Preparing for Our Chinese Curriculum

Our summer curriculum is challenging, even for students with a prior background.  Whether or not you have prior experience with Mandarin, or even with the Integrated Chinese textbook series, there are a number of things you can do this spring to prepare:

Buy the textbooks early and begin looking over the lessons.

Textbooks for CHIN 111 & 112: Integrated Chinese textbook series (more info here).

Textbook for CHIN 215 (in Taiwan): 《當代中文課程課本 4》,聯經出版公司 (translation: “A Course in Contemporary Chinese”)

Find an Intro to Chinese Character Writing

Try Youtube, or a mobile app, like DuoLingo or ChineseSkill.  Begin trying your hand.  If you get the hang of it, or if you have studied before, begin systematically going through the vocabulary lists for each lesson and memorize them.

Try Our Quizlet Flashcard Sets

Make sure to look at both the vocabulary sets and the sentence level sets.  There’s no shortcut around memorizing individual vocabulary items and their characters, but familiarizing yourself with isolated sentences can give you more context and actually aid in vocab uptake.  It can also help you develop an intuition for how sentences are put together and how vocabulary items are used on a phrasal level.  The better your listening is, the better your speaking will be.  If you’ve heard a sentence (and therefore a sentence pattern) several dozen times, you will find that the correct grammatical forms appear in your “mind’s ear” just before you try to produce a related sentence.  IMPORTANT: it is far better for you to start with passive skills (reading and listening) rather than active ones (speaking and writing).  We don’t recommend that you spend time trying to formulate Chinese sentences.  It’s very important that you get solid training in the 4 (or 5) tones of Mandarin so that you don’t develop bad habits.  Hearing and reading the words and sentences many, many times before you attempt to produce them can be extremely helpful; don’t put time or effort into producing them, however, as this could actually be counter-productive.

The Quizlet sets are available from our main page.  Just go to the Resources section.  In the future, just put “/flashcards” on the end of our home URL (

We list them there so that you can go straight to the set you want, rather than having to search within Quizlet.

I Have a Good Friend From China.  Should I Ask Them To Help Me?

Maybe.  It will all depend on the personality dynamic.  It can often be challenging to change the nature of your relationship with someone from friend-friend to teacher-student.  Many people find it unproductive and stressful.  It is especially difficult to give honest and sometimes much-needed criticism to a friend.

It’s also important to note that we all have very strong cultural ideas about education in general and how to best learn a language in particular.  Typically, someone who learned Chinese in China as a child will tend to emphasize the same aspects of the language that were emphasized to them.   Learning language “literacy” when you are already fluent in the language (as even a 5-year-old child is) is a very different experience with vastly different needs from those of an “adult second language learner,” which you certainly are.

In addition to differences in what is emphasized culturally for language learning, there are also generic differences in what are considered good study methods.  Most East Asian education philosophies emphasize repetition and rote memorization.  Most likely, you as an American have been encouraged to learn through experience and interaction.  When you start a “lesson” with a Chinese friend or teacher, you may be taken aback by how much they expect to speak vs how much they expect you to speak, and what your contribution is supposed to be.  They may want you to mainly copy what they say and repeat a word over and over if your tone is not exactly correct.

We suggest that you ease into such a teacher-student dynamic, where perhaps you start by asking, “hey I have some questions about this lesson I’m going over,” rather than “hey, I’m about to start studying this book. Would you be willing to tutor/teach me?”  If you end up finding their approach very unproductive, it will be harder to exit or redefine that teacher-student dynamic once it is formalized.  However, if they are simply giving you feedback, you can choose whether you like their input enough to give them a higher degree of “authority” over your study regimen.

Do I Need to Work Ahead?

Do not allow yourself to get overwhelmed in advance.  The advice above should be a source of excitement and assurance for many students, but others may have a hard time interpreting it as optional.  If you find that trying to work ahead on these materials actually increases your levels of anxiety and uncertainty, do not feel any pressure to work on any materials before the first day of class.  Our teachers are highly trained (and highly talented) language teachers, who have no expectation that you have any prior background in the language.  Moving as quickly as we do is certainly going to be challenging, but your teachers, tutors (older Flagship students), and other older Flagship students who are in town this summer, can all help you develop the best learning strategies for you.  You will almost certainly hear from them that they found the first summer extremely challenging and questioned whether they were “good enough” for Flagship.  Most students get through this and are very pleased with what they have accomplished.  The alums they know also give them encouragement that the effort they put in truly does give them huge benefits in the job market.  They also have a life skill that vastly increases their ability to benefit themselves and others around them.