Jorge Sanchez

Jorge Sanchez

Wordwizard and language learner.

How Guessing May Be The Best Way To Learn Mandarin

Guessing to learn Mandarin? Wait, aren’t learning and guessing polar opposites? The answer depends on which type of guessing you’re talking about. 

The right kind of guessing can help take your Mandarin learning to the next level and we made a game to help you do just that—Mandaboo! It’s easy and fun to play by trying to guess the right Mandarin word from videos, aka Boos, featuring native speakers (built-in options, but you can create your own) that will give you clues only in Chinese.  

Mandaboo uses the power of wise guesses (more on these later) to help you internalize Mandarin vocabulary better than by using memorization, improve your listening comprehension and pronunciation, train your ability to unlock meaning from context (super important when using Mandarin in the real world!), and give you the confidence to start speaking more. If you’re curious as to how guessing is one of the best ways to learn Mandarin, read on. (Or you can just start playing and save this article for later reading!).

Teacher Beny Mandaboo

Guesses gone wild (and the wise guesses that stayed home to study)

There are two types of guesses: wild guesses and wise guesses. A wild guess is when you don’t have a clue about the answer and just throw out the first thing that comes to mind. Although your wild guesses can result in some laughs, they’re not directly useful for learning. 


Wise guesses are based on real-world information (aka clues), and partial knowledge you already possess but requires a little nudge to bring it out. The key thing here is that you work (and sometimes even sweat) for your wise guesses, as in you get the gears turning, you focus on what you know, what you see, what you hear. It’s a real brain effort because you’re after a specific result. 


Wild guesses are throwing spaghetti at the wall. Wise guesses are throwing spaghetti at a bullseye.  (They’re both messy, but only one has the potential to get you somewhere.)

In games like Pictionary, making hilariously ridiculous wild guesses are part of the fun, and they don’t require any real effort. (In some games, like in Cards Against Humanity, the more way off the guess, the better.) But in a crossword puzzle, you’re really focused on the clues to try to guess the word. Crossword puzzles have been found to help improve working memory because, well, they make your brain work.

Mandaboo is a Mandarin workout for your brain

According to scientists, the act of guessing (the wise guesses) is a “higher-order mental skill” that can be strengthened, like a muscle. And it can improve your learning ability.


Scientists found that even when students guessed wrong, the “near misses” helped them guess better next time and recall the information after, as long as the guess was a wise one, i.e., the students really tried to reach deep and give it their best guess.

By honing your guessing skills, Mandaboo is like a workout for your brain. The more you guess, the more you build that Mandarin muscle. And because there’s so much guessing content to play with—you can guess with native speakers, your friends, or even create your own content—you’ll never get bored in this Mandarin guessing gym. 

Nothing to lose, everything to guess

One of the reasons why we wanted to create a Mandarin learning game based on guessing is that, for one, any Mandarin student at any level can play. Guessing takes the pressure out of learning. You don’t have to get it right, otherwise it wouldn’t be guessing! Even if you get the wrong answer, it’s still fun because it’s a game, and that keeps you trying more. And practice equals progress. 

Second, you don’t need a lot of preparation to play a game, so that makes starting to learn procrastination-proof. Plus, the Boos take just a few minutes to play, so you can build daily Mandarin practice into your schedule easily. 

Third, Mandaboo taps into the power of learning Mandarin with people! There are many Mandarin learning apps out there but Mandaboo specifically requires that you pay attention to a real person—either a pre-recorded, native speaker level Boo or a custom Boo made by your friend, or even one you made for a friend. This makes learning much more intuitive and fun, which also makes it much more effective.  

Lastly, Mandaboo is a Mandarin conversation confidence builder. Playing Mandaboo not only helps improve your listening skills (by working to get those clues!) but it also helps you get really good at absorbing meaning from context like body language and micro expressions. And that is a skill that’s essential to Mandarin conversation practice. 

Ready to start guessing your way to Mandarin fluency?