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I'm Learning Mandarin

I'm Learning Mandarin

By Mi Kai
The goal of this podcast is to help you learn how to learn Chinese. I’ve been learning Mandarin independently outside China while working full time for four years. Each episode I will be discussing a new topic regarding how best to learn Chinese, drawing on stories and insights from my experience. For more content please subscribe and visit my blog at
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Currently playing episode

The Key Predictors of Mandarin Success

I'm Learning Mandarin

The Key Predictors of Mandarin Success

I'm Learning Mandarin

The Key Predictors of Mandarin Success
On today’s episode I discuss learning Mandarin with a man who has not only learned the language for  himself, he’s also observed the trajectories of hundreds of other learners over the years.  Max Hobbs is Marketing Director at the leading Chinese language school, LTL Mandarin. He first came into contact with Chinese while backpacking in 2014 and he has since continued to study Mandarin whilst working. His position at the school has given him a real birds eye view, observing and documenting the stories of numerous students over the years at the school he works for.  I found it really insightful to talk to him about his learning experiences and in particular his observations of which attitudes and traits are the strongest predictors of a successful Mandarin learner.
September 25, 2021
Overcoming the Intermediate Plateau
As an intermediate Mandarin learner, one of the main challenges I face is acquiring lower frequency words. In any language the most frequent few thousand words account for over 90% of words used in daily conversation. Mandarin is no different and, although I typically understand the vast majority of words in a sentence, it’s those rarer words which can throw me off.  So how can we overcome the intermediate plateau and learn enough low frequency words to become proficient?  That’s where today’s guest Andrew Methven comes in. Andrew first started learning Chinese whilst on a backpacking trip in China in 2002-03. He eventually went on to train as a translator and interpreter, before joining a startup in the UK focussed on China. More recently, he started the newsletter: designed to help intermediate and advanced learners fill in key gaps in the vocabulary.  Every week Andrew shares new words, phrases, idioms, colloquialisms and slang with the goal of helping readers maintain and improve their Chinese, while staying up to date with latest language trends. Andrew’s experiences of backpacking through China as well as his insights into overcoming the long intermediate plateau are fascinating and insightful. 
September 10, 2021
Learning Mandarin in a Global Pandemic
The global pandemic has has a profound influence on the way we study languages. On the downside, restrictions have made it  difficult to travel abroad. Yet the ongoing crisis has also led to record numbers of people taking on a new language.  On Today’s episode I explore the theme of learning Mandarin during a global pandemic with Chinese learner and friend of the podcast, Adam Morris. I first met Adam on a dream trip to China in 2018 organised by the Confucius Institute where we were both studying evening classes at the time.  Following the trip Adam decided to study a Bachelors degree in Chinese at the University of Leeds where he now in his his final year. In January 2020, his year abroad in Shanghai was dramatically cut short half way through and he was forced to return home to Leeds. I wanted to talk to Adam about his story and learn how he managed to overcome adversity and make the most of a difficult time for all language learners.
August 28, 2021
Learning Characters with Hack Chinese
One of the most daunting aspects of learning Chinese is the sheer number of characters required for basic literacy. It’s estimated that comfortably reading a newspaper requires around 3000 characters, whilst an educated native speaker will typically know in excess of 7000. Memorising such a high number of characters is not an easy task. But modern technology has made it easier than it once was. In the past, Mandarin learners had to rely on physical flashcards to review characters and commit them to memory but today a number of space repetition apps come with sophisticated algorithms which make the learning process more efficient.  Whilst these apps have facilitated the learning process they are still far from ideal. SRS apps are typically not very user friendly and most of them are not tailored to learning Mandarin characters in particular.  On today’s podcast I talk with Daniel Nalesnik, a Chinese learner who got so tired of badly designed apps that he decided to to create a new system himself. Hack Chinese ( is a space repetition learning system designed specifically for Mandarin Chinese. According to Daniel, using the website for just 10-20 minutes per day to review vocabulary can help you grow and maintain a bank of thousands of characters. I have been using Hack Chinese myself  for several weeks, and I’m impressed with how user friendly and efficient it is. So I wanted to get Daniel on the podcast to discuss his insights into learning Chinese and motivations for designing his system. 
August 15, 2021
Acquiring Mandarin: Naturalistic Immersion or Structured Learning?
Traditionally, highly structured approaches were favoured in classroom environments. But it’s fair to say today’s online language learning community has waged war on this idea. Language should be all about fun, enjoying yourself. The influential linguist Stephen Krashen argues that the most effective way to acquire a language is to expose yourself to content which you can comprehend and immerse yourself in activities which you enjoy. The more time you spend doing this, the more you will gradually progress closer and closer to fluency. I myself have been heavily influenced by these ideas and I think I’ve benefited from them immensely. It was largely through immersing myself in content I enjoyed that, despite not living in China, I was able to self study to a level where I could comfortably engage in meaningful conversations with native Chinese speakers. But, I have also learned from experience that relying too heavily on immersion alone when studying Chinese has its limits. This is particularly the case when it comes to tones and characters, two aspects of Chinese which many learners find hard to master. To discuss these issues with me I have invited a guest who is a friend of the podcast, Lionel Rowe. Lionel speaks fluent Chinese which he acquired while living in Beijing for a period of seven years. His learning methods were much more structured than mine, particularly at the beginning, so I thought it would be interesting to discuss our different language learning experiences with him on the podcast. 
July 25, 2021
Rethinking How You Learn Mandarin Tones
Welcome to the first ever episode of the I'm Learning Mandarin podcast with me your host, Mischa. Each episode I will be discussing a new topic regarding how best to learn Chinese, drawing on stories and insights from my experience of learning Mandarin outside of China over the past four years.  In this episode I'm going to discuss common problems elementary and lower intermediate learners encounter when learning tones. My aim is to help learners who are grappling with tones realise the difficulties they experience are entirely normal but will get better over time. If you enjoyed this episode please subscribe, leave a review and visit for lots of similar content. 
July 18, 2021