Benny’s first video attempt in Mandarin: 2 weeks after starting

[Captions in English, Traditional Chinese (native written) & Simplified Chinese (automatic conversion). If you live in China and Youtube is blocked, then check out this video on Youku]

As I’ve explained in great detail before, uploading a video of yourself speaking just after you’ve started to learn a language can be very beneficial.

So with that in mind, a couple of days ago I asked my Chinese teacher (I’ve getting private lessons for now) to translate a script with everything I would say if I was giving a tour of my home in a language I speak fluently. I wanted to explain complex things, like that I replaced my laptop with a desktop, that I don’t really use my fridge etc., and she wrote it up for me in Chinese (which I used for the captions) and in pinyin, which I was studying to learn all the new vocabulary, and memorising the lines themselves since then. This video is the result of that!

Before all the annoying trolls jump down my neck with their usual crybaby comments, I’ll clarify that no I don’t force locals to listen to me speak like this for 10 minutes. I actually speak better/faster than this when ordering food and the like, since I only have to remember one phrase, not an entire script, and I don’t have a camera (and ultimately thousands of eyes) on me :)

I’ve got a LOT of improvement to make (after recording it, I noticed several obvious mistakes myself), but since people have requested that I upload more video updates of different stages of my progress it’s only fair that I share this! Also, it’s a huge 10 minutes long, as far as apartment tours go… even though it’s the smallest place I’ve lived in for 14 years! So I will certainly forgive you if you don’t make it all the way through :)

Obviously this video is scripted – I managed to memorise the whole thing apart from 2 or 3 words you saw me glance at my notes to see. It’s been an excellent mini-project to burn this particular vocab into my memory, as well as forcing me to start speaking complex sentences beyond ordering food etc. quicker than I would than by letting it “happen naturally”. As well as learning the vocab, I’ve gotten a sense of typical sentence structure and a better understanding of tones (even if I can’t reproduce them so well yet), since I wanted to understand absolutely everything of every aspect of what I was going to say.

Since I am only two weeks into learning the language, I’d be very happy to hear that natives can simply understand me most of the time without needing to read the captions. I’ll work on improving my pronunciation, and getting more comfortable with speaking – as you can see I’m thinking too much, especially about the tones, but this is just a stepping stone. Fast progress or bust! ;)

Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments!



I'll send you the first lesson right away.
Click here to see the comments!
  • WC

    I know you probably spent some time memorizing it, but I’m wondering how many times you practiced it before making the video?

  • Cristi Mihai

    I have to say I’m really impressed, I’ve studied Chinese in Taipei too for about 2 years, and I’ve actually managed to follow you with the subtitles disabled. Good job! And it took me more maybe half a year to get to your level.

    • Jacob Gill

      ” she wrote it up for me in Chinese (which I used for the captions) and
      in pinyin, which I was studying to learn all the new vocabulary, and
      memorising the lines themselves since then. This video is the result of

      Sounds like he is learning them in the process. You should be proud of understanding what was said with subtitles disabled. It certainly isn’t newbie level Chinese at all!


    • Benny Lewis

      I know every single word I used. I wasn’t memorised strings of sounds, as that would have defeated the usefulness of this project (while being an equal if not greater amount of work).

      I have a few techniques to memorise components of the speech though. For example, if you saw the dragon images on the fridge, they are a little different and I made an image association with the 3 different sentences I needed to discuss for each one and glanced at it for a reminder. My script wasn’t there, but my association in my mind was.

      Once I remembered the first word of the sentence, the order of the rest came naturally. Chinese works differently, but it’s a very logical word order.

  • Benny Lewis


  • Mike Newton

    Hey Benny, not bad for 2 weeks!  I confess I only watched four minutes of the video, but I did notice a couple things (characters are simplified but I’ll write pinyin too):

    1.  很 (hen3): The way you’re pronouncing this makes it sound like you’re speaking the name of a hen, as in the animal. A little less “eh” and a little more “uh”.
    2.  小 (xiao3):  Sounded a lot like “shao” to me.  Get a little more sharpness in that “X” sounds. It makes a big difference.
    3.  这 (zhe4):  Sounded a lot like “zhi”.  In Beijing at least, “zhe” sounds almost like “jay”. Could be a regional thing.

    One other observation: I know that you’re focusing really hard on getting the tones right, but with your words this separated I sometimes had a hard time understanding what you were saying.

    Having said all that, I’d like to say that you’re off to a great start!  It has been only two weeks after all.  I can tell that you’re working very hard (judging by the pained expression on your face) and I am hoping for your mission to be a success.  Keep posting up vids and keep up the good work!

    • Mike Newton

      Oh, I also wanted to add that I’m glad you’re not trying out the Taiwanese accent! 

      • Benny Lewis

        Listen again. What word did I use for “and”? :)

        • Mike Newton

          Haha, you’re right about that!  I was referring to the way they speak their “zh”, “sh”, and “ch” sounds.  In other words–they don’t!

          Many southerners on the mainland do the same thing.  I’d be interested to know how that division occurred…

    • Anonymous

      Your first two points are correct, but as far as 这 is concerned I learned to pronounce it (as people pronounce it in Jiangsu province) as closer to ‘zhi’ than ‘jay’ so I think it is a regional Beijing-ren thing (like putting ‘ar’ after everything). 

      • Jacob Gill

        It is more of a regional pronunciation. the “jay” sounds super Beijing!

      • Joseph Lemien

        Is is possible that you are talking about 这一 in unison (such as 这一个人) rather than 这 alone? People (in Beijing, anyway) will often blend the 这 and the 一 together to make it sound less like zhè and more like zhèi.

  • Jacob Gill

    Great stuff!

    While in Taipei, if you are looking for any help with pronunciation (from someone who is incredibly patient) please let me know. I’m doing a Masters in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language and one of my favorite things in the world is helping people improve their spoken Mandarin.

    I posted a few comments on your FB page that I hope will help as well.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. You’re already sounding better than a ton of English teachers who have been living here for years.


  • Chris L. Robinson

    Maybe I’m just a negative person, but watching you struggle and make mistakes and get better is the most beneficial thing for me to see. And it’s the most courageous thing for you to do. Recently, I’ve started a workout routine and I’m embarassed by the number of pullups I can do (zero). I would never let anyone watch me struggle–I don’t even want *me* to see me struggle–but one day, I’ll be able to do pullups and might want to encourage others that they can get there, too. Would be nice to show them videos of my growth. But I just don’t have the heart to tape myself  falling short–even if it is only temporary…  Bravo!

  • Anonymous

    Great job, Benny. I applaud you from Poland :)

  • Joseph Lemien

    Watching you struggle to remember the words was hard, and it was easy to see how much conscious effort you are using on the tones. Knowing that you are still in the very beginning stages of being able to use the language and still putting up this video is an act which I think is incredibly brave. 你做的非常棒!

    • Benny Lewis

      Thanks! I’m realising how “brave” it was in retrospect as I get a wave of criticism from people about it, who somehow thought I’d magically be discussing politics already or something :P

      Attempting to say as many tones correctly as I could was a priority that forced me to speak this video much slower, but will pay off for me very soon as I learn to speak quicker and do so correctly.

  • Stanley Ho

    pretty good progress. Besides tones, have you have learned about word stress for compound character words?

  • Jeff Lindqvist

    Consider that you’re starting from scratch – in Mandarin (which isn’t related to any other language you know),  I can understand that you’re struggling. This is how many people speak foreign languages during the early stage. One. Word. At. A. Time. Don’t forget sentence intonation – as they say in Chinese with Ease vol 1 (Assimil):
    “Every character in Chinese has its tone, but in a given sentence some tones become neutral if not stressed.(…)You will only hear every syllable with its tone if you are listening to Peking Opera!”
    Go n-éirí an t’ádh leat!

  • NielDLR

    Hi Benny,

    what an amazing first attempt! I’m duly impressed. Not only because of your progress, but your bravery and humility that you show in persevering in following the script and your language mission.

    I was not expecting such a long video, although this was mostly due to the pauses. I know probably due to speaking on a video that it puts a lot more pressure on you and I understand that. My Chinese teacher always told me that I emphasized my words too much when I started. Much like you did now. I think there’s a interesting balance between flow and tones early on in beginner Chinese, because one can easily be too quick and loose your concentration on tones, or be too slow and focus too much on tones. Personally after two weeks, this is amazing, but I would urge you to become to move towards a better flow. Like I said in my post, I think that due to context beginner Chinese can to some extent pronounce their tones incorrectly, but once again this is a trade-off that can become extremely dangerous in the long run. I know I did it! Your tones are excellent so far. Majority are correct.

    I think you are well on your track, Benny. C1 is still a bit skeptical for me, but this video just shows that you are determined no matter what is thrown at you, and for that I have much respect. There are no tricks here. This was you, after two weeks of learning Mandarin full on, and that’s why I admire it.

    My only tip would be to look at your 很 (hen) pronunciation, as others have posted. Looking forward to following your progress.

    Confused Laowai

    P.S. – Thanks for teaching me the word 桌上型电脑!

    • Benny Lewis


  • Jana Fadness

    This is indeed very impressive for just two weeks! I think you’re right to focus on the tones in the beginning, and as others have said you got most of them right! 繼續加油喔!


    • Benny Lewis

      Thanks! Getting mixed messages about my focus on tones. I hope it will pay off in the long run, since I obviously could have done the video a lot quicker if I wasn’t thinking about them. Time will tell!

      And no, not yet ;)

  • mariane

    parabéns Benny, tô torcendo pra que tu consiga, embora o objetivo seja bem difícil !!!

  • Jeff Petersen

    Great first steps! I have to admit I’m a tad jealous — I wasn’t able to do anything like the the first two weeks I was learning the languages I now speak. Looking forward to watching you improve and become more fluent.

  • Victor Berrjod

    Very well done, Benny! I think your tones are good, and most of your pronunciation too.
    As others have pointed out, the vowel in should be pronounced more or less in the middle of the mouth, much like the first vowel you have in in normal speech.
    For , you can try bringing the tip of the tongue down behind your lower teeth, and the back of the tongue to the alveoli, approximately where it is when you say or (front high vowels, which I think are the only ones that can follow anyway).

    If you can read IPA, the symbols are [ə] and [ɕ] respectively. I found the phonetic transcriptions on the pinyin article on Wikipedia to be immensely helpful in learning Mandarin pronunciation.

  • Benny Lewis

    “surprised I don’t see a whole lot more negative ones.”
    I don’t understand why it would be considered normal to take a dump on someone’s first attempt at struggling to speak a language. This is among my criteria for assholdom.
    Yes, probably in 2 weeks I plan to make a much more interesting video, and I’ll be working on my flow a lot.

  • Benny Lewis

    “I suggest you find a small shop… that you can hang out in”
    I’d rather find a small cute Taiwanese girl that I can spend the majority of the day with :)

  • Anonymous

    Good job. Regarding mixed messages on emphasizing or not emphasizing tones, my vote is for not over emphasizing tones or getting anything perfect at the start. It only stilts picking up the natural flow and sounds of a language. However, paying some attention will pay off in the long run. Check out my post on “How Not To Become a Tone Robot”:

  • Chad Redman

    Benny, when the translator wrote out the script, was it segmented into words, or was it a long string of syllables? Even if the pronunciation is correct, it sounds really odd hearing Chinese spoken that way, with gaps between syllables of the same word. What is your vocabulary study like? I would expect that as you study more words instead of single characters, this choppiness will go away, as you mentally think of multisyllable words as discrete units and pronounce them as such.

    • Benny Lewis

      She wrote it out as normal. This is me struggling to speak a language I started two weeks ago, not speaking slowly and separated because she told me to…

  • Benny Lewis

    Depends on the week. I’m playing it by ear until I can rely more on a social circle for practice. I got two lessons this week.

  • Benny Lewis

    While there are many words I do indeed need to put together better, I was sure that I spoke 可以 & 所以 as one unit each, without hesitation between the syllables.

  • Benny Lewis

    I don’t see why this would be unique to Chinese girlfriends. Any girlfriend of any nationality may do that. In the past I’ve made sure it doesn’t happen ;)

    I like the idea of two Chinese girlfriends together, but not for language learning reasons…

  • Cardinal Mezzofanti

    Seriously good effort here. 
    This is way harder than a lot of people think, especially having to focus on getting each tone right on top of new vocabulary.
    I’m impressed, Benny!

    I just put up my own half-minute video in Irish Gaeilge after only a couple of weeks of listening to Irish podcasts. It was bloody tough, even at only 30 seconds.

    • Benny Lewis

      Great job!

  • Anonymous

    I hate to nitpick, but… please refer to this post on linguist vs. polyglot:

  • ceciliamleung

    Two weeks? Very impressive!  Every words pronounced without much accent, sentences form just as how a native would say.  I am native Chinese so I speak fluent Cantonese, Mandarin, and fluent in English, and trying to be fluent in french. You will be fluent in 3 months! Way to go! You will be inspiration for me to be fluent in french.. maybe not in 3 months but by the end of year. 

    • Benny Lewis

      Best of luck!!

  • Henri Junttila

    This is awesome stuff, Benny. Keep rocking. I’m playing around with Dutch myself ;)

    • Benny Lewis

      It’s a fun language, best of luck with it! :)

  • Benny Lewis


  • Benny Lewis

    That’s right! I do precisely what I advise others to do in the LHG ;) Glad you see that!

  • Crno Srce

    Hey Benny!

  • Crno Srce

    Hey Benny! It’s great that you’ve decided to post videos more frequently than in your other attempts. You’ve chosen to do it in a language that doesn’t have many of the advantages you have talked about before (which often apply mainly to the romance languages, and european languages in general, like having some sort of head-start on the vocabulary). In general, in Chinese, from what tiny amount I ever knew, it’s not necessarily possible to tell that a word was borrowed from English (or whatever language), which makes your life even harder.

    I have a minor suggestion. Once you had memorised your script in terms of knowing each individual word and its meaning, etc, you might have been better off to listen to a version of it being read out by your tutor for you to repeat so you could get used to the rhythms and flow of natural speech quicker. By the way, I know you’ve already explained that this isn’t how you speak on the street!

    Best of luck as you push on through these frustrating early stages! I’m looking forward to more :-)

    • Benny Lewis

      I had native audio of my script, but that didn’t change the fact that I had a lot to think about for 10 whole minutes ;)

      • Crno Srce

        Fair enough!

  • Stian Håklev

    Saluton Benny. En mia antauxa komento, mi skribis cxine. En cxi tiu komento, mi uzas malsamajn lingvojn por doni al via cerbo iom da ripozo :) E’ molto interesante vedere come stai lernando il cino. Volevo dire due cose, dalla mia propria esperienza. Die Töne – alle die Chinesisch lernen sprichen darüber. Ich habe erstmals ein Jahre im Universität (in Schweden) studiert, und da mussten wir die Töne lernen, und bei der Prüfung anwenden. Für mich war es nicht schwer, eine Silbe korrekt auf Chinesisch aussprechen, aber ein Wort mit mehrere Silben sammenzusetzen war immer schwer – es hörte auf mehr oder wenig als deine Versuch, jede Silbe war von die anderen getrennt. 

    Asi que finalmente dejo de aprender todos los tonos, y empezo’ a simplemente hablar como las personas en la calle (en este tiempo tambien me mude’ a Cina). De hecho, ingles no tiene “tonos”, pero si tu dices “libRARy”, las personas te miren extranamente… y de manera similar, si tu dices tuSHUguan, es dificil para una persona china de entender… Ahora parlo el chino mas o meno con fluidez – puedo hablar con personas por horas sin cansarme, he dado muchas conferencias academicas en Chino, y acabo de publicar mi primera articulo en una revista academica china :) Todavia mis tonos talvez no son perfectos, pero todos entienden… 

    (Mi scias ke tiu cxi sperto malsamas je la sperto de multaj aliaj, tute ne estas konsilio, nur mia propra sperto).

    Alia afero kiun vi devas pripensi estas kiom da tempo uzi por lerni manskribi la ideogramojn. En la lernejo en Svedio, ni devis skribi en la ekzamenojn, kaj mi uzis multe da tempo por studi. Post kiam mi alvenis en Cxinio (kie mi instruis la anglan, sed neniam sekvis formalan cxinan kurson), mi tagtage praktikis skribi, sed rapide mi eksentis ke mia progreso parlante, legante kaj auxdante estis multe pli rapida ol mia progreso skribante… Cxu mi atendu kun la aliajn tre aspektojn gxis mia skribado alvenis al la sama nivelo? Finfine mi decidis cxesi studi la skribadon, kaj fokusi al la aliajn aspektojn. Mi kompreneble skribas komputile senprobleme, sed manskribe nur scipovas mia nomo kaj kelkajn oftajn ideogramojn. Mi sxatas la cxina skribmaniero, kaj se mi povus senpage havi la kapablon skribi permane, mi sxatus… sed por mi ne tiom valoris (fakte, mi preskaux neniam manskribas ankaux angle aux norvege cxi tiujn tagojn… kaj se mi lernus cxinan manskribadon, mi versxajne devintus praktiki gxin cxiutage gxis mia morto por ne perdi gxin)…

    (Mi scipovas legi la francan kaj brazilan, sed ne skribi, kaj tute ne povas paroli la irlandan, do jen :) 

    कब तुम हिंदी सीखेगा? :) Dan apakah kamu mau belajar bahasa indonesia juga? ;)


  • Nicholas_majka


    Just started taking intensive mandarin for my upcoming summer in Shanghai- thanks for inspiring me to get out of my comfort zone!  BTW my (chinese) gf said your pronunciation was great in the video!  FYI the class I’m currently taking has lots of role-playing dialogue that’s very advanced for my level- I find that practicing/memorizing the dialogue (just like you did for your video) even when I previously didn’t know the vocabulary is a great way to break through that comfort zone!

  • Lianna Faruolo

    Hey Benny,
    Lianna from CS Taipei.
    This is incredible.   I see, feel, and understand the pain of trying to speak and your video helps me to remember those first days.  They would often leave me literally destroyed at the end of the day.  
    I think I’ll start practicing by making videos of myself.  Thanks for the inspiration!
    We have a LE coming up.  I’ll send you contact details shortly.  I hope you can make it!

  • Michael

    Nice shirt. I wonder where you got it ;)

  • Allan Ngo

    I can feel you man. Way to brave through it. Kudos! I’m not sure if I could have been that persistent and patient on my first try. Doing it on video does seem like a good idea to get a proper evaluation of yourself as well as to track your progress.

    Great job! Keep it up Benny.

  • Benny Lewis

    Thanks, I’ll check out the links!

  • Benny Lewis

    I’ve never had any trouble in big cities, and almost exclusively learn my languages in them. But this is because I have grown accustomed to intentionally avoiding expats when learning the local language. The temptation is there if you go to a place like Beijing, and for most people it’s too hard to resist and they take the lazy path of socialising exclusively in English.

    I’ve created a barrier of simply not associating with English speakers as a rule, which is as good as living in a village in the mountains in terms of how quickly I can make progress. Using “there are too many foreigners” as an excuse is something I see as very weak because there are WAY more locals ;)

  • Malika

    Um I….am not fluent in any language but I want to learn a lot of them! :) I’m 17 and I was always thinking, “I’m so old already! It will take forever for me!” But seeing you lets me know that hard work and struggles (note: I have no shame so I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself and care for how I may seem to people) so I’m thinking, why not!

  • ThisDudeAboveMeWtf

    Well duh, 2 weeks is not that long even for a polyglot…

  • Benny Lewis

    Yes, I’ve been using it, but am having serious issues with that course that I’ll discuss later. But thinking so much about the tones will hopefully mean that from now on I simply speak correctly faster and faster, rather than it being a huge wall I’d have to jump over AFTER gaining momentum speaking incorrectly.

    Time will tell! :)