Note: 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 was in Taipei, Taiwan, and this iwas 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 didn't plan to sit any tests for this mission).
And yes, I did incorporate reading abilities into this mission, as I'd otherwise have been illiterate, and not able to function socially. My priority was to be able to read menus and signs, but soon after, I wanted 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 wouldn't call my reading abilities fluent). For this mission I didn't go as far as to try to be able to read the likes of full newspaper articles beyond headlines, as that would have taken too much focus away from my main spoken objective.
[Edit: After starting, people suggested that I focus on the first 500, as that would be enough for my purposes and the extra work would take away too much from my spoken mission, so I went with just 500 to start with and see from there if I'd learned quickly enough to learn some more.]
Also note that I was 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 makes it easier to learn simplified Chinese, and even read Japanese.
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 went to Taiwan is because I 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 there it is 😉
Having said that, I still traveled to China for two weeks, almost immediately after this mission.
I don't ever consider my language missions to be linguistic objectives, but rather social ones. Everything I worked on was 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 also made regular updates about how I tackled issues specific to Chinese, and also made some fun videos and added them to the blog and Speak from Day 1 series.
As you can see, even on my first day, I already had some good material to help me learn 😉
Thanks for reading along, and continue to see if I successfully reached fluency in Mandarin in 3 months! Any thoughts, or advice? Let me know in the comments below!