Mission Statement

I have a confession: I failed to learn Chinese

I spent about six years studying Chinese and never passed the HSK 5. After literally thousands of hours of studying and over $10,000 in classes, tutoring, and other expenses, I’ve had to give up. Rulin Mandarin was founded on trying to help others avoid that fate. I may not know for sure how to succeed, but I sure know how to fail and I want to help you avoid my mistakes. That’s what Rulin Mandarin is about.

How it feels to fail

Failure is the day you can’t justify $200/ a month in tutoring fees anymore. Failure is the day you switch from studying Chinese to studying skills for your job. Failure is the day you study 50 characters and realize you’re forgetting characters faster than you’re memorizing them. Failure is only when you quit but at some point you can’t justify the expense and time to yourself when so many other things need your time and attention.

In terms of learning Chinese, or any language, I always think of the oasis, the desert, and the city. Think of yourself as an ancient explorer setting off to visit a far away city.

The oasis


You start in the oasis. It’s small but verdant. You easily get everything you need. This is the beginner levels of Chinese. There’s a ton of great beginner material out there and there’s nothing too complicated to slow down your learning. Even the memorization is easier; I don’t know why but it’s much easier to memorize the 101st character than the 1001st. It kind of doesn’t matter what tools you use, everyone succeeds in the oasis: the tasks are easy and the support is great.

The city


At the other end of your journey is the city. It’s big and complicated but bursting with life and you can find whatever you need. This is the high fluency level of Chinese but it’s really the level at which you can consume Chinese media without help. If you can watch a Chinese TV without English subtitles or read a Chinese newspaper then it’s much easier to master Chinese. You can incorporate Chinese into your daily activities, it’s not a separate studying thing, and that makes everything much easier. Watching a Chinese movie for two hours is just much easier than studying for two hours but, if you’re fluent, it’s also the better way to learn.

The desert

In between is the desert. It’s large, it’s imposing, there’s few if any resources, and if you stay too long you’ll die. This is the intermediate level and it’s defined by a lack of the great resources and simplicity that made the beginner stage so easy but without the ability to learn through directly consuming Chinese media. Basically, the more you learn, the harder it is to keep learning, until you get close to fluency and then the difficulty falls dramatically. Think of someone with a vocabulary of 1500 Chinese words. They’re probably studying characters 30+ minutes a day just to keep everything current but their reading children’s books or simple paragraphs at maybe the 3rd grade level. Since not many people get to this level the material isn’t very good, they need to study even more than when they started, and fluency is another 1500 characters away.

That’s where I failed. 18 months of excited study was followed by years of ever increasing effort to ever decreasing learning. I never worked harder on my Chinese than the last three months I studied it because I knew it was do-or-die and at the end of those three months it was tough to see any real improvement. Once you hit that point, quitting is just a matter of time.

So that’s what I want Rulin Mandarin to be about. To get you from 300 characters to 3000. I really do think there’s a lot of great material out there if you want to get started learning Chinese. Take advantage of it! But if you’ve started studying seriously and you’re seeing how demanding Chinese can be, I want this to be your website. I want to make sure that if you put in the time, money, and energy, there will be a payoff.

And let me clarify, even with the best system, learning Chinese is a massive undertaking. Excluding the gifted linguists, if you want to learn Chinese you need to accept that it’s going to take 3-4 years of serious study and thousands of dollars. That’s the cost to learn Chinese, that’s what this requires, and you should take a minute and make sure you really want this, that it’s worth it.

But if you do, I don’t want it to be a gamble. I’m not the only one that’s failed. I’ve met people who’ve lived in China for 10 years, who take lessons and study hard, who never move beyond pidgin Mandarin. And that’s not right. If you’re willing to put in the time and money, you should be confident that you’ll master Chinese at the end. Right now, with all the tools and apps and book and tutors I just see a gamble. Lots of people try, some succeed, others don’t and while hard work explains some of that, I’ve met too many people who worked too hard and got no where to believe that it’s just hard work.

If you’re willing to put in the work, you should get the reward. That’s not the case with studying Chinese now. Rulin Mandarin is here to fix that. To get you through that desert.