This New Language Learning Initiative Aims to Replicate the Experience of Total Chinese Immersion Outside Chinese Speaking Countries (Podcast)

On today’s podcast I explore the topic of immersion with the founders of a groundbreaking new language learning initiative.

It’s called Mandarin Retreat and it’s organisers Karl, Ryan and Esther (who are also regulars on the podcast) aim to enable Mandarin learners of all levels in the UK to replicate the experience of living in a totally Chinese speaking environment for an entire weekend.

The immersive weekend trips take place in Scarborough in the north of England. Small groups of native Chinese speakers and Mandarin learners are brought together to enjoy a weekend of walks, eating and fun activities all 100% in Chinese.

Mandarin Retreat are partnering with the space repetition website to host a raffle giving UK based Chinese learners the chance to win a free place on a weekend trip.

For full details and to enter the raffle visit the link in the description: Raffle - Mandarin Retreat

Listen to the full podcast here: Mandarin Retreat: This New Language Learning Initiative Aims to Replicate the Experience of Total Chinese Immersion in the UK (Podcast) – I'm Learning Mandarin


Please check this out if you live in the UK and are learning Chinese! In my experience it is really rare to find immersion opportunities that:

  • Don’t involve having to travel abroad
  • Are suitable for all levels, even beginners
    I think immersion within a group setting is incredibly powerful when it comes to boosting your skills. There is something about the social nature of the interactions that makes any learnings ‘stick’ a lot more effectively than if they had come from listening to a podcast or reading a book.
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I’ve been on two of these retreats already and the boost to my Chinese from them was incredible. The fact that you’re exclusively speaking Chinese for several days in a row means that so many new words get reinforced.
I also find that I learn much faster when speaking in real life situations with native speakers compared to reading and watching TV shows.
There are no other events like this in the UK at the moment, so the raffle is a really good opportunity to get involved.

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I was gonna comment on your medical student/Will hart podcast from 3 months ago but didn’t want to suddenly bring that one back to life. Anyway since this retreat relates to a topic in the video I’ll air out what I wanted to mention.

As a guy encountering many 2nd language learners every day, the top people who get to that “WOAH, YOU’RE GOOD” level have done A LOT of one of these 3 things activities

  1. Made Friends with Native Speakers (and spoke with them a LOT). That appeared to be Will Hart’s strongest influence and I wish there had been more questions digging into those interactions as it was clear by his comments about Anki, shadowing, media watching that those were just side tools, but clearly the friends are what got him to his high level. Oddly, I don’t find people who only speak in their target language in their work/career at a “WOAH” level except for maybe religious missionary work (a la Mormons ) or people who make tons of YouTube videos targeted toward a foreign country they live in or for some reason want to teach their language to specifically. The “Make Friends” method comes out to be the most impressive and has very “fast” results but it’s not surprising as their language study is solely focused on the limited scope of accomplishing one task, socializing. Foreign exchange students or kids moving to new countries of countries naturally have this happen but I’ve come across only a few people who have really rapidly excelled by sticking with socializing as their method, especially if they are living in a country where their target language isn’t spoken. But with that said I have met some, and these types really really struggle with reading and writing sometimes as soon as they get outside the scope of standard socializing contexts, and sometimes to an alarming degree. Example: I had a Chinese student living in NYC, who lived in NYC for a year with only American girls before she started university, and she sounded native with only an odd mistake here or there. But when it came time to analyze her college essays, wow, it was an incredibly different story. Really REALLY obviously a non-native speaker and her ability to read out loud was also very poor. I didn’t understand how she was able to get through semesters without failing all the written tasks.

  2. Read a lot, daily, for years and years. These people always have accents because they aren’t using much listening material, but their range of vocabulary is phenomenal. They tend to be introverts though so their confidence is very low despite the fact some I’ve met could easily be professors in a university because they are so well-read and articulate their thoughts so well and can go very deep. Generally they have been reading lots of books, but I did meet one who only read Reddit/forums/comments. Despite his accent his social/slang vernacular was crazy good.

  3. Listened/Watched to a lot of movies/tv series/podcasts/youtube. These ones also lack some confidence because they are mostly alone in their activity but I’m always the most shocked with this bunch’s ability since the sound of the process seems like they just magically became good at their pronunciation/accent without anyone ever correcting them directly. I suppose this is more of the AJATT approach, minus the Anki. Every once in a while I meet people who non-stop watch/listen to American media for years and years so they were doing A(English)ATT. There is something slightly different/less “WOAH” about these types compared to the people with native friends/did foreign language exchange program for 1-2 years, but I’m most impressed by this group because it seems the most “effortless”. But the reality is, they are putting in a lot of time, but typically it’s just they decided they were more interested in media in their target language. None have ever told me they made huge efforts in mastering pronunciation, none ever heard of shadowing, none ever did Anki, many had never spoken English to a native speaker, many had never even used English on a trip abroad. Hence why it shocks me/impresses me the most.

SO that’s it. I don’t think I’ve ever met a “WOAH, YOU’RE GOOD” person who ONLY used anki, or ONLY went to language classes, or ONLY used Duolingo/Bite sized language lessons. Those are the only 3 methods which I have come across that, with those methods alone, along with enough time and effort can produce “WOAH, YOU’RE GOOD” results. Language Immersion programs can forcefully replicate the friend method which is cool. Too bad they are typically a big financial investment though or generally aren’t possible for adults for other reasons related to work and not being allowed to go to primary/secondary school again lol.


Interesting points.