The techniques we use to gauge levels of difficulties

We use a comprehensive set of techniques to make sure that the level of difficulties in Mandarin Express series and Chinese Reading and Writing series are both challenging and manageable. The secret is to use multiple metrics throughout the texts, so that the beginner’s Chinese textbooks are not too hard, or the advanced not too easy.

The gradual disappearance of the English text

We recognise that English text in Chinese textbooks is helpful, but it can also create a dependence for students for an easy way out, and prevent them from thinking a little in Chinese. Therefore, we keep the English text in its minimum and gradually fade it out entirely.

From pinyin to Chinese characters

For beginner students, pinyin is easier to learn than Chinese characters. As pinyin is not a viable alternative to Chinese characters, we map down the transition from pinyin to Chinese characters in two series of Chinese textbook. 

The texts in Mandarin Express Intro and Basic Levels include both pinyin and Chinese characters, mainly focusing on developing listening and speaking abilities. The texts in Chinese Reading and Writing series contain only Chinese characters, mainly focusing on developing reading and writing abilities. The two series converge in Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level A, where students begin to practice communications in both written and oral form. 

Read a more detailed explanation on Why we publish two series of Chinese textbooks.

Interactive class activities carefully placed among teaching texts

This feature is prominent in Mandarin Express series, where teaching texts and the class activities are mixed in the layout of each lesson. While teaching texts aim to introduce new words and phrases, the class activities provide opportunities for temporary pause and reflection, and get students involved in various interactions, so that students can effectively use what they have learned. Such mixed texts alternate the learning atmospheres between a learning mode and an exercise mode, alleviating the learning pressure on students and bringing out long-term knowledge retention. 

In Chinese Reading and Writing series, the teaching texts are a small portion of each lesson, containing single characters and their combinations. The rest of the lesson is to put these characters and combinations into different kinds of exercises. It is also an alternation of different learning modes, to alleviate pressure and to build students’ confidence. 

The variations of sentences, conversations and narratives

Both Mandarin Express series and Chinese Reading and Writing series use a variety of Chinese texts, sentences, conversations and narratives, to present a fusion of different kinds of literary languages, such as direct speech, language ranging from daily life to social theories, and the incorporation of different genres. 

These different pieces of literary languages, each with its own level of difficulties to comprehend, when being put together, change the learning tempo from time to time, which keeps students interested, engaged and challenged, and also create a relativising linguistic consciousness, which helps students recognise Chinese language as a unity. 

Long and easy texts vs short and hard

Many Chinese textbooks take the approach that the longer the text is, the hard it is. We consider this is only one of the many ways to gauge difficulty levels. If carefully written, a long passage can be really easy to understand, or a short paragraph really hard. It depends on how many unknown characters there are in the writing and whether or not a complex structure is in place. 

We use the following four different kinds of variations:

  • Short and easy texts
  • Long and easy texts
  • Short and hard texts
  • Long and hard texts

For example, in Chinese Reading and Writing 5, we use long and easily understandable Chinese writings without any new characters. After dealing with relatively short passages during the previous books, this is the first time that students encounter pages of Chinese texts. On the first glance, long texts are intimidating. However, students quickly realise that these long texts are interesting stories and quite an easy read. This becomes an exercise they enjoy doing.  

In Mandarin Express Pre-Intermediate Level A, we use short and hard texts. This is where pinyin is no longer included in the texts, and where students begin to build up a sizeable new Chinese characters quickly. Although containing many new characters, the texts are all very short. These small bites of texts are challenging, but very much manageable.

Moving from daily life to complex social and political issues

The difficulty level increases as students gradually move away from talking about daily life to discussing more complex issues. We are convinced that learning Mandarin Chinese not only enables students to function at work in a Chinese speaking environment, but also provides them opportunities to reflect on social values and political issues. 

Therefore, the higher level it goes in Mandarin Express series, the more debatable the topics are. The lower levels deal with daily life, such as students practice buying tickets in Basic Level, while the higher level with social issues, for example students give their opinions on thieves in Pre-Intermediate Level. 

The inclusion of Chinese classical texts

Of all the ancient languages, only Chinese has survived and continues to be dynamic. Its long and stable history is something many other languages are rightly envious of. And in the long Chinese literary history, Classical Chinese occupies a significant part. And it is the most difficult Chinese text to study. 

For anyone who is learning Chinese, not learning some classical Chinese is a tremendous loss. Therefore, we have included some must read pieces into the last book of Mandarin Express series, the most appropriate place for students to have their final challenge.

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