Long before Mandarin Blueprint began, we both got the crazy idea that learning Chinese would be pretty cool. After all, look at those characters? Wouldn’t it be neat to be able to read a story that uses those instead of letters? Wild.
The two of us embarked on our Mandarin acquisition journey with very different ideas about how to go about it.
Luke was the one who took the correct first step. He focused on pronunciation.
Regardless of your target language, mastering pronunciation starts a chain reaction of neural connections that vastly improve all aspects of the acquisition process. It helps with speaking (duh) but it also helps with listening, reading & writing.
Listening because you’ve trained your mouth to learn the problematic sounds in the language, thus making it easier to recognize when a native speaker is making the same noise you practiced.
Accurate pronunciation helps with reading because you can make a connection between what you are reading & how it sounds coming out of someone’s mouth.
Finally, it improves writing because you know how to type the language that you hear, especially with Mandarin & the Pinyin (Chinese alphabet) input method on keyboards.
Luke prioritized this at the beginning, and unsurprisingly his Mandarin pronunciation has reached elite status.
Phil put a priority on learning those pesky 汉字 (Chinese characters) from the beginning. Taking this approach turned out to be a great choice because if you skip characters, your likelihood of success in the long-run decreases sharply.
If you do prioritize Chinese characters (after pronunciation), then Chinese becomes pretty simple.
Phil also graduated from Sichuan University with a degree in Chinese language & his graduation thesis Chinese Acquisition Methods From the Perspective of a Mandarin Learner received a university-wide 1st Tier Outstanding Thesis Award.
This award led to Phil being granted the first ever entrepreneurship visa in Sichuan province.
Our separate starting points ended up being quite fortuitous, as it was the first of many complementary skillsets that contributed to making a useful “blueprint” for Chinese.
We both found traditional language learning methods to be incredibly dull and ineffective for many reasons. The most important reason is that they get the priorities for successful Mandarin acquisition backwards.
As a result, we started comparing notes and sharing useful tools & attitudes that seemed to be working.
In January of 2016, each of us had been studying Chinese part-time (1-2 hours per day on average) for two years, and we sat the highest level of the Hanyu Level Test or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, colloquially known as the “HSK.” It is the only officially recognized Chinese as a second language test.
According to the Confucius Institute, it should take four years of consistent, full-time study to pass this test.
Perhaps we’re relatively diligent, but we’re just regular guys. It was the method we were using that led to our success, not any natural ability.
Success in the HSK sparked an idea…an idea that has lit a fire of motivation within us for years and still does.
Now, three years later, we’ve built tools to help self-learners like us at several layers of importance. We’re still improving it, and it is highly likely we’ll never stop, but we have a few things to show for it that we’re massively proud of, have gotten great reviews, and that work.
We’ve learned SO much from Chinese people, and those that we’ve talked to have learned from us. This exchange has been massively influential & powerful in our personal lives, but what kind of an impact could it have on a larger scale?
We know what will happen.
The tools available to solve problems on a global societal level will increase exponentially, because we won’t just be combining the best solutions of the great civilizations to issues of our newly interconnected planet, but also through that exchange making countless thought-babies, the ideas that emerge when intelligent & open conversation builds upon itself.
It’s already started, let’s keep building it together.