Fluent in Mandarin in 3 Months?! Really?

I must admit that I am a huge fan and live vicariously through Benny Lewis.
 For those of you not familiar with Benny he travels the world on language “missions” and attempts to become “fluent” in a language in 3 months or less!  see: http://www.fluentin3months.com/mandarin-mission
The crazy thing is that, for the most part, he does it!  He has become fluent using his somewhat unorthodox methods in, I believe, 9 languages ! ( and conversational in at least 6 others in his 2 month “mini-missions”!)  Benny has grabbed my attention once again because his latest mission has him in Taipei, Taiwan attempting to become fluent in spoken AND written Mandarin Chinese in three months.  This also takes into account that he will learn the “traditional” Chinese characters which are considered more difficult to learn.  My first reaction to this was “whoa this will be impossible for him” !  This is a language that takes our top diplomats and linguists YEARS to master.  (see my previous post :  https://mainlymagyar.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/xin-nian%EF%BB%BF-kuai-le-新年快乐-happy-new-year/  )  How on earth is he going to do it this time?  After all, he is starting in Taiwan with NO knowledge of Mandarin aside from “Ni Hao”.  I reckon he will do it the same way he does it every time; by using his “hacks” as he calls them.  This is his method in a nutshell:

Arrive in a country and start using the language immediately. No English allowed (with the exception of securing a flat to rent out although I’ve seen him do this without English as well!)  Get outside and talk to people.  The way he picks up vocabulary is by picking up words from the context of each situation and then apply it immediately.  He also uses gesturing and dictionaries but is strict about NO ENGLISH!  He is a very social guy and goes to work immediately by making friends and using only his target language with them.  He even changes all the display data in his electronic devices to his target language  ( Benny , I’d like to see you try this with Chinese!) .  After three months of complete and total immersion he picks up an impressive amount of competency in his target languages.

Many “experts” feel the need to debate with him on end whether or not it is truly “fluency”, but either way it is very impressive and from what I’ve seen “fluent enough”.  Plus, as Benny says “haters gonna hate…” So true…

So it will be interesting to see how he does with this one.  People have doubted him before but I have seen him do some pretty impressive things; including hold a free, completely unscripted conversation in Hungarian ( considered to be among the most difficult European languages) after studying it for only two months!

He is striving to reach a Common European Framework of Reference for Languages  ( abbreviated as CEFR, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe) level C1.  CEFR defines this as :

“ Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professionalpurposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.”

I think this will be incredibly challenging in merely three months of immersion.

Now if he were to define his goal as CEFR level B1:

“Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.”

I think the B1 is definitely doable!   We shall see.  I really hope he does achieve his C1 goal.  It is a great reminder that we all can achieve some pretty incredible things if we put our minds and efforts into it!

As for my Mandarin this week…

We went down to our local tea shop the other day.  ( J-Tea in Eugene, Oregon.  http://jteainternational.com/   Not only a great place to sip a cup,  but the owner, Josh, is great fun and incredibly knowledgeable about tea!  If passing through Eugene, you must stop here!)    Josh lived in Taiwan off and on for ten years and is fluent in Mandarin.  I started out by asking him if he was the guy that spoke Chinese. (In Mandarin of course: 你說中文的人嗎?/ Nǐ shi shuō zhōngwén de rén ma?)  He answered in a rapid-fire succession of tones and taught syllables that were totally incomprehensible to me. I said to slow down because I have only been studying a month!  (你說話太快. 我只學習了一個月 / Nǐ shuō de  tài kuài le. Wǒ zhǐ xuéxí le yīgè yuè!)  He gave me a suspicious look and called me a liar in Chinese ( dang!  I forgot the word for liar already!)  and slowed it down a bit.  Holy heaters!!  I could understand him!  We had a great, if not VERY basic chat over our Lapsong Souchong.  I learned the name “Lapsong Souchong”  is actually Cantonese. The Mandarin name for the tea is ( 正山小种 – zhèngshān xiǎozhǒng) .  It means something like: “straight mountain, small type”.   He also told me my Mandarin name : 利迪,布莱恩  / Lì-dí, Bù-lái’-ēn.   But, most importantly, I learned my first of Mandarin’s likely many booby-traps.  I referred to a di-di, which EVERY introductory Mandarin textbooak gives as the word for “little brother”.  Apparently nowadays it has come to mean, well,  one’s own “little brother” , or “penis”!  Since di-di is now considered somewhat vulgar there is another word that is now used for the relative “little brother”, but of course I forgot that one too…

He made me really want to go to Taiwan which seems like China in a microcosm.  Much of the good, less of the bad and a much more manageable size than mainland China.

We were passing through a town the other night when we decided to stop for some food and ended up in what turned out to be a Taiwanese cafe.  The food was amazing and we were the only non-Chinese speakers in the place.  Usually when I hear Chinese spoken in a Chinese restaurant, it is either Cantonese or Fujian and I can’t understand a word.  This time everyone was speaking Mandarin!  While I couldn’t make out too much of the conversations I was shamelessly eavesdropping on,  I undoubtedly understood words and short sentences from the clientele.   Hearing a dozen people simultaneously speaking Mandarin was like crashing a party and finding a dozen old friends there.  It was so invigorating to hear this when up to this point I have only heard the language from decades-old, popping tape recordings.  I was going to strike up some conversations, but this time, I was so content just to sit back and listen!

Pimsleur II Lesson 3
Remembering the Hanzi Lesson 4
FSI : Module 2 Unit 7


3 thoughts on “Fluent in Mandarin in 3 Months?! Really?

  1. si bien Benny Lewis tiene un excelente nivel en idiomas como el español y el frances (segun él, C1) y, ciertamente, puede definirse como un poliglota experimentado, muchas de sus misiones las ha terminado dandose una calificacion de desempeño bastante “generosa” (el ejemplo mas representativo de esto es la autocalificacion de su desempeño en tailandes -thai).. por supuesto que obtiene resultados interesantes, mas ciertamente esa afirmacion de alcanzar un nivel C1 en mandarin me suena mas a que la hizo por cuestiones de publicidad de su nuevo material que porque él realmente creyera en ello.. btw, “haterz gonna hate…” si bien es una frase que encierra buenas dosis de verdad, he notado que él tiende a calificar como “hater” a cualquier persona que simple y llanamente no sostenga su punto de vista..

    hablando de otras cosas, suerte con el curso de Moses.. leer tus comentarios sobre el mismo me mantendra atado a tu blog por un tiempo (eso es seguro :P)

    p.s. como “dato curioso”, escribi un comentario hace unos dias (semanas tal vez) en el post de Benny sobre su mision de mandarin diciendole que tal vez seria buena idea que tomara como base el curso de Moses, y que tal vez asi y con su enfoque propio podria obtener resultados aun mejores.. bueno, al parecer no le gusto mi comentario porque simple y llanamente no lo publico – y ojo, no lo escribi con tono burlon ni nada parecido.. tal vez no le gusto la referencia directa a “la competencia”.. anyway..

    • “,… “haterz gonna hate…” si bien es una frase que encierra buenas dosis de verdad, he notado que él tiende a calificar como “hater” a cualquier persona que simple y llanamente no sostenga su punto de vista..”

      Ah, es tan cierto! Me he dado cuenta de que un “hater” es alguien que no está de acuerdo con Benny. Eso es una cosa que no me gusta de Benny_ Él no toma bien las críticas! Asi es – vamos a ver! Gracias por los comentarios!

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