【CASE STUDY】Howard Goes From Skeptic to Believer in Mandarin Blueprint

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Phil Crimmins:

I am here with Howard, who is in the Mandarin Blueprint Method Course and has agreed to do a short interview case study about how it’s going. So just before we get started, Howard what level are you in the course?

Howard:

I just crossed the level 20 module and I started my efforts in earnest. I signed up on the 21st of last month, so it’s been just over a month.

Phil Crimmins:

Okay, great. Yeah, that’s pretty good progress for a month. That’s awesome. So we’ll talk a little bit more about how your experience in the course in a second, but could you tell people a little bit about yourself? Why did you start to learn Chinese and what’s your current situation that made you want to start studying?

Howard:

Yeah, so I have some basic grabs off of Mandarin in terms of like a day to day living, right? So in terms of ordering food, living, having been born in Malaysia, growing up in Malaysia now living in Singapore, you do run into a vast majority of people who are able and fully fluent in Mandarin. But I’ve always had a difficulty, particularly with characters in reading. So I was really interested in a method that would help me bridge that divide. I actually did spend a year in China, in Beijing as well, trying to put an end to the issue. But a lot of the times the frustrations that I had there was that, I was able to pick up things like additional enhancements to the way I speak. But really, in terms of reading and writing, it’s really just the roadmap. It’s just writing the same character tons and tons of times again if you’ve been given a sheet of paper, read this and you go each character that you don’t know it just like, it doesn’t [inaudible 00:01:59] So extremely time consuming and not the best use of time.

Phil Crimmins:

Right, right. So it’s fair to say that for you, because you’re living in Singapore, that learning Chinese would have some immediate effects in your life. Obviously you can speak some, but you’d be able to do a lot more. Have you thought about it? Like what do you plan? Suppose you’re wildly successful at Mandarin Blueprint, you learn loads of characters and you can read now all this stuff that previously you could only speak or you learn a lot more vocabulary. What do you think you’ll do with that new skill?

Howard:

Yeah, so there’s a couple of things. One is that it just makes it easier to communicate with different generations of people here, right? So a lot of the individuals from the older generation, they are only able to speak in Mandarin. And so having that ability really helps us to bridge those divides. The second thing is that I’m still keen in terms of actually competing the HSK and if we think about job opportunities and job growth across the region, we really see the prominence of a lot of technology companies from China emerging across the region. And so if you want the accessibility to those job opportunities you really need to be fluent in Mandarin. So the best way to illustrate that [inaudible 00:03:13] really HSK.

Phil Crimmins:

Yeah, that’s the truth. It’s one of those things where we’re not huge fans of the HSK, sort of I guess the educational theory behind it to some degree. But we did take them and pass them in there on our resumes. So I understand the need for that because at the moment it is the only internationally recognized Chinese and second language tests. And if you… It’s funny, we people ask us sometimes will the Mandarin Blueprint Method… Is it attuned to the HSK? It’s funny the answer is yes and no because on the one hand if you do it and you do the whole thing, you should be able to easily pass currently, the HSK four easily maybe even the HSK five, it’s hard to say. And then eventually our goal is to make it so you can pass the HSK six, but we don’t want to build the course based on their ideas.

Phil Crimmins:

We just recognize that if you learn holistically, if you learn Mandarin holistically you will, you should be able to read and therefore you know, answer questions and pass the test. But the test itself is not exactly… I feel like if you pass the HSK, even the HSK six it’s not necessarily the end all and be all of whether or not you can speak Chinese, but you’re a little bit different from us because you already have a decent foundation of speaking. So I remember I kind of focused on reading and writing first and then my speaking came a little bit after that. So you’re in the opposite position. I feel for people like you, I’m almost envious of where you’re starting from, because you’re going to be able to now use our method to fill in all those gaps and it’s going to be kind of interesting. So when you’re working through the course, how does it feel when you’re picking up on these characters and I’m particularly interested because you have a bit of a foundation of speaking.

Phil Crimmins:

So how does it feel for you to sort of learn these new characters and find out okay these are the characters that relate to things you already knew. Is it satisfying?

Howard:

Yeah. Yeah, it is incredibly. So I do think that, in terms of trying out different methods in the past, what I’ve tended to observe is that a lot of the courses tend to get shoe-boxed in terms of like trying to get students to pass certain levels in the HSK. The trouble with that is that they have a course[inaudible 00:05:35] that has a scale of a one, two, three and then it stops, right? It doesn’t go beyond level three. And the reason for that is because ultimately the course is structured so that you can pass the test, that you don’t impart a foundation that allows you to actually evolve and continue to build on that foundation and get you to where you need to be. So I have some background in terms of trying to recognize characters just because you see it all the time. But the stumbling block for me right now is that I tend to mix up the same sounding characters and substitute them for each other. Right? That’s something that I need to do to keep straightening my hip.

Phil Crimmins:

Yeah. Well that’s actually… That’s an interesting question. So when it comes to the Mandarin Blueprint Method, one of the advantages is that you turn things that are normally similar on paper into visually distinct things in the memory palace. So for example, you could have the same pronunciation but different tones, which puts you in a totally different room in your memory palace. So it’s like visually distinct, my bedroom doesn’t look like a kitchen. So how has that been going so far when it comes to using the different pneumonic techniques? Is it helping you make those distinctions more easily?

Howard:

Yeah, absolutely. So it really helps because the venues are, as you mentioned, so distinct. So, in terms of the tones [inaudible 00:07:05] it never occurs. The only time it does occur is that if I remember the wrong room, if I picture, if my movie has the wrong venue, then I got to re-shoot the scene. But yeah, other than that, it’s fine. I would say the one issue that I’ve faced as well is that sometimes when I construct my scenes I may get a little bit too crazy for… I may pick upfront [inaudible 00:07:32] actually pick the venue with a very, very small toilet. So-

Phil Crimmins:

Oh really?

Howard:

I had trouble fitting in lots of different props and guys into that closet toilet.

Phil Crimmins:

Sure. Yeah, I’ve had that before. I had that in my, my apartment that I lived in in Chengdu had a very small bathroom. One thing you can do, and I obviously some people who maybe struggle a little bit more with visualization might have difficulty with this, but I was able to do it, which is like I imagine the room and I imagined as if the room were expanding and everything was staying in this relative position. So like the shower heads here, the toilets here and the tiles in the wall are all the same color and everything, but I just imagined that it kind of expands a bit and it works for me. But another thing that sometimes people will do, is they’ll imagine that they blow out a wall and it gives them some more space and they still see the original room there, but they give them some more space there.

Phil Crimmins:

So you could use that in the future. But I know exactly what you’re talking about. Like we’re like, “Hey, four thirds of the bathroom” and that’s fine if it’s a bathroom that’s like the bathroom when I lived in the Kempinski Hotel, was a nice big bathroom, so it was no problem. But then in my first apartment in Chengdu, it’s like you said, it’s like a little closet. So it can sometimes feel constraining creatively. But yeah. And also, did you say before you were saying you try to get too creative sometimes.

Howard:

Yeah. Yeah. I know that’s a common problem. I think it’s come up some of the [inaudible 00:00:09:02].

Phil Crimmins:

Right? Yeah. And so the creative… The over creativity thing can definitely happen. We’ve had this guy recently, I think his name is Jack, leaving us some comments and his scenes are so simple. It’s almost like I just want to give him a round of applause for how simple they are because they’re just like three things and then you’re like, wow, that probably will work. And so it’s… I enjoy the creativity sometimes I enjoy just making things wild and if I’m in the right mood, I don’t mind that it’s kind of complicated. But then on the other hand, sometimes I just want to be like, “Oh there’s a safe and a baseball bat and the actor, hits the safe with the baseball bat and out pops the meaning of the character”. Really just something that’s like straight up and simple like that. But yeah.

Phil Crimmins:

So, now that you’ve kind of gone through 20 levels of the course and you’ve, I guess at level 20 you’ve done hundreds of characters at this point, how long on average does it take you to go from not knowing a character to feeling like, okay, I can move onto the next character?

Howard:

Yeah, so probably a couple of minutes I would say for me to get to a particular character.

Phil Crimmins:

Nice. Nice. That’s plenty fast. You know, it’s like I like doing math with it because it’s like, okay if you have an average of two minutes and then you think about how many more characters you have to go. I mean obviously there’s the other elements of the course. There’s vocabulary learning and there’s grammar and all that. But you can just think about how many minutes will it be plus [inaudible 00:10:31] and you know, it just starts to become this achievable goal as opposed to this big massive course. It still takes time, but at least you can kind of see the finish line to some degree. So now that you’ve gone through the course, could you… What are the biggest impacts that the course had so far in terms of whether it be the character learning, or the pronunciation course or… I’m sure your pronunciation’s good. I heard you say [foreign language 00:10:56] and I was like, “this guy’s got good pronunciation”. Or maybe the grammar materials. Like what has had the biggest impact so far?

Howard:

I think just overall the ability to read. In the past, when I’m going to look at a sentence or even a road sign, I’ll be able to pick up maybe two characters and it’s just incredibly liberating when you can start to read lines and lines of texts as opposed to just [inaudible 00:11:24] here and there, understand meanings and part of it feels like putting together a puzzle as well. You know, the meaning doesn’t become immediately clear to you but, over time, as you get more familiar with the way how the sentences are constructed, then it makes more intuitive sense.

Phil Crimmins:

Yeah, yeah. I’ve said over and over and I’ll repeat it again; Chinese, the hard part is the component parts of the language. It’s not the grammar because it’s just like you said, “it’s like puzzle”. It’s like a game, like a puzzle game really. You know? It’s like, Oh, what happens if I add this character? And it does change the meaning, but you don’t have to change the form of the other characters like you do in other languages. Like, Oh, I’m talking about the past now. So like three words in the sentence now have to change because of that. And it’s like, Oh, in China or Chinese you just add a character or add two characters and slot them in and suddenly you get it from there. It’s cause it’s quite fun when it comes to grammar and I’m glad to hear it. Saying it’s liberating. That’s fantastic to hear.

Phil Crimmins:

So, now our course is a little weird. Obviously where most courses are like, “Hey, why don’t you write this character over and over and even though it’s boring, you’re like, well I guess that’s what you have to do”. But our course says that, don’t worry about writing it over and over. Just think about, your aunt showering a giraffe and then we’re just like it’s a little bit weird. So were you skeptical at all? About how the course was structured or some of our ideas?

Howard:

I have to say I was super skeptical, honestly. And I think you and Luke may have done too good a job in marketing. It came across as kind of slick. And it’s like, okay, so you know, these two guys are claiming that they passed [inaudible 00:13:05] studying part time in two years.

Phil Crimmins:

Oh yeah.

Howard:

I’ve explored various courses in the past and I’m like, there is no way that that’s possible. But I kind of took the plunge one night. I tried it up on my [inaudible 00:13:21] If you did something to it, as I got more familiar with the method then I’m becoming more of a believer in this.

Phil Crimmins:

Oh that’s great to hear. Definitely marketing is one of those things too. It almost like for both of us, we’re not marketers, right. But we did do this thing so we’ve had to do a lot of like reading up about it. Like how should you market an online course and do a lot of research and whatever. And I’m sure that sometimes we probably have maybe taken a little bit too much advice from some of those slick guys like you said, but at the bottom of it though is a genuine desire to help people go through this process much more smoothly because we experienced what it’s like to go through the traditional education systems and it’s frustrating sometimes. We just put out… Or we’re about to put out a blog post about greetings in Chinese and how everybody teaches in schools.

Phil Crimmins:

They teach [foreign language 00:00:14:13] which just means how are you? But nobody ever actually says that in life. I’ve never heard, except when this time this Chinese woman said to me [foreign language 00:14:24] and I could tell that she was like, “you’re a foreigner, so I’m going to say the word”. But I thought to myself, how messed up is the educational system? If even a greeting, they’re not like thinking about it for a second and saying, wait, do people actually say this? And so that was one of those things that really motivated us to go, well we need to, we need to change this around completely because people are going to get that. It’s just so discouraging when you find out, Oh this thing I learned isn’t even what people use. You know?

Phil Crimmins:

Now obviously you’ve been through the course of this point, but any suggestions for how we can improve it or make it a better experience? User experience?

Howard:

Well I think you know, both of you are constantly answering some of the same questions again and again. I do think that, perhaps putting up a common list of like common problems that people face. That may be a bit of a self help guide. Kind of like when you when those… When you go onto a banking website and you know, they don’t really want you to call customers service, so they put this landing page to use and you’re going to go help yourself solve the common problems and that may just help optimize how you spend your time. It’s more of a suggestion than anything else. Because I do think that the core content of the courses…

Phil Crimmins:

Right. Great. Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. And luckily we, the way we do our podcast where we answer people’s questions on the podcast and all of that, we do such archive all the questions and categorize them. So, that is something we could probably do. We should just do a little bit of a meta analysis of all the questions that have come in and then just see if we can pick out several that come up more than once. You know, most of the questions each week are, are unique, which is great. But sometimes we’ll get, we’ll be like, “Oh yeah, we keep getting this question. So let’s just see if we can nip this in the bud somewhere”. But yeah, that’s a good suggestion. Thanks. And final question for you then, Howard, is just, would you recommend Mandarin Blueprints to others?

Howard:

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think without reservation. I do think that well as I mentioned up front, I was kind of skeptical about the whole technique and how effective it would be. But you know, [inaudible 00:16:48] with using the methods we have in gaining fluency and read [inaudible 00:16:51]

Phil Crimmins:

Awesome. Well thanks so much for that Howard, and we really appreciate you taking the time today to share your experience. And it was very… I love learning about the different people on the course cause everybody’s kind of got slightly different goals. And I’ve been to Malaysia before, I haven’t been to Singapore yet, but I could definitely see how it’d be super useful to be fluent and literate and Mandarin living there. So, best of luck to you and maybe we’ll check in with you in a couple of months or you know, six months down the line and see how you’re doing.

Howard:

Sure, sure. Sounds great. Well, thanks for having me on.