Learn Chinese for $50?

Jakub studied at Domino for 8 months year, spent 54 USD and speaks Chinese today.

Please watch this video before you read any further.

So you just saw what level of Chinese Jakub was able to achieve after studying Chinese on his own with Domino Chinese for 8 months.

Here’s a Q&A with Jakub about his experience that any future success story will probably find helpful.

You see, the problem with Chinese is that it’s a lot of content. You will have to spend months chewing through the course you choose. So you better take something that’s somewhat entertaining. I found Domino Chinese on Udemy, but didn’t book it there, but went straight to the website. I really liked that they offered a full course of Chinese, as in “just do this one course and you’ll be pretty high-level”. So I just told myself that I’ll just push through this one course and then I will be done with formal learning, and I will just continue deepening my vocab in whatever particular area interests me (in my case stuff like technology and international news). I really liked that the course is in video format, which is the easiest to consume especially during those days when you are not motivated. Reading a book about a topic is usually better/more intellectual for your brain, than just watching a documentary about the same topic. So normally, choosing video format over text format is like eating fast food instead of real food. But in the case of Chinese, where you have a huge amount of information to consume, it’s much better to choose the easiest way of consumption, which is video.

After starting with Domino, I checked out a couple other courses and they were bad because either they were completely static and non-entertaining, or they taught you the character for 谢谢 (thanks) in the first lessons, which is insanity.

Felix teaches you to understand the composition of characters, i.e. which parts (radicals) they consist of, and he starts with very very simple characters, even if they aren’t the most used characters. For example, right in the beginning he teaches you 人 (person), and then 口 (mouth or opening), which are very simple characters, and he even teaches you 人口 (population) which is obviously not something you would use as a beginner anywhere in the conversation but is a very good way to get a grasp on how the language works.

Another very good aspect of Domino Chinese is that many videos are shot in China, talking to natives, or showing some signs with the character we are about to learn. This is perfect because learning a language is about getting experience with the language. Going to the country where the language you learning is spoken is a very effective way to learn the language precisely because it’s the easiest way to gather lots of experience with the language, usually with very strong context cues. For example, when travelling in the mountains in China, you will see 小心 (be careful) on some warning signs. This gives your brain a strong context, and you will be much more likely to remember this expression than if you just learned it from a list of vocabulary. Domino Chinese simulates these experiences from the comfort of your computer at home, because the content is in video form, and shot in China. So Domino Chinese is as close to a real-life language learning trip to China as possible through a computer.

6 hours every day for 6 months.

I took a one month “break” around September (weeks -24 to -20 in the Anki chart) where I just repeated the vocab in Anki, but didn’t learn any new words or took speaking classes.

I didn’t really want to give up, as I knew I would be going to China soon, it was just that I didn’t feel that motivated to learn Chinese and I was busy with other things during that time.

As you can see around week -18 to -14, I was cramming quite a lot to finish the course as quickly as possible. I just wanted to get done with the “formal” Chinese learning, so that I could go out more and chat with the locals.

I usually started the day with watching the videos and adding new vocab. This took around 30min-1h. In the afternoon, I would review words in Anki. In the evening, before going to bed, I would learn new words in Anki. Reviewing and learning new words in Anki took around 1-2h, depending on my mental energy. Some time during the day I would do the 1h class where I would just chat with a Chinese girl using italki. We would have a very relaxed conversation. I was a good client (one lesson per day, mind you!) so she was very flexible with the hours, basically I could just tell her in the morning at what time I wanted to do the lesson today and she would be fine with it. She was teacher number 3 or 4. The first teachers I tried in the very beginning, when I didn’t really know much vocab, so it was difficult to communicate with them. Also, it wasn’t really “fun”. She, however, was very “fun”. We just clicked, as in we just had a relaxed chit-chat, we joked around a lot, made a lot of fun of each other. If this would work for you really depends on your personality, maybe other people prefer a more formal setting. But I wanted the exact opposite of formal.

I usually learned every day, also on weekends, but take one day off per week on average. Not a fixed day, just whenever I felt like not learning anything new today. “Day off” meant just no new words and no speaking on italki, I still did the Anki review religiously, every day, no exception. I literally had a 100% review rate, I would never go to sleep before finishing the reviews, even if that meant starting at 4am and finishing at 5:30am. You probably don’t need a 100% rate in terms of your brain (as in, your brain would be OK if you learned the words that were due today, tomorrow). But I thought that once you start skipping reviews, the door is open and you will skip more and more. So I was very determined about this and I never skipped any review in those 8 months.

Also, I changed my phone and my computer language to Chinese.

As I went to China after doing three quarters of the Domino Chinese course, my results now are a bit skewed, since during the last quarter of the course, I was also learning the language by being there and interacting with locals. So I better say what I was able to do after finishing 3/4th of the course, the day I came to China. I was able to read quite a lot of signs and communicate with people about basic things. I signed up for a university language course and I was put in the group that had already done 1 year of full-time comprehensive study. So basically by doing Domino Chinese part-time for half a year, I was as good as people taking a university course, in China, full-time, for a whole year.

(This is about the moment when I came to China after doing 3/4ths of the course in 6 months, by now I’ve gotten better). There were still a lot of characters I did not know. If Chinese people talked about unfamiliar topics to each other, it’s hard to follow. I didn’t really understand television (news) and usually only the general idea of written news articles. I could operate my phone and computer but mostly because I already knew what all the buttons did.

I did not since I do not need it for university or a job, I’m just learning for myself. I will probably do an HSK before I leave China just to have something formal in my hands anything else?

I was worried a bit at first because Felix uses mostly English in the beginning, but it turned out fine. He starts using more and more Chinese at around lesson 6 (out of 20) and then it's almost only Chinese (except translating single words) after lesson 10, so don’t worry about it.

Also don’t worry about Felix being a foreigner. I actually found this to be a huge advantage, if you’re from a Western country (I’m from Germany). Felix will know where the challenges are in learning Chinese since he has done it himself as well. Also, his English is perfect and accent free, and his humour/mentality/style of thinking and talking and building (English) sentences is Western, so you will 100% understand whatever he is trying to convey. I think this is an advantage compared to listening to somebody who grew up in China and perhaps doesn’t speak English too well. The content is challenging enough, so the way of conveying the content should be as easy-going as possible. Felix is accompanied by various native Chinese speakers throughout the course, so you’ll get enough exposure to real Chinese people!

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