Learning good pronunciation in Mandarin is incredibly important. It’s difficult to figure out on your own and overlooked or glossed over by nearly every Chinese learning resource. The Mimic Method – Flow of Mandarin is one course that focuses 100% on learning Chinese pronunciation. It uses music, specifically Chinese rap, to help you improve your pronunciation.
Before trying out The Flow of Mandarin, I’d already used several other resources to help me learn Chinese pronunciation. The “Say it Right Series” on Chinesepod (read my review), WaiChinese (read my review) and the Chinese Pronunciation Wiki have all been helpful. With The Flow of Mandarin, I had some “aha” moments were I realised I’d been pronouncing things incorrectly.
Unfortunately, it’s not particularly cheap. In this review, I’ll help you decide if it’s worth the investment.
First, this is a pronunciation course and it’s important to know that going in. You won’t learn any grammar or even any new words. You’ll practice pronunciation by doing a lot of mimicking. A lot of the time you’ll have no idea what the words you’re mimicking actually mean.
This bulk of this course is divided into three sections: Sound System Primer, Phonetic Training, and Song Lessons.
Sound System Primer
In this section, you will learn how to make every sound found in Mandarin Chinese. It’s split into syllable finals and syllable initials.
Each sound has a short written description of how to say it. I’ve found that this can sometimes be great and help me realize exactly what I need to do but other times it left me confused.
An example of when it wasn’t helpful for me would be the nv/lv description.
Honestly, that really doesn’t help me at all. When I learned this with the Say it Right Series on Chinesepod – it was explained in a much more logical way – “prepare round lips and add tension, move your lips forward more, prepare your muscles first and don’t move once you start speaking.”
Other times the description was very clear to me and led to me having a realization I hadn’t had before. The description for the “y” sound gave me an aha moment.
There’s a Soundcloud file for each sound where you’ll hear it being pronounced with different finals or initials. Afterward, you’ll record yourself saying all of the sounds in a Soundcloud file and email the link to a teacher. They’ll listen to the file and leave a comment within a day or two letting you know any errors you made. If there were mistakes, you’ll record yourself again and re-submit it. I found the comments to be helpful and helped me notice a couple mistakes I hadn’t realized I was making.
Overall, this part of the lesson was helpful but felt a bit incomplete. For a pronunciation course, I don’t think I should find myself needing to look for more complete descriptions elsewhere.
This is the shortest section and will prepare you for the song lessons later. It almost feels like a music class instead of a Mandarin pronunciation class. First, you use an English song “Bad Boys” as your guiding example. You’ll listen to each syllable separately and repeat it. It’s written with phonetic notation, which honestly, I don’t understand and is never really explained. Sure, I could easily spend some time searching google and figure it out for myself but I’m lazy.
Next, we’ll move to the rhythm training. Here, every syllable is replaced with either “da” or “di” depending on whether or not it’s stressed. You’ll listen to some audio clips and practice chanting it yourself. This will help you learn the rhythm of the song so that you can rap along to it later. Like I said, it feels a bit more like a music lesson than a Chinese lesson.
After this, you’ll combine the lyrics you learned to the rhythm and finally, you’ll memorize it. This phonetic training section is quite easy because you’re still working with the English song as an example. As you begin the song lessons later, this will become much more challenging.
The song lessons are what makes the Mimic Method – Flow of Mandarin rather unique. Here you’ll use Chinese rap songs to practice your pronunciation. As a huge rap fan, I was pretty excited about this part. I imagined myself at KTV rapping along in perfect Chinese.
Unfortunately for my dreams of being a KTV rap star, you won’t learn all the lyrics to a song. For the first two songs, you only learn four lines. The last song is more complete but you’ll still only learn 16 lines from it.
Taxi and BJ2NY
The first two songs aren’t tonally consistent. Because of the melody of the song, it doesn’t sound like speech in real life. For that reason, you sort of just ignore tones for now. I say sort of because you’re still mimicking the speaker so you don’t ignore them completely, just that tones will play a bigger role after these two warm-up songs.
Here you’ll do everything you did in the Phonetic Training section but use these two songs instead of the English practice song. Afterward, you’ll submit your recordings and get feedback.
You probably won’t understand what you’re saying. That’s fine. It’s not the purpose of this course to learn Chinese words but to get better at mimicking speech with correct pronunciation.
It feels kind of weird to look at tones for the first time this late in a course but it actually makes sense in relation to the other material. I like how the tones are explained using example sounds and not actually saying – “this is a first tone, it’s high and flat.” More so than other places, I’ve found the emphasis to be on how tones relate to each other and not looking at them so much in isolation.
He mentions that it’ll be difficult for new students to learn to hear the difference in the tones and that it may take some time. But, that’s it really. I think it would be helpful to either create or link out to some tone-pair listening drills such as this one at wordswing or this one from sinosplice.
There are lots of Soundcloud examples that you’re meant to listen to and mimic. Similar to the rhythm training (da-di-da) but now you’ll hear “ma” said with different tones. You’re never explicitly told which tone it is though. That’s sort of the point. It moves learning tones from a logical/academic process to a physical process. You’ll submit recordings of yourself mimicking the speaker and get feedback.
The third song is where it all ties together. This is the tonal infusion unit. In this song, the rapping resembles real-life speech. It hasn’t been changed at all for the purpose of the song’s melody. You’ll memorize 16 lines of this song.
The structure is the same as for the previous songs but there’s one additional part – adding in the tones. Here, every syllable has been replaced with “ma” reflecting the tone of the actual lyrics.
You’re never told which tone it is. At first, I found this to be kind of annoying as I felt like it’d be easier if I just knew the tone. But actually, I agree with the reasons. When you’re trying to remember the tone or figure out which tone it is – you get distracted from trying to mimic the speaker exactly as he sounds. And actually, being in my head too much and thinking about which tone I’m about to say has been a major challenge for me. This was a good, albeit frustrating, way to force myself out of that habit.
After you put the rhythm, syllables, and tones all together, you’ll memorize the line and submit it for feedback.
The last unit of the lesson moves away from songs and to raw mimicking of speech.
You’ll have three short clips to listen to. It says they’re a minute each but really they’re between 10 and 16 seconds. You’ll listen to these clips and then transcribe the pinyin that you hear. Afterward, you’ll check your answers.
Next, these clips will be broken down into two shorter clips. You’ll then listen to them, record yourself mimicking the speech and submit it for correction.
I’m glad that there were some non-song lessons included here but it was too short.
Final Mimicry Exam
Again, this just felt too short to me. It’s a 37-second audio clip with a lot of it being spaces. You’ll listen to three people speaking short sentences. You’ll then record yourself mimicking it and submit it for correction.
My Final Thoughts on Mimic Method – Flow of Mandarin
I have mixed feelings about this course. It feels incomplete and lacking in content in some areas. It’s not cheap either, for $147 I expected it to be a bit better. There were a few times when I needed to look at other resources to figure out the pronunciation of something. I feel like for an expensive pronunciation course, I shouldn’t have to do that at all.
I’m still not sure how beneficial it was to use music compared to just mimicking regular speech. It definitely makes it more fun but as far as being the most efficient way to learn – I’m not really sure.
Getting constant feedback was really helpful to me. I also picked up a lot of nuances that I hadn’t learned before during the Sound System Primer section.
I did learn quite a bit about Mandarin pronunciation. Even though I’d already used a lot of other resources to improve my pronunciation, I still picked up some mistakes I was making. If I were a complete beginner, the benefits to using The Flow of Mandarin would be much greater. As someone at the intermediate level, I didn’t feel like I got enough out of it to justify the high cost.
You could probably get similar results much cheaper using pinyin charts, the pronunciation wiki and a tutor from somewhere like italki. You’ll have to be certain you get honest feedback from your tutor though.
Even though I’m somewhat disappointed by The Mimic Method – The Flow of Mandarin, it’s still one of the best resources to improve your Chinese pronunciation. You’ll almost certainly learn something from it that you may have otherwise overlooked. You can also try it out and if you don’t like it, you can get a full refund within 60 days.