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88. The Thrill of Reading (and Understanding) Chinese

Podcast Duration: 01:19:21

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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.

88 The Thrill of Reading and Understanding Chinese

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1:56 Comments & Emails

Danielle Romer on 9. How to Integrate Chinese Characters, Vocabulary, and Grammar

I like the flow of the lessons and I am excited to continue the
learning, It is going to be quite a journey. I am happy to be
able to speak English, Spanish, French and Haitian Creole, but
none of them has the kind of vocabulary and character letters
that Chinese has. That stresses me a little. Thank you for the
reassuring way you are teaching Mandarin.


Dawn Shannon on 9. How to Integrate Chinese Characters, Vocabulary, and Grammar

Luke and Phil, a few years back, I first discovered you on Udemy
and enrolled in your free course which was about 7 hours. Its no
longer available, but I own it forever in my library. You guys
really love to teach! Your love and enthusiasm for the language
and for people is evident in your words and the content of theses
videos. And yes, I’m enjoying the blueprint method. Thanks


Mason Royal on How to Make Living Links to Chinese Vocab

I just need to say thank you for this course so far. In addition
to learning Chinese itself, learning to use memory palaces will
be an invaluable skill for the rest of my life. Before I thought
even mnemonics were silly and my brain just didn’t work like that
or need help to remember things. I thought I would be able to
remember it just from brute memorization and that was the fastest
way. This course has opened my eyes and made me reevaluate how I
will learn things in the future. I fully plan on trying to apply
memory palaces to my future learning endeavors.

Before when learning words and characters, if I didn’t know
anything, that was it. My only recourse was to try to think
harder. Using the hanzi movie method, I have a system in place to
help me retrieve that missing information. Like Luke, I avoided
learning characters for far too long and it did seriously hinder
my learning. Another great thing about this method is that I am
able to WRITE a character I have NEVER written before. Trying to
learn to write characters with traditional methods is just
incredibly inefficient and frustrating.

I am very jealous of everyone who gets to start their journey
using Mandarin Blueprint.


Denis Aganin on Problem Initials ZH, CH, SH & R Overview

After a few years of learning Chinese by myself on and off this
is mind-blowingly useful. Pure revelation.


Dom Thomson on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 名字

Quite fun to finally see ‘你叫什么名字?’

When I tried a Coursera course from Peking University, this was
lesson one. It was just listening and repeat and the characters were
completely alien. It was also extremely boring and I gave up very

I imagine ‘你叫什么名字?’ appears in Chapter One of every Mandarin
textbook, yet here we are at character 289. MBM works so
differently from every other method I’ve come across.

It seems crazy that I can read whole paragraphs now and haven’t
yet learned how to write the number 5, but it’s working!

Building a solid foundation > endless recitation of the HSK 1
vocab list


stuartsavill23 on ANKI DECK(S) INSIDE – Level 9 Complete

I just wanted to take a moment to agree with other comments I’m
seeing. At the start of this process I was very interested in
what you had said about this method of language learning, and
I liked that you could explain and justify everything based on
your own research and experiences. However, I was still slightly
skeptical that I too would be able to achieve the same sort of
results as you described. It has been a wonderful surprise to
find that I remember so much when reviewing with my Anki cards
(almost everything with only occasional minor errors). I’ve
learned not only a great way to learn Mandarin, and almost any
language for that matter, but also to trust my memory and
language learning instincts that this method provides.
I was also skeptical that I would find it fun and feared that it
would become a chore. Completely the opposite has happened. I
look forward to learning new characters every day, and I
particularly enjoy reviewing my cards as the challenge of
remembering is like arranging and solving puzzles. So much so
that I am spending more and more time studying this way.
I’m so glad I chanced upon your method and courses. Thank you
Luke and Phil.


Denis Aganin on BONUS GRAMMAR POINT: #GW-Helper-Possession-助词-的

I really love how the structure of the course is organized! Very


Fraser Lau on Problem Initial X & Simple Final I (YI): 习 xí

What a great course you guys have put together here !!


Asa Weinstein on Unit 8 Wrap-Up

I’d just like to thank Phil for being relentlessly cheerful
throughout these videos! Very encouraging. Luke you’re a champ
too, no slag on you! Haha…


LaMotta Augustus on Set the Scene -EN 3/13

Fantastic! I am really looking forward to working up to that
level (HSK 5). I have been studying Mandarin Chinese for many
years, and have been trying to figure it out on my own. I have
not taken college courses, but have taken other courses,
both in-person and with study material only. And I’ve done this
on and off for several years.

So, I have many, many vocab words under my belt, but my grammar
and listening skills leave a little bit to be desired.

Early on in my studies, I learned hanzi simultaneously with vocab
because I primarily used textbooks from mainland China like,
“Practical Chinese Reader”, “Modern Chinese Reader”, etc. And
later I purchased “New Practical Chinese Reader”, all six volumes
(haven’t finished them all yet).

So, I have somewhat of an ability to converse, but not nearly as
well as I think I should be at this stage in the game.

I’m no spring chicken anymore age-wise, so I’m really hoping your
method does the trick. I’m more than ready to make some major
progress in my studies.

Not sure if I totally understand at this time how Anki works
because, I feel like I should be getting new words, characters,
or something, but it’s always a review of earlier material.

Because I have so much prior experience with the language, it’s a
little torturous building the foundations with your hanzi
mnemonic techniques, but I’m willing to go through ‘all’ the
basics in order to reap the benefits of your system. You guys are
obviously smarter than I have been on this journey.

Looking forward to surpassing my previous plateaus.


TJ Chernick on It’s a Word! 人

I get SO excited when I get to one of the “It’s a word” videos!
You guys rock!


Natalia Kovalenko on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 名字

我和你看法一样. I also can’t believe I can write this sentence but
don’t know how to write 5. It’s a completely different learning


Alex Sumray on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 目的

Dang, I guessed rather too literally thinking 目的 would mean
‘pupil’ as in the centre of one’s eye.
But ye, purpose is rather more poetic to be fair to the Chinese


Dom Thomson on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 工人

Maybe this is my bias here, but I’ve always thought of
’employee’ as more white-collar and ‘worker’ as more blue-collar.

Is there a similar implication/distinction in Chinese?


Alex Chong on (BONUS) Principle vs. Reality in Mandarin

I’ve always wondered this: why isn’t Standard Mandarin, taught
without the details of what is recognized as the “Beijing
accent”? For example, adding 儿 (the “er” sound) throughout
writing seems unnecessary and something to learn after as a
localized dialect/accent. I quite often see “儿” indicated in

Is this likely just simply political, as a result of Beijing
being the capital and the place of language regulation?


Alex Chong on (BONUS) Character Analysis of 习 xí

你们习惯吃辣? So are you accustomed to eating spicy food?
I’m actually curious about the answer!


Heath Campbell on Pick a Prop 中

I get confused with this step. So my movie was Geronimo the
Native American leader being told he can’t pass by someone with a
big mouth and wearing thongs (Australian for flip flops). So
Geronimo smacks him in the face (right down the middle) with a
staff he is carrying. My confusion comes at having to make
another prop to represent the character I just created. For zhong
I can live with the image of someone getting a smack in the
middle of the mouth with a stick. Am I going about things the
wrong way?


Heath Campbell on Pick a Prop 中

Thanks for the prompt reply. I actually read the other comments
and tried to delete my comment. Its slowly makings sense. I think
its best for me to trust the instruction and be willing to give
up what I think is best. The method of teaching/learning is
breaking decades of learning habits so I expect there will be
more little pieces of friction. But I will endeavour to keep
giving up control and trust your instructions each time I think


Alex Sumray on MAKE A MOVIE 胖

I mean, Elvis is my actor.. and my set is a bathroom.
Apart from the moon prop, the rest sort of writes itself!


Mateusz Strzelecki on Make a Movie 停

What would be the difference between 停 [tíng] and 止 [zhǐ]?


Heath Campbell on BONUS: From FAILURE to HSK 6 Exam in ONE YEAR!

It’s very interesting to hear that there are niche markets in
China that need westerners. It makes sense, but I’m sure it
hasn’t occurred to many of us. Is there an organization there
that reaches out for westerners?


Jeanne Clayton on Set the Scene -ONG 4/13

Do you have a book explaining this method so I don’t have to
flip between videos? I’m not doing the lessons often enough to
understand it and I prefer books to videos surprisingly.


Kym Thomas on  BONUS: This Secret Will Put You LIGHT YEARS Ahead in Chinese

Can I preorder the ebook? Also, this learning via the Hanzi Movie
method is brilliant by the way. I’ve always struggled with
textbooks and classroom, hence I never went back to either since
leaving uni. I was skeptical about this blueprint UNTIL I was on
my morning walk and I was listening to the MB podcast on Spotify,
something was mentioned about the Character ban, then on cue, I
was able to play a movie in my head, recall the character AND the
meaning AND the tone. It literally stopped me in my tracks. Thank
you, Phil and Luke


Charles Segal on MAKE A MOVIE 四

What do you suggest for characters that I already know? For
example, one of the first things I did when learning Chinese was
to learn numbers. So when I look at 四, I know the pinyin is “sì”
and the meaning is “four.”


Al (泰光) Roy (王) on BONUS! Conversation Connectors 😀

So here I am starting again at Level 13. I went and made movies
for the first 440 characters so far (at Level 29), and have been
diligently studying them, in an effort to eliminate a large
portion of the ‘drop-down’ aspect of learning the sentences. So
now that I’m back here at a more basic level, I am finding that
this has helped a lot with being able to just read the sentences
more naturally and understand them as is, without having to look
down at the glossary.

No idea at this point if I will continue to maintain such a widespread between how far I move ahead with the character studying
and the sentences, but at the moment it seems to be working well
for me. I got the idea to try doing it this way, as I was not at
all enjoying the process of having to look away from the
sentences to read up on the characters I didn’t know. I guess one
could say it wasn’t as much fun for me doing it that way.

Moving forward…


Al (泰光) Roy (王) on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 人们

So an interesting thing just happened. I’ve been going through
this section, page by page and reading through each lesson and
the accompanying instructional information for the past couple of
hours, and now it’s time for my short morning workout on my

I decided I wanted something to keep my mind occupied while I did
my short workout, so I dug up a Pimsleur lesson on my phone, and
let it play while I did my stair-stepping routine. It’s been the better part of a year since the last time I heard a Pimsleur lesson.

So the lesson plays; it’s a dialogue about the kids living and
working in Boston (Phase 3, Lesson 1). An interesting thing
happened as I listened to the voice actors: in my mind’s eye, I
would see the 汉子 for the sentences display as I heard the words
spoken. At least I would see the ones I’ve learned so far. It was
a bit of a trip.


Darren Reger on Casting Call l- 31/55

I just learned a couple of actors ago how much easier scenes are
when you pick a person you know from real life. I find that any
scene with myself in it makes it really hard to picture
celebrities. I don’t know how tall they are, etc… so it makes
interacting with them harder. I can still do it, but there’s just
that little bit of fuzziness. I know y’all gave that advice
earlier in the method to pick real people, just wanted to
reiterate you were totally right. All that said, I find that it’s
worse when I pick real people who I still interact with as I’m
actively involving them in too many memories that are new and
aren’t MB, so it throws me off.


Maximilian Schöler on Problem Initial J & Simple Final I (YI): 几个 jǐge, 个 ge5

Wow. I’m currently self-learning with what I (and many others)
would say are the best german-language Chinese books currently on
the market, but what they didn’t had any emphasis on were exactly
these correct pronunciation guides. I used the “whole” mouth and
wondered why reproduced sounds didn’t come out right.

Great stuff, instant improvement here.


Maximilian Schöler on Anny 老师 Review: Simple Final Ü (YU)

I’m just glad I’m german right now. Umlaut ftw


Christmas Brookens on Pick a Prop 旦

Can i pick the Japanese flag? it is the land of the rising sun


Heath Campbell on Level 5 Complete

Like exercising or any habit you want in my life, I have found
it is important to build it into my daily routine. I have young
kids, so a 6.30 am start has been normal for about 10 years now. I
get up, make coffee, and practice Anki for about 45 min. Then I do
another 45 reviewing things I haven’t remembered properly or
learn some new words. I aim for 2 hours a day so I usually do
another 30-60min in the afternoon after work and then walk the
dog and start getting dinner ready. I’m too tired to do it after
dinner so I have to make it happen at the start of the day. I
keep thinking of something I heard once. That everyone in history
had the same 24 hours in a day you had. So how are you going to
fill yours?


Della Fuller on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 干杯

I love that 干杯 means dry glass; in other words, “Drink this
glass dry!”


Máire Liath Ní Bhrádaigh on New Vocabulary Unlocked! 认识

I ended up falling way behind with my Mandarin, what with unholy
levels of overtime during lockdown. Came back to my anki deck
after about a month and this was the first word to pop up.
Couldn’t remember what it meant, but the correct pronunciation
popped right out! Very encouraging, and as I get back into this I
can confirm the method works.


Alex Sumray on Time to Get Real About Sentences


Got them all, though for 早上十点半我吃了一个半面包。
I went for; ‘In the morning at 10:30, i eat dry bread”.. which I
thought was an acceptable guess at the time!

Thank you so much for everything so far.

I always said to people ‘Na, no way’ when it came to learning the
characters. I’m just in it for the speaking, ain’t no one got
time for Hanzis mate.
So you’ve both completely changed my perception on learning
Chinese and this holistic approach is truly wonderful.
And I can’t believe that less than a month in to this, you’ve got
us to the point of reading purely in characters, understanding
them and with the right tones (well maybe, need to be understood
by the locals first).

Anyhow, bravo and 谢谢.

56:05 Movies! 

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


Natalia Kovalenko on Make a Movie 元

Andy is in his kitchen (-an location), reading the Bible. “In
the BEGINNING was the word”… as soon as he reads the sentence,
Yahweh materializes next to him. He’s so tall, Andy has to stand
on stilts (prop 1) to be the same height. They make small talk
about music and decide to play Chopsticks on the piano. Except
Yahweh doesn’t remember the BEGINNING, so instead, he just beats
the rhythm with a pair of chopsticks (prop 2). They are having
such a good time, it looks like the BEGINNING of a beautiful


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 风

Freddie Flintoff outside -eng set.

He’s trimming a hedge with GARDEN SHEARS when a strong wind lifts
him off his feet.

A giant CHERRY PIE floats in the air above him. He stabs the
shears into the bottom of the pie and holds on for dear life.

A bit of thought process here:

I like scenes that I can distill down to one visual snapshot,
rather casual chain of events. In this scene, I might as well
ignore the hedge – that’ll be forgotten. But the image of Freddie
clinging to garden shears, hanging from a giant pie as WIND blows
him off his feet is quite vivid.

If I were to forget any part of this it would be either the actor
(who was hanging from the shears?) or the pie (what was he
hanging from?) Cherry juice can be splattering off the pie and
getting all over his cricket whites – that should make those two
aspects more solid. The set is quite memorable here as the
entrance is a stone archway that would funnel wind perfectly.


Georg Lohrer on Make a Movie 总

In the living-room of my ong-location Monty Python’s the
rehearsal of “The Life of the Brian” is ongoing. At the cross we
see hanging: Mark Zuckerberg with devil’s horns, a big mouth and
a gigantic heart. And the altogether sing: “ALWAYS look on bright
side of life!”


Natalia Kovalenko on Make a Movie 玩

Andy and Wolverine meet in Andy’s kitchen (-an location) to PLAY
chess. Wolverine is constantly cheating and finally hides his
chess king (prop 1) and replaces it with a piece of apple pie
(prop 2) to avoid being checkmated. Andy reminds him to PLAY
fair, then announces a checkmate, and gets to eat the apple pie as
well. Well PLAYed!


Dom Thomson on Make a Movie 银

Ivanka Trump is standing in the kitchen with a GOLD BAR gleaming
on the counter next to her.

The police storm in and demand she returns the gold she stole.
“Ivanka! Give us back that gold!”

Ivanka panics and grabs a BASEBALL BAT. She whacks the gold bar
and it transforms into SILVER.

“Err… This isn’t gold… It’s silver!”

Director’s Commentary:

This scene as the advantage of being simple and a bit ridiculous.
I think it’ll stick because I find it quite funny.

That said, I generally try to avoid using magic if I can. If
something is to randomly transform or appear out of thin air,
it’s tricky to remember what randomly appeared or what something
transformed into. If there’s no vaguely sensible causation, it
could have been anything…

I think this one might work as gold is related to Ivanka and the
gold and silver are related to each other. If the meaning was
bread and the gold randomly transformed into bread, it would be a
poor scene.


Kate Gans on Make a Movie 页

My yi- character is in the bathroom of my -e set. She is reading
a book and finds a beautiful illustration of a Conch Shell. She
takes a Razor Blade and cuts the photo out of the PAGE. As she is
leaving and washing up, a Drop of Water lands on the PAGE. She
exclaims “Oh no! This PAGE is ruined!”


Jeffrey Herzog on Make a Movie 桌

The joker is standing outside of my dorm, Laughing he aims a
magic wand At the sun and brings it down on the Tree, burning it
until only a table is left. Then he takes the wand and jams it
into the table like the mob scene with the pencil and table from
the dark night


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 得

David Bowie is in the bedroom of my -ei set. He has a rooster in
one arm and a ruler in the other and he’s flustered saying he
must measure out an area for a pen for the rooster because it
needs its own space to live in.


Richard Krause on Make a Movie 丰

Phil (f-) is with the Three Stooges ringing the doorbell outside
of my England (-eng) bedsit. But wait, there are four stooges!
Shemp has muscled in on Curly, Larry and Moe. Phil is pissed.
“There are only Three Stooges! Curly, Larry and Moe are ABUNDANT
enough. It is ABUNDANTly clear that nobody likes Shemp!” Phil
then hits and pushes Shemp away with his stick; the original
Three Stooges then hold the stick together to show solidarity
with Phil.


Della Fuller on Make a Movie 丢

My “D” actress is impatiently waiting just outside the
underground parking for our gym/community centre because there is
a newly installed stoplight stubbornly stuck on red. She looks at
her watch, and knows that soon she will LOSE her appointment with
her trainer. Enraged, she finally gets out of the car and cuts
down the light with her samurai sword.


Phill Challinor on Make a Movie 最

I’ve got Zeus in the bathroom of my -ei set. There’s an ATM
machine in the wall and a sun above it. Zeus is bragging,
declaring that everyone under the sun shall see that he is able
to take out the most money from an ATM machine.


Della Fuller on Make a Movie 词

My family and I are in shock and disbelief to see Clint Eastwood
in the kitchen of our childhood home, sitting on an excavator,
holding a microphone. We ask him what he is doing, and he
replies, “Just waiting for the WORD to start tearing this place
down. You might want to start packing….”

1:17:39 Sets! 

This blog post explains the theory behind Sets and learning characters.

Charles Segal on Set the Scene -ANG 11/13

For sets, I have been using places I have lived over the years –
and with Google maps have been able to locate them all – plus get
an image using street view. Some of these places I literally
haven’t thought about in decades and now here they are! Wild!
Talk about emotional resonance!