This April, MSL Master entered its 17th year.
In April 2003, when MSL was first started, I only had one goal, which was to provide the best Mandarin Chinese courses for non-Chinese speakers in Hong Kong. My criteria was simple, that students are able to speak Mandarin quickly and fluently on topics related to daily life and work.
Now in hindsight, this goal looked quite limited. I had provided, at the best, a good beginner’s Mandarin program which was heavily biased on the listening and speaking side. However, as an old Irish saying says, “a good start is half the work”, the MSL 2003 beginner’s Mandarin program was a good start and it had the force and strength to carry on for the next 16 years.
Comparing with before, the current beginner’s program has changed for the better with Chinese reading and writing classes. And the criteria for the best beginner Mandarin program has also changed, that students can: (1) converse in Mandarin on various topics about daily life and work; (2) recognise and write some Chinese characters, therefore they will not be at a total loss when in a Chinese environment.
As before, pinyin is still introduced at the beginning and acts as the main teaching and learning medium for Mandarin Express Intro and Basic Levels, with a focus on listening and speaking. When the confusion starts to rise with pinyin, i.e. the same pinyin carries too many meanings, for example wǔ/wǔ, zài/zài (五/午, 在/再), students start Chinese reading and writing lessons.
I consider the six books of Chinese Reading and Writing, in relation to Mandarin Express series, a breakthrough in the field of teaching and learning Mandarin Chinese. The complete series introduces 320 most frequently used Chinese characters based on character occurrence ranking, as well as their appearances in Mandarin Express Intro and Basic levels. Therefore, learning reading and writing has a positive effect of re-enforcing the speaking and listening abilities, and balances the learning outcome in terms of reading and writing Chinese texts.
Apart from this achievement, other levels of Mandarin Express have also been modified for the better, especially the last book, Mandarin Express Intermediate Level B. This book is a mini anthology of the best that Chinese language could offer. There are original philosophical writings, wonderful poems and the thoughts which has changed the direction of China, in the forms of both classical and vernacular Chinese texts. The selections are marvellous for students to learn, the ultimate cultural literacy.
But we are not stopping here. There is still room for improvement.
Late last year, the entire MSL Master website was revamped, with a new page dedicated to Chinese teaching and learning resources. Also, we continue to work hard on the two new additions at MSL Master, Chinese Learning Pen and App, which will incorporate the latest technology into Mandarin Express series and Chinese Reading and Writing series and bring the learning experience to an entirely new level. Indeed, the prototype of the Pen and the App have gained considerable applause in the ALA book fair in 2018.
The future and its potentials and all kinds of possibilities are what we are looking forward to. Happy anniversary!