Fluent Mandarin in three months? I’m not convinced

It’s been three months since Benny Lewis at Fluent in 3 Months started learning Mandarin in Taiwan. He still haven’t uploaded his three month video, but the time is up and lets take a look if it’s possible to get fluent in Mandarin in just three short months.

(I really tried to make this post a bit shorter!)

First lets review and go to the beginning of his mission. What was his goal?

  • “this is day one of my mission to speak fluent Mandarin in 3 months! “
  • “That’s fluency as in being able to do most of what I can do in English, in social situations in Mandarin.”
  • “I won’t hold up the flow of conversations (on either my side or the person I’m talking to) i.e. conversational fluency”
  • “Or something along the lines of level C1, specifically for the oral component”
  • “My priority will be to be able to read menus and signs”
  • “I do want to be able to get the gist of almost anything I see”
  • “I won’t go as far as to try to be able to read the likes of full newspaper articles beyond headlines”

And after three months what does Benny say he has accomplished?

  • “I won’t be speaking C1 Mandarin this month”
  • “now I can follow B2 level conversations and get the general gist”
  • “follow B1 conversations almost entirely”
  • “in general I’d say I’m a comfortable B – a very safe B1, and dipping my toes into B2 on occasion”
  • “My ultimate goal of “high level fluency” of being able to do what I do in English in the language, is still a bit off”
  • “I’d be happy to call what I have “conversational fluency”, not right now, but likely some time this month”
  • “I was successful in my objective to be able to read Chinese on signs, menus, getting the gist of some articles, and went beyond that by being able to chat with someone online or via SMS entirely in Chinese”

So is Benny fluent or not?

I’m not sure what Benny means with B1 and B2 conversations, but I know he has been using ChinesePod, so it might mean that he has been listening to B1 and B2 podcasts. That’s not quite the same as listening to native people have conversations.

There’s no three months video yet, so I can only rate his spoken Chinese according to the 2,5 months video. Based on that video I would say Benny Lewis’ Chinese is on A2 level. Usually can get his meaning understood, but it takes some searching for words and the other speakers sometimes need to paraphrase his sentences. Benny doesn’t really say what level spoken Chinese he has at the moment, but he says that he will soon be conversationally fluent and high level of fluency is still a bit off.

I guess my definition of fluency is very different than Benny’s, because I think he is still quite far from high level fluency. Conversational fluency? I think even I haven’t reached that level yet, even though I have a relationship purely in Mandarin.

I’m not sure what Benny means by being able to read, but with a dictionary anything is possible. I would like to give him a magazine and let him read the headlines.

Is it possible to reach fluency in Mandarin in three months?

I don’t know anyone who have been able to do this and according to my own experiences studying the language for 3,5 years, I think it’s not possible. With impossible I mean that impossible for European learners for example who haven’t studied Japanese.

Is learning Chinese hard?

  • “I’ll go through hell”
  • “These 3 months have been a really shitty experience to be honest “
  • “I’ve ended many days this year with a headache and incredible frustration that I can’t begin to describe”
  • “kicking and screaming”

Sounds like a hard work for me ;)

Does this matter?

Benny would probably say (and have said) that this doesn’t matter because reaching fluency or C1 was never his true goal. His real goal was to learn Chinese quickly (as explained in 2,5 months video). But then again he said “But I have found that aiming high and timeboxing it into a tight deadline, and having both being as specific as possible creates much better results than “try your best” does.” I’m a bit confused.

I agree with Benny that goals should be as specific as possible, but I think that having realistic goals is better. A learner should aim high, but not try to reach the moon. While trying to get to the moon it’s easy to get depressed by your own lack of improvement, but if you set smart goals they keep you studying hard, but you also get a feeling of success.


It’s been an interesting three months and I’ve read all the blog post and watched all the videos in this Benny Lewis Mandarin Mission. There are many things I agree with him, but that kind of post would be a bit dull. I don’t want to lie to people and say you can become fluent by studying Mandarin for three months. I would rather say it requires hard work, but it’s absolutely worth it.

(p.s. Benny makes traveling in China  sound like an extremely hard thing from which you can hardly survive. Well, I’ll just say that I don’t agree and leave it at that.)