Mandarin Blueprint Overview
Mandarin Blueprint is an online language program designed to teach you Mandarin Chinese from the ground up. This program uses several familiar teaching methods including videos and flashcards.
According to their website, this program can take you from being a complete beginner to being able to understand and read basic Mandarin in two months. It also says that if you stick with the program you can be having full conversations in less than a year.
These kinds of big promises always make me a bit hesitant, especially when they’re promises about a language like Mandarin. That being said, all of the reviews that I could find seemed very positive so I thought I would give it a try. And I have to say, I'm glad that I did!
This is a unique program with a lot to offer. There are a few odd quirks here and there but they do truly provide all the information you could possibly need to build a solid foundation in Mandarin.
So, if you’re interested in becoming fluent in Mandarin, come along with me and I will give you an in-depth look at this highly-effective program.
Before we get into the details, here is a quick overview of the features that I liked and a couple that I didn’t care for.
Mandarin Blueprint pricing
Mandarin Blueprint offers several purchase options. You can purchase each course separately or you can purchase them in bundles.
If you purchase the Full Bundle, you can choose between a one-time payment or paying in installments. You can split the cost into 2, 3, 6, or 12 payments. Be aware that you will pay more overall if you choose to divide the payment.
Mandarin Blueprint offers a 14-day free trial as well as a 30-day money-back guarantee on all purchases.
Initial Thoughts Of Mandarin Blueprint
This program has a very professional look to it, even the logo is sleek and interesting. The homepage is clean and well organized and filled with information about the program and how it works.
The first thing you see when you visit their website is a video from one of the program’s founders, Luke Neale, explaining why he and Phil Crimmins decided to create a Mandarin language program.
The video is interesting and inspiring. Luke is engaging and makes you believe that this program will work for you, even if you don’t know a single word in Mandarin before you start.
If you want to see a little more about these guys before signing up for the full program, just search for Mandarin Blueprint on YouTube. You will find all kinds of videos about them and why they do what they do. You'll also find a few of their instructional videos.
One of the things that I appreciate the most about their website is their openness. They share program details, prices, and explanations openly. You don’t have to sort through a hundred windows and drop-down menus to find the information you need, it’s all out in the open.
You can tell that this program was designed by language learners who had been through the struggle of trying to learn independently. They have designed this program to take you through the entire learning process from start to finish without the struggle.
Getting Started With Mandarin Blueprint
Getting started could not be easier. This program is primarily web-based, there isn't an app, so all you have to do is go to their homepage and click the "Start 14 Day Trial Button".
Simply enter your email address and name, then create a password. That's it, you're ready to start learning!
Once you press ‘Create Account’ you’ll be taken to a screen with another video from Luke.
I recommend watching this video before you start. It’s only about 3 minutes long, but it will give you a quick rundown of what to expect. They will also send you a welcome email with all the starter information.
Being able to sign up and try everything for free without having to provide payment information was an impressive factor for me.
Many language programs offer some type of free trial, but you have to provide payment information first. I understand why they do this, but, for me, Mandarin Blueprint choosing to grant free access to their program shows that they truly believe in what they’re doing.
Their theory is that after two weeks you’ll be hooked and you will want to invest in their program. I understand their confidence because this program is addicting. Mandarin is not an easy language, but they make it approachable.
After you finish the welcome video you'll be able to enter the course. The video will explain how to navigate this section, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding your way around.
Mandarin Blueprint Courses
The free-trial grants you access to the Pre-Phase and Phase 1 courses. I’ll discuss those in further detail in a moment, but first, here is a quick overview of all the courses they offer.
Pre-Phase: Pronunciation Mastery
This course is exactly what it sounds like, it is all about pronunciation. If you have ever attempted to learn Mandarin you know that the pronunciation is one of the hardest elements to master.
The creators of this program recognized that. They decided to take a different approach from most programs by tackling pronunciation first. This course should only take you about 6 hours to complete, but when you’re done you will have mastered all the sounds you need to know to begin speaking Mandarin.
Phase 1: Character Building
Phase 1 is all about helping you to become familiar with Chinese words and characters. This course includes 395 lessons and 2,000 flashcards. You’ll also encounter the Optimal Character Learning Order, a process by which you learn Chinese characters in the most efficient order. By the time you’re finished with this course, you should be able to pronounce Chinese words like a native and read a wide range of Chinese characters.
You may find the first phase a little slow, but once you get used to their teaching methods you’ll find that the following phases will go by much faster.
Phase 2: Vocabulary Building
Phase 2 will start you on the way to a proper Mandarin vocabulary. You’ll learn to use fun mnemonics and flashcards to help you memorize new words effectively. This course includes 170 lessons and 2,000 new flashcards.
Phase 3: Sentence Building
Phase 3 is where the fun starts. This course teaches you how to read and build proper sentences and start using Chinese in your daily life. You’ll have access to 529 lessons as well as another 2,000 flashcards.
Phase 4: Paragraph Building
Phase 4 takes you even deeper into reading and speaking in full sentences. This course will take you through 761 lessons and another 2,000 flashcards. By the time you finish this course, you will be able to read entire articles and express your thoughts in Chinese.
Phase 5: Story Building
Phase 5 will help you to progress past articles to being able to read full stories. You’ll progress far enough to read independently and have full conversations in Chinese. This course includes 390 lessons as well as 2,000 flashcards to help you practice what you’ve learned so far.
Intermediate includes all the material you need to achieve relative fluency. This course will teach you over 4,000 words and how to use them in everyday conversation. You’ll have access to over 2,000 new lessons and 2,000 flashcards to help you on your way to true fluency.
Starting To Learn
Proper pronunciation is important in every language, but it is especially important in Chinese. The way you pronounce a word can change the meaning completely, so even if you’ve been practicing Mandarin for a while, you’ll want to check out Pronunciation Mastery.
This course includes short, easy to process videos that take you through all the basics of Mandarin pronunciation. This includes a new and interesting look at the well-known pinyin.
For those of you who are true beginners, the pinyin is the romanization system of writing Chinese. In other words, it uses Roman characters to represent the sounds of Mandarin.
Having the sounds written out in the Roman alphabet can seem useful, but it can actually cause more problems than you would expect. Some of the sounds, such as ‘ben’, ‘rong’, and ‘gu’, are not pronounced the way your English-reading brain will want to pronounce them.
That is why it is so important to learn the correct sounds before you start learning full words.
Thankfully, Luke is exceptionally good at explaining the pinyin and showing you how to make each sound properly. There are also videos of native speakers so you can hear how they make the sounds as well.
The intention is that by the time you’ve finished this course, you will sound just like the native speakers!
This course includes a lot of visuals and useful tips to help you learn all of the 409 sounds that are used in Chinese. Not only that, but they will also help you remember every sound with ease. I was honestly shocked by how easy it was.
Getting On The Course
Once you’ve completed Pronunciation Mastery you’ll be ready to start the main courses. The lessons in Phases 1-6 are similar to those in the Pre-Phase, so you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating through each course.
The phases are split into separate levels, but you won’t really have to worry about that. The lessons are listed in order and checked off as you complete them, so you’ll never have to worry about losing your place.
The lessons themselves are easy to follow and quite enjoyable. Each lesson includes a video and some written materials.
The videos are short, making it easy to squeeze in a few lessons each day. Phil and Luke are interesting and engaging teachers. Every video is packed with information, but they aren’t overwhelming.
I did watch a few of them multiple times, but only because I found them interesting. Most of the time I only had to watch a video once to fully understand and retain the material.
This is mainly due to the Hanzi Movie Method.
The Hanzi Movie Method
The Hanzi Movie Method is a memory technique used by memory champions to memorize large volumes of information in short amounts of time.
This method can be used to memorize just about anything, but in this case, you’ll be using the Hanzi Movie Method to memorize new Chinese characters quickly and effectively.
Describing how the method works is a bit challenging, but here is the essence of it. Mandarin Blueprint will teach you how to make mini-movies in your imagination that you can use to remember words. You can think of this as mnemonics on steroids.
Each of your mini-movies will include actors, sets, props, and actions. The actors represent the initial pinyin sounds and the sets represent the final sounds. The props represent the various components of the Chinese character and, lastly, the actions represent the meaning.
If you’re feeling a little confused or intimidated, I understand. When I first started looking into this technique, I thought the same thing. Not only did it seem confusing, but it felt downright silly. Thankfully, they teach the method gradually so you’ll have plenty of time to get used to it.
Before you know it, you’ll be envisioning The Rock in your local library sweeping the floor with a giant feather in order to welcome the Pope and it will all make perfect sense to you. The key is to relax and just go with it. The more outrageous you make your mini-movies, the more memorable they will be.
When I first heard their claims of being able to teach anyone any Chinese character in less than a minute, I was skeptical. Now that I have tried this method, I am a believer.
Along with the instructional videos, you’ll also get a few helpful extras. These include printouts, flashcards, a blog, a weekly podcast, and an extremely helpful community of learners.
Each lesson will include one or two PDFs of the lesson materials. Many language learners find written materials to be more memorable than videos or lectures alone, so these printouts are a nice addition.
Even if reading isn’t your favorite learning style, you should still check them out. You’ll find loads of useful notes and tips that aren’t included in the video lesson. I found it helpful to print the PDFs before watching the video so I could write my notes on them.
They also offer a well-designed pinyin printout. I recommend printing this before you start the Pre-Phase so you have a visual reference on hand to go with the video lessons.
Anki is the platform that they use for their flashcards. This is probably the most cumbersome element of the program, an issue I will discuss in the drawback section. In this section, I just want to mention the benefits of using Anki.
Anki is a Spaced Repetition Learning (SRL) flashcard program that you can use to learn just about anything. You can create your own decks of flashcards or download decks from other users.
If you have ever used SRL you know how incredibly effective it can be. The benefit of Anki is that these are not just your boring old black and white flashcards, these cards are multimedia. They can include pictures, video, and even sound.
The Mandarin Blueprint decks are well put together and unquestionably useful. If you purchase the Full Bundle, you'll end up with over 12,000 flashcards to practice with. The decks are separated by level and lesson, so you can quickly find the material you need.
Anki is also multi-platform, you can use it online or through the mobile app. This is convenient because it allows you to pull up the flashcards on your computer while you're studying and then you can continue studying on your phone when you’re away from your desk. It offers a nice way to take Mandarin Blueprint with you wherever you go.
Blog And Podcast
Phil and Luke are all about keeping their students well informed. They offer both a blog and a podcast full of helpful information. They share helpful learning tips, answer questions, and share stories about their experiences.
Many language programs have blogs and/or podcasts, but they’re not always the most helpful. Mandarin Blueprint is a step above in this department. Both the blog and the podcast are high-quality and worth checking out.
The community forum is a great place to connect with other language learners. Many of the users share hints and tips that they’ve found helpful as well as answer questions about the program and how to get the most out of it.
Although the customer support for this program is top-notch, you’ll find that members of the community will help you just as quickly as the instructors do. You can post any and all of your Mandarin questions and help others while you’re at it.
This forum is also where Luke and Phil find questions to highlight in their podcast, so you never know when one of your questions might be featured.
Drawbacks To Mandarin Blueprint
This program is one of the most unique ones that I’ve ever tried. I had a hard time finding anything that I would truly call a drawback, but there are two things that I thought I should mention. These elements are more annoying than anything else.
There are two main issues with Mandarin Blueprint relying solely on Anki for their practice exercises.
Firstly, Anki is clunky. I have used Anki for language practice before and I can appreciate its benefits, but it takes time and effort to get the most out of it. The platform is not intuitive so it can be hard to navigate, especially if you’re not computer savvy.
Mandarin Blueprint does provide some helpful tech support for Anki, but you should expect to spend a fair amount of time setting it up and getting used to it.
Secondly, Anki is a flashcard program which means that it is not the most exciting or varied way to get your daily practice. It is a steller SRL program, I just wish there were a few more practice options.
Lack of Speaking Practice
Even though this program does a great job teaching pronunciation, it does lack any kind of real speaking practice. The only way to truly check your pronunciation is to speak with a native speaker, so you’ll have to supplement your speaking practice. This can easily be done through an online tutoring program like italki.
Alternatives To Mandarin Blueprint
Although Mandarin Blueprint is a first-rate program, it is not for casual learners. The cost alone could be enough to put some learners off. If this doesn’t seem like the program for you, here are a couple of alternatives you may want to try.
Lingodeer is a great language learning app for beginners who want to learn an Asian language. This app is affordable and offers a wide range of fun practice exercises that will keep you interested and engaged in the learning process.
YOYO Chinese is a program designed specifically for English speakers but created by a native speaker. This program includes loads of informative videos and practice exercises. The lessons are a little slow-paced, but they are high-quality and engaging.
Pleco is more of a supplemental program that could be used in conjunction with any Mandarin learning program. This app includes a Chinese dictionary, flashcards, audio recordings, and a variety of other learning materials and practice exercises.
Mandarin Blueprint Review: Final Thoughts
Overall I would say that Mandarin Blueprint is the perfect choice for anyone who is truly committed to learning Mandarin, especially beginners.
Mandarin is a challenging language, but this program makes it accessible. By approaching the language from the perspective of a language learner, Phil and Luke have developed a revolutionary teaching technique.
They provide concise instruction, not only about Mandarin but also about how to learn effectively. I can easily see how one could take the learning techniques in this course and apply them to other areas of learning with great success. My only disappointment is that they have not created similar programs for other languages.
The initial cost may be a bit of a challenge for some students but, if you choose one of the bundles, it is completely worth it. You will never find a college course that could teach you as much about Mandarin for only $599.
The best thing is that once you purchase the program, you have lifetime access. That means that you have access to all the upgrades and improvements. This is huge since they are constantly finding ways to make their program more effective.
Setting up and coordinating your Anki account may take a little extra time, but it’s worth it. Once you get used to it, you’ll find that it is an exceptional resource that you’ll use often.
This may not be the right program for casual learners but if you’re serious about learning Mandarin, this is a great choice. You can even try it completely free for 14 days, so there's nothing to lose.
Just remember, every language learner is unique, so it may take some time to find the right program for you. Just know that no matter how daunting it seems now, you can do this!