Free Online Resources for Teaching and Learning Chinese

MSL Master shares some handy resources and teaching and learning tips with Mandarin teachers and students. These free resources can be applied easily into Chinese classes or practice routines. Topics include class activities, Chinese reading and writing, Chinese grammar, Chinese cultural insights, and more!

Articles Written by April Zhang for in-depth Chinese Teaching & Learning

Mandarin learning anxieties

Learning Mandarin can lead to anxieties. Overcoming these anxieties requires understanding them first. 

Top ten ways students can make a Chinese teacher mad

Understand more on how cultural differences and different upbringing environments lead to tensions between the teacher and students.

Why learn Mandarin?

Ten arguments for learning Mandarin are analysed and find out which one can drive students to the ultimate success.

Give me a word, any word

Many Chinese words are originally from other languages and Chinese people simply made them their own.

Can you judge a book by its cover?

Dragons are magnificent, but it is people whom students will talk to. Let's re-think about how to represent Chinese culture in textbooks. 

Strokes, components and radicals of Chinese characters

Both strokes and components are building units, while the latter gives us a deeper insight of the intrinsic beauty of characters.

Train for exceptional Mandarin listening ability - higher level students

Many resources are there for listening training. Understand them better and use them well.

Controlled exercises - How lower level students develop listening ability

This article offers actionable advice for non-Chinese students’ to train their ears.

Chinese radicals - a fact sheet

Find out what the biggest misconception is and gain some insightful ideas about Chinese radicals.

A comprehensive guide for choosing the right level of IB Chinese (Diploma Program)

Understand what IBDP Chinese curriculum requires and tests, and get help with choosing the appropriate level of IB Chinese to study.

7 things you should know about the HSK test

What is HSK? Why do people take HSK? Who benefits the most? Find out the answers to these questions and more. 

The gulf between pinyin and Mandarin Chinese pronunciation

Learning pinyin has great advantages. But it is not without its problems. Find out the real issues about pinyin and how to overcome them.

Pictures and Chinese characters

Chinese characters are visual, like paintings. They can make an immediate impact upon people, even if they can not read Chinese.

How to memorise Chinese characters?

For non-Chinese speakers, who start learning Chinese in their teens or adulthood, the difficulty inherent in the process of memorising Chinese characters is very real. It is something they have to overcome.

Why learning Mandarin using (only) Pinyin will create more hurdles

For students who want to have a meaningful grasp of Mandarin, they must look beyond pinyin, as pinyin will confuse the hell out of them!

What? Stroke-order does not matter (that much anyway)?

Stroke order is not the most important thing in learning Chinese reading and writing. Find out what really is.

Understand learning (Chinese) input and output

In the context of speaking and listening, we discuss how the input and output take place in learning Chinese.

Different ways of learning Chinese characters

There are several ways to start learning Chinese characters. A list of most frequently used characters is one of them.

Class Activities to Expand Chinese Teaching Toolkit

Engage students' attention, give them opportunities to move around, and get some competitive spirit going on! Use these activities to bring your Chinese classes to life. And there are more practical and handy activities available in Teacher's Manuals.

Reading a long Chinese article

  • Involve students in their Chinese learning process

  • Practice analytical and critical thinking skills

  • Deliver presentations in Chinese

Topic Card - What is it in your mind?

  • Encourage authentic communications between students
  • Build mutual understanding among students
  • Gauge progress and discover areas for improvement

Find someone who ...

  • Encourage the whole class to stay active
  • Encourage communication and information sharing
  • Build trust and understanding among students and teachers

Listening contest

  • Increase students' awareness on pronunciation
  • Encourage students to speak and increase their confidence
  • Build class rapport among students

Frequently Asked Questions on Learning Chinese

And our answers

English translations in Chinese language textbooks. Are these really useful?

There have been numerous times that someone pointed out to April Zhang that both the Mandarin Express series and Chinese Reading and Writing series should have English translations. After hearing it for so many times, she suspected that she has turned a deaf ear to sound advice. 

Many teachers and administrators believe that English (or other language) translations should be provided to beginner students in their Chinese textbooks. They thought the translations will make learning easier. If students don't understand the Chinese text, they will if they read the translations. And quite often we see three different scripts in Chinese textbooks, Chinese characters, Pinyin, and English translation.

Our opinion is that, translations laid side by side with the Chinese texts often have the following undesirable effects: (1) students often compare the Chinese texts word by word with the English translation. When a Chinese character carries multiple meanings, translations often give a false sense of one fixed meaning; (2) Chinese structures can not be translated well into English. Thus the English translations makes it hard for students to fully appreciate the Chinese texts; (3) when English translations are as prominent as the Chinese texts, students' attention is often drawn to a much more familiar language, the English translations. Thus students are not as focused as teachers would like them to be; (4) the most undesirable one is that translations prevent students from thinking in the targeted language - Chinese. The answers are right there, why try to work out the meaning by themselves. Therefore, a crucial phrase of learning is lost in translations.

When learning characters, do students have to learn radicals?

It is often claimed that, students should learn radicals to get to the roots of all characters. Radicals show connections between characters and their meanings, and help students understand and remember characters in an efficient way. And a very small number of radicals (about 30 of them) are used again and again to demonstrate this point.

We believe this argument on learning Chinese radicals is misleading.

The chief function of radicals is to index characters in traditional dictionaries. This index system had been very effective for a very long time. In order to index thousands of Chinese characters, those learned scholars devised around 200 or so (exact number to be debated) radicals to do the job. If we take a look at the radical page of a standard dictionary, we see a small portion of radicals which, to a limited extent, have some connections to the meanings of characters. Many radicals have nothing to do with the meanings of characters. They do what they are supposed to do, to index the characters. 

Fast forward to our modern age, characterised by the ubiquitous appearance of smart phones, learning radicals for the purpose of learning characters no longer makes any sense. Students can well adapt without learning any radicals. They can scan the unknown Chinese characters, or they can copy them into an App. There are many ways for them to learn new characters without even thinking about consulting a traditional dictionary. There is no reason to force radicals down their throats.

This is the reason that we don't teach radicals in Chinese Reading and Writing series. But it does not mean we don't talk about them in the class. We recommend other Chinese teachers do the same, spend a few minutes introducing radicals, presenting a historical view on radicals. and how they functioned before. 

Are "listening, speaking, reading and writing" the four pillars of Chinese language skills?

For any phonetic languages, "listening, speaking, reading and writing" are definitely the four basic language skills. But for Chinese, they are not enough.

In a phonetic language, the connection between the spelling and the sound is so strong that one can be easily translated into the other. A good example is the movie The Reader (2008). One major reason for Hanna to be able to teach herself reading and writing was that she was learning / reading English texts. She would have had no chance if she was learning / reading Chinese texts.

In Chinese, the connection between the writing form and the sound is close to zero. Besides the four usual basic skills, we must add the fifth one: recognising. Students must go through a process which they connect the characters with their sounds.

Should a teacher correct student's pronunciations whenever he/she spots an error?

Definitely not.

Teachers really should control their impulse of correcting pronunciation errors whenever they hear one. It is annoying.

Students who are most vulnerable to pronunciation over correction are beginner students. They often find Chinese sounds strange and also difficult. It is hard for them to distinguish similar sounds, and also hard to distinguish the same sound uttered by different people. They often feel uncertain whether or not they have produced correct sound.

To address this issue, students must go through numerous repetitions. However, if a teacher corrects too often and too much, students will suffer serious stress. Over-correction of pronunciations disrupts the flow of learning, and puts too much emphasis on pronunciation and too little time for everything else. It also makes a class boring.

Moreover, there are so many different accents out there in the real world, why not tolerate that students also have their own accents!

Ideally, teachers spend 5 to 10 minutes maximum for pronunciations in each class, and concentrate a pattern. Therefore, the best way is to after "progress", not "perfection". Small and miniature pronunciation drills targeting a special form or pattern, mixed with some fun, work really well.

Gradually, students will be able to distinguish different sounds and their pronunciation will improve steadily.

Should a teacher direct students to TV programs to improve their listening skills?

Movies are fun to watch. But using movies in Chinese classes with the expectation that they can improve students' listening skills is to be carefully thought out. At MSL Master, we do not use any Chinese movies or YouTube clips until students get to Mandarin Express Intermediate Level A.

We believe a good practice of improving students' listening skills is to listen level-appropriate materials. And beginner students have a different need from high level students.

For beginner students who just start out their Chinese classes, we recommend the following: (1) listening exercises which come with the textbooks and work books; (2)  moderated and authentic communications between students and teachers; (3) communication oriented exercises among peer students.

As students make progress, Chinese teachers can ponder how to use the following resources, which can be information overload and produce unwanted results: (1) field trip to a Chinese speaking environment; (2) communicate with Chinese friends; (3) YouTube clips in Chinese; (4) Chinese movies and TV dramas; (5) Chinese news and other TV variety shows.


Share some of your exciting ideas!

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