Mandarin Chinese Meetup

If you are an adult living in the Blacksburg, Virginia area, are studying Mandarin Chinese, or are a native speaker interested in offering support, you are invited to attend this gathering.

We have devised activities that give people the opportunity to use the words they know and, thus, experience success, engage pleasantly with others, and enter a Mandarin Chinese-only world for an hour.

What? Mandarin Chinese Meetup
Why? To practice speaking Mandarin Chinese on a meaningful level. For our purposes, “meaningful” is defined as “the ability to speak, listen, write, think, feel, work, present, relate, collaborate, and connect in Mandarin Chinese.”
How? For an hour, we enter the Chinese-speaking world and live Mandarin Chinese!
Where? Lobby of 102 Hubbard Street, Blacksburg, Virginia
When? Friday, February 10, 2023, 5:15 – 6:15 PM
Cost? None. Attending the meetup is free.
For whom? Adults who are learning Mandarin Chinese and native speakers of Mandarin Chinese. Learners who know a minimum of 200 words can help keep the conversation flowing.
How do I sign up? Walk-ins are welcome.
How can I track my progress? You are invited to take the HSKlevel before you attend your first meetup. You can take it again at any time and track your progress over time.

Participants are asked to make this pledge:

“To optimize the learning of all, I agree to willingly use Mandarin Chinese only for the entirety of the meeting. I understand that interjecting English into the conversation may harm the learning of others. I understand that, if I use English once, I will be expected to correct myself immediately. If I persist, I will have broken my agreement.”

(For other examples of language speaking agreements, please see the language pledges from Middlebury College, Princeton, Georgetown and Auburn. Brandeis’s All Language Lunch requires a language pledge. Here is a 2010 presentation on language pledges.)

For the next meetup on Friday, February 10, 2023:

  1. Please write an open-ended, conversation-fostering question that invites engagement, belonging, and connection. Examples include these, these, these, and these (podcast in Mandarin Chinese with transcript of questions).
  2. Translate your question into simple, plain language, Mandarin Chinese.
  3. Bring 6 copies of the question in Chinese characters, pinyin, and English.

To begin, this is the first question we will take turns asking and answering:

Rúguǒ nǐ yào línshí wénshēn yīgè hànzì, nǐ huì xuǎnzé nǎge hànzì? Wèishéme?
If you were to get a temporary tattoo of a Chinese character, what character would you choose? Why?

What is the format of the meeting?

1. At the start of the meeting, instructions will be given in English.

2. We engage in Mandarin Chinese-only conversation activities in large and small groups.

3. We return to English. To close the meeting, participants are asked to take turns sharing what they observed about their own process and the insights they gained.

In case of inclement weather or public health requirements, the Mandarin Chinese meetup will meet via Zoom. The link will be posted on this page on the day of the meetup.

Please note: The intent of this meetup is to enrich, rather than replace, an individual’s study plan. The meetup is not a class and the facilitator is not an instructor.

Why is speaking only in Mandarin Chinese so hard?!

People experience two levels of vulnerability. Any human conversation requires letting down one’s guard a bit. Then to use a language with which one is not confident or expert? Doubly difficult!

At a conversation table, people experience the vulnerability and complexity of conversations. They ask a question and see if anyone thinks it’s interesting enough to answer. They need to experience – and tolerate – the unease that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing what to say, of not knowing if someone understands what they mean, and if they understand what someone else means. Some attempts at starting conversations succeed. Some fail. Some result in lively sharing. Some don’t. These are the normal challenges with human conversations. To the table, participants bring themselves, their conversational skills – such as they are! – and their second language knowledge and just try!

Here is a guide to being a good conversationalist from


Adults who begin studying Mandarin Chinese are generally enthusiastic, determined and skilled at learning. They are willing to reorder their lives’ priorities – such as work, relationships, and families – to include time to study Mandarin Chinese in their already-full schedules.

However, case study data about adults and research data about primary and secondary school students suggest that the vast majority of students who begin learning Mandarin Chinese quit.

To attempt to address high attrition rates among adults, I am attempting to derive a replicable protocol for adults to learn Mandarin Chinese optimally and efficiently.

This gathering is an attempt to contribute to the learning of Mandarin Chinese by busy adults. We experiment with a variety of activities designed for efficient learning. To optimize learning, the activities are designed to synthesize and apply the latest research on cognitive neuroscience, memory, language learning, and the psychology of language learning.

Highlights include these findings:

  1. Gains from interaction exceed those from solo study.
  2. In non-beginners, gains from speaking the target language only exceed those from speaking both the native and the target languages.
  3. In adults, when intentionally engaging in the target language, thinking and speaking in the native language is a risk factor for impairing acquisition.

Why is no English spoken?

  1. ROI. Our return on investment (ROI) will be greater towards our end in mind from an hour spent speaking only Mandarin Chinese than speaking a mix of our native languages and our target language.
  2. Do no harm/altruism. We’re trying to help, not hurt, each other.
  3. Global citizenry and humanity. At the conversation table, we are not teachers and students, nor natives and non-natives. We are people speaking Mandarin Chinese together – however inaccurately and imperfectly – to try to communicate and connect with each other, person to person.

“I am neither an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”
– attributed to Socrates by Plutarch

Based on the way the adult human brain works, adult learners of Mandarin Chinese need to attempt to directly use Mandarin Chinese – to “think” in Mandarin Chinese – because translating back and forth between languages hurts retention and mastery. Linguists have a ghastly term for this phenomenon – parasitism! In fact, according to Li and Jeong, 2020, thinking in English, then translating into Mandarin Chinese, is a major risk factor for preventing “adults from acquiring a foreign language to native competence.”

Although the use of a learner’s native language – rather than the language they are trying to learn – may be well-intended, the result may be experienced as othering, an indication of not belonging and a form of exclusion. Our primary goal is to connect!

Finally, we are attempting to simulate total, 100% immersion and gain the “native-like brain processing” benefits it can offer to adults.

Why is speaking only Mandarin Chinese difficult?

When adults search for words in a second language, they experience vulnerability and ambiguity, the latter of which Wang, 2021, defines as “uncertainty of meaning, kinds of complexity, novelty, unexpectedness, or a lack of clear-cut solutions.” Ambiguity naturally creates stress and distress. Our activities are designed to help participants use what they know, thus reducing ambiguity and stress, and increasing ambiguity tolerance.

Interaction with open-ended questions

Since, as Li and Jeong put it, “[L]anguage serves a social communicative purpose and is fundamentally a social behavior,” our meetup will be interactive and we will attempt to ask open-ended questions.

Why ask open-ended questions?

Open-ended questions allow participants to use vocabulary they know, in both questions and answers, rather than struggle to answer specific questions using vocabulary they may not know. Further, open-ended questions invite exploration and discovery. Close-ended questions require only a yes-no or single-word answer. Being asked a series of close-ended questions can sometimes feel threatening, like enduring a test or interrogation, rather than engaging in a social interaction. The adult human brain seems to learn and remember best in a modulated state of safety and calm.

open-ended question
kāifàng shì wèntí

close-ended question (yes or no, this or that)
fēngbì shì wèntí (shì huò fǒu, zhè huò nà)

Mandarin Chinese learners

  • To foster conversational flow, if you wish to ask questions about the language, please wait until after the meetup ends.
  • Please follow the 4-second rule. Sì miǎo fǎzé. 四秒法则。A typical pause in speech lasts only about a quarter to half a second. If, within about 4 seconds, you can’t quite find what you want to say, please say:
    Qǐng xià yīgè rén.
    Next person, please.

Native speakers

  • If you wish to talk about the language or teach someone something about the language, please wait until after the meetup ends.
  • To foster conversation, please speak at normal volume and at a standard conversational speech rate, between 130-150 words per minute.

The facilitator fosters a structured, supportive, safe, non-judgmental environment.

“Advice, without invitation, can feel like criticism.”
David Kessler

This meeting is part of a larger effort to create synergy and community among local Mandarin Chinese learners and speakers. In particular, this is an attempt to find or create daily, in-person opportunities for adults learning Mandarin Chinese in the Blacksburg, Virginia area to practice speaking, listening, and interacting on a meaningful level.

If you have a local, in-person, Mandarin Chinese conversation opportunity to recommend, please contact Anne Giles.

If you study Mandarin Chinese using Mandarin Blueprint and are interested in a Blacksburg, Virginia area meetup, please contact Anne Giles.

Local, additional attempts to use the findings of research to help support adults learning Mandarin Chinese have included a 90-day workshop and a 30-day workshop.

This gathering is co-listed on Meetup.

About the facilitator

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., L.P.C., is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S.A., and a student of Mandarin Chinese. She has passed the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams. She took the pre-2021 HSK 3, passed the listening portion, but not the full exam because she cannot yet read characters well enough. She holds master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction and mental health counseling, and a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. As an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, she studied Chinese history. She took one semester of Mandarin Chinese at the University of Connecticut in 1981. She attended the National Chinese Language Conference virtually in 2021 and 2022. She has taught English at the middle school, high school, and college levels.

Last updated 2/2/2023

All content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, professional, and/or legal advice. Consult a qualified professional for personalized medical, professional, and legal advice.

My Philosophy of Life and Death

Today, I am will-you-still-love-me 64.

As I anticipate facilitating a local grief support group, I have became aware that addressing grief requires a deep, existential dive, not just into the meaning of life, but into the meaning of death.

When I was in my 30s, 40s, and 50s, I wrote philosophies of life. This past year, the death of my father, the death of a dear friend, my own potential death from a fall and concussion, plus over 6 million deaths from COVID-19, all call me to break a taboo and speak of death.

This causes understandable anxiety.

100 billion humans

I am not alone. For the nearly 8 billion people alive on the planet today, anxiety – unease about things that may be ahead – may be legitimate. Indeed, global rates of anxiety have risen. According to some researchers, anxiety is considered useful and motivating, an indicator of threat, that something’s not right. In January, 2023, death may well be more likely than it was in January 2020.

I considered the deaths of my father and friend devastating losses. I felt hit, bereft, disoriented. Then, a home pull-up bar failed and I truly got hit in the head. I began to wonder. What is the ground beneath my feet? I’m already among the one-third of Americans over 60 who – if I didn’t rent rooms to international scholars – would live alone, no partner, no children, with a small extended family. What would hold me up if I were to lose everyone and everything? What holds me up when I realize that I, ultimately, will lose everyone and everything – including my own life – when I die?

Iverach et al. tell us, “Awareness of mortality and fear of death have been part of the human condition throughout recorded history. According to [Irvin] Yalom, human beings are ‘forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom, and inevitably, diminish and die.”

Death anxiety is considered a central cause of human distress.

What is the ground beneath my feet? What is real? What is true? How are those terms even defined? What can I count on? How do I make sense of all this? What is my philosophy of life and death?

In the 300,000 year history of Homo sapiens, in the story of the 100 billion people estimated to have ever lived, I have a paragraph.

In the photo album of the 100 billion, turn enough pages – past the photos of the famous and the infamous, your loved ones and mine – there is a glossy shot of you, then of me. Paragraphs and photos came before us and, for an unknowable amount of time in the future, will come after us.

I am human and humans die – maybe now, definitely later. I may not like it, but I accept it. People important to me have died and will die. Pets die. Death is a fact.

Right this moment, I am alive.

  • I will, at times, validly feel powerless and helpless about the biological fact of my inevitable death.
  • I may often have some level of anxiety and sadness about the anticipated end of my life, both for myself and those I care about who will have to do without me.
  • Significant anxiety-buffering factors – such as reliable, shared world views and social interaction – have been compromised by the pandemic.
  • I might believe things should be different, and longingly wish they were, but, given the complexity of reality, I can’t know if a difference would have made things better, worse, or had no impact.
  • I am astonished by my belief that I could accurately read and predict another person’s mind and heart, given the human brain holds an estimated 100 billion neurons and perhaps a similar number of glial cells.
  • I am astonished by my belief that, if I felt something ardently enough, or believed it fervently enough, it was a fact.
  • I am astonished by the amount of influence, power, and control I believed I had and how little I ended up having. I thought the extent to which I could control my life would determine its quality. I didn’t know that, again, given the complexity of reality, uncertainty would be natural and normal, a condition to be navigated, not fought.
  • But I long for certainty! In his poem, “Noreen,” Peter Meinke writes, “How much we need reasons! How reasons make us feel better!” Probabilities and possibilities can be estimated. Certainties cannot be determined.
  • What’s done cannot be undone. What happened cannot be made to un-happen.
  • I did my best to help things go in ways I thought would be best for everyone.
  • I did not realize how exhaustingly I tried to be all things, to all people, at all times, and secretly feared I was nothing, to anyone, at any time. Oh, my! Neither is possible.
  • I did not realize how much thinking I, they, things should be different has caused my suffering.
  • I might sometimes get frantic trying to prevent what I interpret as disaster, however much what’s happening results from facts and reality as they are.
  • I thought I was helping myself when I recoiled from inevitabilities. It brought a bit of relief in the short-term, but caused more suffering than bravely leaning forward and seeing things as they might be, are, or were.
  • I didn’t know that, paradoxically, seeking reassurance can actually escalate anxiety. For many realities of the human condition and human life, there are no reassurances.
  • I believed reprimanding myself was corrective and motivating. I didn’t mean to turn into my own predator and forsaker. Now I keep close to myself. I meticulously help myself with challenges.
  • The personnel changes. People come and people go: neighbors, co-workers, family members, partners, bosses, on and on. Beings come and go: the family dog, the beloved cat, on and on.
  • I acknowledge whom and what I’ve lost irreversibly.
  • I acknowledge whom I can’t see and what I can’t do.
  • I acknowledge with whom I will not get to continue.
  • I can fret over possessions if I wish, but, ultimately, I don’t get to keep them. When I’m gone, boxes of my things will join the boxes in my basement of my grandparents’ and parents’ things. Lovingly, my family members were trying to protect me and help me. Items, however held to be valuable, can become useless.
  • I acknowledge that I can write an advance directive, attempting to narrate how my dying must go and not go, but I am a biological organism and biology will unfold as it will.
  • I may be in such unbearable psychological, physical, mental, or existential pain that I may take action to end my own life, or take actions that might risk or hasten my death. Others cannot know what it is like to be me or to see what I see. I will not consider these acts of illness or brokenness, but of self-love, mercy, and humanity.
  • I did not realize that seeing and acknowledging reality as it is, seeing the reality of what I can and cannot do, and accepting what is mine and not mine to do, all bring me a sense of the way things are that, in turn, bring me a sense of some peace and freedom.
  • I can co-travel with loving my life and grieving it at the same time.

“Find meaning and purpose” is advice often given to those asking existential questions. However, researchers have found that “meaning in life” may not do the trick.

When I was explaining what a triathlon was to my 101-year-old grandmother, she said, “Run while you can!”

Surrounded at our school by frightened students after we learned of attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, I asked our head of school, Gordon MacLeod, what we should do. He answered, “Carry on!”

After all that’s happened, all that’s lost, all these feelings, all these limits, all these risks, and the certainty of my life ending, might I carry on? If so, how?

To start? Kindly. I got born into the human condition with “the wound of mortality” without being consulted and without warning. My Homo sapiens-ism, my DNA, got meaninglessly, randomly assigned to my family, in my country, in my birth year. I have made the best of things, the best I can. I scrutinize my past efforts and conclude that, if I could have done better, I would have. Altruism is as old as humaniy itself.

Logic holds that reality-based strategies are more likely to produce desired outcomes than belief-based strategies.

Given reality as it is, my feelings and thoughts, my values and priorities, my strengths and preferences – after all that’s gone down – what will be my strategies for living in the time I have left? Shall I run? Take next steps?

Such questions! Such tasks! Kindness is merited.

image: iStock

All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, professional, and/or legal advice. Consult a qualified professional for personalized medical, professional, and legal advice.

Grief Support Group in Blacksburg, Virginia

After the loss of a person important to you, you may have found yourself asking questions such as these:

  • How can I possibly do without this person?
  • How do I endure this painful, heavy grief?
  • If I have ambivalent feelings about the person, what does their absence mean to me? What am I feeling and why?
  • Why am I experiencing such extremes in feeling?
  • How do I make sense of what happened? Does the world even work the way I thought it did?!
  • Who am I without this person? Am I still me?
  • What is the meaning of my life – of life itself – without this person?
  • How and why do I go on? With whom?
  • The World Health Organization reported a 25% global increase in anxiety and depression since the pandemic began. How am I to navigate grief in such times and in the wake of such hardship and uncertainty?

If you are an adult living in the Blacksburg, Virginia area and wish to address these and related questions in the supportive company of others, you are invited to attend our in-person, weekly, grief support group.

What? Grief Support Group
Where? Lobby of 102 Hubbard Street, Blacksburg, Virginia
When? Weekly, Tuesdays, 5:15 – 6:15 PM.
Cost? None. Attending the group is free.
For whom? Adults who have experienced the loss of a person important to them, of any age, in any way, whether they are newly bereaved, are continuing to have concerns after a year, or after many years.
How do I sign up? Filling out this contact form is preferred. Walk-ins, however, are welcome.

Please note:

  • This is an in-person meeting. A hybrid version is not offered. Those seeking online support may wish to consider David Kessler’s Tender Hearts Grief Support Community, which includes an online course and support group participation. Attendees pay $34 per month.
  • In case of inclement weather or public health requirements, the Grief Support Group will meet via Zoom. Here is the link:
  • Here is a flyer about the group (.pdf).

Meeting format

  • We start and end promptly.
  • We use a group sharing protocol designed to offer people the opportunity to speak and listen in a safe way.
  • We’ll do our best not to say the worst things people can say to people in grief and not to exhibit the worst traits of people who try to help. (Please scroll to the bottom of that page to view the list.) Most importantly, we will not give unsolicited advice, nor “bright side” each other, i.e. say, “Look on the bright side. At least the person _____,” nor imply, “You should be over this by now.”
  • Our goals are to learn about grief, to become aware of our individual experiences with grief, and to explore ways to co-travel with what has happened.

Prior to attending, participants are encouraged to do two things.

1. Take a well-being assessment.

  • The “Flourish” measure is described as “a measurement approach to human flourishing, based around five central domains: happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships. Each of these is nearly universally desired, and each constitutes an end in and of itself.” Here’s a link to a printable .pdf.
  • The Well-being Assessment is described as “a concise, freely available tool for communities to measure the many aspects of health and well-being.”
  • Take either or both of these assessments, or a well-being assessment of your choice. You are encouraged to return to these assessments, take them again at any time you wish, and compare scores over time. Your score is private and you will not be asked to share it.

2. Prepare what David Kessler terms “a loss inventory.”

  • In chronological order, make a list of approximately 10 losses you have experienced in your life.
  • Losses are not limited to deaths of loved ones, friends, or pets, and may include relationships ending, job losses, moves, loss of physical health or abilities, and others. The losses may have been sudden or expected.
  • Your list is private and you will not be asked to share it.
  • The purpose of the exercise is to become aware of the context of personal loss in which a recent or profound loss occurred.

Recommended reading

The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss, Mary-Frances O’Connor, 2022

The Grieving Brain: 5 Key Insights

“Grief will always be part of me, not as a superpower nor a thorn in my side but as a reminder that only a love so staggering in its intensity could produce an equivalent amount of sadness.”
Rachel Daum

Important: Although attending the group may be therapeutic, attending cannot be construed as receiving therapy and cannot take the place of therapy. Many people need professional support after experiencing a loss.

About the facilitator

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., L.P.C., is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S.A., and a student of Mandarin Chinese. She comes to the work of trauma, loss, and grief through what is clinically termed Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), infertility, student-on-teacher violence, university shootings, the death of her mother, the death of her father – who suffered profoundly from symptoms of dementia – and the unexpected death of a beloved friend. Anne has done extensive reviews of the current research on grief, trauma, caregiving, and end-of-life concerns, is trained in Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD (CPT), and will complete Grief Educator Certification with David Kessler on January 26, 2023. She participates in the Tender Hearts Grief Support Community.

To have your pain witnessed
To express your feelings
To release the burden of guilt
To be free of old wounds
To integrate the pain and the loss
To find meaning in life after loss
– “Six Needs of the Grieving” from work by David Kessler

For more information, please contact Anne Giles.

Good Samaritan Hospice offers grief support groups for residents of the Montgomery County and Roanoke, Virginia areas. Please contact Good Samaritan Hospice for more information.

Update on 12/30/22: I have become aware that addressing grief may require a deep existential dive, not just into the meaning of life, but into the meaning of death as well. I explore those subjects here.

Image: iStock

All content on this site is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, professional, and/or legal advice. Consult a qualified professional for personalized medical, professional, and legal advice.

How Much Mandarin Chinese Can Adults Learn in 90 Days?

I am looking for other forward-thinking adults with a global view to join me in learning Mandarin Chinese as quickly and efficiently as possible.  I have coordinated a 90-day beginning workshop based on research suggesting what will optimize our learning. Legacy funds from my father will cover all of our expenses, including providing awards for achievements.

Update: The inaugural workshop in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. is in progress and will end October 31, 2022. Another workshop may be scheduled. Please contact Anne Giles if you are interested.


“[Mandarin Chinese is] one of the most geopolitically important languages in the twenty-first century.”
– Jing Tsu, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern, 2022

“The next 100 years of human history will likely be defined by three things: the environment, artificial intelligence (or something like it), and China – and China plays heavily in the first two.”
– Jeremy Goldkorn, SupChina, 2/4/22

Why adults?

The findings of neuroscience contradict the myth that second language learning is ineffectual in adulthood. In fact, the intricately, deeply and extensively networked mature adult human brain may be primed for second language acquisition, particularly Mandarin Chinese. For older brains – I am 63 – neuroscience backs second language acquisition as a potentially  enhancingimproving, even restorative cognitive endeavor.


We will follow a research-informed curriculum I have derived from doing extensive literature reviews on the theory and science of adult language learning, particularly of Mandarin Chinese. I have summarized my findings here and the syllabus is here.

“I am neither an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”
– attributed to Socrates by Plutarch

For whom?

  • For up to 6 adults, 21 years and older, with little to no exposure to Mandarin Chinese.
  • Those interested in local and global business, academics, politics, and/or communities.
  • Able, willing, and determined to prioritize the learning of Mandarin Chinese for 90 days.
  • Able to allocate one hour per day to independent study for 90 days.
  • Able and willing to attend these meetings:
    – Once per week, 90-minute, in-person workshop, held in Blacksburg, Virginia, on Tuesdays, 3:00 – 4:30 PM U.S. Eastern Time. (Note: The workshop is designed to include this weekly, in-person meeting. Sorry, but if you cannot attend in-person meetings in Blacksburg, Virginia, please do not apply.)
    – Once per week, 30-minute, online conversation group, Mondays, 1:00 – 1:30 PM U.S. Eastern Time, facilitated by Benfang Wang.
  • Access to a laptop or desktop, a mobile device, and a high-speed internet connection.
  • Sufficient proficiency in English to read directions written in English.
  • Desire to gain proficiency in Mandarin Chinese optimally. “Optimally” is defined as “as quickly and efficiently as possible, with the least amount of time, effort, and expense as possible.”
  • Desire to gain proficiency in Mandarin Chinese in order to communicate on a meaningful level with speakers of Mandarin Chinese. “Meaningful” is defined as “the ability to speak, listen, write, think, feel, work, relate, collaborate, and connect in Mandarin Chinese.”
  • Willingness to accept the designated, longer-term measure of the effectiveness of the workshop’s protocol as scores on the Mandarin Chinese proficiency exams administered by the Chinese government, the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì 汉语水平考试 (HSK).

Why the HSK exams?

The internationally-recognized, standard measure of proficiency in Mandarin Chinese is passing scores on a set of exams administered by the Chinese government, the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì 汉语水平考试 (HSK). Abbreviated “HSK,” passing the pre-2021 HSK Level 3 exam is considered the minimum level of proficiency for many employment and educational opportunities in the U.S., in China, and in other countries. (A recent job search using the term “Mandarin Chinese” produced 11,517 results in the U.S.) Passing the pre-2021 HSK Level 3 exam requires the ability to hear Mandarin Chinese and understand it, and to read and write it. Speaking is evaluated on higher levels of the HSK exam but not Level 3.

How much?

There is no fee for this workshop.

The Mandarin Chinese Workshop is funded through the legacy of Robert H. Giles, Jr., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Virginia Tech, to foster use of the findings of science to build a system of global, humane, human connection in service to the greater good. Ut Prosim.

Here is the proposed funding for the project. (.pdf opens in new tab)

What is provided?

  • 90-day subscriptions to all paid online media and tools used in the workshop.
  • Weekly, 30-minute, online conversation group, facilitated by Benfang Wang.
  • Weekly, 30-minute, in-person group instruction with a native speaker.
  • $100 funding for online instruction via italki.
  • $50 award for submitting achievement scores after completing 30 consecutive days of study, one hour per day.
  • $100 award for completing daily check-ins and submitting achievement scores after completing 60 consecutive days of study, one hour per day.
  • $200 award for completing daily check-ins and submitting achievement scores after completing 90 days of study, one hour per day.
  • Cash awards for achieving milestones. For milestones and amounts, please see the syllabus.

What is expected?

  • Ability to attend in-person and online meetings as described above. Although residing in the Blacksburg area is preferred in hopes of fostering development of a post-workshop community of Mandarin Chinese learners and a “study buddy” cohort, workshop members may reside in other cities, states, or nations and commute to in-person meetings.
  • 90 consecutive days of study, verified by daily check-ins.
  • Submission of achievement scores in these 5 time increments: with application, pre-test/first day, 30 days, 60 days, post-test/90 days.
  • Completion of Mandarin Blueprint’s 6-hour Pronunciation Mastery course within the first 14 days.
  • Willingness to share scores with group members.
  • Willingness to teach and learn, i.e. make presentations to group members about what they are learning.
  • Willingness to follow group sharing protocols during meetings. This includes, when making a suggestion, differentiating between anecdotal, case study data and empirical research data and identifying opinions or theories as such.
  • Congeniality.


This project is an attempt to use the findings of research, plus logic and experimentation, to contribute to discovering aspects of the realities of learning Mandarin Chinese that optimize that learning for most adults, most of the time, better than other ways, and better than doing nothing. No less than fostering connection and understanding among the world’s people is part of the mission of this project.

  • This curriculum is informed by current research but has not been tested by research methods.
  • Although desired outcomes are hoped for, zero desired outcomes may result and no guarantee is implied.

If you have interest in the workshop

If, after studying your answers to the Mandarin Chinese Interest Survey, you would like to apply to become a member of the workshop

Please open an email to send to me (contact info is here) and include this information

  1. Name and age.
  2. Phone number.
  3. Your answers to the Mandarin Chinese Interest Survey.
  4. An attachment of the .pdf of the page reporting your HSKlevel scores using Simplified Characters. HSKlevel is a 60-item assessment created using an artificial intelligence algorithm by François-Pierre Paty, a French Ph.D. student. (To create a .pdf of the page from a laptop or desktop computer, go to Print, then Destination, then toggle from the name of your printer to Save as PDF.)
  5. Date you took the HSKlevel assessment.
  6. A one- to two-sentence statement about why you want to join the workshop (maximum of two sentences).
  7. A one- to two-sentence statement about what you think you can contribute to fostering connection, collaboration, synergy, and optimal learning among the workshop’s members (maximum of two sentences).
  8. A brief acknowledgement that you have read the Statement of Intentions.
  9. How you heard about the workshop.
  10. Whether or not you have a Netflix account.
  11. Day of the week most convenient for you to attend an afternoon workshop meeting at a location in Blacksburg from 3:00 to 4:30 PM.

Send your application email to me as soon as possible.

Note: The first session of the Mandarin Chinese Workshop has begun.

With regard to this project, here are my disclosures.

If you are a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese residing in the Blacksburg, Virginia area and are interested in serving as a 30-minute, in-person guest instructor for a fee of $50 during one of our weekly group meetings, please read the job description then contact me.

About the workshop coordinator

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., L.P.C., is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S.A., and a student of Mandarin Chinese. She has passed the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams. She holds master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction and mental health counseling, and a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. As an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, she studied Chinese history. She took one semester of Mandarin Chinese at the University of Connecticut in 1981. She attended the virtual National Chinese Language Conference in 2021 and 2022. She has taught English at the middle school, high school, and college levels.

Questions? Please contact Anne.

Image credit: iStock

Mandarin Chinese Workshop-related links

Last updated 10/12/22

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Ahead of His Time: Obituary for Robert H. Giles, Jr.

Robert “Bob” Hayes Giles, Jr., of Blacksburg, Virginia, 88, seeing he was too ill to be of further service to his family and others, died bravely on May 5, 2022 from voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED). He suffered from neurodegenerative diseases resulting in symptoms commonly termed “dementia.” He donated his body to science to help researchers further understand these disabling disorders. He had no other illnesses.

Robert H. Giles, Jr.

Bob was preceded in death by his wife of 56 years, Mary Wilson Burnette Giles; his mother, Anna Rinsland Giles Trevey; his father, Robert Hayes Giles, Sr.; stepmother, Edith Lohr Giles; father-in-law, Wilbert Glenn Burnette, and mother-in-law, Mary Thigpen Burnette. He is survived by his brother, George Giles and his wife, Lena, and their children and grandchildren; step-sister Susan Lohr Hudson; brother-in-law W. Gaines Burnette and his wife, Peggy, and their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; cousins Kay Hughes and John Irvin; daughter, Anne Giles; daughter, Margaret Galecki; son-in-law Dennis Galecki; former sons-in-law Mark Wiley, Brad Rimbey, and Iain Clelland; grandson Alan Wiley, his wife, Mary “Woo” Wiley, their son, great-grandson Beau, and their daughter, great-granddaughter Dottie; grandson Ben Wiley; granddaughter Mary Teague and her husband, Chad, and their daughter, great-granddaughter Raine; grandson James Galecki and his wife, Renee, and their sons, great-grandsons Logan and Liam; granddaughter Caroline Galecki; and granddaughter Catherine Galecki.

Bob was born on May 25, 1933 in Lynchburg, Virginia. He attended E. C. Glass High School, during which he was awarded a Bausch and Lomb Science award for studies of the ring-necked pheasant. As an Eagle Scout, he was awarded the W.T. Hornaday National Award for Distinguished Service to Conservation and the James E. West Scouting Conservation Scholarship. During his undergraduate years at Virginia Tech, Bob was an editor for several magazines and the president of the V.P.I. Corps of Cadets of 6,000 students. He was also a member of seven national honorary societies.

Bob was a Professor Emeritus of Wildlife Management at Virginia Tech where he taught for 30 years. His Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Master of Science degree in Wildlife Management were from Virginia Tech. His Ph.D. in Zoology was from The Ohio State University. He was a recipient of The William E. Wine Award, given for a history of university teaching excellence.

In the early 1960s, Bob was a pioneer in envisioning use of computers for natural resource management. He and his graduate students meticulously recorded data about the land by hand, then used computer programs on decks of punched cards to analyze it. This process is now done through satellite imagery and is known widely as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In 1968, he learned of general system theory and became a systems thinker. He believed that problems are interconnected and that a system of problems must be met with a system of solutions.

During his time as a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Virginia Tech, Bob was known for his innovative applications of computer programming. With the support of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), he created the woodland resource management system of TVA, once used on 300 farms a year. With staff and students, he created the first wildlife information base (BOVA – Biota of Virginia database). He chaired the Blacksburg planning commission, consulted with the National Wildlife Refuge System, aided the State Cooperation Commission, and wrote the first plan for wildlife other-than-game for Virginia.

Bob was a speaker at the first Earth Day at Virginia Tech on April 22, 1970. When challenged by a student in the audience, “What are you doing about zero population growth, Dr. Giles?”, Bob held up his hand in a peace sign and answered, “Two children and a vasectomy!” He was unafraid of challenging taboos for the sake of others.

At his retirement party, colleague Larry Nielsen said, “Giles has more ideas in an hour than most people have in a lifetime.” When she was a teenager, his daughter Anne remembers her father asking what she wanted written on her tombstone. She returned the question. He answered: “He contributed to science.” Bob lamented hearing often that his ideas were “great” but “ahead of their time.” Recently, a former student remembered thinking in the 1970s that Dr. Giles’s ideas were “out there.” He said, “They’re now standard practice.”

Bob began working on the concept he termed “Rural System” in the early 1980s, and in earnest after his retirement in 1998. He envisioned Rural System as a GIS-informed enterprise to improve the social, economic, and environmental health of regions through optimal use of resources via a system of for-profit, citizen-owned entities of multiple, small, natural resource-related enterprises. He was aided in completing his final research work by Risa Pesapane, now a Ph.D. and professor at The Ohio State University, and Laurel Sindewald, now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado, Denver. His final work, “Rural Future: An Alternative for Society Before 2050 A.D.,” was edited by Laurel Sindewald.

Raised in Southwest Virginia, Bob knew the struggles of people in Central Appalachia, impoverished after the collapse of the coal and tobacco industries. To further his knowledge, after retirement, he visited rural areas of Africa – Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda – China, and India.

Bob was friends for nearly half a century with Airport Acres neighbors Mills and Betty Jo Everett, and Bill and Lois Patterson. During his final years living at his beloved house on Rose Avenue, Bob recounted with laughter and wonder his local adventures with friend Caleb Flood.

Bob spent the last years of his life at The Heritage House with two other residents under the care of Hugh Bowman and his staff. Bob considered Hugh a friend. Perceiving his fellow residents to be treasured graduate students, he read the newspaper to them and tended them as he could. Bob’s family thanks Hugh and Kim Bowman, devoted members of the staff at The Heritage House, Andrea Hendricks, Clidia Lewis, Kathy Merideth, and kind companion Jo Burks, for the gentle, respectful, well-tended days they gave him. Bob’s family thanks Dr. Gregory Beato for his compassionate medical care.

Bob was known for his ability to look realistically at problems, but to see vast systems of solutions in radical, unprecedented ways. He championed science, facts, reason, logic, and humanity. He could be counted on for principled living, courtesy, and kindness. Some considered him valiant, noble, and saintly. Bob mentored and corresponded with former graduate students into their own retirements. To the last, he grieved the loss of his understanding and lamented being unable to protect his daughters from the hardships of his illness and these times. Before he lost the ability to articulate his thoughts, however, Bob said, “It’s been a grand adventure.” With nearly all of his brain function gone, unable to speak and barely able to move, within hours of the end of his life, he found the wherewithal to smile at his daughters.

As to his legacy, as former graduate student Bharat Bhushan, now a professor in India put it, “I only know, even as I am so far away, that his mind reaches out to me and many others, and talks to us. I was, am, his student, forever.”

Bob often signed his letters, then his emails: “Pax.”

In memoriam, when you open the next door for someone or bring in your neighbor’s bins from the curb, please think of Bob Giles.

A visitation with family members will take place on Tuesday, May 31, 4:00 – 6:00 PM, at McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.

To honor Bob’s life and work, you are invited to contribute to the Robert H. Giles, Jr. Scholarship at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech Foundation, 902 Prices Fork Road, Blacksburg, VA 24061.

The biography and CV of Robert “Bob” H. Giles, Jr. were last updated by him in 2018. They originally appeared on his website, “Rural System.” At the end of his working life, he self-published Rural Future: An Alternative for Society Before 2050 AD, edited by Laurel Sindewald. His daughter, Anne, wrote a tribute to him, Letter from the Universe, in March, 2022.