Arieh Smith, a.k.a. Xiaomanyc (Xiǎomǎ, 小马), is a popular YouTuber who loves practicing Mandarin on the streets of New York and surprising unsuspecting native speakers. From 24-hour crash courses in new languages like Korean, to learning additional Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Fuzhounese (which are really mutually unintelligible languages), his viral linguistic exploits have entertained and inspired millions of learners around the world. In our conversation, he shares why and how he learned Mandarin Chinese, tips for mastering Chinese characters and tones, and strategies for going from zero to basic conversations in a matter of days no matter where in the world you live.


Topics Discussed

In the interview, we discuss:

  • Ari’s language learning “origin story” and how he first got into Chinese language and culture.
  • The pros and cons of classroom- and textbook-based learning.
  • The difference between learning in a language and learning about a language.
  • The unfortunate influence of outdated Latin study methods (i.e. grammar-translation) on modern language learning.
  • How to reach conversational fluency in a language anywhere in the world.
  • Why “dialects” are more of a political than linguistic matter in China.
  • Ari’s 24-hour challenges in Korean and Fuzhounese.
  • Why you should learn vocabulary and grammar in context.
  • How Ari recommends learning Chinese characters and tones.
  • The importance of imitating native speakers closely (but modeling someone with the same register, gender, etc.).
  • Why where you live is no longer an obstacle to learning any language.
  • Why online resources are great but why they’re no replacement for speaking with real humans.
  • The dangers of “paralysis analysis” when choosing tools, resources, and methods.
  • Why you should never compare your “beginning” or “middle” with someone else’s “end.”
  • How Ari stays motivated to keep learning.
  • The importance of having a strong why for learning a language.
  • A typical day of language learning for Ari.
  • Why you need to practice target skills (e.g. speaking) directly.
  • Why you can’t learn a language in a cave.
  • The importance of extensive listening input (but why listening alone is not enough.

Concepts, People, Places & Resources Mentioned

Connect with Ari


Learn Chinese anywhere

In months, not years

(And without the hassle of moving to China, enduring expensive classes, or slogging through boring textbooks.)

Want more recommended tools and resources for learning Mandarin Chinese anywhere in the world? Want to spend your time actually acquiring Chinese instead of wasting precious time searching for materials? Check out my detailed language learning guide, Master Mandarin: How to Learn Mandarin Chinese Anywhere in the WorldThe book shows you:

  • How to acquire Mandarin Chinese anywhere in the world.
  • How to learn by doing instead of studying.
  • How to optimize your memory to make Chinese words, characters, and structures stick.
  • How to overcome your fears, build discipline, and stay motivated.
  • How to choose resources that fit your unique interests, goals, and learning style.

You get the book in 3 formats (PDF, EPUB, and Kindle formats), 7 worksheets and cheat sheets, and free lifetime updates.

Pin It on Pinterest