Why you need a “blueprint” for Chinese
First of all, why even use a blueprint? Why know the general steps to learn Chinese? Why not just go and sign up for a university course? Or a private class locally or online? Or download one of the million apps for learning Chinese and get started right away? Well (speaking from painful experience here), because learning a language is a skill that needs to be respected.
It is not just that most people don’t know how to learn languages (we certainly didn’t), it’s that we have to unlearn the rubbish taught in school about how to learn a language. That’s the bit that REALLY causes the most trouble.
When I was in school, he learned French from textbooks for 4 years. I had at least 3 language classes per week. That shakes out to around 100 hours per year in class. Add in another 100 a year of homework, and we get 200 hours a year exposed to French. In total, 800 hours of French learning and yet I could never have a conversation or produce anything more than a few phrases and words.
Even worse, I didn’t WANT to explore the language. I was sick of it. I associated it with constant struggle and failure, and that was with a passionate and knowledgeable teacher who was fun to be around. One can only imagine the experience for kids in the same curriculum with bad teachers to boot. It was the SYSTEM and the learning methods that were the problem.
We mess up so much by falling back on our traditional schooling to learn Chinese, wasting a lot of time and money in the process. Our whole purpose with Mandarin Blueprint is to help you avoid this fate.
So, before you jump in and start learning Chinese (or any language), you should be aware that a certain amount of re-wiring is needed, a restructuring of how you see language learning.
First, be aware of a critical principle. A principle that is the foundation of the entire Mandarin Blueprint Method:
Reading and listening are your main points of focus throughout the whole journey of Chinese acquisition.
High-quality output (speaking and writing) is, of course, the ultimate goal for you, but INPUT is the ONLY road to that goal.
More specifically, engaging input that you can understand.
This principle is based on decades of research within the linguistic field, but the emphasis on input is also a common theme among the world’s leading polyglots. If you want to know how to learn languages, who better to listen to than the people who learned 5, 10, or even 20 languages fluently as adults?
Not only that, we have found this principle to have a pivotal role in our own rapid progress in Mandarin.
Let’s get specific, shall we?
Below is a graph of how we approach Mandarin Chinese:
As you can see from the above diagram, there are 5 key steps or stages.
The first stage is centered around building a solid foundation of pronunciation.
Stages 2, 3 and 4 are all based on reading and listening, also known as “Input.”
The final stage is “Output, i.e., Speaking and Writing.
Although these stages are in a sequence, you can see that the acquisition process is not linear. There is significant overlap between them. The order merely indicates what is to be your primary area of focus at each stage of the journey.
For example, output is something we encourage from day 1, but it is not the highest priority at all. Likewise, pronunciation is the first port of call, but it is also not something that is meant to be forgotten about after the first week. It merely becomes less of a focus as you get more used to the language.
Now, let’s look at this “Blueprint” in a bit more detail.
Step 1: Pronunciation
When learning a language with as few syllables as Mandarin, begin by determining how to identify and produce all of the sounds. You can’t expect to pronounce like a native on day one as there are certain sounds in Chinese so alien that your muscles will need time to flex and stretch.
If you take the time to get to grips with Chinese pronunciation from the get-go, you reap enormous benefits later on. Here are a few:
– Improved listening, reading, speaking and even writing
– Faster vocabulary acquisition
– Higher Confidence
Poor pronunciation has the opposite effect. Gaps in your understanding will slow you down significantly over the long term. The worst part about these “gaps” is that it can take a long time to discover them. By the time you do, you’ve already solidified bad habits that can be tough to break.
This is why we designed our first video course “Pronunciation Mastery” to be a one-stop shop for Mandarin Chinese pronunciation. Everything you need to know in 8 hours of video, 1000+ flashcards, 80+ PDFs and 35 assessments.
You can gain access to it HERE.
Step 2: Characters
As soon as you get to grips with pronunciation, or even WHILE you are getting to grips with it, we adamantly believe that characters should come next.
Why? Well, characters allow you to read…
…reading is the fastest way to acquire vocabulary…
…and acquiring vocabulary makes you fluent.
Until you learn all of the 3,000 characters you need to be able to recognize 99%+ of all Chinese text, characters should not stop being the core of your Chinese study regime.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of useful (and remotely enjoyable) character-learning methods, characters are often largely ignored. The go-to way is “rote learning’, which means writing out a character over and over again until it is burned in your brain. This was an actual form of punishment when we were at school. It’s no wonder teachers don’t like making their students learn by rote. If you were a teacher trying to keep a student, would you punish them like this?
We spent several years developing an incredible way of learning how to read, write and pronounce any character in less than a minute, that leverages the visualization techniques of memory athletes. There’s not enough time to go into exactly how it works here, but suffice to say it is so effective, that the US patent office has seen fit to process it for a worldwide patent! It is a key component to our HUGE new video course “The Mandarin Blueprint Method”, which you can check out here.
Once you’ve found a method for learning characters that doesn’t make you cry, you should level-up to vocabulary acquisition…
Step 3: Vocabulary
Many characters are also words. In fact, roughly 300 of the most common 1,000 Chinese words are single-character words such as “Eat” (吃), “Fly” (飞) or “Bag” (包). This means that by learning characters, you will naturally gain a bunch of useful vocabulary along the way. Two birds with one stone, yay!
The majority of Chinese words, however, are two-character compound words. These are almost always rather logical when compared to English. For example:
飞机 (fēijī) = To Fly + Machine = Aeroplane
If you learn characters properly, compound words like these come with a built-in mnemonic device. Handy!
Despite the logical nature of Chinese words, there are a few common problems people face when learning vocabulary:
1) You tend to learn a lot of irrelevant vocabulary, or too much vocabulary that is not as useful for your level.
2) The vocabulary you are exposed to isn’t related to the characters you are learning. This is super inefficient because you have to flit between learning random words, characters, and character components.
3) You have very little assurance you will remember the words.
Wouldn’t you know it, we have solutions to all these problems! Here they are:
- We have carefully constructed a word list based on spoken frequency, but also based on our character order.
- You are never introduced to a word until you know it’s characters.
- On top of that, we guide you on how to create deep connections to each word based on your personal memories, mnemonics, pronunciation, and characters used.
- Oh yeah, and we provide excellent smart flashcards you can fill in quickly & retain the information efficiently. All this makes learning characters and words one smooth, integrated process.
We recommend learning the most common few hundred words as soon as possible alongside characters so you can become equipped to start reading simple sentences. This is where you really start cooking…
Step 4: Grammar
You don’t know somebody because you know their name, and you don’t know a word because you know it’s definition.
When we started out learning Chinese, we did boring flashcards to learn 5,000 individual words. We “knew” these words, just like we knew the people we met one time at a conference the year before. We didn’t “know” them as people, just the words on their name tag.
That’s right, you never truly learn a word until you see it and hear it in CONTEXT, i.e., see it in (quite a few) example sentences.
The same system we’ve been going on about also includes a crucial final element: Sentences. Sentences that are introduced as you progress through the character and word sequence mentioned above. These sentences have been written by native speakers and contain words they know you understand at that particular point in the order.
This means you get to read Chinese sentences you can understand with only a few characters and words under your belt. Sound good?
Going from zero to reading sentences in a few hours of study is such a trip. We sure wish we had gotten to experience what you are about to by following The Mandarin Blueprint Method. After all, our motivation for making it was to help people avoid all the traps & pitfalls we fell into.
Once you start working your way through the system for a few weeks or months, you will be ready to incorporate speaking and writing into your routine.
Step 5: Output
Ah yes, the final goal for almost everyone wanting to learn a language. It may seem a bit odd that we haven’t mentioned it until now. You should start outputting as soon as you want, but only say and write what you know. You can learn a lot from spoken interactions, but it’s more based on asking the right questions to get meaningful input from the person you are talking to.
Don’t make the mistake I did and try to make up how to use 5,000 words before reading and listening to them in context. Otherwise, you sound silly. Also, you will make repeated mistakes that will lead to bad habits.
Bringing it all together
(What to do after reaching step 5)
Now you have done the hard part, the ball is rolling and all that comes next is consistent daily contact with Chinese in some form or another. The best way to do this is to always spend most of your study time listening and reading to things you find engaging, and a bit of time during the week speaking or writing.
Finding engaging content is another time investment that is very much worthwhile because the more you like what you are consuming the easier you will remember it, and the more you will want to consume. You will also have increased access to more engaging material as your skills improve, which leads to a positive cycle of research → discovery → input → improvement → Repeat. Getting you here as quickly and easily as possible is our goal.
If you would like to sign up and get started on this journey, click here.