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.
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- The unfortunate influence of outdated Latin study methods (i.e. grammar-translation) on modern language learning.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
- iTalki: Choose from over 10,000 teachers for 1-on-1 lessons based on your goals and interests
- Ari’s 24-hour Korean learning challenge (YouTube)
- STARTALK federal grant program (National Security Agency)
- Hunter College
- Fuzhou dialect (Wikipedia)
- Tim Ferriss’ Deconstruction Dozen: How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour
- Linguistic register (Wikipedia)
- Anki (spaced repetition flashcard app)
- ablo: Make friends all over the world
- HelloTalk: Learn a language by chatting with native speakers around the world. For free!
- Post: Directly Practice the Language Skills You Want to Improve
- All Japanese All the Time
- Post: Define Your “Why” for Learning a Language
Connect with Ari
- YouTube (Chinese-Specific): Xiaomanyc (小马在纽约)
- YouTube (Language Learning): ariinbeijin
- Facebook: @xiaomanyc
- Instagram: @xiaomanyc