Suggested Newbie Curriculum

October 09, 2009, 10:43 AM posted in General Discussion

If you're a new subscriber, and wondering where to start in learning Mandarin, I have some suggetions.  These suggestions are tailored to a person ACTUALLY HEADING TO CHINA FOR A YEAR.  If you a hobbyist and merely interested in a place to begin to hone ideas on your own starting point, this might also be a good post to read.



My approach has been is to treat learning mandarin as a 3 credit course at a university.  Once you're here in China, you'll realize how unprepared you are, and wish you'd PRIORITIZED LEARNING CHINESE higher among your many daily tasks, instead of looking/feeling like a babe lost in the woods all the time once you're here.
As part of the self study thing, i'm thinking that ideally, I would love to be "fluent" in mandarin by the time my CPOD subscription runs out in Sept 30,2010.  "Fluent" is defined as having working knowledge of around 5000 words/phrases.  5000 words/phrases was arrived at somewhat arbitrarily, and is certainly arguable why 5000 words/phrases isn't better that 6000, 7000 or even 10,000 words/phrases,  but it's a decent metric to start for the following reasons:
-5000 words is about 100 words a week for a year.  I've thought 100 words/week  was a lot, and in practice, i'm running at maybe the 20-30 words/phrases per week on average (this is what happens when you have a full time job with 2 pre-schoolers around).
- I'm told that you need knowledge of about 2000 characters in order to read a Chinese newspaper and get most of the gist of the articles (certainly more characters is better, but this might be a reasonable mimimum).  i'm hoping that 5000 words gets me to that level.
I have an engineering background, and one of the things you're taught is to break up big tasks into smaller ones.  "BE FLUENT IN MANDARIN" is a big task.  Learn 100 words a week is a smaller task. Learn 20 words a week sounds almost easy (until you try it). 


.... At Beijing Capital International Airport (or Shanghai Pudong, or Shenzhen BaoAn or whatever entry point).  After having received your passport back from the consulate/embassy, bought your tickets, got your guide book, maybe even bought some renminbi. You board the airplane, giddy with excitement and anticipation. 10-14 hours later, you land, go through customs, and then you see the signs for drivers picking up paying tourists, they're screaming, yelling, people coming up to you saying in bad english, "you need taxi?" "where you go?", the written text is in English and Mandarin, and then you
realize, what the %$@#*&% do I do now?


This is the part where I continually tweak, but here goes

download taxi lessons. i'll put the links for the best ones shortly.

LISTEN to the lessons FIRST.  (I'm using caps to get your attention). Do not bother with the pdfs at this point.  download to your iPod/Zune (i dare to be different).  At this point, you'll need to anchor your intuition about Mandarin through listening to it.  Mandarin, as you already suspect and know, is really different from English (i'm a native English speaker, and an American one at that, so forgive my biases/metaphors/etc...). LISTENING TO THE PODCASTS FIRST starts you on the path toward learning the mandarin pronunciation quickly. 

More posts to add. Will do shortly



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October 10, 2009, 06:25 AM

Nice idea to share your experience with this pretzellogic! I've been scouring thru looking for lessons I think will be particularly helpful on arival while I prepare to go to China (working on visa paperwork now.) I'm not a newbie, but my listening skills aren't fantastic, so I was thinking of doing a couple transcripts a la tal_ to hone my ears. (I've started on Star Trek even though I know the taxi lessons might be slightly more pragmatic.) I look forward to your lesson suggestions. 谢谢

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October 10, 2009, 07:05 AM


Great idea, and certainly one that has occurred to us as we work on the ChinesePod School.

I wonder how much of this idea the average ChinesePod user would want. The idea of how many lessons one should expect to cover to get from Newbie to Elementary, for example, seems like it would have universal appeal for ChinesePod users.  So would a guide for approximating how ChinesePod lesson content equates with the content of university courses.

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October 11, 2009, 01:48 AM


i'm interested in any feedback that you'll have regarding your visit.  As a non-newbie myself, my listening skills aren't that great either.  If this is your first visit to China, you find that CPOD does a great job of mixing slower speed lessons during the podcasts with the full blown, excited native speaker at full speed.  I have times here where I feel I really am learning mandarin, and other times when i feel i'll never learn mandarin.


At this point, I was sure that CPOD was/is working on curriculum for the ChinesePod School, as well as the site. After I started reading some of your blog, Sinosplice, I realized you were probably in the same situation as I was, and your specific guidance about what lessons to really focus on FIRST would have been invaluable (maybe taxi, hotel, food and travel lessons in that order, and save for much later the love stories). 

But also, I guess the strength of CPOD is that there can be multiple curriculums posted by multiple users and CPOD staff based on their reasons for learning Chinese.  I'm basing this curriculum on my Chinese experience.  Based on some of the posts i've read, I suspect that for the majority of users not heading to China, one of the helpful curriculums would be, "Just met Chinese girl, and must advance quickly through the dating process" :-)

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October 11, 2009, 02:56 AM


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October 11, 2009, 02:57 AM

Week 1, day 1-3: Newbie for taxis – you don't know where you're going, so wherever the LEGAL taxi takes you is fine.

(approximate number of new words overall is going to be around 10-13 per lesson on average, with new phrases/pattern around 2-5 overall, including the pattern, and the year/day/time pattern).


Week 1, day 3-5:  Newbie – after about a week being in the Chinese city of your choice, you start knowing a bit where you want to go.  These two lessons help you tell the driver where to go, as well as anchor your own intuition about Chinese words and phrases/set patterns. The pattern here is the pattern.

(approximate number of new words overall is going to be around 5-10 per lesson on average, with new phrases around 1-3 overall)

 these lessons are also great to add local content, like specific streets and hospitals/museums/parks/tourists sites in whichever city one resides in/visits. I used them for figuring out where DaShanZi is relative to the Airport, as well as the 798 Artzone.

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October 11, 2009, 03:08 AM

John, Orangina, I probably ended up putting the above lessons into a ChinesePod School format.  I should say in practice as someone who can't go to school fulltime, that the 8 lessons above would have been way too many for me studying at home, with kids/wife/work/travel going on. I guess this is the suggested order.

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October 11, 2009, 03:54 AM

Week 2, day 1-5 Newbie/Elementary - Checking in – People still in the US or wherever their homes are will need to figure out how to check into their hotels/hostels/friend's house.  Don't assume the taxi driver knows how to get there, especially if the hotel isn't a 5 star hotel that wealthy businessmen go to all the time. You're the person that's going to figure it out for the taxi driver, or you get the phone number of the hotel/hostel, and ask the driver to call the hotel and ask for directions.  (better yet, some hotels can arrange for a driver to pick you up at the airport for a fee.  This is something to ask about when making reservations.)

(approximate number of new words overall is going to be around 5-12 per lesson on average, with new phrases around 1-3 overall, including more time patterns)

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October 11, 2009, 10:42 AM

By the way, I got lazy in counting words in these lessons, but what i mean by "new words" is words that have not been encountered in previous lessons.  So the number of new words per lesson will decrease as you continue focusing on a single subject.  Thats when you should focus on another topic or subject, so that you're getting back up in word count. 

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October 15, 2009, 12:52 AM

thought: I need to develop this. Another poddie outlined a scaffolding approach.  I also would like to see a gradual, systematic build-up from a simple sentence to a much more complex sentence. Something like this:

There is a chair.

There is a green chair.

There is a green chair on the patio.

There is a green chair on the patio collecting dust.

Around the corner, there is a green chair on the patio collecting dust.

Around the corner, and next to the table, there is a green chair on the patio collecting dust.

I like the way cpod teaches grammar: "inductive vs deductive" approach.  But if there's an area that could be highlighted and improved, it's this one for me.

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October 18, 2009, 02:01 AM

After a week of trying shadowing, it's probably best started with Newbie or elementary lessons.  The relatively short sentences in newbie lessons lend themselves to shadowing, at least better than the longer sentences in Intermediate.

The link to Dr. Arguelles' website explaining shadowing:

FWIW, once you can synchronize to what's being said, it makes a cool stereo effect, especially when you say the words clearly out loud, as you're supposed to.

 I noted that the tendency is for shadowing students to start mumbling after a few minutes.  This is true of me at first, but then when you get into it, you stop mumbling, even during those times when Chinese people are walking past you, and you're doing shadowing out loud, and they start to look at you.

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