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Monroe Mann - How I Finally Learned Mandarin Chinese!

Dive: Linguist - Chinese (Mandarin)
Description: Can read, write, speak, and understand a particular type of Chinese
Level: Level 1
Level Requirements: Can read, write, speak, and understand Chinese (Mandarin) at a basic level
Certified On: Feb 13, 2019

Editor’s Note: On all dive certifications, we try to edit the writing as little as possible to preserve authenticity, personality, and writing style. We typically fix spelling errors, but minimally modify grammar and sentence structure (just enough to ensure readability).

Monroe Mann

Name: Monroe Mann Break Diving Level: Level 1 Number of Certified Dives: 11 From: United States In: United States

1. When and Why Did You Decide to Pursue This Dive At This Level? What was your inspiration and motivation?

I began studying Chinese in 10th grade, at Fryeburg Academy, in high school, up in Maine.  It wasn’t actually a Chinese class, but rather an after school Chinese calligraphy program.  I remember distinctly asking if he’d be teaching us Chinese itself, and he said no. Haha. So I just ended up using a brush and drawing some characters.  This was back in the early 90s.

Why did I start studying Chinese? My dad was in WWII, and spent much of his deployment in China in the mid 1940s.  My grandpa (who I never met) imported Chinese Ming dynasty replica furniture and so growing up, at Grandma’s house, I always felt I was in China, because virtually every piece of furniture from beds, tables, and chairs were Ming dynasty replicas!  So, it always interested me, and any chance I got, I would try to teach myself Chinese. It never worked out very well.

2. How Long Did It Take For You To Accomplish This Dive At This Level From The Day You Decided To Pursue It, And Why Did It Take That Long?

I tried to learn the basics for over 20 years since that first calligraphy class.  Teaching yourself Chinese is hard. It’s not ‘hard’ as in ‘oh my gosh, it requires so much intelligence’, but hard as in ‘without a good program teaching you the tones, stroke order, pronunciation, listening exercises, etc., it’s going to be an uphill battle’.

Thankfully, sometime in 2011, I found a Living Language Complete Chinese set, and I ordered it.  And it was (and is) really fantastic. It comes with a basic, intermediate, and advanced book, and I’m still working through the Advanced book now actually.  But it also came with CDs, and plenty of exercises, and through it, I absolutely learned the basic basics. But it wasn’t until 2014 when I moved to Shanghai that I really solidified those basics in my classes there.  

So technically, it took me 20 years to learn the basics, but of actual study, probably about one year.

3. What Was The Hardest Part About Achieving This Particular Dive Level?

The hardest part is getting over the initial fear and trepidation caused by the tones and characters.  Once you learn those basics (3 months), everything else is pure joy and fun. 

4. What Was The Easiest Part About Achieving This Particular Dive Level?

The easiest part? There are no traditional verb conjugations.  So I am (我是) is virtually the same as You are (你是) and They are (他们是). Notice that the verb ‘is’ 是 never changes! No conjugations. Meaning: becoming comfortable using correct Chinese grammar is easier than virtually any other language.  If you can make it past the first 3 months, you’ll end up with a lifelong hobby.

5. What Is Your Advice For Someone Who Is Pursuing This Dive And Level?

Get someone to help you with tones, characters, stroke order, etc. in your first few months. Nothing will discourage you more than feeling overwhelmed by those basics.  Further, don’t forget to practice writing the characters. While most communication will be via cell phone and computer, using pinyin-to-hanzi transliteration, if you can’t write with a pen, you are functionally illiterate.  Nothing to be proud of, and more importantly, your cell phone battery may die one day and if you’re in China with laryngitis and can’t speak… knowing how to write with a pen will come in quite handy! Also, since most foreigners can’t write with a pen, it makes you something of a rock star when they see you can write the characters.

6. What Are Some Of The Best Resources You Recommend to Those Pursuing This Dive At This Level, And Why Do You Recommend Them? Please Include Relevant Weblinks, If Applicable.

Here are some great resources I recommend to you.

Resource 1: Break Diving's Chinese Fluency Project - They have regular Chinese events online that you can use to improve. And everyone is very supportive.

Resource 2: Chinese in 3D - This is a great app that teaches you the basic initial set of about 1200 characters. It's a fun app, and will help you a lot.

Resource 3: -

Resource 4: -

Resource 5: -

7. Tell Us A Story Of One Of Your Adventures While Pursuing This Dive (At This Level).


我很开心!



你想知道为什么我会这么开心,对么?让我来告诉你,因为我会说汉语!我能看懂汉语,我也能听懂汉语,我还会写汉字。很多人会很佩服我,因为我的汉语很好。



如果你想和我一样,那么一起来学习汉语吧!我们一起加油!


8. What Evidence Did You Submit to Prove You Met the Requirements for This Dive and Level?

I was tested by BD Fluency Project staff member Echo Yu on my basic speaking and listening ability, and my writing and reading ability was tested via live Chinese chats I’ve had with Echo in the BD community, and from sharing a number of my handwritten essays.

9. Will You Be Pursuing The Next Level For This Dive? If Yes, Why? If Not, Why Not?

Yes, absolutely.  My lifelong dream has been to speak fluent Chinese.  I am so excited to be able to say with certainty that I am on my way.  I’ve passed HSK4, and I am now studying for HSK5. In my next certification, I will share what it was like taking HSK 2 & 3.  加油!

10. What is the Break Diver's Creed?

No Rules. No Excuses. No Regrets.

Certificate photo:

And having made this post, and provided adequate evidence to the dive committee, Monroe Mann is now hereby certified by Break Diving, Inc. as: Linguist - Chinese (Mandarin) - Level 1. Congratulations ! Thank you for being an inspiration to others!

Certificate number: 4

The author above wrote this WYSEguidance post as one of the certification requirements to become certified by Break Diving, Inc. for a dive completed. Would you also like to find greater success, happiness, and friendship, and make genuine supportive connections with others around the world pursuing your same dreams? Come join us at Break Diving and soon your story will be the next one you read about on this site!

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