For the last few months, as part of my long-standing YouTube addiction, I've been following the channel “Xiaomnyc” where a white, jewish guy shocks Chinese native speakers by speaking perfect Mandarin
In this post I thought it could be fun to summarise his learning methodology, and share some of the resources that he's been using in his recent Spanish challenge where he attempts to learn Spanish in 30 days.
In just a few days he's already having basic conversations.
So how does he do it? Let's find out.
“There's no reason why you can't do this, except time of course, but if you have the time and motivation there's no reason why you can't find a chinese friend and chat to him for free” -Xiaoma
Arieh Smith who goes by the YouTube screenname “Xiaoma” (based on his Chinese name “Xiaoma”) has seen a great surge of popularity in recent months and now sits on over 2.2 million subscribers at the time of writing this article.
He went super viral around February, but if you notice on the graph he actually already had moderate success on YouTube with 1-5 million monthly views 2 years earlier! (data from SocialBlade.com)
What happens in his videos?
His videos show him primarily interacting with people in perfect Mandarin Chinese and a variety of Chinese dialects, to the amazement of native speakers as he explores the many cultures of his residence; New York City.
He quickly catches the interest of Chinatown locals as you can see in the gif – notice the girl's reaction to hearing his Mandarin Chinese)
Lately he's been creating content on learning Spanish on his channel (another highly common language in the United States.) and his progress has been incredibly fast, which prompted a lot of people to ask him how he learns languages so fast.
How Xiaoma learned Chinese
Ari's Chinese is amazing, you don't need to watch a lot of his videos to see that.
But, how did he go from graduating highschool, speaking just English, to speaking a hard and challenging language as Chinese THIS well?
After graduating highschool he saw a classified ad for a free Chinee class, sponsored by the United States government.
Because he enjoyed it so much he eventually went to China, where he took part in a fully immersive programme (students will get kicked out for speaking English)
After this he reckons he was at a basic conversational level.
He stayed another year in China, which he believes got him to basic fluency and total confidence.
He has been learning Chinese for over a decade now, and continues to shock native speakers around the world with his skills.
How to learn a language in 24 hours
Xiaoma is also fond of doing language-related challenges on his YouTube challenge to push what is possible in language learning.
He's done multiple 24 hour challenges before, but his Korean one is probably the one that stands out the most.
One of his earlier language challenges was to learn Korean in just 24 hours of study.
The results were great, and the video now sits at over 1 million views!
During the final parts of the video he speaks with a few Korean grandmothers on the street, and while it's not effortless or flawless Korean he really does manage to have a basic conversation with them.
He believes anyone can learn a language in 24 hours of study time (not 24 hours in one go, an important distinction.)
The key, according to Xiaoma is focussing on conversations, by memorising typical questions and answers and then adding variations as you go along.
The Spanish Challenge Started
He recently challenged himself to memorise an entire Spanish frequency dictionary (2500 words) in just 5 days.
He didn't quite reach his target, but ended up memorising 1000 words of the Spanish dictionary, which motivated him to start a 30-day challenge to learn Spanish.
As you can see in his video below he made amazing progress in just a few days.
What Xiaomanyc uses to learn Spanish for his 30-day challenge
- Spanish Frequency Dictionary – the top 2500 words Xiaoma used for his “memorise the dictionary”-challenge
- italki – an affordable tutoring platform with thousands of tutors available around the clock.
- Tandem – a language exchange platform, where two learners match up based on their native and target languages.
- Spanish Uncovered – a premium self-study course based on stories by 8-language polyglot Olly Richards. Pricy, but comprehensive.
- VR-CHAT – “VR-Chat lets you publish, create, and explore virtual worlds” – for speaking practice.
- Bazoocam (a bit left-field, as this is the Spanish version of Chatroulette, so be warned of potential NSFW content!)
Summary: How Xiaoma Learns Languages
1. Learn basic conversational phrases (minimum needed to actually talk to somebody)
This is essential because when you learn patterns like “I am American” you can use the same pattern to say what your job is like “I am software engineer“
2. Keep practicing by speaking to people as much as possible.
As evidenced in his videos Xiaoma loves to get out and practice his languages with native speakers, and when he can't get out on the street he uses online services as previously mentioned.
3. Take a lot of 1-on-1 classes online (he prefers italki, which I also recommend)
1-on-1 lessons really speed up your language learning, and don't have to be particularly expensive. This is a big tip for any aspiring polyglots out there.
5. Spend a lot of time on it.
Something that is sometimes glossed over, but Ari really obsesses over his language challenges, and when questioned about his rapid progress in Spanish he explained that he spent almost every waking moment on the learning.
So, there you have it. The ways YouTuber Xiaoma learns languages, and really how anyone can do it too.
Interview with Language Mastery, Published January 21, 2020.
Kris is the founder of Actual Fluency, and has spent the last 8 years becoming an expert in language learning software, methods, and techniques.
Originally from Denmark, he now lives in Portugal and speaks 5+ languages at varying levels. His other interests are Wine, Online Marketing, and Travelling.