In this primer article I will describe the thinking that led to The Monkey Mandarin Method, and how it is essentially a simple system. Then I will give a summary of what it basically is. I started by learning the basics of writing and recognizing characters which then formed a solid foundation for reading practice.
The intention isn’t to present the entire system here, but to introduce and provide a high-level overview of The Monkey Mandarin Method, as I am currently working on an eBook (entitled The Monkey Mandarin Method: How I Learnt to Read and Write Chinese from Scratch) where I will delve more in-depth into the details of the steps I took and the methods I used in my own Mandarin journey. But for now, the contents of this article are all you need to get started right away!
If you’re in a hurry, scroll down and there’s a TL;DR for all you busy folks. 🙂
What led to The Monkey Mandarin Method?
As I talked about in the About page, despite the strong desire in me to learn Mandarin, I really had no idea what to do or how to even begin. So I almost gave up many times. I discovered that there’s an overabundance of information out there when it comes to learning Mandarin Chinese. It’s a real pain in the neck just to find the best place to start, this process often takes so long that people end up just giving up in despair like I almost did.
Then one day, after trial and error and research and much thinking about the subject I had a sudden realisation (I believe they call this an epiphany). This came when I was asking questions to myself, questions like: “Wow aren’t I over complicating what is essentially a very simple thing? How can learning Chinese really be this difficult if one in five people in the world can speak it (yes that’s a huge number of people). Are they all just smarter than me and I’m just dumb? It can’t be that right?” There’s got to be a better way to learn Chinese, I thought to myself.
Then it occurred to me: it boils down to simplicity and thinking as a child would. “How do children in China first learn Chinese? Think of how children first learn Chinese!”, I asked myself, and all these are what led to what is The Monkey Mandarin Method. So just this simple shift in thinking helped me develop this system.
Going for simplicity (but simple doesn’t mean easy)
This is why The Monkey Mandarin Method is based on simplicity. My goal with Monkey Mandarin was simplicity yet with results. To implement a system that was easily actionable almost immediately.
The actual steps are really simpler than you might have imagined. Now I’m talking about the actual steps you should take daily, they are super simple. I can promise you that. However, remember that in life simple doesn’t equal easy. You may know the steps that you should take in order to succeed but if it’s just in your head, it’s not enough. For example, your final exams are a month away, you know you should start studying from today but you don’t, so you won’t achieve what you could have.
The same principle applies here. The Monkey Mandarin Method is simple. It will give you the steps to take. All that’s required from you are to follow the steps and only add just the following ingredients:
Persistency and Consistency
It has been said, “If you are persistent, you will get it. If you are consistent, you will keep it.” Like any human endeavour, persistency and consistency are they keys to success. You take the Monkey Mandarin Method and you add persistency and consistency and I promise you make significant improvement to you Chinese. But simple doesn’t mean easy. It takes consistency and dedication.
What is The Monkey Mandarin Method?
In a nutshell, it is based upon the notion of reading and writing at its core. I find that if you learn reading and writing first, speaking and listening come naturally. For example, have you ever heard of someone who could speak the language but were illiterate (can’t read and write)? Probably yes. Let’s flip the question to: have you ever heard of someone who was literate in a language but couldn’t speak or understand? I’m guessing that’s much rarer.
Now that I’ve said that the focus on Monkey Mandarin Method is to do a lot of reading and writing practice.
I’ve said that The Monkey Mandarin Method contains all the steps you need but you just need to add consistency and dedication. I realise that sometimes that’s easier said than done. When I first started, I found it difficult to get into a consistent routine. Like I would be off and on, some days I would do reading and writing practice, then the next day I would skip it. I needed to get my mind and attitude straight, and maybe you face this problem too. That’s why one of the three pillars of The Monkey Mandarin Method is motivation. Motivation to me is made up of two factors: the “internal” and the “external”.
The “internal” = Your internal mindset, attitudes, motivation levels, desire and drive, etc (basically inner-self stuff).
The “external” = This is the manifestation of the “internal”. This is the “doing” part.
That’s why I will every so often in a timely fashion post a motivational article or any other things/resources that may pique your interest and keep you focused towards learning Chinese. Treat these as friendly reminders or nudges from a friend.
The goal here is to “Mash it up.” This is one of my top five quotes on learning and I got it from England striker Daniel Sturridge’s mom lol like literally that’s where I got that quote (only need to watch the first 35 seconds of the video give or take) and it sticked with me (or just Google daniel sturridge mash it up for more on this). Bonus points if you say it out loud in a British accent haha.
I know that might seem like a random quote that I got from watching an interview but to me this is the key to staying interested when learning something. To me it means to basically keep things interesting, keep things fresh, by mashing it up, by approaching learning Chinese from different angles. You need to make sure there’s an ember of flame in you, and you cant let it burn out. You need to add fuel/gas and that’s motivation. With some refuelling of motivation every now and then you will be well-positioned to bring persistency and consistency to the table.
With this in mind, that’s why I mash it up a little every now and then, in terms of the content I publish here, to keep things interesting and approach this from different angles. However of course the core will be writing and reading practice. That’s the bread and butter of the system.
Even if you have never written a single Chinese character in your life, fear not. Sure Chinese characters look daunting, complicated and impenetrable to someone who has never seen it before but it actually makes sense when we deconstruct it. For writing the resources are self-contained and really just takes time to go through them.
Here’s a short summary, when you deconstruct a Chinese character you find strokes. Now there are only 8 basic strokes in Chinese. Once you know them, you can start practising to write actual characters, where you just need to know the stroke order. So that’s it: 8 basic strokes and know the stroke order.
Then you go to a frequency list of the most common Chinese characters such as this one and go through it methodically. However many you want to practice a day is up to you but the number you pick will be your “speed”. I recommend a “speed” of at least 5 new characters per day. This way, at the slowest you will have learnt to write and therefore recognize 50 characters in as short as 10 days or 500 in 100 days.
How do you learn the stroke order and how to write each character I hear you ask? You simply copy and paste the characters from that frequency list into an online Chinese-English dictionary such as this one and it shows you an animation of how to write it and in what stroke order.
As a broad level overview, this is what you do everyday. The key is to start recognizing characters. Remember, consistency is key. Keep doing this and though it seems small, you are accumulating vocabulary everyday.
Now it’s application time! Time to test what you’ve learnt through writing. No point learning to recognize individual characters or words if you cannot use it in practice. This is where reading practice comes in and it’s very powerful and it’s where the characters you’ve just learnt begin to “click.”
So that’s why I will post many Chinese passages from various sources on the blog. Try to read it, if you’re stuck that’s where I come in to explain and translate for you, as though I was a friend sitting next to you teaching you how to read.
The key here is to learn sentence structure and understand how to make sentences in Chinese. Again, read consistently everyday, in this case, the more the better.
Tailor to your needs
Lastly, I should say a few words about tailoring to your specific needs. This a great system but it’s not rigid or set in stone. You can pick and choose intelligently the parts that suit your personal situation.
For example, although I say “do reading and writing practice everyday”, you may be working full-time and very busy, then in that case you should read it as “do reading and writing practice every designated Chinese learning day.” But if you have a designated day, it’s best to stick with it, to form a solid habit. Even if you do it for just 20-30 minutes at the end of the day, it’s still much better than nothing.
Another example is if you don’t want to learn to write (although I recommend you should, trust me it’s worth it) or you already know how to write, you can just skip the parts I talked about writing practice and just do reading practice. You can treat the blog as a way to brush up on skills, or to learn new sentence structure or vocabulary.
That’s it from me here. Now go practise!
TL;DR: there’s an overabundance of information out regarding learning Mandarin. I discovered a simplified system based on considering how a child in China would learn Chinese. It’s called The Monkey Mandarin Method.
The Monkey Mandarin Method = Motivation + Writing Practice + Reading Practice
In a nutshell, it is built upon the fundamental building blocks of writing practice and reading practice. If you do this consistency, that’s it. It’s just a matter of time and you will be surprised that you can suddenly read and write Chinese more and more fluently. More in-depth details to follow in my eBook which is coming soon, so stay tuned!
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