Skip to main content

Chinese curriculum a set of incremental progressions

In 1979, after eight years of hard word, a dictionary editorial committee finished a monumental task, compiling a Chinese-English dictionary, in Beijing. 

This committee was made up of over 50 people, including both Chinese and non-Chinese. The dictionary they complied contains over 6,000 single-character entries, over 50,000 compound-character entries, and over 70,000 compound words, set phrases and examples.

These numbers give us some concrete ideas about the scope of the Chinese language.

Although dictionaries are great tools for students to learn Chinese, nobody can learn Chinese by reading dictionaries for one simple reason that dictionaries only present a collection of items of knowledge.

To learn Chinese and to achieve a good level of mastery require a certain sequence that filters Chinese characters, compound words and set phrases, which must be organised and presented in a way that facilitates students to gradually build up their Chinese skills and to progress from skill-based learning to knowledge-based learning. 

This important task falls on the shoulders of textbook writers. At MSL Master, Chinese teacher April Zhang presents her two series of Chinese textbooks, the Mandarin Express series and the Chinese Reading and Writing series, to fulfil this mission.

Introduce MSL Master Chinese curriculum

What April wanted to do from the outset was to create a set of Chinese textbooks that help non-Chinese speaking students to achieve a sequence of small and incremental progressions over a long period of time. 

Students begin with learning all five necessary language skills, listening, speaking, reading, writing and connecting Chinese characters with their sounds. (Read more here: Heed the fifth language skill in learning Chinese)

As they progress, their learning will be gradually transformed from skill-based learning to knowledge-based learning which is focused on reading some of the best known Chinese classics with a range of 4000 years. 

After many years of development, April completed two interconnected also standalone series, the Mandarin Express series and the Chinese Reading and Writing series. These two series carefully map out a learning continuum — a four-stage learning path, which takes students from complete beginners to proficient Chinese speakers with sound cultural knowledge.

Key features

These Chinese textbooks give students clear instructions, targeted exercises and sufficient repetitions, all needed to bring out outstanding learning results. 

The principle of content creation is that the texts must be relevant and interesting. Information presented is of interest to students who come from different regions and with different cultural backgrounds. 

These textbooks take a minimalist approach to learning Chinese grammar. It is because the current Chinese grammar system is not a product of careful study of the Chinese language itself. It is a product of superimposed Western grammatical concepts which do not work well in the Chinese language context. (Read more here: It is a mistake to learn Chinese using English grammatical concepts)

While calling for a new grammar system that is grounded in the Chinese language, April tried to present grammar as little as possible. Whenever it is absolutely necessary, April tried to present grammar as patterns, not as rules.

Also, the first two stages of textbooks all support self-study. There are pre-recorded video and audio lessons that explain texts and give students further instruction on learning. 


During the first and the second learning stages, students are assessed primarily by their Chinese language skills. 

There are review sections built into both series. These sections provide golden opportunities for students to check their progress in terms of their five language skills. 

During the third and the fourth learning stages, the assessment is gradually transformed from assessing Chinese language skills to assessing knowledge. 

Special sections are designated for students to explore areas of interests. They must come up with topics, do research, write and present their findings.

Life long learning

This curriculum stops at Mandarin Express Intermediate Level B, which includes must read Chinese classics.

There is no “advanced level” in this series. 

One reason is that, although Mandarin Express Intermediate Level B is pretty hard, it only presents a drop of Chinese classics in the entire Chinese literary tradition. 

Another reason is that, by stopping at an “Intermediate” level, we hope students can pursuit of higher levels on their own. 

Chinese language is an enduring and a dynamic language. It is constantly changing and evolving. Only native materials can reflect these changes and keep students updated. 

After completing MSL Master curriculum, students are recommended to continue their Chinese study through utilising different sources for a variety of native materials.