] the tone. That was cool, to reverse engineer the character, and have the character bring … The props bring the character up. The first time that happened is when it kind of clicked. I’m like, oh yeah, this is really cool. It’s not just about literacy, but those reinforce the actual characters, those little stories. It’s really nice to be able to read a menu or to read a price list, just common ads. That was, I think, where the click occurred for me.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, it’s so cool how you can … What I would say it’s analogous to is, if you walk by a store, or a coffee shop, or a place that you haven’t been for a while, and you just look over at it as you’re walking down the street, you can suddenly be flooded with memories of things that have happened in that place. That’s like walking by my old elementary school or something, and I see just memories from elementary school jump in there. It’s the same thing. It’s just instead of that, instead of it being a real memory, it’s just a manufactured memory, but … You can still remember Clint Eastwood standing there with the notebook talking to Tina Fey, so it worked. Your brain can’t seem to make the distinction. That’s why it’s just all been a game of figuring out, okay, what are all the ways to make these manufactured memories even more memorable by thinking about how memory works.

Phil Crimmins:
I use it all the time in life now, that particular skill, because it just helps with … just remembering things, like people’s names. I met a guy last night who was from Bangladesh, and his name was Abosh, which is not a Western name. I was just like, okay, Abosh. Well, bosh makes me think of Chris Bosh, the NBA player. I just was imagining a bunch of them and being like, pick Abosh, as if they were … You could just pick one of them, like Chris Bosh is. Then I just remembered his name as a result of that. All of that stuff, it applies more universally than just Chinese, but obviously it’s very useful for Chinese characters because it fits so well.

Phil Crimmins:
So, speaking of that kind of idea, how long now, approximately, on average, does it take you to learn one character? That is to say the meaning, and the pronunciation, and the components, so that you could therefore write it. How long does that take these days?

Lesley Scott:
Well, the scenes, when I sit down in the morning and do my page … I have one of those Hanzi notebooks, and I do my initial stuff on the back side. Then, when I do my review, I use the part with the Chinese Characters. You can do those scenes pretty quickly. I remember the first, after you stopped the video, you have the things like what the component parts are, and then you make your own movie. Just doing it on my own … sort of was a bit of a slow start, but I don’t know. It’s like anything. You do it every day and you get better at it.

Lesley Scott:
I’ve learned if I make it exceptionally weird, or exceptionally funny, or just wrong, that … like the character for long. I remember the other day I did that one, and Charlie Sheen is my cha character, so there may or may not have been long lines of blow on the ice skates. I remember being like, oh yeah, the ice skates and the loud Charlie. Yeah, long. Okay, young, because there’s that funny thing with chong.

Phil Crimmins:
Isn’t that great when your actor works perfectly with the idea? That’s perfect.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah. He may or may not have caused a lot of mayhem and the long line. The long lines of blow, that made me laugh when I finally connected that. I’m like, oh yeah, yeah okay.

Phil Crimmins:
I could not share on the actual course about that. 30 percent of my scenes would be not safe for work, so I just-

Lesley Scott:
Anything, right?

Phil Crimmins:
We’re family friendly in the actual course. Yeah, so many things are memorable about … whether it’s violence or sexuality or drugs or something. There’s ways to incorporate all that stuff, and that just makes it memorable, especially if you laugh. If you find a way to laugh, then you’re going to stick with it. Luke and I used to be studying together, and we would just break out laughing randomly as we’re sitting silently across the room.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, they’re fun. Now, the one thing I did … I moved a lot as a kid, so … When I was doing different housing, the different locations, that I had some trouble with … There was one period in my life I used to love the Pink Panther, so I always make sure when I have a scene there, that one of the character that does the pronunciation, the tone, is somehow interacting with those different props from different places. I had some troubles initially, because … I don’t know. It’s like how you block stuff out from your childhood, so that I had to … That’s just by doing it every day. You pick up stuff. That’s helped. Then, like you had said, if it’s gory or just funny or wrong, those are definitely … I’m getting better at making really super weird, and then the recall is fast, because I’m like, oh yeah, that’s Freddie Mercury doing that bizarre thing in Bucharest. That was one of mine. When I was in Bucharest is one of my …

Lesley Scott:
I think my favorite scene … There’s two of them that you guys did, one of which was an undertaking, where he’s using [inaudible 00:26:41] finger to pluck a chicken or a rooster. I’m like, the undertaking of the throne finger … It’s just, yeah, some of those are really funny. Then the one for chaotic, where it was a tongue and a toilet and a meat hook. I’ve never forgotten that character. It was just like, oh, this is so wrong, and so funny, and you don’t forget it. Those were, I think, my two favorites, the ones when you guys were doing the video part.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah. We’re adding more videos to the later sections of the course too, soon, so keep a look out for that. So far, it sounds like you’ve said that you’ve had some real world impacts, like you’ve been able to read more of the menus that you’ve seen around, and seen some things, characters around. You’re still kind of early in level 22, but can you talk a little bit more about that, any things you’ve noticed in your real life that have sort of changed, especially since you’re in Beijing?

Lesley Scott:
I do like your focus on you don’t know a word until you see it in context. I have to say [mashong 00:27:48], your whole thing about mashong has been really helpful. We have a front door guy, so I mashonged him the other day, because I didn’t feel like dealing with some package or whatever. I was like, oh, mashong, I’ll be … The fact that it came out of my mouth, I mashonged him, he understood. I was like, oh yeah. It was just a little taste, because I’m still having trouble with the speaking portion. It’s funny, it’s just not linear. It’ll just suddenly pop. You’ll know the word.

Phil Crimmins:
That’s a really word phenomenon. The way that it happens is you’re reading, and you’re listening, and you’re reading, and then it just comes into your head, because that is how it is in your native language. It’s not like you know ahead of time everything that you’re going to say. It comes really soon before you actually say it. It’s pretty much imperceptible. It just feels as if I’m discovering what I’m going to say as I’m saying it. If you’re doing the language acquisition correctly, the same thing should happen when you’re in your second language. Eventually you go, and the situation warrants something being said, and your brain just goes, okay, what’s the pattern of sounds that will make that person understand, and eventually it just comes. It’s kind of cool. You just keep going with the context, and the flash cards, and the longer form text, and eventually it just keeps happening.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah. Your advice to just show up, I was like, yeah, I can do that. Like I said, I’m not the most enthusiastic example, but I definitely don’t want to leave China without being conversant. I just feel like that would be an opportunity missed. It’s hard. I try not to be too grim about it, but I have to admit some days I do feel a little grim, but then I bang out my little page worth. Then some days I feel really excited. It’ll just, like you say, click and all the levers are working in a fluid fashion. I’m like, oh, this is doable. Then other days, though, it’s like, God, I just learned that this morning … What was that?

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, it always seems to be how it goes. It’s kind of like the stock market. It’s sort of going up and down while generally going up, in terms of your mood about it and your feelings about your own abilities, and all of that. I still have that feeling from time to time about my own Chinese abilities. One day I’ll be like, wow, I sure do know a lot of Chinese. Then the next day I’ll be talking to somebody about a topic that I’m not particularly fluent in, and I’ll be like, oh man, what am I doing teaching Chinese classes? I didn’t even know what to say at this point. It was actually super niche, and it was completely reasonable that I didn’t know, but still you’ll have those up and down feelings. The main thing, again, is as long as surrounding those emotions is the but I’m still doing it every day, then it doesn’t really matter. You’re going to eventually get better.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, I agree with you that 80 percent of it is showing up and doing whatever it is you need to do, regardless of how you feel about it.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, exactly, so-

Lesley Scott:
Which is probably a good thing.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, to some degree. There are certain days where it’s the no zero days versus zero days off mentality. My zero days off mentality is much more go-getter. I’m going to do a lot today and just never take … Zero days off, it sort of has this more active sort of feel to it. Other days, I have to use the no zero days mentality, which is, okay, I’m overwhelmed. There’s a lot going on right now, but I’m just going to make sure it’s not zero so I don’t lose the habit. You just fluctuate between those two, and that’s usually how it goes.

Phil Crimmins:
Cool. Awesome. Well, this is really interesting to hear what you’ve had to say about the course, and your experience … I’m so happy for you that you’ve gotten a new lease on learning Chinese after considering quitting before. I’m curious if you have any suggestions for us of how we can make the course better … if there was anything you came across and you were like, oh, I wish that they had this, or if you have any suggestions for us.

Lesley Scott:
The only … because I’m still shaky, even though I do all my stuff. When the pinyin first gets removed, I have to go back and forth to Pleco a lot, to make sure I’ve got the tones right. I’m not going to say it’s annoying, but sometimes I wish, initially, when you first see a word and it’s from before the other component … Yeah, I’ll have to switch in and out of Pleco a lot. That’s a small stupid thing. It’s not really a complaint.

Phil Crimmins:
Well, no, I mean that’s good to know. So you’re saying when you first learn a new word, even if you knew the characters before, just maybe on that page having the pinyin for the word would help you a bit?

Lesley Scott:
Just for the tones, yeah … I remember with [inaudible 00:33:04], that took me a while. I was like, shit, is that the second tone one or the fourth tone? No, it was Homer in the bathroom. Then I’m like goddammit. That would just be sort of helpful the very first time you learn a new word, especially if the second part of that is from before, from a distant mist.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, sometimes the word has a secondary pronunciation. Sometimes, as exampled in, [inaudible 00:33:35]. You can have either one. I’ve thought of that before. It might be a good idea for us. Yeah, like you said, the first time you learn a new word, have the pinyin there available. Obviously our theory was you learn the character through The Hanzi Movie Method, but that’s assuming that the word … Because Anki and The Hanzi Movie Method has a retention rate of about 90 to 95 percent, which is good, but it’s not perfect. What if it happens to be that you’re in that five to ten percent forgetting range when you’re learning a new word? Then you might be like, ah. Or you’re just not quite sure. You actually had it right. You were like I think it’s way, but I’m not … Was it way? Then you check and you were right, but still the fact that you were uncertain meant that you had to go to Pleco. That makes sense. That’s a good suggestion.

Lesley Scott:
Like I said, I’m not complaining, but I’d rather be focused on the word than going to Pleco, because I have to go in and out of … I don’t know. But then it’ll stick. It’s like, oh, okay.

Phil Crimmins:
Nice, nice. Awesome. Well, I guess my final question, then, would just be would you recommend the course to anybody out there who might be listening to this or viewing this? If so, why or why not?

Lesley Scott:
Actually, I have a question for you.

Phil Crimmins:
Sure.

Lesley Scott:
Which is, I would, without reservations, recommend Mandarin Blueprint, and I have. The objection I always get, and I’m not really sure how to address it is, oh, that sounds really involved. Mister five years in Beijing HSK 1, how’s your method going? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You know what I mean? They’ll tell you it sounds really involved, and I’m like, actually, once you kind of get it, it’s not. It’s methodical. I would love to know how do you … because I wish … I feel bad if people are letting the fact it feels overwhelming not have them … because the price is right. Your approach is right … How do you address that in a way that makes people want to explore it rather than being like, wow, that sounds really involved. It’s like, oh, be quiet.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, I know. It’s a great question. Of course, we’ve thought a lot about that. One of the things that I think of is, first, you need to be sure that you recognize what is involved in learning Chinese. I remember when I was in Beijing originally, I met a guy from Iceland who had learned Mandarin. At the time I didn’t know much at all, and I asked him about it. The first thing he said is it takes a while. You got to be prepared for it to take a while. That’s because there’s a lot of steps. Now, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t take the most efficient route through those steps, which is what Mandarin Blueprint is trying to do. We’re trying to, hence why we called the company Blueprint. It’s like here’s where you go. Mapping Mandarin was another idea we had for the name of the company, because you can’t lower the amount of steps, but you can make it so that each step is not the wrong one, and you’re heading in the right direction.

Phil Crimmins:
The first thing you have to recognize is do you want to do this? Do you want to learn Mandarin? If you do, then okay. Then the next question is what’s necessary to learn Mandarin? Well, you have to know the characters. You have to know the characters if you want it to be not full of homophones, because the pronunciation only has 420 syllables, so you need to know the characters. It’s also the part of the language that has the most patterns for you to recognize, for your brain to naturally recognize. If you only had to learn 100 characters, it would not be worth spending the time to learn a mnemonic system, because it’s only a hundred things. You could probably memorize those.

Phil Crimmins:
Like you said, you learned how to do the method in about 25 to 30 characters, right? Well, that’s one percent of the amount of characters that you need to learn overall, probably. About 3,000 is really where you want to go, if you want to be able to read the newspaper and stuff. You can do 600 and be able to get by in loads of situations, but if you want to be able to read a book, you’re going to need about 3,000 characters, right? If it only takes one percent of the characters to learn a method that makes learning the other 2,970 characters really fast, well that’s worth it.

Phil Crimmins:
But you have to remind people, you still have to learn 3,000 characters though. Even if it’s 30 seconds per character, or one minute per character, that’s still 3,000 minutes. That’s a lot of time. You’re not going to do it overnight. As long as people are like, I’m committed to it, and they understand the steps involved, then Mandarin Blueprints definitely the fastest way. I get why people say it sounds really involved, but they just need to see it in the larger perspective, I think.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, because I have my little notebook where I have put in … because I had wanted one stop … I remember reading one time, they said if you want to remember things, you hand write it. I have it in my Anki, obviously, but to not be on my screen all the time I do a lot of review just … because sometimes I’ll forget my locations. I have those in the front, every character. I find it really helpful to have my little book.

Lesley Scott:
I don’t know. People are funny, though. They’re like, yeah, it just seems so involved. It’s like, well, that’s because it is. If you ever come up with a quickie little elevator speech for getting around that stupid hesitation, because I do recommend it, but people are just put off by … I think because it’s an unusual approach.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, I was just thinking of the math. It’ll take you about 30 characters to get the hang of the method, and so those 30 characters might take you 10 minutes a character, because you’re figuring it out. Then you now have 2,970 characters to go, and you have a power tool that you just installed in your brain. That’s another analogy that I use sometimes. It’s like, imagine that you have to build a house and you’ve got two tables. One table has conventional tools, hammer, saw, nails, and then there’s some wood. Then you can immediately get started, because the tools are tine. The other table has an unassembled power tool, right, that can do all the stuff the other tools, but you have to assemble first. You have to look at the instruction manual and figure out how do I assemble this power tool. The person who uses a hammer, and nails, and saw, they can get started right away, and you might even see them making progress. You’re like, oh no, I haven’t even started yet. As soon as you have your power tool installed, you’re going to surpass them by a lot. It’s all a matter of how big the language is, and the language is quite big, so it’s well worth the time to figure out the mnemonic system.

Phil Crimmins:
Then, also, it’s fun. You were just talking about how you were laughing and coming up with humorous stories. I mean, how much more interesting is that than whatever rote memorization type of method people might do? So there’s that as well.

Lesley Scott:
Right. Yeah, and like I said, I’ve found if I make it funny and a little bit kind of racy, then it’s much faster to remember. The more conventional ones … In the beginning, I was doing more conventional stories, and then I’m like, no, doing blow off ice skate blades, yeah, bing. I can remember that.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, I like it. Perfect.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, right? If you choose kind of … Freddie Mercury is my F1 and Samuel L. Jackson as Pulp Fiction, with his gun is … So it’s great. He’s always threatening people. I remember in one of them, Luke said that there’s always fights and bloodshed. I’m like, but that works. I guess must have a more violent streak, yeah.

Phil Crimmins:
Well, you get more advanced with it, too, in the sense that some of the memory champions, the people who are really great at memory athletics and place very highly in The World Memory Championships, they all say that when you start off, violence and sexuality are very useful to get started with, because they’re so easily memorable … Our evolution has made us respond to both of those things very strongly, so they’re quite good.

Phil Crimmins:
When you get really advanced, really black belt level memory stuff, is when you start to connect times when you felt deep emotion about something to your scenes. That could be something that isn’t actually visual. It could be something just like the time you felt super elated because the person you were interested in accepted your invitation to a date or something like that, or a time your heart was broken, or a time you lost somebody close to you, or you had this great experience with somebody. The motion around that, if you can somehow manage to trigger that in the scene, that’s super memorable. That’s the easiest thing to remember of all, but it’s a little bit more complicated to figure out where-

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, I’m still at the visual, my characters doing stuff. Yeah, not having-

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, and you need it to be visual. You got to have the props and the actor and stuff like that, but sometimes if you can manage to be like, wow, Freddie Mercury, you reminded me of that childhood time where my little league team won the baseball game, and then how excited you were, whatever. Something like that. He’s the coach of your little league team or something, but anyway.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, cool, so it’s been great to talk to you, Lesley. I hope that you continue to succeed with the course, and assuming that you stick with it, I would love to catch up with you again in a couple of months and see how you’re doing.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, yeah. No, you won’t get rid of me that easy.

Phil Crimmins:
Fantastic.

Lesley Scott:
No, I really, really appreciate what you guys have done, and those Anki decks are unbelievable, the amount of work. The pronunciation one was really helpful. I just don’t enjoy making the cards, so thank you so much.

Phil Crimmins:
Yeah, we know. We figured we’d make it for people, make it easy for them.

Lesley Scott:
Yeah, so they’re great, and then the sentences, seeing the stuff in context. Hearing the native speakers is super helpful, the grammar building parts, so yeah.

Phil Crimmins:
Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, thanks again, Lesley. I wish you luck moving forward, and we’ll be in touch about seeing how you’re doing in a couple of months. Sounds good.

Lesley Scott:
All right, thank you. Zàijiàn.

Phil Crimmins:
All right, bye, bye. Zàijiàn.

Lesley Scott:
Bye.