Learning Mandarin Chinese Efficiently with Mandarin Blueprint

Life can be shorter than any of us may wish. I want to learn Mandarin Chinese in the most accelerated, efficient way possible.  I wish to reach as high of a level of proficiency in Mandarin Chinese as possible, as quickly as possible, with the least amount of effort, time, and dollars.

Further, that method has to work in lockdown in a small town. No opportunities for interactive practice or real life exposure exist outside of scheduled, online tutoring sessions with italki and private instructors.  Sequestered in my house, the rest is silence.

Luke Neale and Phil Crimmins, founders of Mandarin Blueprint

I have spent countless hours and dollars reviewing textbooks, courses, and apps, trying to find a means of learning Mandarin Chinese that meets these criteria.

I learned of Mandarin Blueprint on episode #55 of Jared Turner’s and John Pasden’s podcast, You Can Learn Chinese. I signed up for the free trial on Saturday, February 13, 2021, and was wowed.

To adults wishing to learn Mandarin Chinese efficiently, I recommend Blueprint wholeheartedly.

I had done literature reviews of the research on second language acquisition by adults. Of all the courses and materials I’ve reviewed, Mandarin Blueprint’s systematic approach most closely matches my findings.

In addition to offering a research-informed protocol, Mandarin Blueprint’s online course includes:

100% responsiveness to my schedule. I treasure speaking with online teachers so much that I have changed my sleep-wake schedule to more closely match Beijing time so I can meet with native speakers. However, I want and need to study when teachers are not available as well.

Accuracy. I have tried multiple online courses and apps. Even as a beginner, I could find errors in the content. I was learning the wrong stuff! Luke Neale and Phil Crimmins, the co-founders of Mandarin Blueprint, create impeccably accurate content.

Brief, succinct videos. I was a history major and am fascinated by China’s 5,000 year history. (Was there a Xia Dynasty?!) I appreciate context. At this point, however, please just tell me what I need to know.

Comprehensiveness. My scattered knowledge of bits of vocabulary and grammar is being consolidated. Systematically, Mandarin Blueprint takes students sound by sound, then character by character.

Fascinating content, often charmingly conveyed, by congenial, master teachers with strong speaking styles. I find myself engaged in the content and do not have to force myself to focus or continue. During this pandemic, on any given day, I frequently spend more time with Luke and Phil than I do with any other human beings. They are excellent company.

Use of strengths and interests I already have. Luke and Phil have devised an awe-inspiring process by which learners use memories from the richness of their personal lives, plus their imaginations, to create meaningful, memorable narratives associated with the pronunciation, components and meanings of Chinese characters, While my mind understands the power of the forgetting curve and the countering powers of the method of loci and spaced repetition, while learning with Mandarin Blueprint, I find my heart feeling at play as if I were a child again.

Uncertainties addressed by either the help desk or the Mandarin Blueprint community.  Anki is spaced repetition software (SRS) that buttresses learning with the Mandarin Blueprint method. I was able to set it up and use it for the Pronunciation Mastery course, but was stumped when I moved to the next level. Immediately, I got message board, email, and video responses to my questions. In one video, Phil has a cat in his lap! Phil even offered to Zoom and personally walk me through this step. I may have maxed out what I can do with Anki on my end, but “customer service” seems a mundane term for the direct, personal, serious help I received.

An innovation and a masterwork. I respect the co-founders for applying for a patent. I do think their formulation is a unique synthesis of research and best practices on second language acquisition. For me, engaging with such fine, thoughtful, original, humane work is a genuine emotional and intellectual pleasure.

Heroism. Luke Neale and Phil Crimmins launched Mandarin Blueprint in Chengdu, China on January 1, 2019. Native English-speakers, they were learning Mandarin Chinese as adults, joined forces, and devised the Mandarin Blueprint method to teach themselves efficiently and effectively. They then started sharing the method with others.

As of this writing, in about 28 months, they have created over 4,000 lessons and over 1,000 videos, ranging from 1 minute to 1 hour. They continue to create lessons, videos, blog posts, and podcast episodes. Through the videos, I have watched their lives unfold. I have seen Phil’s facial hair come and go and heard a baby chortle in one of Luke’s recordings. I can only imagine being non-native speakers founding a company in a non-native land, attempting to keep that company and their lives and loves afloat during a pandemic. and continuing to uphold the mission, create the course, and take care of their customers. I find their efforts quite moving and exemplary.

Outcomes. I need what I do to work. My life span is probably two-thirds complete. The pandemic has created new deprivations and urgencies. I need for the time, dollars and effort I put into anything to yield results. Before I tried this method, I struggled to read characters. With the support of my italki and private instructors, I have been able to read sentences aloud in the characters-only Mandarin Companion Breakthrough Level graded readers. Although a subjective measure, this is extraordinary, motivating progress.

Bravo to Luke and Phil! 谢谢! I truly cannot thank the founders of Mandarin Blueprint enough for their vision, leadership, and invention.

. . . . .

The image is a screenshot of Luke Neale and Phil Crimmins from a Mandarin Blueprint YouTube video explaining the Pronunciation Mastery course.

As of this writing, I completed the 6-hour Pronunciation Mastery Course during the trial period, purchased the full bundle of courses, and have completed through level 15, part of the Phase 3 Sentence Building portion of 36 levels in the Introductory Course. My plan is to complete the Introductory Course, then proceed to the Intermediate Course to complete levels 37-57. I feel confident I can do this, partly due to the inspiration of William Beeman, Professor Emeritus and past Chair of the Department of Anthropology at University of Minnesota, who also recommends Mandarin Blueprint.

An Advanced Course is in the works and I plan to take it as well when it is released. When test centers open again, I intend to proceed through the HSK exams.

For this post, I excerpted some of the content from the review I posted on my public Facebook page on March 9, 2021.

Updates as of 7/16/21

  • I was delighted to contribute at the access level to Mandarin Blueprint’s crowdfunding campaign to jumpstart development of the Advanced Course.
  • I and others are writing brief dialogues in simplified Chinese characters, pinyin, and English using words that help foster empathy and understanding. The posts also identify characters in Mandarin Blueprint’s numbering system. We call it the “Meaningful Words” series and it is here.
  • I developed a paper-and-pen alternative to Anki and describe it here.


The views expressed are my own and may not represent Mandarin Blueprint’s positions, strategies or opinions. I receive no compensation from any businesses or organizations mentioned in this post.

I am a student of Mandarin Chinese and also a mental health counselor, able to provide counseling services only to residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S.A. This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.