New Mission: Fluent Mandarin in 3 months!

New Mission: Fluent Mandarin in 3 months!

Benny

Edit: This mission has ended – I reached a lower intermediate level of Mandarin after 3 months and used it to successfully travel China and interview people! This video shows the level I had just before leaving Asia.

As explained in the video, I’m currently in Taipei, Taiwan, and this is day one of my mission to speak fluent Mandarin in 3 months! :)

That’s fluency as in being able to do most of what I can do in English, in social situations in Mandarin. I’ll still make some mistakes, but I won’t hold up the flow of conversations (on either my side or the person I’m talking to) i.e. conversational fluency rather than professional level fluency. (Or something along the lines of level C1, specifically for the oral component of the European Common Framework of languages testing system, although I don’t plan to sit any tests this time).

As always, I’ll update you with videos as I progress, starting with a quick look at my home in a week or two, which I’ll be giving on camera entirely in Mandarin (with a script prepared in advance), and hopefully ending with a spontaneous interview with a native at the end of March! This is coming from a start point of only knowing “ni hao” as I boarded my flight!

And yes, I will be incorporating reading abilities into this mission, as I’d otherwise be illiterate, and not able to function socially. My priority will be to be able to read menus and signs, but soon after, I do want to be able to get the gist of almost anything I see, with an effortless ability to recognise the most common 1,500 symbols (about half of what most people would consider the number needed to be proficient, so I won’t call my reading abilities fluent). For this mission I won’t go as far as to try to be able to read the likes of full newspaper articles beyond headlines, as that will take too much focus away from my main spoken objective.

[Edit: People are suggesting that I focus on the first 500, as that will be enough for my purposes and the extra work would take away too much from my spoken mission, so I may stick to just 500 to start with and see from there if I've learned quickly enough to learn some more.]

Also note that I am learning traditional Chinese, which is used in Taiwan and not the simplified one (used in mainland China), further complicating the reading aspect of the mission! The good news is that this investment will make it easier to learn simplified Chinese, and even read Japanese, whenever I decide to go in that direction for a later mission.

I chose Taiwan, rather than mainland China, because a communist country with many Internet restrictions do not work well for someone who is a full time blogger, and an outspoken loudmouth in what he writes about ;) (Yes, there are workarounds to access some sites, but they seem rather annoying and inconvenient to apply all the time, and I’d be breaking the law and doing it publicly). Also, I’ve had no bureaucracy at all to get a passport stamp on arrival (no visa) to stay for 3 months, which is not going to happen in China. Also, for the reason given above, I’d prefer to start with traditional rather than simplified Chinese.

But forgetting about such nitty gritty things, the real reason I’ve come here is because I’ve heard so many good things about the Taiwanese people, and have met a few in my travels and wanted to get to know the country and culture much better! So here I am :)

Having said that, I will still definitely visit China for a week or two, possibly immediately after this mission.

Chinese study material

A few books/courses to help me start

I don’t ever consider my language missions to be linguistic objectives, but rather social ones. Everything I work on will be for the purpose of improving my ability to interact with the Taiwanese and ultimately have deep friendships, without limiting myself just to those who speak good English as too many expats would.

I plan to use all the techniques discussed in depth in the Speak from day 1 & Language Hacking Guide package, however, I will make regular updates about how I’m tackling issues specific to Chinese, and if I have really good ideas I’ll make videos about them to add some to the blog and most to the Speak from Day 1 series.

As you can see, I’ve already got some material I’ll use to help me learn, and I’ll be sure to keep you up to date and let you know which books or other resources I’d recommend!

Thanks for reading along, and I hope to successfully reach fluency in Mandarin in 3 months! Any thoughts, or advice? Let me know in the comments below!

Edit: This mission has ended – I reached a lower intermediate level of Mandarin after 3 months and used it to successfully travel China and interview people! This video shows the level I had just before leaving Asia. As explained in the video, I’m currently in Taipei, Taiwan, and this is day one of my […]

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  • http://TokyoJim.com Jim Gottlieb

    Taipei isn’t the best place to learn Mandarin.  Too many people in Taipei speak English, so that whenever I would speak to someone in Chinese, even the clerk at the 7-11, they would answer in English.  Also, you can’t go more than a minute on the streets without passing another 老外。

    I did a lot better in Chengdu, China, where you need to speak Chinese to get through your daily life.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      This has been the exact opposite of my experience so far. I’ve spent most of the last 36 hours (apart from sleep) outside of my apartment, and every single time I ask “Ni huishao Yingwen ma?” I’m given a blank look and am forced to use the 20 words I’ve learned, without appropriate tones yet, to explain what I want. Almost nobody I’ve met speaks English.

      Also, in all this time I’ve been walking around, shopping, eating, taking metros and getting to know the area I live in, I HAVE NOT SEEN A SINGLE OTHER CAUCASIAN. Not one, out of hundreds or thousands of people I’ve passed by. It would have stood out because I was looking hard, since it’s the longest I’ve ever been in such a populated area without seeing one.

      Sorry but to be frank, it seems to me like you chose a stupid part of the city to live in. Either that or you didn’t even live here, and are talking about areas by the tourist spots or beside a university.

      I think Taipei was an excellent choice, and I will find it as easy to speak the local language here as I’ve done in all cities that expats complain about there being “no opportunities”. Your complaints are nothing short of ludicrous.

      I expect the same broken record of “Chinese is too hard”, “Nobody will speak the local language to you” etc. that I hear in every single other place and for every single other language mission I have… without fail. It’s why I generally avoid many English speaking expats, to be frank. They seem to live in a different reality to the rest of the world.

      • Zach

        I’ve found the same thing in Korea.  I think a lot of it is starting with a bad habit.  I know that was the case for me, I was convinced for about the first three months that I was here that Korean was just too difficult to learn (convinced by my fellow expat buddies), and so I didn’t try to speak that much.  It started a really bad habit of assuming that I wouldn’t actually be able to have any real communication, so even when I was technically trying to speak Korean, my mind was actually looking for chances to switch to English, leading me to believe that Koreans didn’t want to speak English with me. I also stopped going to “language exchange parties,” which are really just a bunch of white guys only interested in hooking up with Korean girls and the most stubborn Koreans about insisting on practicing English.  You should come to Korea next since you’re in the area anyway :)
        Also, I saw in your resources that you’re using Heisig’s method to learn the characters, which I’ve been using to learn kanzi.  Are you going to be sticking to his recommendation of learning the English definition first and then applying the pinyin to them later?  I’ve learned about 125 in a week (and learning the kanji is a pretty small focus), so it’s certainly an effective method.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          I’m definitely NOT going to apply his suggestion of learning pinyin later. I’ll learn that in parallel. His advice in the intro that I’ve read so far is spot on about mnemonics, and adults learning differently to children, but I find this lack of pinyin to be silly, and the advice to avoid it is impractical for someone in my situation.

          But he makes up for it, and looking just at the actual characters the book looks fantastic.

          • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnvRX352aKL8dcRTSgK9uk8Ych86zJQ06c Victor

            The pronunciation thing makes more sense for Japanese, where every character has several pronunciations (so that, in effect, you have to learn the pronunciation separately for every word except the enormous amount of Chinese loan words [hint, hint]). In Chinese, you have more “phonetic components” to give away the (usually) single pronunciation, so you definitely should ignore his advice on that. :)

      • Anonymous

        Ahaha tell him what you really think Benny! Don’t be shy!!!
        Good luck my son, this is the mission I’ve been waiting for!

      • http://twitter.com/wyromaster Brian/병욱

        Maybe the people just give you blank stares because they recognize you and don’t want to spoil your mission by speaking English :P

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          Ha! I really don’t think my blog in English is popular in Taiwan… yet ;)

  • http://twitter.com/chinesebookshop Chinese Bookshop.com

    The accent in Taiwan and mainland China is different also (to me it sounds like in Taiwan the sound is more nasal/higher pitched rather than from the throat like China) and the tones are slightly different for some words.

  • http://twitter.com/faHd_min_OR b liddy

    Benny,
    You are a man after my own heart.  You took up Hungarian right after I did and now MANDARIN!  My goals are a little different than yours and I am going to try and do it from Oregon but WOW that is so exciting.  If you are interested you can see my goals here:

    http://mainlymagyar.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/mainly-mandarin/

    ( I got the idea of starting a blog from your guide!)

    Best of luck,  I will definitely follow along with you!!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Best of luck with your blog – glad you are still writing in it! :)

      • http://twitter.com/faHd_min_OR b liddy

        Thanks man!   Did you notice the hyperlink to FI3M in the margin? :-)
        回頭見!Huítóu jiàn!

  • http://twitter.com/gracet07 Grace

    How exciting! I’ve always wanted to learn Mandarin, but I’m working on my start-up and have a family so I cannot travel at the moment. BUT, I contacted someone from Couchsurfing who speaks Mandarin and wants to learn Spanish. I can’t wait! It will be a wonderful exchange!

  • Anonymous

    When you challenge yourself you don’t fool around! Conventional wisdom has it that Mandarin takes years to master to a C1 level. You’ve never been conventional.  This will be a very interesting journey and I’m looking forward to following your progress. Good luck, Benny!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Conventional wisdom isn’t very wise if you ask me ;)

    • http://twitter.com/faHd_min_OR b liddy

      ….”Conventional wisdom has it that Mandarin takes years to master to a C1 level.”   ….    It sure does!  
      Unless of course you know the tricks…  Benny not only knows the tricks,  he preaches them!!

  • WC

    I’m duly impressed.  And I look forward to watching your success with the usual awe.  :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    “Stop learning languages” is hardly great feedback. And I find it arrogant that you think my missions are not worthwhile. But to each his own. Equating ambition to simple selfish marketing is very narrow minded and cynical.

    As I said in the video I’ve sat many exams, and studied many languages, so I know what I’m getting into. I think C1 in a short time IS possible (especially since I’m specifying that it’s only for oral, not written etc.), and would like to see how, even if I don’t do it this time. This has nothing to do with marketing, and I find it sad that you ignored what I said at the end of the video, which gives the point of it all.

    • chris

      I have to agree with north sea driller, Where did he say “stop learning languages”?.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        “much more inspiring to me than someone who strives to speak “some”…”
        i.e., it’s better to stop right now, and perfect my current languages and stop learning new ones.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks a lot for the tips! I’ve used Pimsleur and here are my thoughts on it: http://fi3m.com/pimsleur-review

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Keep in mind with the reading challenge, that I want recognition abilities rather than writing abilities. It would seem to me that a lot of people’s work would be in being able to reproduce the characters themselves, which I’m not concerned with for this mission.

    But yes, I’ll obviously focus on 500 first and then keep going IF it’s not making me antisocial ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    “How could they possibly know I spoke English?”
    Unlike in Italy, skin colour is a dead give away here ;)

    Sadly there are cases of Poles/Italians etc. getting a reply in English, but it would be rare for many nationalities to be well travelled and not speak English, especially independent westerners who would think of English as a lingua franca to them, so this perhaps wouldn’t be a huge problem, although I imagine it’s annoying when it happens if you are passionate about learning the local language.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    A lot of people enjoyed that email so I think I’ll make it a blog post next week!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    No problems at all. Stamp on the passport with no advance visa and I can stay for 90 days!

    I hear that Mandarin is more common here in Taipei, but less common in the rest of the country. Obviously I wouldn’t know since right now it all sounds the same to me :P

    • http://profiles.google.com/drumond.douglas Douglas Drumond

      Mandarin is the official language and Hokkien is recognized as second language. 

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    You say hard, I say a fun challenge :D Thanks! ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Several people are suggesting 500 instead of 1500 for my purposes, so I think I will focus on that as an objective instead and continue IF it’s not taking too much time away from my spoken focus.

    Sorry but rote learning is a TERRIBLE strategy. Sorry the mnemonic systems that were suggested to you didn’t work, but it’s important to try these harder, as nothing is worse than no hook and just drilling things in. I have no intention of using rote learning, and that’s why it takes years for so many people.

    Thanks for the encouragement! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Aw, you spoiled the surprise :P lol
    Thanks! :D

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Nah, they don’t intimidate me ;) I look forward to learning them! Logic like your example seems like it will be everywhere!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I expect a new wave of nay-sayers and trolls for this one as the post gets shared :D But I’ve dealt with their kind before, so I’ll have no problem brushing them off ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks for the support!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Yes, I’m having that issue – next week I’ll update with an in-depth explanation of my first week (I wrote about my first day to those in the email list), but I expect to get around it soon enough!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I’ll learn it if it helps me retain the characters, but it really will not be a priority.

    • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnvRX352aKL8dcRTSgK9uk8Ych86zJQ06c Victor

      You don’t need to write every character, though. You could pick a few useful characters and practise writing them nicely, to get a feel for it. Heisig also recommends not writing so much, although I think he wants you to write them at least once.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        I’m certainly not ignoring his writing instructions, so I may remember a few. But committing it to memory for now is not something I’m focusing on.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I didn’t say I didn’t want to hear opinions, but I *will* share mine too. And those reading the blog know that I don’t mince my words ;) “Professional” be damned, I’d rather be straight with people, and I believe what he said was ludicrous and other commenters with more experience than me are confirming it.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Time will tell! :)

  • http://profiles.google.com/drumond.douglas Douglas Drumond

    About traditional vs simplified. For me, it’s easier to find logical connections on traditional characters than simplified.
    Concerning pinyin, a lot of cell phones in Taiwan uses zhuyin (bopomofo) for input. It’s not hard to learn bopomofo, you can do it in a few hours.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      It looks like the keyboard I bought for this new computer has bopomofo printed on it, so I’ll learn it :)

  • http://www.andrewcaldwell.org/blog Andrew Caldwell

    Good Stuff Benny, listened to a few German lessons on the ol’ iPod this morning, forgot the feeling of learning some new words.

    Cheers,

    Andrew

  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnvRX352aKL8dcRTSgK9uk8Ych86zJQ06c Victor

    This is definitely your most interesting mission so far. I’m so tired of all the people saying Chinese is so difficult. I bet once you get the hang of the pronunciation, it’ll be a breeze. I’m not sure about the characters, though. Not that they are difficult, but there are so many of them. But I see you got Heisig; good choice! I used him for Japanese, and it crushed all my bad feelings for Chinese characters completely, and they make learning new words a lot easier!
    How do you plan on studying the readings of the characters?

    I support this mission! :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks! Apart from Heisig, I think I’ll get plenty of exposure to the characters in trying to eat out, read signs, using the metro etc. :)

  • Stephen Angell

    Best of luck Benny. Really very interested to see how this works out – and also interested to hear more about the books and cd’s and other tools you have chosen for this mission.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I’ll outline the best of them at the end of the mission! So far Heisig’s book is looking like a definite recommendation ;)

  • Roman Duda

    Hey Benny, I’m excited that you’re learning Mandarin! I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but Mandarin has so many things which make it easy (no plurals, no genders, no tenses, no cases…) You’ll be totally fine! Enjoy your time in Taiwan! :)

  • Ubik00

    The mission I’ve been waiting for since I started following your blog!

    I’m really happy to hear your doing this mission, as you’ll be learning my native language. I’m sure you’ll make a lot of progress in a short amount of time and taking the C1 after the 3 months should be quite doable. After all, your well-equipped to take on the tones in this language since you’ve already had exposure to Thai and focus on accent-reduction in all your other languages; things that many other people ignore.

    Although I’m originally from the Mainland and would be even more excited if you started there, Taiwan is a good choice to set up base, you’ll certainly free yourself from some of the inconveniences from the Mainland and keep distractions to a minimum.  

    Looking forward to talking to you in Mandarin eventually : ) 祝你好运!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      謝謝!

  • http://twitter.com/m_kuykendall Miranda Kuykendall

    加油, Benny! I’m excited to see how this goes for you. I’ll admit to having been slacking in learning Chinese, and this mission is motivating me to get back to it. I have several Chinese and Taiwanese friends here in my city, so no excuses! 

    You also picked a great time to go, since you’ll be there for Chinese New Year. And since it’s cold there, you’ll probably get to enjoy lots of hot pot. It’s delicious!

    For the motivation, 谢谢!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yes, I’m looking forward to the new year!

  • http://twitter.com/andrewsmatt Matthew Andrews

    Had a wonderful experience on a flight from Shanghai to Dubai sitting next to a non-English speaking French girl who could speak perfect Chinese. She complained that, despite her protests, however many times she insisted that she couldn’t speak English, some locals refused to accept it and opted to communicate with her in English, rather than their native Chinese.

    The looks we got from the other – predominantly Chinese – passengers on that flight as the two of us laowai merrily chatted away for hours in -prettydamngoodifidosaysomyself – Mandarin was just magic.

  • http://www.littlegirltravels.com/ Unisse Chua

    Wow! I’m Chinese and I’m not even that fluent!

    Reading Chinese is easier than writing it, but good luck nonetheless.

    And I think that choosing Taiwan over mainland China for studying Mandarin is a good thing because Taiwan still uses the traditional characters for writing, not the simplified one. I’ve studied Mandarin for 13 years here in the Philippines in a Filipino-Chinese school and what was taught to us was the traditional way of writing and not the pinyin either.

    Learning Mandarin should be fun. Maybe you can also learn 台語? It’s kind of like Fukien.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      First I’ll work on Mandarin, but I’ll be happy to learn a few phrases of Taiwanese in the process (not much to start off with or it will get confusing).
      Yes, I’m starting to see that having such exposure and motivation to learn the traditional writing system will definitely be a great long term investment!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Ha! Funny. I’ve already been awake for over 60 hours this week though, and I can’t find a full-time team to keep me awake to bombard me with brainwashing. I’ll stick to being social I think ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks – so far I’m not having problems with reading the system and remembering characters. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It’s more remembering combinations for creating certain words I’ll have to put some thought into.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    “…for example the traditional love 愛 contains the character for heart 心 but the simplified version 爱does not.”

    I can’t (or perhaps can barely) see that heart symbol in what you’ve written. It must be tiny… Hopefully it’s bigger in print or written because that doesn’t help me at all based on computer fonts.

  • Anonymous

    I am Taiwanese and am living in Taipei too. I am willing to help you if you need it! I’ve read the post and the fisrt few comments but I can’t get a perfect understanding of them and so is the video because my english ability isn’t well(please don’t mind my mistakes in this comment.) Anyway, I am happy to know there is another one in the world starting learning Chinese and coming in Taiwan for it. 加油! I’ll keep visiting your blog and waiting for your new video~

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    That’s an excellent post!! I’ll see if my current system of just thinking of a single word that I can associate with the sound works, but if this fails due to them being one syllable, I’ll move swiftly onto something very similar to what’s described in this blog post! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Whoops, thanks for pointing it out!

  • http://twitter.com/KlausKoster Klaus Koster

    Why Taiwan instead of mainland China? Does it have to deal with political, visa, cost or other issues?  Yes, you would have to recognize the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese, but isn’t Taiwanese most closely related to Mandarin, therefore harder to differ?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I explained why in the post.
      People will speak Mandarin with me, not Taiwanese, unless I request it. And a lot of people in this city use Mandarin when they go out.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks! I’ve been seeing the word “impossible” a LOT this week. It’s not discouraging, just really annoying :P

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    “Did you need to use a mnemonic to remember the plot to your favorite movie” – technically, the plot itself IS a mnemonic. Mnemonics are just stories that make things easier to remember. You definitely do not remember a movie ONLY from “rote” of seeing it a hundred times.

    And people do this with telephone numbers too without realizing it, by sounding out clumps of letters into mini units that they recall by the sound – in many cases doing it unconsciously. This is another example where it’s just not true to say people do it by rote.

    Anything learned efficiently and quickly uses mnemonics in one way or another, but it will be more efficient and more quick if a systematic version is used. Your “enough” example is not a stand alone case, but goes with “tough” and others – an association, even if one of the two was learned by inefficient rote.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Dankon!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I would agree with other critics that he should have included the pinyin, but his method involves learning only the characters, which apparently is a spillover from Japanese, where it’s more logical to learn that way due to different pronunciations of a single character, which isn’t an issue in Chinese.

    This means that I am trying to learn the symbol and pronunciation in one go, and do indeed have to come up with my own stories. But this book is helping me a lot. So far so good!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I already explained this in the post, did you not read it? Also, many people have told me that if anything Taiwan is MORE culturally Chinese, and I get to learn Traditional Chinese as well.

  • Brad

    Well as a great Q&A resource for you, check out http://chinese.stackexchange.com/. Good luck!

  • Joseph Lemien

    I am thrilled to see another CET alumnus here on FI3M! I studied in Beijing during 08-09 myself.

    As for Benny’s mission, I am dubious but hopeful. A light level of conversational Chinese should be doable, and I will be very pleasantly surprised if Benny succeeds in having a wider ranging conversation. I am hopefully, though, as his experience and methods have been well trained by his previous missions.

    I suspect that the writing will be MUCH harder that the speaking, due mainly to the lack of phonetic indicators in the characters. Even understanding newspaper article titles would be quite a challenge. However, I would love to see Benny succeed, not just to prove his methods again but also to shut up all those “Chinese is the hardest language” folk, and if anyone can do it, Benny can. 加油Benny!我非常希望你会成功!

  • youmehappiness

    Hi Benny, I am one of your subscribers in Taipei. I agree with most of your ideas about learning and I really like your 3 month language mission concept. As for learning Chinese your will have  a struggle for sure but I wish you the best.  I know that you are on your mission and just want to speak with natives, but I will like to meet you and chat over coffee or maybe a slice of pizza. I speak very fluent Chinese at home, outside and at my job. Anyways I would like to meet you and say hi, and talk about language learning if you have anytime~!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I was dabbling in languages like Hungarian and Czech, not sure if they were for me, but Chinese is something I would really want to keep long term. In 12 months I hope to be even better than the level I reach at the end of March.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christinebgilbert Christine Gilbert

    Hey Benny!  This is so cool — I’m learning Mandarin in Beijing right now.  Not to spam your blog but I wrote a post about my goals in Mandarin and it includes a little graph about the number of characters you need and what percentage of fluent you’ll be.  At 100 characters it’s about 42% understanding, by 500 it’s 75% understanding and 1500 is 94% understanding… so the first ones you learn have the biggest jump!  After 3,000 characters you should be able to read a newspaper like USA Today in Mandarin which is written at a 7-8th grade level (if I remember correctly).

    Anyway the post is here: http://almostfearless.com/2011/12/26/the-small-task-of-learning-mandarin/

    I’ll be in Beijing for the next six months.  If you make it to the mainland, you should come visit!

  • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com lyzazel – Linas

    The goal is way overblown and unattainable. That is all I have to say.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      If you are a 29 year old Irish guy with immersion experience, with my motivation, and have been in exactly the same situation, then you can definitely tell me whether I can do this or not. Otherwise it’s just pure conjecture.

      • Jeff Lindqvist

        Of two hypothetical learners, I’d place my bet on the one who’s decidated/has autodidactic learning experience/see possibilities rather than obstacles/access to good material or methods/etc., and not on the sceptic.

      • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnvRX352aKL8dcRTSgK9uk8Ych86zJQ06c Victor

         Reminds me of a mnemonic story for 推, Heisig-keyword conjecture.

      • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com lyzazel – Linas

        I have plenty of experience in language learning and yet I don’t think it’s possible. Simple and plain.
        Fluent Mandarin and 1,500 characters in three months? That’s 50 characters a day. Yeah, right.

        Of course, you will say that I wasn’t reading your blog because you said it was 500 instead of 1,500. The thing is, you first set the goal high to 1,500 and then you say “yeah right whatever I’ll go with 500″. That just shows that you had no idea what you were about to embark on in the first place.

        Should I remind you that you did not even learn German to that level in the same time-frame and German is way easier.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          There’s no “yeah right whatever”. I never specified a number of characters in my video as a specific goal I would aim for, only in writing as perhaps a good choice.

          Now I see that 1,500 OR 500 characters is not what makes the difference but the actual words, and this is what I’ll be focusing on. If you want a number I’m not going to give you one, and I think such requirements of exactly some number defining your level are silly in language learning.

          I learned German to a C2 level to everything but my listening capabilities, as defined by the Goethe Institut themselves!! How is this “not even to that level” when I’m aiming for C1 in just spoken? I was in a very safe pass and a result I’m very happy with in my German oral exam.

          With German I had to put a lot of work into grammar for the purposes of passing the exam, rather than for conversations, and for writing, and I don’t have to do that this time.

          • http://www.ikindalikelanguages.com lyzazel – Linas

            In light of that, these claims are starting to become too implausible. I feels like at this rate, soon enough you’ll be making claims to heal people with your special powers and move things at a distance). :]

        • Vitor Souza

          “That’s almost 20 characters a day”

          LOL I learn 80 a day with Heisig’s RTK

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I found a similar app for my Android. I haven’t used it really in the field, but it performed well on some test characters I drew!

    Make sure to tweet me any interesting blog posts you have that may help!

  • http://twitter.com/HackingChinese Olle Linge

    Hi Benny!

    I’m happy to see that you have finally turned to Chinese, I’ve been waiting for that since I read your book about a year ago. Even though I don’t think that it’s possible to reach fluency in three months, I still find the question interesting. In fact, I found it so interesting that I decided to write about it.

    In this article, I’ve briefly outline the major problems I think people will encounter when they try to learn Chinese very quickly. I have also tried to provide possible approaches and ways to overcome these problems.

    http://www.hackingchinese.com/?p=1028

    Since you know what you’re doing and should be busy learning Chinese, I suggest you just read the list. Perhaps you’ve already picked these things up on your own, but I do think there are some relatively simple things you can do to learn tones more quickly, for instance.

    I’m also happy that you chose Taiwan; it’s a great place to learn Chinese!

    加油!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks for the write up! Appreciate your practical tips, and I answered some of your concerns in a reply comment ;)

      Yes, very glad I chose Taiwan!! I have not gotten great work done in the last day or two as the worst of jetlag hit me (so I’ve been online a lot), but I got a decent night’s sleep last night so I believe I’m finally ready to get my teeth properly into this mission with 100% energy ;)

      • http://twitter.com/HackingChinese Olle Linge

        Good luck again and add more oil! Let me know if you have some specific study-related questions. I’m sure you have lots of native speakers to ask for other things, but I’d be happy to help if I can.

  • http://anamericanlinguist.wordpress.com/ DavidJ

    I’m looking foreword mostly to hearing what materials you found useful. As soon as I’m satisfied with my German (I’m planning sometime mid to late summer), I’ll be starting to learn Chinese as well. Keep us posted (as usual) on what works and what doesn’t for you.

  • pdji1602003

    Wow-!!!!!! It’s very hard to measure how excited I am at this moment, because I am so suprised that you are in my country now. Also, I’m glad to see your target language shifts to Mandarin. Anway, welcome to Taiwan. I believe that you’ll enjoy very much the time during your staying here, due to that Taiwanese is very friendly to any newcomer to our country. Hope your learning experience goes alright.

    p.s. If you get any problems or questions, you can ask me. Though I am now not in Taipei, but I can try to find my friend to help you or work your problem out. How I wish I can have a meeting with you and discuss some issues concerning language learning. Maybe it can come true during my winter vacation on a visir to my sister in Taipei. If you want to see me, then you can contact me by e-mail. I am Phoebe.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks Phoebe! Yes, perhaps we’ll meet before I leave!

  • Zoe Jane

    哇,Benny,沒想到新年你學的第一種語言就是中文!讓我太驚訝啦!所以我決定用中文來留言一次,哈哈。
    去年的年底偶然遇見你的博客,給了我許多啓發和動力,也讓我新的一年有了一個充滿朝氣的開始,真誠的說聲謝謝!
    每次看到你身上的熱誠,都會讓我覺得生活中充滿精彩與驚喜。
    祝你好運!當然,我絕對相信你的實力哦 :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks for the kind words! Rather than lazily paste this into Google translate, I went through it character by character, and character set, with my Firefox plugin that gives pinyin and translations and latches on to the right number of characters pretty well. Hopefully I’ll need it less at the end of my mission!

      謝謝!

  • Carl Gene Fordham

    Quote: “Taipei is just an Island and not very culturally Chinese”.

    Wow, that comment is wrong on so many levels.

    Firstly, Taipei is a city, not an island; the island is called Taiwan or Formosa. Taipei is the capital city of Taiwan.

    Moreover, Taiwan is just as “culturally Chinese” as any other Chinese-speaking region. In fact, it has been able to preserve many elements of traditional Chinese culture that have largely died out on the mainland, such as teaching classical Chinese, ancient history, etc.

    Sorry, but when someone says something as uninformed as what you said, I had to reply.

  • Anonymous

    Have you tried MIT’s open courseware to learn a language?  They have five semesters’ worth of Mandarin online, with texts, exams, and videos/mp3s of classes, absolutely free of charge.

    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/#foreign-languages-and-literatures

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I’m not a fan of a purely academic approach to learning languages. A friend of mine is using the free MIT course to study computer science and I think it’s a great idea! But not so much for languages…

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Starting to agree with you about traditional actually being easier and a better choice. Will mention it in my week 1 update.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kai.mantsch Kai Mantsch

    Ahhh yes.  I’ve been waiting for the day you’d finally try this.  I won’t be back to Taiwan for a few months, so that should give you all the time you need to catch up.  I had no trouble getting people to speak Chinese to me but I am curious where you are staying in Taipei that is devoid of foreigners.  Might even make a point to camp out there when I get back!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    The search feature will be working again now ;) Search for “any language anywhere” for some non travel tips to get some practice!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I initially downloaded “Hanzi recognizer” but it was terrible! I’m in touch with Pleco and initial tests tell me this is a game changer and will allow me to figure out new symbols without antiquated dictionary look-ups.

  • Jenny

    this is funny

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_76MWLNI3IGB4EAWPEMIAITFIJM Angelrogue

    I’m sorry, but I don’t believe this does work for everyone….
    I mean, it may have worked for you but I’m sure not everyone can pick up another language that easily and I say this from experience. I speak 3 languages currently; Portuguese, Spanish and American English. I was born in Portugal but raised here in America. The only reason that I do speak Portuguese is because of my family and the years they’ve spent speaking to me in Portuguese so I’d learn it as well as English. Spanish came easy because it’s not too different from Portuguese, and again I spent years learning how to properly speak it with friends. I’ve spent about 3 years now  trying to learn Finnish and I can’t do it. I’ve tried learning German as well in the past year and I can’t learn it either.  Some people have the knack for it while others do not. And just because you say the phrase you think you’re saying in a different language doesn’t mean you’re really speaking the language. I say this because of the years I’ve spent trying to learn Finnish. It’s all in the way things are pronounce, many Europeans can pronounce just about any European language because it just about comes from the same thing. But Americans can’t do that….well they can if they start at 5 years old but not when they’re older. They will always have that thick American accent that a lot of Europeans will not understand and they have a really hard time pronouncing certain works that come out so messed up that a Native won’t understand. But…this is just my opinion.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Please give me more than a week before I can start replying to comments in Chinese!! ;)

  • Gweipo Ster

    My daughter started in a Chinese / English bilingual school in
    August 2008, aged 6 nearly 7 (with barely any knowledge of Chinese), where Chinese was
    the medium of instruction for 70% of the day (about 27 hours per week).
    By December (despite an autumn vacation of a week inbetween with no chinese) she pretty much understood
    everything said to her (granted, strong contextual understanding) and
    could read simple children’s books (think Dr. Seuss) in traditional chinese characters and write simple
    sentences with aid of online dictionaries. She only had a tutor out of
    school for an hour a week.
    She was highly motivated and determined, and is naturally very
    talented in Chinese, and has the ability to remember a character after
    just one exposure to it. By May 2011 aged 9, she wrote the HSK level 4 exam,
    which is intermediate level for adults with about 2-3 hours preparation
    in total and aced it. She may be an exception in how far she got in
    such a short period, but there were enough other kids in the school who
    also achieve a near native level in remarkably short periods of time.
    I’m assuming you will be spending far more time than my
    daughter in his endeavour, plus you’re already talented in languages and
    have a “meta cognition patterns” for putting it all together. I think
    the hardest bit would be reading at any kind of speed. But if you wants to just read menus rather than the newspaper, you’ll probably be
    OK.Good luck

  • http://yetanotherlanguage.blogspot.com/ Crno Srce

    Not so sure I’d equate being able to get by in an engineering job with a decent level of fluency. I’m surrounded in my engineering job by people with pretty poor english, but they can still do their job (mostly) fine. We just can’t have a decent conversation outside of work – at least, not one that I really enjoy having…

    However, I’m sure that if they had had your focus on having *fun* social interactions in English from the start I wouldn’t find it so awkward!

    Good luck with this mission, Benny! It seems a lot of people are watching!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Yes. It basically means good luck :)

  • Christopher Joy

    I hate all things you. I learned Chinese in 2 years while I lived in Taiwan

  • http://halfyearlyglot.wordpress.com/ Muhammad Luqmanul Hakim

    The reasons the Chinese language is difficult are that it has tones and a different way of writing. Its grammar is pretty straightforward without conjugations like European languages. I think these difficulties should not be exaggerated. If we know the techniques of how to pronounce words with their right tones and of how to write Chinese characters, it will be very interesting especially because Chinese characters are evolutionised pictures of things and their combinations. Break a leg, Benny :)

  • erik

    This is great stuff! I’ve been living and working in Korea now for a year and have picked up only the very basics of the language. Now, my goal is to actually have an exchange with my girlfriend’s father who is a very old school Korean but open minded enough to let me date his daughter. We are practically family and I know he is frustrated with not being able to speak to his future son-in-law. I discovered this blog tonight and I’ve been up for hours reading it . . . . I need to go to bed now .  .ha! Anyways . . . 감사합니다!Thank you so much, Benny!! You have given this English Language teacher the right kind of fire under my 엉덩이 to get my goal achieved . . . .

    I will keep watching . . . you can do it . . . .

    And, come to Korea when you are done with Mandarin . . 한글 is a lot of fun . . .

    cheers,
    -e.

  • Kristy Desilets

    I’ll be watching with baited breath. Good luck!

  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Allan-Ngo/553146527 Allan Ngo

    Hi, Benny!

    I’m real excited for your mission to learn Mandarin especially in 3 months! Even a social level fluency is very admirable to achieve in such a short span of time. 

    I am a Filipino-Chinese who didn’t really taken my Mandarin lessons seriously in my youth and am trying to catch up as an adult now which is definitely not an easy thing to do. 

    I will be recommending your journey to my friends who are in a similar path. 

    I also have a website dedicated for the youth here in my country to avoid doing the mistakes that I and so many next-generation Chinese did.

    Will be following your journey! 

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    Well, I don’t know if you can do it or not, but I certainly respect what you said at the end of your video.  Aim for something really high.  I think that’s a great idea.  I’m definitely rooting for you.  You’ll certainly get a lot further aiming for a high goal than you would settling for a low one.

    I did want to mention one small point about the reading.  You mention that without learning how to read,  you’d be illiterate, which is obviously true.  I read and write Japanese, and it’s my opinion that, with Asian languages, the main utility you get from the writing system is not the ability to read.  It’s the ability to speak.  Because the characters from one word also appear in other words,  the more characters you know, the greater your vocabulary will be, which ultimately helps you to speak better.  I wrote a whole article about it on my site, so check there if you want to know a bit more.  But the bottom line is, you should invest as much time in the writing system as possible.

    Good luck with this project.  I’ll be following you.

  • Ashley

    I never had an interest in learning Mandarin before but after watching this video and reading this blog post I feel really motivated to learn it!

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