Reality Check: Can You Really Master Mandarin in 6 Months?

In my latest blogpost I take on clickbait titles that claim you can “master” Chinese in just 6 months & outline a more realistic time-frame. So how long does it really take to master Mandarin? Find out here and let me know your thoughts Reality Check: Can You Actually Master Mandarin in Six Months? – I'm Learning Mandarin


Nobody can master anything in 6 months.
Dictionary entry for to master (verb)- acquire complete knowledge or skill in (an accomplishment, technique, or art).
So unless somebody has adapted some weird connotational understanding of the word that differs greatly from what the dictionary says, and is using that in place of the denotative meaning of the word, Then the answer is no.


I remember when our good friend Benny the Irish Polyglot was on here and made the same claim.


yeah and he ignored reading chinese as well hahaha.

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Some things I should point out, but I’ll elaborate more on later when I have more time:

  1. You shouldn’t judge a YouTube video on the title alone; unfortunately, in the age of social media influencers, clickbait titles are here to stay.

  2. I’ll admit at first glance, I thought this was another social media influencer/TikTok’r trying to get more views, but she seems to have a modest channel of 10,000 subscribers.

  3. She seems to be pretty transparent about not being an expert but just pointing out anecdotes, which is refreshing, compared to say xiaomanyc. That being said, she does say she started out as “practically a beginner” to 97% in the HSK exam. What does practically a beginner mean? Did she have experience before? This can range from doing it on DuoLingo to growing up with it but not actively using it. If so, then yes, 6 months is BS. Most people would just say “from zero”.

  4. How much weight can we put on proficiency tests? The proof seems to be in the pudding; she passed the test with flying colors. I know in the LingQ community, we don’t put a lot of emphasis on tests, but it is SOME metric. Proficiency tests is how we pay our linguists in the military; pass the Defense Language Proficiency Test in reading, listening, and speaking, you’ll get paid. Jobs such as Green Berets and Cryptologic Linguists use test scores as a metric/indicator of how well you might perform your job, because you are going to work with those native peoples.

I don’t have much stake in the game, because I’ve dabbled in languages over the years. I’m like Steve; I don’t put a lot of emphasis on intensive high focused study, but just enjoy the process (I’m judging this at least by his past videos back in 2014, so if got it all wrong, my bad).

Either way, good for her.


I agree, good for her.

I also agree she offers some good tips on how to replicate her success. But lets also be clear about what that is. When you say that she started out as “practically a beginner”…I would argue this accurately describes the level she claims to have reached in the video.

I don’t want to minimise the work that goes into reaching HSK4, which is a significant achievement. But let’s be clear. At HSK4, Peppa Pig would likely remain a challenge to comprehend. This is not the impression given in the video, either by the misleading title or in the content.

A final point, you say “I’m like Steve; I don’t put a lot of emphasis on intensive high focused study…” But read up on how Steve learned Chinese. Though this may not be the impression given by his more recent advice videos, Steve learned to speak his best languages - especially Mandarin - in an extremely intensive and focussed manner.

No chance.
Although it’s not Mandarin Chinese, I have recently spent almost a year from scratch on Russian which according to the FSI is easier than Mandarin. (Mandarin is level 5 and Russian is level 4).
I put a ton of effort in and I think I am at best midway between B1 and B2 in listening comprehension ONLY. I can speak like a slow five year old (and maybe not even) and I am barely literate. I can’t write it at all. I got to maybe high A2 low B1 after six months.

So… can you get to reasonable listening comprehension in Mandarin Chinese in six months?

I’m going to talk out my ass here so feel free to flame me ;->

I suspect that listening comprehension Mandarin is NOT significantly more difficult than that of Russian so I believe it will be likely that you could with a ton of effort get to at least A2 in six months (listening only). I’m talking at least 500 hours of listening plus a ton of memorization. So if we’re dumbing down the definition of “mastery” to just being able to understand elementary schoolers sure it can be done.

But “mastery” meaning read, write, speak, comprehend at a high-schooler level?
Seriously, seriously doubt it.

My gut is also that reading is substantially more difficult than listening so no way no how could you get even to A2 in reading in six months.

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Thanks, for your article you raised many important points.
We really need to get away from measuring the time to reach a certain level in a language in years, months, or days, those are just meaningless, measuring focused study time in hours seems like a far more sensible unit. Of course comparing across different learners, approaches etc. remains difficult.

As for a potential target number of hours, how about 10.000?
After spending that many hours studying, I would expect a learner to reach a pretty decent level, of course no mastery. I certainly don’t mean to present this as some kind of scientific standard, rather as a reality check. This number might help to manage expectations and put many intermediate learners’ anxieties into context. So whenever I feel frustrated that I still can’t understand a podcast, I just compare my own number of listening hours (836 on LingQ) to 10k and feel… less bad. To say it with Steve Kaufmann: learning a language is a long road.

(Some inspiration: 10,000 Hours: Building Listening Comprehension | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time
And: Login - LingQ)


I have to disagree, in my opinion learning to understand the spoken language is an extremely challenging task in Chinese. And, in fact harder than reading material at the same level, for example reading the transcript of a podcast is significantly easier that listing to it. That’s just my experience, maybe Michilini, or another advanced learner of Chinese want to weigh in here.

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While the science claims that “mastery” is defined as 10,000 hours of practice, it’ll take way less than that to achieve fluency. The FSI puts it at 2,200 classroom hours for some perspective.