Often I see websites proclaiming that you can “learn a language in a year” or “learn a language in three months”. But this has got to be a first – a language teacher in London is claiming to be able to teach a language in just two days.

Mandarin is reputed to be one of the toughest languages to learn, mainly because it is tonal. It’s a challenge for non-speakers who live in China to learn the language, as a friend of mine has discovered. So what can a beginner pick up in two days?

As a writer from The Guardian discovered, quite a lot:

Day one begins in the present tense, progresses to questions and then on to the past and future. By day two I am playing fast and loose with pronouns, possessives and conditionals, albeit with a very limited vocabulary.
(Source: The Guardian)

The process is apparently meant to “emphasise relaxation and experimentation, [but] there are rules. Writing anything down is banned, as is all technical jargon”. This is in line with the language trainer’s belief that languages are a practical subject that you need to be trained in.

The writer tested his language skills at a Mandarin restaurant. The verdict?

There are obvious deficiencies in what I have learned. Chief among them the fact that I know so few nouns; not even, for example, numbers, or months, or farmyard animals, which school language classes had conditioned me to think of as essential. I can, however, convert a verb into the past and future tenses, and say that I, you, we, they, he or she did it, and add an if, a but or a because, and offer, when the situation demands, to buy a stranger’s mother or sell them a photographer. Which is more than I ever managed in five years of French at school. Have I really learned Mandarin in just two days? Well, yes and no. Mostly no, but sort of. Hao.