The Most Complete Mandarin Language Learning Guide Available | A Review of Master Mandarin by John Fotheringham Language Resources

While I think that language specific learning resources – like course books, podcasts, and flashcards – can be incredible, there is something to be said for language learning guides, the books and resources that help steer you in the right direction when you first embark on your language learning journey.

When you’re just getting started with a new language, you often spend a lot of time at the beginning researching which resources to use, specific features of the language itself, and general language learning tactics.

While I think that these are experiences that every language learner should have at some point, it can be a huge waste of time for those who are looking to jump in head first and get started with their language learning as quickly as possible.

This is where step by step guides, like John Fotheringham’s “Master Mandarin: The Beginner’s Step by Step Guide to Learning Chinese the Fun Way” come in.

A language specific guide can take away a lot of the guesswork involved when taking on a new language and “Master Mandarin” is an exceptional example of a resource that does this well. While I’m elated that I’ve had the opportunity to read through the guide and discover the countless tools included within, it is something that I wish I had a year ago when I started studying Mandarin. It would have saved me so much time!

Regardless, it’s definitely better late than never, because despite a year of intensive study, there were still an endless number of tips, tools, and tricks included in this guide that were still both 100% new and 100% beneficial to my Mandarin Chinese study.

Master Mandarin

Well-known for his publication, “Master Japanese,” John Fotheringham has taken his expertise and opened it up to a new audience with “Master Mandarin.” The book, while not a course book or textbook that will teach you the Mandarin language, instead it tells you how to learn it. “Master Mandarin” offers readers everything they need to enjoy success as a Chinese language learner.

Written with clear and concise language, a touch of humor, and a whole lot passion, I found it hard to find any one section of the book that stood out to me. There just weren’t any weak sections that made other tips jump out as “better” than the others. From page to page, section to section, it was honestly just that helpful. “Master Mandarin” is chock full of incredibly useful information that you’ll find yourself constantly making notes, bookmarking links, and nodding your head as you work your way through it.

“Master Mandarin” is divided into five sections:

1. Start Here (an introduction to the book and it’s content)
2. How to Learn (tips on how to learn a Chinese, or any language)
3. What to Learn (aspects of the Chinese language you can learn to master the language more quickly)
4. Build Your Toolbox (Mandarin language learning resources)
5. Chinese101 (an introduction to the Chinese language)

Thoughtful quotes are interspersed throughout the book, keeping you inspired and motivated as you progress and there are years worth of useful links and resources to get you going.

Things That I Liked About Master Mandarin

Includes characters (both simplified and traditional), pinyin, and English meanings anytime words or phrases are mentioned. // A lot of resources of this sort only include the pinyin and the English translations, so it was really nice to see all four versions of the words included in this book.

The use of the word “mastery” over the word “fluency”. // Fluency is an extremely weighted word and I thought it was really clever of John to use mastery instead. It really clarifies the goal of the book in terms of helping learners with the Mandarin language.

The discussion of how attitude is everything when it comes to learning a new language. // I really felt that many of my personal philosophies regarding language learning were echoed in this book (more than any other I’ve read to date) and this is one of them. We often look to external forces (or resources) to teach us languages when it’s really up to us to do the learning. Approaching language learning with the right mindset and attitude is crucial to your success and John explains this excellently.

The immersion study schedule. // Because I enjoy getting a peek at how other language learners arrange their study time.

The amount of time this book saves Mandarin language learners. // All the hard work, research, and resource compiling has already been done for you.

The section on consolidating notes. // I think that this is just so, so important (and I hope John doesn’t mind that I’m sharing this bit from the book). Most of us take notes, but once we’ve taken them, we hardly ever go back over them. That’s a lot of good information that goes to waste. By consolidating our notes and re-writing the important bits into another notebook, we not only get in some good review, but we get a second chance to look at material that might not yet have sunk in.

How much I learnt about the Chinese language and Chinese culture in general. // The book is worth buying for this section alone. Even after a year of studying Chinese and learning about China, there was a ton of information in this section that I didn’t know.

Things That I Thought Could Be Better

There really isn’t anything that I thought could be better in this guide, but it is so full of information that I initially found it a little bit overwhelming.

When I first got the book, I thought “297 pages, I can do this easy.” But then a week passed, and then another, and then maybe a couple more. There was just so much information in this book that it took me much longer than I expected to finish it.

It wasn’t that it is high technical or difficult to understand, it’s quite the contrary, I found John’s writing style really clear and enjoyable to read. It was more that it just had so much good information (and not a word of fluff) that you’re just hit with page after page of really useful resources and language learning practices. If you’re really using this book to it’s maximum potential, it’s not something you can work through in one sitting.

In the same breath, however, I think that once you get past the feeling of “oh my goodness, what did I get myself into,” the amount of information in “Master Mandarin” is insanely wonderful. It was so worth spending the amount of time I spent with this book and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.


The book is available for $39 through the L2Mastery website, but you can get a ton of bonus goodies if you purchase the complete package for $79 (cheat sheets, expert interviews, discount codes for Chinese learning tools, and lifetime updates). Considering the amount of information in the guide and the number of hours that reading it will save you, I think it’s definitely worth the listed price for the guide alone ($39), but I would only advise investing in the complete package if you plan on taking advantage of the discount offers. But having used each of the resources discounted as part of the package (namely iTalki, ChinesePod, ChineseClass101 and WaiChinese), I can tell you that they’re worth using and that the complete package is definitely worth considering (not to mention there are quite a few bonus resources you’ll receive in addition to the discount codes and the guide).

The Details

Book // Master Mandarin: The Beginner’s Step by Step Guide to Learning Chinese the Fun Way
Author // John Fotheringham
Publisher // Language Mastery
Length // 297 PDF pages

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