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Contrary to what you might have heard, spoken Chinese is not that difficult of a language.

This site presents basic and intermediate Mandarin Chinese lessons for you to use for free. Each lesson has PDF downloads and audio files of native Chinese speakers.

Following the lessons from start to finish will provide you with a working knowledge of basic Mandarin Chinese.

A major theme for this course is providing learners with conversational hooks and ways of expanding the short, all-too-common dialogues foreigners often have with native speakers of Chinese. As such, each section tends to cover less territory, but in a deeper and hopefully more meaningful way.

Our course has several advantages:

  • It presents  authentic and practical language that is immediately useful - no more dialogs about Beijing opera.
  • All lessons are written jointly in pinyin and Chinese characters. There is a sharp spike in difficulty as most Chinese textbooks will suddenly and often prematurely omit pinyin.
  • A slower, more graded pace of learning - students in China are often completely overwhelmed by the end of the semester as the material is covered at breakneck speed.
  • A larger and much more comprehensive vocabulary presented in semantically related units
  • More written exercises, particularly exercises that help the students mentally link the Chinese character with its corresponding pinyin.
  • Topical questions and statements which, while sometimes a bit sophomoric, do certainly help to liven things up.
  • Perhaps most importantly, students are given the tools for expressing their own particular feelings and opinions, and inquiring about the mindset of others. A number of Chinese textbooks, particularly elementary textbooks, give the feeling of someone talking at you, rather than with you.
This site is organized similar to the first two semesters of an intensive Chinese program as experienced in China, including situations and vocabulary found outside of the classroom.

Elementary I This is the equivalent of your first month of intensive studying and living in China. By the end of this course you will be able to talk about where you are from, indicate ownership, discuss time and scheduling, find your way around the city and university campus as well as give basic instructions to cab drivers.

Elementary II This would be the second and third month of living and studying in China. By the end of this course you should be able to talk in detail about your studies, make purchases and employ basic bargaining techniques in shops, order food in a restaurant, make basic comparisons and discuss simple aspects of the workplace. 

Pre-Intermediate This course covers all of the basic grammar from your first semester in China not covered in Elementary I and II, namely modals and adverbs of frequency. It functions also as a review and expansion of vocabulary and themes introduced in Elementary I and II. As such, it can be seen as the final month of a first semester immersion course, including the review for the final exam.

Intermediate I - Introduces a lot of new material, more complex sentence constructions and grammar, and a few cultural notes.

Intermediate II - Similar to a second year, second semester Mandarin course, this is meant to expand on material presented in Intermediate I.

We strongly suggest that any student going abroad to China complete this course from beginning to end. An almost universal complaint among Western students studying Chinese in an academic setting in China is that too much time is wasted sitting by yourself memorizing the next day's lesson when you could be out interacting with the locals. Completing this course guarantees that you will be able to begin using real Chinese from  the moment the plane hits the ground.

For any person contemplating doing business in China, all we can say is: If you do not know how to speak Mandarin Chinese, you are putting yourself at the mercy of strangers.  Preferably, you would be able to speak the local dialect as well as Mandarin, but at the very least you should know Mandarin.

Perhaps the most salient point would be that the quickest way to win the respect of your coworkers, classmates, and the Chinese people in general is by demonstrating a basic competency in their national language. Even if your business or studies are conducted primarily in English, knowing Mandarin Chinese is a clear indication to others of your intelligence, self-discipline, and genuine involvement and interest in China. Most Chinese people spend a lot of time and money learning English, a little bit of reciprocity goes a long way.