How I Learned Fluent Mandarin in One Year

Why, hello there my beautiful, amazing, wonderful, talented, very funny fan base

and did I mention good looking?

That is a really nice shirt you’re wearing.

Wanted to talk to you guys today

about a topic I’ve been getting a lot of requests to do

which is just what my personal study schedule look like

while I was living in Beijing.

This is the same study schedule that brought my Chinese

from a level of absolute zero at the age of 18 --

literally no prior exposure to the language --

to level where, just a couple of years later,

I was winning national Chinese studies competitions

in the United States and China.

I had my senior thesis in Chinese studies published.

I was interviewed on Chinese state television broadcast to...

over a billion people.

And these study tactics…

By the way, none of this is bragging.

All of this is just to point out the importance of study tactics that I,

and others like me -- and actually much better than me --

have used successfully to learn languages really quickly.

And it’s my personal belief that these study tactics could be used by anyone --

pretty much anyone -- to achieve a level of...

expertise in language learning that you might not have thought possible.

So whether you’re looking to learn English,

Chinese, Japanese, Serbo-Croatian, I don’t care.

You can use these same study tactics that I use myself

to get really good at something. Let's dive in.

Good morning. The first thing you do in the morning is take a show… No.

No. The first thing you do in the morning is you turn on that... TV.

You press the TV button, right?

The first thing you do in the morning is get audio exposure.

So when I was living in China, the first thing I did

would be to turn on the TV

and immediately on came CCTV,

on came the news programs, on came the variety shows, whatever.

I had the TV there and it didn’t require any...

work for me to actually do that.

I made it very simple -- push of a button. I get Chinese audio.

That was really great and that starts you off right.

Because if you seriously want to learn a language, you need to…

First thing of the day, get some input exposure.

Second thing I would do, flashcards.

What is so great about flashcards? Well...

They are based in something called Spaced Repetition.

The way that Spaced Repetition works is

it schedules reviews for you of these flashcards

such that anything you enter into these flashcards,

you will never forget, right?

So there’s a program called Anki that I used, very successfully to this effect.

And at my peak in China, every morning, I would start by adding 50 new…

at least 50, sometimes more than 50 -- 50 new cards per day

to my deck.

These cards, sometimes they were words,

sometimes they were sentences, sometimes they were phrases.

But the idea of every single card is that you put the card…

the front will be Chinese, the back would be English

or, even better, in some cases, Chinese.

And I would be learning 50 new words a day through this method.

Throughout the day, I would be doing reviews of these flashcards that...

remember I talk about adding flashcards in the morning?

I would be consistently reviewing these flashcards

and, again, at my peak, I had, you know,

hundreds of reviews a day. Hundreds.

Up to 400 reviews a day of flashcards that I previously added.

And so I was constantly memorizing words that

I had learned through daily life, words that I wanted to remember,

words that were on the HSK word list, etc.

First thing I did when I went out of the house, plug a pair of earphones.

I had an MP3 player.

This is back in the days when they didn’t have iPhones, iPods.

So I had a little MP3 player that I would always carry around with me.

Whenever I went anywhere: to the cafeteria, to the library,

I would constantly be listening to these programs on loop that I had.

These were just constantly always there and I made it really easy.

I had an MP3 player that’s full of different Chinese audio

that I would be playing on loop over and over and over again.

And I just always made it easy

because I had this little black MP3 player that was always on my side.

So the instant I stepped out of the house, I made it a habit to...

put in the earphones, press play. Done.

Chinese audio all the time.

Yeah. So I was taking classes in Chinese.

I took classes for probably eight, six… eight hours a day.

But, you know, the thing about classes is...

the most important thing I actually learned in the classes was

to not pay attention to what the teacher was saying.

Actually the most value that I got out of classes was in the breaks.

When I was “slacking off”

and just talking to other students, right?

I realized that the teacher…

What the teacher was saying was, you know, sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

But the vast majority of value I got through meeting other students,

meeting other Chinese students, other foreign students.

That was really the key.

Because I met these people and I would talk with them

and we would make friendships, right? We would make friendships

We would go out later and that was really the key.

So if you are doing classes in language,

I would say use the breaks as much as possible

and try to find other people, make friends,

and really learn to speak with them and have a good time.

Finally, I constantly made friends.

Constantly, constantly, constantly make friends.

Go out there, meet some people.

Get their numbers and just talk with them all the time

because the most important learning takes place outside of the classroom.

When you meet these people, you learn how to talk with them

and you have to talk with them.

Because if you’re friends with somebody

and you can’t understand what they’re saying

then what kind of friend can you be, right?

So, meet people. Go and talk with them.

Friends. Done.

That was one of the most important study tactics I learned really was just

meeting as many friends as I could while I was in Beijing.

That was really the ultimate realization for me was like, "Okay, Chinese.”

I have to actually live it. I have to actually live in Chinese.

And so I just spent a lot of time trying to make as many friends as possible.

My grades suffered a little bit but, you know what, at the end of the day,

it’s not about your grades. It’s about how good your language is.

And your language can be really freaking good and your grades can be shitty.

And I know lots of people with shitty grades but amazing language.

So jiayou (加油).

When I was in China, you might get the impression from all this

that I was constantly, constantly studying all the time.

I think that’s a little bit of a misimpression because I…

Well, I was studying a lot, for sure.

There were also plenty of times when I realized, "Okay,

I’m studying too much. I need to take a step back."

Allow my brain time to relax and recover.

And you need to take care of yourself because if you’re not sleeping,

if you’re constantly stressed out about grades, about whatever,

you’re not going to really make it.

And so you can’t burn out and you need to really,

really allow yourself, your brain to recover

and there’s a lot of studies that back this up.

Just the importance of recovery and rest in the study.

Yes, do a sprint. Do a sprint.

Do a period of time where you just study for a little bit of time.

But then always make sure to

take a little bit of recovery, to relax, recover, rest up.

And you’ll be very surprised when you come back to the game and,

wow, all of a sudden I can speak Chinese.

I remember this thing that I learned a day ago, right?

You’ll be pretty surprised.

Cool. So that’s about all I’ve got for you.

If you have any questions, or comments, or anything like that,

please feel free to leave…

leave them in the comment section.

I’m really interested in improving the quality of my shows.

So if you have any suggestions for improvement,

or you just really hate me and think I’m the worst person in the world,

please leave a comment.

Let me know how I can improve

and looking forward to seeing you next week.