speed learning chinese characters

149. You Never Thought This Was Possible

Podcast Duration: 00:43:07

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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.

149. You Never Thought This Was Possible

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3:37 Comments & Emails

Julie H. Lund on 中文 in Context

Only Mandarin Blueprint can pull this off! To be in a position where MB students are able to learn the difference between two synonyms, not by Pinyin or English but by actually READING IT IN CHINESE CHARACTERS, is absolutely amazing. This merely one reason to why Mandarin Blueprint is far superior compared to its competitors out there. Keep on the great work Luke and Phil, and you team behind the scenes 🙂


Janusz Wolak on Simple Final A Quiz

Since I am an empty box as to Chinese language I find it very challenging and very interesting at the same time. Still feel like a lost sheep in the bush, but I think it is normal as everything I do learn is new to me. I am very patient, so I don’t mind to go over and over again until penny will drop one day. From the teaching point of view it is excellent 10 out of 10.


Manickam Muthu on (BONUS) Character Analysis of 习 xí

Excellent course! So glad to have signed up. For those who are interested in the evolution of Chinese characters – many years ago in Singapore they published a book (three parts to it) called Fun with Chinese Characters Parts 1 2and 3. Each book had about 30 or so characters and each chapter would highlight one character. They would show how the initial pictogram would have looked like and how it evolved to its current form and they would also show how it is used / associated with other characters to derive various other words from the basic essence of the character. Much like how Phil had shown in this video about the character Xi. I find I remember the characters better if I sort of knew what they signify – like the wings etc..


Keith Travis on Vocab Unlocked from 础

Proper nouns have been a subject of loose consideration for me. However, it seems rather potentially important. For example, discovering that 基 represents the first character of my name in Chinese and means ‘base’ the – emotional? – significance makes 础 easier to remember, as it too means base. I suppose that – simply put – this is the sort of merit of emotional and personal connections in facilitating memory.

I can only imagine that as a familiarity with proper nouns grows, so to will it help to firm up and enrich the knowledge and mastery of chaaracters in general, as Mandarin is distinct from English in the its proper nouns are typically made of common-use words rather than being distinct in and of themselves.


Keith Travis on Level 51 Complete

318 more characters to go!

While I don’t believe I’ll manage to have reinforced all of the intermediate characters to an Anki session within the one week mark, I’m certainly on pace to having them all written down in 1 week: long days these. My end-of-10th week date is fast approaching: July 16th, giving me an extra 3 days to make sure I’ve rotated through all of the vocab on Anki for a couple of days before switching gears back to sentences and shadowing. I’ve discovered ‘Muzio’, a free music player app for Android. It will let me play and shuffle through the thousands of sentence tracks at reduced speeds: all the way down to 10%…which is too slow.

And it allows faster speed playback too…maybe one day that will be useful. And it also allows to playback with the pitch increased or decreased, like listening to chipmunks on the the one hand or low-pitched…computers or bad-guy voices on the other. I like that every lesson character is shown with two fonts: both the basic digital font as well as a basic calligraphic font, without which I can see how some characters might otherwise really throw one for a loop when seen drawn differently.


Keith Travis on Level 57 Complete

Thank you Phil (and Luke) for your recent responses to many of the comments I’ve been leaving regarding my attempt at a ‘1,000 characters in a week’s attempt. I continue to find your comments most validating and insightful.

I thought I’d just finish up debriefing about how it – the one week experiment – concluded.

As mentioned in an earlier comment of mine, it was looking pretty grim to finish ‘initializing’ all of the words by the technical end of one week. In fact, it took pretty much somewhere into an 11th day total to get everything straightened out both in my mind and on Anki.

Btw, I see you’d discovered my couple of errors in my example using 4 types of ‘qing.’ You’re quite right of course; I was rushing. I’d noticed them myself shortly after submitting the comment and had written *corrective notes into an edit of the comment. Just as you mentioned in your video response, it was easy to modify the scenes accordingly.

Later; I make a comment about not allowing characters to ‘touch’ objects or other characters or directly refer to other characters by name or what props they may be using. Previously – based upon the only two ‘muddled memories’ I’d experienced where I truly could not isolate who belonged to what – allowing this sort of ‘trespass’ muddled the memory process in a rather distinct sort of way. Abiding by this rule, characters may form as complex of dialogues as they wish with each other so long as they are not directly looking at other characters, directly addressing them, or touching their props or bodies.

Using the technique doesn’t require having characters interact from the beginning of developing a Hanzi Movie Method Scene whatsoever. It is – however – definitely an extremely useful way to catalyze a ‘starter set’ of laterally-connected characters before refining-as-needed on Anki.

As to the 11-day total, there isn’t much of significance to say beyond yet another earlier post of mine in which I gave detail; yet 3 fine points comes up.

1) Rolling the process forward with next-day Anki reviews showed:

Day 8 – 400+ characters to review. 10.1 second/character average. @96.% retention.
Day 9 – 500+ characters to review. 11.3 second/character average. @94% retention.
Day 10-600+ characters to review. 15.4 second/character average. @87% retention.

NOTE-1: really not bad, some of that time is just me letting the clock run past the 1-minute Anki default timer while I double-check a prop or get side-tracked.

NOTE-2: Anki can certainly be leveraged in other ways to promote vaarious forms of development. Reviewing words at random is only one sort of usefulness. It takes a bit of learning Anki itself to start separating cards out into ‘Character-first’ or ‘English word first’ subdecks. However, it’s well worth it, as by this time I have already gone on to further cement the process by reviewing all characters using the ‘custom study days in advance’ settings to really help ease a sort of ‘top-down’ set and a ‘bottom-up’ set as well as an ‘everything randomly combined’ set: more on that below.

NOTE-3: Although I had listened to a comment made by an ‘Anki power user’ to the effect of a proven statistically greater retention long-term if one actually extends the default time on one of Anki’s review timers from 10 days out to 15 days, there are – in my strong opinion – three excellent benefits from also doing ‘speed runs’.

N3a- It boosts the facility for sight-reading and sight-pronouncing characters.

N3b- in conjunction with the fact of exposure to several different fonts, (at least 4) from across the website, ANKI on my PC, and Anki on my Android, there is further challenge of induction to notice little details and make/have denser associative realizations.

N3c1- It enables one to create a habit which will eventually culminate in an average reduction of review time that is perfectly manageable with respect to – say – 1 character/second total accuracy or better: meaning one can fit a relatively large selection to reasonably within a 25 minute time-box. Similarly, I have 4 Mandarin Poster-boards set with the ‘first 1,000 characters’ and ‘2nd thousand characters’ in both simplified and traditional. You have a photograph of the very same model of poster on one your website pages actually. Eventually, reviewing an entire poster board should easily come in under 25 minutes.

N3c2 {extended}- Less obvious, is that by ‘warming up’ or ‘activating’ so many characters in so short a time, such reviews sort of make lateral considerations far more accessible as characters learned a month ago occur to one’s mind to compare and contrast with a character learned a week ago, and so on.

There is a classical adage in Psychology and Neurology 101 which says:

“Fire together, wire together; out-of-synch, do not link.”

Similarly, seeing strings of similar characters that one already strongly recognizes presented right next to each other in time or space by whatever organizing criterion one chooses, facilitates a very strong understanding of what – in modern psychology – is called ‘prototyping.’ These prototyping developments require allowing the Hanzi Scenes, which we worked up as necessary scaffolding, to then shift around and/or sluice away as needed as other more sensible bonds of direct in-language develop.

I’ve returned to a far more considered review now of all the props and radicals as a separate network of complement to my daily review of the ‘core characters’. Not wishing to disturb the core, I leave aside learning any Mandarin pronunciation of props and reinforce them in their own separate Deck just so as to have a means of gradually transferring clusters of (admittedly English-heavy) derived meaning from them to the core’s developing internally consistent coherence.

Attributing multiple Mandarin-character-relevant English meanings to each prop, (and each core character) is extremely useful in facilitating this ‘prototype shuffling’, allowing more options for characters and their components and phonemes to find optimized coherence in whatever the brain’s gauge of appropriate n-dimensional abstraction or what-not plays around.

I also made separate sub-decks from the Anki vocab decks to isolate all ‘English first’ flashcards away from ‘Mandarin Character first’ cards as well as leaving the option of a combined random-review deck. Whereas using both types of cards seems to have been an excellent way of developing a strong initial memory of each character, revealing when one does or does not really remember the character in its entirety and so providing a strong self-correction mechanism, it seems now a good idea to separate out the two approaches and develop an ‘English-first network’ separate from yet increasingly finely coherently analogous with a likewise increasingly finely coherently analogous ‘Hanzi-first network’ and allow the challenge-and-confidence reward to exist more predominantly in the speed of retrieval rather than in the totality of recognition.

To borrow one of Luke’s terms; I’m ‘rejiggering the situation’.

The two networks, so-to-speak, are already pretty conjoined, I’m feeling confident they will continue to meet in the middle as needed. We’ll see.

END of Intermediate Vocab Blitz Comments.


Before moving on to any further vocabulary, I’m just going let this core set consolidate for a while and re-evaluate. I may satisfy my curiosity and complete an ‘at least one character for every phoneme and tone’ possibility, but that’s all for now. So many interesting little observations are waiting to be made. For example, the ‘biang4’ phoneme, (not listed in the brilliant MB phonetic chart) is a bit of an exception in that there is actually an 57-stroke (supposedly most complex character) novelty character called ‘biàng’ associated with a particular noodle restaurant somewhere in China. ‘biàng!’ is then typically described as meaning ‘Awesome!’ as in: ‘awesome noodles!’ of a sort. I thought the phoneme was unique to that character and restaurant alone. But just yesterday I happened to discover that ‘Bu Yi Yang’ ( 不一样 bù yīyàng – ‘not the same/different’) forms a colloquial contraction as….biàng and henceforth means awesome in the right contexts.

In another example, the phoneme ‘ce’ could have any of the 4 tones associated with it and yet there are only ever 4th-tone characters listed in any dictionary I’ve yet seen. yet it seems best to consolidate for now and focus on shifting towards reading and shadowing.

Setting these little PBL (Project-based Learning) challenges has been increasingly engaging.

There have been two rather exciting developments in the pronunciation/listening/mental transcription arena, but I’ll leave that for now and give myself 2 solid weeks to shift focus onto listen-sentence-passage-shadow practice leading up to my HSK 4 attempt…so you might not be hearing from me for a little while.

As always: thank you!

and cheers.


bubu on Level 7 Complete

I’ve been writing down all my scenes (in a notebook) from the beginning and I wonder if I should continue doing this going forward or should I be writing it in Anki? If I don’t jot it down I tend to forget my scenes. Most times I tend to recognise the characters better than the stories during review time therefore I skipped the stories. Is this the correct way but I feel that if I don’t remember my stories, I won’t be able to retain what I’ve learned. Looking for guidance. Thanks


Oscar Haglund on Vocab Unlocked from 致

Hi, whats the rationale behind the keyword for this character bing t”to devote” when we are shown two uses, none which seem remotely related? Is it a more uncommon usage?


Chris Lewis on 中国变化大

it is so cool to be able to read Chinese with only missing one or two characters, but generally can think in Chinese and work out what the two characters mean together


Christopher Weeks on Level 37 Complete

Is there a particular reason why the end of level PDF files were taken away with the Words Known split into Nouns, verbs, adjectives etc…? Are they being updated? I found that quite useful for language exchanges or reflecting back on what vocab I now knew compared to before.


CanadianDefector on Word Structure Part 3 of 8 – Verb-How 补充式

After completing level 12 and reaching the final 8th part of this topic, I just HAD to come back and watch them all again and make notes. I can see how understanding these structures is a fundamental building block that will serve me well as I keep learning. Reading comprehension just took a huge step forward. Especially since I’ve noticed that Chinese doesn’t make use of ‘spacing’ between words like English does. It can be difficult to know which characters go together as you first learn! Also, I must say your enthusiasm draws me in and is contagious, I’m always excited for whatever comes next.


Philip Dong on Make a Movie 斤

Hi Luke / Phil.

In one of the Level 20 anki cards, 他{{c1::哪}}儿知道你不吃面包。the english translation on it says: How was he to know you don’t eat bread? If, based on the english translation, should the sentence not read as: 他怎么知道你不吃面包。

Thanks! Philip


Rick Angleland on Vocab Unlocked from 热: 热情 – 热水 – 加热

Are 开水 and 热水 different in some way?


Julie H. Lund on 信 in Context


I was about to ask whether she meant herself or another 她, but then I figured that the sentence would include 自己 after the second 她 if it was herself, based on previous sentences on Anki. It’s truly amazing how the brain works with all this Chinese exposure 😀

36:49 Vocab Living Links

This section covers “Living Link” mnemonic techniques to remember Chinese words of two or more characters. Here’s a video explaining the theory behind it.

Tina Clark on Vocab Unlocked from 为: 为了 – 认为 – 为什么

为了 = for the sake of the whales


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 式: 正式

My mnemonic for 正 is jungle. Wearing a (dress) shirt in the jungle makes you look really formal.


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 刀: 刀子

Rambo’s knife or Crocodile Dundee’s famous quote (That’s not a knife!)


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 份: 月份

sounds like ‘you’re a fin’ aka A Great White shark (in the movie Jaws) that only comes out in the summer months to terrorize people in boats


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 切: 一切

sounds like ‘He Chairs’ everything as the board member


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 受: 受不了

I am so sick of watching the show where they try and scare you by saying the word BOO! 了 sounds like Le in French which means ‘the’. so I imagine the show taking place in Quebec, Canada.


Chris Lewis on Vocab Unlocked from 错: 不错 – 没错 – 还不错

Living links:

不错:My BOOTS? OH, they’re NOT BAD, still working them in

没错:MATES, OH? They are normally CORRECT about most of my problems

还不错:HIGH BOOTS? OH! They are NOT BAD, GOOD ENOUGH, for walking in the snow or the rain!


Tina Clark on Vocab Unlocked from 会: 机会 – 一会儿

I see in Pleco the alternate meanings of 机 and 会 can be “chance” and “meeting.” A “chance meeting” makes me think of Jack meeting the Magic Bean Man by chance, and the “golden opportunity” he has to trade his cow for the magic beans.


Rick Angleland on Vocab Unlocked from 影: 电影 – 影子 – 电影院

Shadow, that amazing 2019 Chinese movie, where the commander is a shadow of his former self, and has a body-double “shadow” trained to impersonate him. The movie poster has the characters casting shadows.


Julie H. Lund on Vocab Unlocked from 信: 相信 – 信息


believe+ breath = The prehistoric humans shared information or stories with each other orally (info shared through breath and not paper) and believed it. In short, took their word for it – literally.


Julie H. Lund on Vocab Unlocked from 文: 中文 – 文化

A suggestion of image to 中文: Middle + Culture= A map of the world from a Chinese perspective. China will then be in the middle, and therefore the culture in the middle of the map.