Introducing MSL Master - Mandarin as a Second Language

MSL Master is a product of many years of struggles, followed by many years of experimentation and exploration.

It started with April’s poor English. Although she did a lot of things, her first ten years of learning had very little to show for. 

Her English classes included the following major components: 

  • Studied texts in textbooks and mulled over definitions of long lists of vocabulary
  • Repeated after teachers or recordings for correct pronunciation of words and sentences
  • Listened to the grammar explanations and did grammar drills
  • Did translation exercises from English to Chinese or Chinese to English
  • Read stories and then answered multiple choice questions about these stories

Both teachers and students used Chinese as the medium of teaching and learning. If any students had a question, that was very very rare, the teacher would explain it clearly, using Chinese.

Two things were seriously lacking in this model. One was good listening training. The other was genuine communications in English because so much Chinese was used in classes. 

April suffered consequences and disappointment years later, and also eventually decided to emphasis these two areas in her Chinese programs. 

In the end, after ten years of learning English, she couldn’t carry on any conversations beyond “How are you?” and “What’s your name?” She didn’t understand what other people were speaking.

But she refused to acknowledge that her English was not that good. On the contrary, she thought she excelled at it, because she passed all the exams. Most importantly, she passed the level six of the national English test, the highest level for non-English major university students. Her exam score was the proof of her good English.

But, she thought she was really good at English, because she passed all the exams. Most importantly, she passed the level six of the national English test, the highest level for non-English major university students. Her exam score was the proof of her good English.

Although whenever she was trying to communicate with non-Chinese students or teachers at the campus, her head always went total blank, she continued to believe her English was good. 

“I passed the level six of the national English test,” she thought. “I only need to fix the problem of listening and speaking. Maybe learning more vocabulary will fix this problem!”

Of course, memorising more vocabulary didn’t help her become good at listening and speaking. Those were only a bunch of idle words.  

She finally realised her English was not good. Her English was indeed very very poor, despite the fact that she passed the highest level of the national English test for non-English major university students.

The way out

English language is an art. Other than that, English language is, first and foremost, a tool for communication. The ability to listen and to speak helps people communicate.

During her third and fourth year at the university, April decided that she had to listen more and to speak more to develop her English listening and speaking ability. 

She attended a three-month English course that was focused on listening and speaking. She did primarily speaking exercises during classes, which were once a week, with other twenty students. That helped but not a lot.

What really made the difference were her other activities. 

She began to go to English corner often, where many students gathered together to chat. She learned tips from other students who were genuinely good at English. She did a lot of listening exercises on her own. She read English books for fun, not for passing exams, therefore no multiple choice questions. She learned some English songs and the singers of these songs that she really liked. She watched movies and began to imitate lines that she was really impressed. 

At the graduation time, she was all right at listening and speaking. And she did all right on her second job interview that was conducted in English and she got the job. 

Later she became an English teacher, teaching English in a way that was different from her own learning experience. She also completed a TESOL certificate — Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. 

She loved the teaching job. Soon after, she was asked to teach Chinese to a few expats who were living in China.

That was something new and exciting. But it also brought a new problem.

From teaching materials to Chinese textbooks

When April began to teach Chinese, she found the Chinese textbooks at that time repulsive. The format of these textbooks was only too familiar: texts, long lists of vocabulary, long lists of grammar points, grammar drills, vocabulary drills, translation exercises, and multiple choice questions.

All Chinese textbooks she looked reminded her own English learning experience. They were all biased towards reading and writing. They were all boring and useless for people who weren’t learning Chinese for exams. 

After being an English teacher for a while, she couldn’t help but noticing that English textbooks published by major English textbook publishers were so much better than Chinese textbooks published by major Chinese textbook publishers.

There was absolutely no book to use. To use any of the existing Chinese textbooks was to undermine her newly established beliefs on language teaching and learning. 

So she created her own materials. She began to write something, made some recordings, did some drawings, and designed some class activities. Then she tried it out in her Chinese classes. 

She borrowed heavily from her English teaching repertoires. Sometimes things worked wonderfully, sometimes not because of the uniqueness of Chinese language and Chinese characters. Gradually she accumulated a lot of materials that worked very well. 

When she moved to Hong Kong, she turned to teaching Chinese full time and further developed these materials to two sets of Chinese textbooks, the Mandarin Express series and the Chinese Reading and Writing series. After many years of using them, she revised them to their second edition. Later, she further improved the Chinese Reading and Writing series to be incorporated with sounds. 

She did not want anybody to learn Chinese the way she did with English. She did not want anybody to suffer the disappointment as she did with English. 

She wanted all Chinese language learners to have a stimulating and inspiring learning experience.

The company — MSL Master

Soon after she moved to Hong Kong, April started MSL Master, which stands for Mandarin as a Second Language Master. 

This is a company that focuses on developing Chinese learning materials and methodologies for non-Chinese speakers, who have grasped their first language. 

The mission of the company is to help students learn Chinese effectively and efficiently while having great fun.

It is not easy to master Chinese, but it does not prevent people from having a wonderful time. 

Indeed, learning Chinese provides boundless opportunities for people to know more about themselves, to understand and to appreciate the cultural differences, and to have splendid lives in a different world.

Ways to work with us

While we’d like to reach as many people as possible, we realise that there are certain students who will not benefit much from our programs, including:

  • Students who need to improve their test scores immediately
  • Students who are only interested in learning Chinese character etymology
  • Students who don’t want to learn any Chinese characters

While we encourage more people to learn Chinese, we also acknowledge that many students will not succeed because they choose Chinese for the wrong reason. The top three most fraudulent reasons to learn Chinese are: 

  • Learn Chinese because it is easy. It has no tenses, no verb conjugations, no plurals. 
  • Learn Chinese in order to write academic papers on China or Chinese culture.
  • Learn Chinese because Chinese calligraphy is beautiful. (You don’t need the knowledge of Chinese language to appreciate this art!) 

With that being said, we love to work with students who are dedicated and hardworking, who bring in their willingness to their Chinese study. 

For self-study students, follow these two guides to get you started on your learning journey: 

For students who prefer teacher-led classes, there are two formats for you to choose:

For students who only want to have some fun, and possibly to become a published writer, participate the Chinese Writing Contest.

We are here to help, to improve, and to make a difference.

Have any questions? Contact us.


April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
(852) 9739 8065


MSL Master
3/F, Dah Sing Life Building
99-105 Des Voeux Road Central
Hong Kong

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