Benny’s 3-Month Mandarin Mission: A Follow Up

By Confused Laowai | Date: April 24th, 2012 | Category: General

Benny’s Mandarin mission ended about two weeks ago. Here is his post and interview with John from Sinosplice. I did a big post when he started his mission, detailing my thoughts and concerns about learning Chinese in 3 months. Like many others, I was skeptical. Why wouldn’t one be? I talked about specific Chinese problems, but I also detailed my thoughts on why I think it’s hard to compare learning methods and an inherent paradox in the subjectivity of learning languages.

The video above is his “last” video with John. I’m impressed, but for more than just his ability that he acquired in 3 months.

Before his Mandarin mission, I was skeptical about his program and felt he was arrogant and had a dismissive attitude towards me and other commenters. The Mandarin missions was close to home as this a language I have learned myself, so seeing his progress made me realize just how much effort he put in.

What I saw from other people, on reddit, on his videos, on his blogs, wherever, was that no matter what Benny did, people consistently bashed him.

Yes, he did not make his initial goal of C1.
Yes, reading Chinese is still a big part that he has to acquire.
Yes, his accent is not hundred percent.
Yes, he stumbles now and then and his first video was painstakingly slow.

BUT, seriously, look at what he has done, he managed to spend every single day working hard. Extremely hard to achieve the C1 goal and gained some good conversational Chinese in the process. That’s the whole point. Aim high. Reading Chinese will come with more exposure and accent is a problem that can be fixed.

I admire his tenacity, perseverance, patience and most of all courage to face such intense public scrutiny. That is what I learned the most from following his Mandarin mission and have gained a lot of respect, because of it. If it was me, I’d have crawled into a ball a long time ago. But, I feel, we have a responsibility to promote and uplift each other, even when we have extreme cases such as Benny, who makes “outrageous” claims.

I have long since tried to look past the content of people’s goals and actions, but rather try and understand the attempt behind it. This is another case. The beauty is in the attempt, not the content. Well done Benny, I applaud you and hope your travels in China will be a fruitful experience and reap the benefits of all the hard work you’ve put in in the last three months.

Related posts:

Back in January
Your Mandarin Learning Experience
Social Mandarin Newsletter
On Learning Chinese in 3 Months

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  • Sara

    I wrote an completely opposite kind of blog post about the same thing to my blog, but still I can agree with you. Benny did a great job in three months and he has encouraged me to learn faster. That’s an excellent thing to do.

    The thing that I don’t agree with, is that I don’t think it’s useful to send a message that it’s possible to become fluent in Mandarin in three months. I still don’t believe it’s possible. I think people could get discouraged if they thought it’s possible and then fail themselves.

  • NielDLR

    Hey Sara,

    yeah I remember your post. At first I did agree with the sentiment that misleading people that you can achieve fluency in Chinese in 3 Months is possible, and genreally Benny’s sentiment was giving people false hope. But I’d like to think now, attempting such a major goal will prove to be more beneficial to the learner’s motivation if he/she thinks they can do it, than never trying at all. Although I’m not insinuating a
    complete binary dichotomy, either you go all out or you don’t try, I think the positive effect of a big goal pushes you further than you ever thought you could.

    He inspired me too! :)

  • Sara

     I guess this depends on a what kind of learner one is. We are all different and me for example easily give up if the task seems impossible. For example give up reading a Chinese book that was way above my level, but have read 170 pages during last 22 days when I chose a book that suits my level better.

    I believe in goals that are challenging, but possible/reachable. But of course the most important thing is that the goal suits the learner.

    I feel that fluent Mandarin in three months is false hope, but luckily we don’t have to agree  on everything :) That would be boring.

  • NielDLR

    That’s true. We shouldn’t underestimate the individuality of a learner. :)

  • Benny Lewis

    Thanks so much for these very kind words!! While countless readers of my blog have been endlessly supportive, it’s been hurtful to see some sources online, like the sites you listed, be mean to me simply because I was being ambitious, or because they didn’t bother to take the time to figure out why I was learning the language in the first place.

    By the way, I’ve got plenty more videos coming, which will be way more interesting than someone interviewing me, and my Mandarin learning attempt is far from over – just the most intensive part of it is ;)

    But the biggest controversy in this whole story is yet to come: my posts on the Chinese language itself (which I haven’t written about at all up to now). The purpose will be entirely encouraging, and this will tick off the community further, as they like to maintain this air of untouchable awe around Chinese. Too bad for them. I’d rather encourage more people to learn it, than continue the wave of discouragement I see in so many places online.

  • NielDLR

    Hey Benny,

    now slow down. You know we have something good going here. Is this our honeymoon phase? :P Hehe
    I usually disagree with you when it comes to linguistic matters, but really curious as to what you’ll say about the language.

    I’m really looking forward to the videos of your travels. Super jealous of it!

  • Peckish Laowai

     Hey Benny

    I too watched your video on John Pasden’s website.  My thoughts at the time when I became aware of your mission was that I really wanted to see just how much you can achieve in 3 months in an immersed environment. I didn’t want to be too skeptical when you started and I knew you’d get a lot of skepticism (and criticism) from a lot of people. That clearly can’t be and could not have been good for your confidence.

    Well – let me just say that I’m sure you’ve blown people away with what you have achieved. Yes I agree with Niel’s comments and feedback and I guess accent is something that still needs some focus and attention but really I feel bad even pointing this out so forgive me – it is important yes but can be considered a pretty minor thing in the face of what you have actually achieved in a VERY VERY VERY short space of only 3+ months.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Niel on this “I admire his tenacity, perseverance, patience and most of all courage to face such intense public scrutiny.”

    Well done!

  • A.H.

    Without this ridiculous C1 goal Benny’s achievements could be even higher justified.

  • Rabid Rabbit

    So Benny got bashed. How sad. Is it maybe that he did first irritate people by making impractical claims (ok, then says they were not claims) and by constantly hinting that their negative view was motivated by their own inability?
    Wouldn’t it be big from him to now admit that maybe their point of view was not as unfounded and uninformed as he  hinted, and that what he has reached in 3 months is broken Chinese: very basic vocabulary, basic sentences, and difficult-to-understand pronunciation (I am not saying accent, but mispronunciations that make him difficult to understand; by comparison, John in this video is on the very-easy-to-understand level).
    Add to that no reading ability. Upper beginner level; exactly what you would expect from somebody with previous experience at language leaning, who has been studying in total immersion for 3 months; or for someone studying at home for a year.

    He had the guts to do it, yes, intensive studying like that must be trying. I respect that. But I fail to be amazed or to think that any point has been made. More importantly, I fail to think that his high-handed attitude towards skeptics is justified by results.

  • NielDLR


    thanks for the comment.

    So, yes, Benny isn’t perfect. No-one is. Yes, sometimes he does suggest that a negative view stems from inability or inexperience. That’s was one of my topics on the previous post when he started, The Experience Paradox:

    But, within that paradox, the experience also lies within yourself. You, or I, or anyone can also be wrong about this. That’s why I’ve decided, there’s little point anymore to talk/bash/complain about these fundamental subjective experiences and just focus on what has been achieved and we can do as a community to be supportive.

    Under the veil of methods and claims, I see Benny just as any other language learner. But he’s a hard worker and that’s why I learned from his Mandarin experiment.

  • Rabid Rabbit

     well, I have now read your “Experience Paradox”, and I feel sympathetic with just everything that you have said in there. Including that ‘now recognizing failure and learning from it would be great’. Unfortunately the guy is in denial (I’m fluent because I am the only judge of what fluency is, you can’t give me an objective test of language skills, I am just a few weeks away from C1 etc)

    Off topic, about the learning curve of Chinese (the concept of learning curve seems alien to Benny): yes, and this is something I have had confirmed by every advanced student I have met: the more you learn the harder it gets. There are several distinct plateaux in the learning process: being able to ask your way around is really easy, and then being able to have simple conversations is easy, and then being able to speak and read at an intermediate level is slightly difficult, and you think that this time you are on top of it… and then you reach the stage when you say, ok, now I want to understand everything that I can hear in a modern soap, or read in a newspaper; and it’s like you’re facing a vertical wall. Just the number of chengyu that are used in there is amazing.

  • English-Polish translator

    To learn a language in three months is an achievements itself, to learn Chinese – mission impossible. The courage worth of admiring.