I plan to take the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (HSK) 汉语水平考试 Mandarin Chinese proficiency exams 1) to track progress toward my goal of ultimately achieving native speaker-level proficiency in Mandarin Chinese, and 2) to acquire globally-recognized credentials that may be of professional value.

I am scheduled to take the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams near the end of June, 2021.

I am focusing on studying for the HSK 2 exam.

I am using the following resources, listed in order of time spent.

Core studies

Mandarin Blueprint

Using Mandarin Blueprint is, for me, provides context for learning Mandarin Chinese as if I were attending a university. The platform offers lectures in fundamentals, “electives” through videos and podcast episodes, “office hours” to consult directly with the instructors via Q & A through the course platform or email, the opportunity to hear one’s own and others’ questions answered via podcast, and discussions with other students via the community forum. I feel like I have lunch with Phil or Luke nearly every day via podcast episodes or videos. Here are other reasons I use Mandarin Blueprint.

I have finished the 6-hour Pronunciation Mastery course, and am in the midst of Phase 2, Level 18, on the way to completing Phase 5, Level 36 in the Foundations course. I will take the Intermediate course after that, Levels 37-57. I have contributed to Mandarin Blueprint’s crowdfunding campaign to support creation of the Advanced Course.

In addition, every other Monday, I listen to the Jared Turner’s and John Pasden’s You Can Learn Chinese podcast.

HSK materials


From Improve Mandarin, this HSK 2 vocab list, from LTL Mandarin this online test.

Grammar points

This section on HSK 2 grammar points from AllSet Learning’s Chinese Grammar Wiki and this section from Chinese Boost.

Graded readers

The Sport Boys. I’m reading this cover-to-cover on my own and with a teacher. Guo Guo Is Missing was my first-ever graded reader, also read with the help of a teacher.

I love Mandarin Companion’s graded readers but still need a teacher’s help to read only characters without pinyin. I am determined to read Xiao Ming on my own very soon.

Chairman’s Bao. I dip into these stories a few evenings per week when I’m tired.

Conversation groups

With the assistance of italki instructor Benfang Wang, I host a fast-paced conversation group on Tuesdays, 1:00 – 1:30 PM U.S. Eastern, for up to two more beginning students. Please contact me if you are interested.

Blacksburg Chinese School, Saturdays, 4:00 – 5:00 PM U.S. Eastern.

Group class

I happily attend adult group class with my 同学 tóngxué at Blacksburg Chinese School!


Because of my work as a counselor, I need to watch TV shows that rest my heart and mind. Chinese romance TV shows fit the bill. I find YouTube a hassle to navigate on a TV so I just use Netflix.

My favorite TV series (电视剧 diànshìjù /连续剧 liánxùjù) so far, in order:

Love 020, both TV series and movie
Well-Intended Love, season 1
Put Your Head on My Shoulder
Here to Heart
I Hear You
Unrequited Love (started; didn’t finish)

Currently watching:

Wait, My Youth

What – and this is my opinion only – is missing from my study program, due to the pandemic

  • “Quick wins,” a term used by a presenter at the National Chinese Language Conference, for visible, brief, reassuring, reinforcing, motivating successes. I need to get answers to questions right, to take a quiz and get a score, to match three words with three pictures, something, anything to know that all this effort is getting me somewhere.
  • Real-life, in-person opportunities to speak Chinese and to hear Chinese spoken to “get a feel” for how Mandarin Chinese “thinks.”
  • In-person, small group gatherings of students that make space for trying – and failing without notice – to, without instruction or correction, find a pace, a rhythm, a groove, a flow, a way to speak Mandarin Chinese on their own.

Looking ahead

  • Continue to work through Mandarin Blueprint.
  • Continue to work with online instructors.
  • Continue to work with the first-ever cohort of adult students of Mandarin Chinese at Blacksburg Chinese School (!).
  • Continue to prepare for and take HSK exams, hopefully at Blacksburg Chinese School.
  • Hope to co-create a local Mandarin Blueprint users group.
  • Hope to co-create a grader reader book club.
  • Hope to co-create a series of Mandarin Chinese-speaking events. First one is here.
  • When visas are available and a two-week quarantine is not required, go to China!