Mandarin Blueprint Review: Expensive, but worth it

Updated: June 24, 2022
Fact-Check & Editorial Responsibility: Kris Broholm

Join us as we dive into the nitty-gritty of Mandarin Blueprint. We’ll be taking a look at some of its unique features, layout, and pricing, and give you all of the information you need to decide whether it’s the platform for you.

Our Verdict

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You will struggle to find a more thorough programme specializing in Mandarin. Made by foreigners for foreigners, this program is designed to maximise your learning in the most efficient manner possible. The lack of progress tracking and the steep price tag are the only things keeping it from a perfect score.

TL;DR Mandarin Blueprint Review

For when you don't have time to read the whole review, here are some quick pros and cons of Mandarin Blueprint: 

Pros

  • Incredibly thorough
  • Motivational coach to help get you through the learning slumps
  • A wealth of reference and supplementary materials

Cons

  • No way to measure your progress
  • Very high price tag
  • Does not have its own mobile app

What is Mandarin Blueprint?

Founded by Phil Crimmins and Luke Neal, Mandarin Blueprint is a fully-fleshed video Mandarin course. These two Westerners put their heads together to come up with a radically different method of teaching Mandarin. Together, they developed the Mandarin Blueprint method: recreating how children learn languages to make gaining fluency as easy as possible. 

The stars of the programme are the OCLO, or the Optimized Character Learning Order, and the “Hanzi Movie Method.” OCLO is their patent-pending sequence, which aims to teach you characters in the most efficient manner. The “Hanzi Movie” method claims to teach you how to read, write, and pronounce any Chinese character in under a minute. 

Mandarin Blueprint claims you’ll be literate in the 1000 most common characters in just two months. That’s about 80% of what you’ll see in China on a day-to-day basis. From there, you’ll be well on your way to fluency. 

But those are bold claims; let’s take a look at whether the programme actually delivers on them. 

What can you do on Mandarin Blueprint?

The Mandarin Blueprint course is broken down into six phases:

  • pronunciation,
  • character,
  • vocabulary,
  • sentence,
  • paragraph,
  • and story.

Each of these phases builds upon the previous phase; the goal here is to get you reading and speaking things that you can actually understand. There’s way more content than we can cover in a single review, so we’ll just go over the highlights of the programme.

Pronunciation Mastery

This course teaches you how to recognise and recreate every sound made in Mandarin. It's made up of ten units that you can complete in about six hours. Incredibly, Pronunciation Mastery is the shortest course in the programme. 

Each lesson consists of two- to three-minute videos which break down each individual sound and how those sounds form syllables. The explanations are incredibly thorough; they even explain where you should position your tongue!

In addition to the video, most lessons also have supplementary PDF files with further explanations on them. They provide these extra materials to appeal to all different learners, including those who learn better by reading. They’re also great to refer back to even if you’re not actively doing lessons and just want the practice.

This is also the only course that features quizzes. These quizzes are very short—only two to three questions—and do not stop you from moving on to the next lesson. In all of Mandarin Blueprint, this is the only measure of your progress you’ll see. The rest is up to you to track.

The Hanzi Movie Method

This phase teaches you how syllables are composed into characters using what is called the Hanzi Movie Method. This method utilises four basic memory techniques to make recalling characters quick and easy:

  1. Core object recognition 
  2. 3D spatial imaging 
  3. Facial recognition 
  4. Actions and interaction 

So what does any of this have to do with movies, you may ask? Well, the Hanzi Movie Method assigns each individual component of a character a feature used in movie making. 

Each individual aspect of a character gets assigned something to use in making a mini scene in your head. So how does this system work? 

Let’s take the character (shí, “ten”) for example:

  • The pinyin initial for this character is “sh-”, so we would assign it a person; say, Sean Connery.
  • The final is a vowel, as many Mandarin words have, so let’s make the set somewhere familiar; say, your childhood home.
  • The character is in second tone, so it would be represented by the kitchen (all five tones are represented by a different room in the house).
  • It has two components:(gǔn, “stick”) and (yī, “one”). We’d assign these two components each a prop; maybe a staff forand a razor blade for .

Once you have all of these things together, you would make a scene out of it which associates with the meaning of that character.

Sean Connery stands in the kitchen of your childhood home with a staff and a razor blade. What does that have to do with the number “ten”? You could have Sean Connery stick the razor blade into the staff and then knock down, say, ten bowling pins. 

Sounds a bit like mental gymnastics, doesn’t it? And this is the example they give! It’s a similar technique to what memory athletes use, though, and it gets easier with practice. It’s also the core method used by the programme, so they go over it frequently. Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t get the hang of it straight away. 

This method relies heavily on mental visualization, so people who suffer from aphantasia may find it doesn’t work for them. 

Mandarin Blueprint’s Pinyin Chart

Mandarin Blueprint utilises a different system of pinyin than that taught by standard Mandarin courses. This is in order to maximise the effectiveness of the Hanzi Movie Method. As humans tend to have an easier time remembering faces rather than places, Mandarin Blueprint reorganised their pinyin chart accordingly. 

Instead of the standard 36 finals and 21 initials, Mandarin Blueprint’s pinyin system uses 13 finals and 55 initials. The initials are divided up into four “actor” categories to help you recall them faster: men, women, fictional people, and gods or world leaders. The finals, then, would leave you with a more manageable 13 different “sets” to work with. 

What does Mandarin Blueprint look like?

All of the lessons follow the same basic structure: the video and lesson playlist at the top, the lesson details in the description at the bottom left, and the reference and resource materials at the bottom right. 

At the top of the lesson are breadcrumb links to help with navigation. You can also access the course library at the top of the screen (not pictured). The search function allows you to search any Chinese character once you learn the pinyin system to type it.

Mandarin Blueprint boasts an extensive community, both on their forums and in the comments beneath each lesson. These are excellent resources for troubleshooting, asking questions, or just interacting with other Mandarin learners.

The programme is available for people who prefer mobile apps…but it is not a dedicated Mandarin Blueprint app. Instead, the lessons are available as library content on a third-party app called Kajabi.  

Who is Mandarin Blueprint best for?

Created by foreigners for foreigners, Mandarin Blueprint works for just about anyone who wants to learn to speak Mandarin. Currently, the programme offers courses up to the intermediate level and guarantees a pass of the Chinese Proficiency Exam (HSK) Level 4 exam. 

This may not work as well for advanced learners hoping to pass the HSK Level 5 or 6 exams yet. But fear not; the creators are continuing to develop new content for their learners. 

What languages does Mandarin Blueprint offer?

As the name implies, Mandarin Blueprint offers just one language: Mandarin Chinese. It was created by two non-native Mandarin speakers to help other foreigners learn the language more efficiently. 

Its focus on a single language shows in the quality of the content. They do one language and they do it well. This makes it a better resource for Mandarin learners than other programmes that offer multiple languages.

How much does Mandarin Blueprint cost?

If you prefer subscription-based programmes, you’ll be disappointed to learn that’s not an option for Mandarin Blueprint. Lifetime access is the only option that Mandarin Blueprint offers, though they do have a variety of bundle options. 

Full Bundle

The Full Bundle will run you a whopping $1224, though at the time of writing it is on sale for $449.25. This is the only bundle that allows you to pay in instalments, too; you can choose two, three, six, or twelve monthly payments. 

Foundation Bundle

The other bundle on offer is the Foundation Bundle, which includes everything but the Intermediate course for $336.75 (normally $825). They also offer each of the six phases for purchase individually. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, though, you’re better off getting a bundle. 

Free Trial

Understandably, that’s a lot of money to put down on something if you aren’t certain it will work for you. That’s why they offer a 30-day free trial, no credit card required. 

The trial will give you access to their pronunciation mastery course (the Pre-phase mentioned above) and the Phase 1 Characters and Components course. It is not a small amount of content they give you to try, so you have nothing to lose!

What are the pros and cons of Mandarin Blueprint?

Pros

  • Incredibly thorough
  • Motivational coach to help get you through the slumps
  • A wealth of reference and supplementary materials

Cons

  • No way to measure your progress
  • Staggering price tag
  • Does not have its own mobile app

Are there any Mandarin Blueprint alternatives?

Mandarin Blueprint vs. Anki

Rather than an alternative, Anki is an essential tool needed to utilise Mandarin Blueprint to the fullest extent. In fact, you could say it’s required. 

At the end of Phase 1 Unit 1, Mandarin Blueprint goes into detail about the Anki decks they’ve created and how to help you set up Anki for yourself. From that point onward, Mandarin Blueprint utilises these digital flashcards to help you drill your character knowledge. It certainly is a match made in heaven!

Mandarin Blueprint vs. LingoDeer

If you prefer a method that tracks your progress, you may prefer LingoDeer instead. It offers a similar focus on East Asian Languages, Mandarin included, and similarly provides in-depth explanations of its content. The LingoDeer+ mobile app offers still another alternative for those who prefer the gamification approach, too. LingoDeer is significantly cheaper than Mandarin Blueprint too.

Check out our full review of LingoDeer for a better idea of how that program works.

Our final thoughts on Mandarin Blueprint 

Mandarin Blueprint aims to teach its clients the same way they acquired their first language. This way, they claim, is the easiest and most efficient method of learning. Do they accomplish this? We think they do.

The lessons are incredibly thorough and tailor-made for Western learners. They provide a wealth of supplementary material and a bustling community to share the learning journey with.

If we had to say something negative, it's that the price makes the program somewhat inaccessible. However, the quality and quantity of the content you get justifies the price tag in our opinion. The lack of a way to really measure your progress is also a bit disappointing.

Other than that, we would highly recommend giving Mandarin Blueprint a look if you're serious about learning Mandarin.

Kris Broholm

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.