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

IB (International Baccalaureate) is one of the well known education programs in the world. Its two-year Diploma Program carries a special weight, as the results are accepted by more than a thousand universities as entry requirements. 

Our subject here is IB Chinese, which has a broad layout and a two-tier structure, and it can be tricky for students to choose the right level to study when they do not have enough understanding of Chinese language. This guide aims help students save time, avoid endless headaches, and get satisfying results.

IB Chinese for second language learners

  • What the IB curriculum says:

    Ab Initio is a program for beginner students with little or no experience in Chinese. There is one level available, the standard level. Students will learn Chinese in three themes: individual and society, leisure and work, urban and rural environment. Each theme contains a list of topics for students to learn and to practice Chinese, and to develop intercultural understanding.

    Students are assessed both externally and internally. External assessment includes reading authentic print texts, two short writings and a written assignment. Internal assessment tests students’ ability in carrying out a genuine conversation with the teacher, giving a presentation, and engaging in follow-up questions.

  • Our viewpoint:

    The description sounds very basic and easy. But it is really not. Beginner students did not know what a steep rise they are facing. The main problem is IB’s theme-based approach.

    Theme-based approach is to express a theme clearly in both written and oral forms. Even with the simplest word choices and the most basic sentence structures, it is still necessary to learn a large number of Chinese characters. Therefore, in order to achieve the clarity of a theme, the curriculum has to give up control over the number of characters taught. Starting from lesson 1, new words and characters increase at an exponential rate. For students with no or little experience of learning Chinese, this is too much and too fast. The other problem is that half of the new words and characters appeared in one theme will be disappeared in the next. The structure does not have any built-in mechanism for thorough revision of words and characters. Unless students spend tremendous time for tutoring after school, they will keep learning and keep forgetting. The character retention is poor.

    In comparison, a character-based approach will work better for beginner students in learning Chinese reading and writing. This approach limits the total number of Chinese characters taught, and use the same characters in multiple texts. This approach sacrifices the clarity of themes for a higher rate of character retention.

    Therefore, the theme-based approach is a structural issue, which makes Chinese Ab Initio extremely hard for beginners. Students with no or little Chinese learning experience should not take this program.

  • What the IB curriculum says:

    Chinese Language B is for students with some previous experience of learning Chinese. There are two levels offered, a higher level and a standard level. Students study Chinese in five themes. Three core themes and two optional themes. For the higher level, students also study two literary works. 

    Students are assessed both externally and internally. 

    For standard level students, the external assessment includes understanding of authentic print texts based on the cores, one writing exercise based on the options, and one written assignment based on the cores. The internal assessment tests students’ ability in carrying out genuine conversations with the teacher.

    For higher level students, the external assessment includes understanding of authentic print texts based on the cores, two writing exercises with one on the cores and the other on the options, and one written assignment on the literary works. The internal assessment tests students’ ability in carrying out genuine conversations with the teacher.

  • Our viewpoint:

    For students who have learned Chinese for three to five years in full time study, this is the right choice. The program will be hard enough, but not too hard. And they will make great progress in two years. For those students who are particularly interested in reading literary works, consider the higher level. 

    The difficulty of this level is the writing assessment. In addition to good language skills, students need to express well-informed opinions with clarity. To achieve a good level of that with eloquent words, sufficient practice is needed.

IB Chinese for native or near-native Chinese learners

  • What the IB curriculum says:

    Chinese language A is for students who have a high level of Chinese proficiency. Both Language A1 and Language A2 are further divided into a higher level and a standard level. Students who choose two first languages, for example English Language A1 & Chinese Language A2, are regarded as bilingual learners.

    The program is taught in Chinese only. Students study works from a variety of cultures, genres and periods in both original Chinese texts and translated works. Students learn to develop skills of literary and textual analysis, to reflect critically on their reading, and to present their research in both written and oral forms.

    Students are assessed through a combination of formal examinations, written coursework and oral activities.

  • Our viewpoint:

    This program is made for students who love taking up challenges, and are already fluent in Chinese. 

    The most difficult part (and the most fun part) is that there is no standard answer. Students have to come up with fresh ideas with well supported arguments. Reading a vast number of novels does not necessarily lead to the ability of doing in-depth analysis, neither to the ability of articulating sound ideas. A knowledgable and inspiring teacher is an important factor for students’ success.

Reasonable expectations

To score 6-7 in IB Chinese is not an easy job. The only exception is for native Chinese students to choose Chinese Language B. And many Chinese students did that to maximise their total IB score. 

For second language learners, they can do well in Chinese Language B with sufficient preparations. And if they are determined and love a good challenge, expect a favourable score in Chinese Language A.


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