Mandarin Chinese Conversationalist

You live in the Blacksburg, Virginia area and are a speaker of Mandarin Chinese with a standard accent. You are interested in engaging in Mandarin Chinese-only, 30-minute conversations with an adult professional who has achieved a lower intermediate level of spoken Mandarin Chinese.

You can provide your own transportation to and from meetings, preferably at the office location near South Main Street. Meeting at a coffee shop is also possible.

You are naturally curious about people and are interested in what they feel and think. You are able to assess a person’s capabilities and interests quickly, and initiate and sustain engaging conversations. You can remember words used successfully earlier in the conversation and can circle back to using them again in another way. You embrace the paradoxical challenge that, for adult second language learners, the vocabulary used in the conversation has to be based primarily on words they already know, but that adults wish to talk about issues of meaning to them for which they may have limited vocabulary.

You are an active listener, can reflect back what you hear, and can ask follow-up questions. You understand “air time” and strive for both you and the learner to speak about 50% of the time.

You may be a Mandarin Chinese instructor or tutor. Unlike receiving instruction or practice through these conversations, the learner’s primary goal is to gain proficiency in communicating on a meaningful level. “Meaningful” is defined as “the ability to speak, listen, write, present, think, feel, work, relate, collaborate, and connect in Mandarin Chinese.” Agreeing to and following a language pledge to speak no English is expected of all parties.

Materials providing context will be provided. The learner is attempting to facilitate the development of a local community of Mandarin Chinese learners and speakers. Opportunities for small group conversations may develop.

The pay is $30 for each 30-minute session.

To apply for this position, please contact me. Your 30-minute, in-person interview at the office at a mutually convenient time will be a conversation session based on the above criteria.

After a successful conversation session, the learner:

Spoke and heard only Mandarin Chinese for 30 minutes.
Spoke approximately half of the time and listened half of the time.
Experienced a sense of engagement and “flow.”
Experienced success at feeling seen, heard, and understood.
Bonus: Both parties experienced a sense of mutual understanding and appreciation.

Regardless of whether or not we decide to meet again, you will be compensated for the session.

Feel free to ask for more information.

Mandarin Chinese speakers with standard accents are sought to facilitate individual and group conversation, speaking, and pronunciation practice sessions for beginning through intermediate adults.

Participants’ primary goal is 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, present, think, feel, work, relate, collaborate, and connect in Mandarin Chinese.”


$30 for each 30-minute session. The fee is to include prior lesson preparation time and 30 minutes of direct contact with students during the group session. Contact with students outside of the session is not expected.

Current needs

  1. Beginning adults, online. Instructors for our 30-minute, online group speaking practice sessions for beginning adults via Zoom, weekdays TBD, 1:00 – 1:30 PM, U.S. Eastern time, for 1 to 6 students.
  2. Early intermediate adults, online. Instructors for our 30-minute, online group speaking practice sessions for early intermediate adults via Zoom, weekdays TBD, 1:00 – 1:30 PM, U.S. Eastern time, for 1 to 6 students.
  3. Beginning adults, in-person. Instructors for our in-person, 30-minute group speaking practice sessions for beginning adults, weekdays TBD, 3:30 – 4:00 PM, U.S. Eastern time, for 1 to 6 students, in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.

The speaking practice sessions for beginners are components of an experimental Mandarin Chinese learning system. If of interest, here is the description and here is the syllabus.

Speaking practice sessions are conducted in Mandarin Chinese only.


  1. Disruption. A learner’s beginning system for making meaning in Mandarin Chinese is developing and vulnerable. Although instructors and students may believe they are helping when they use English, much like being interrupted while doing a math problem or writing programming code, during speaking practice, use of English disrupts concentration and learning.
  2. Artificiality. In non-classroom situations with speakers of Mandarin Chinese, students need to be able to use Mandarin Chinese. Sessions need to simulate real life. Students need to practice what they will need to be able to do. They cannot count on their listeners to use or understand English. For an example of teaching only in Mandarin, please see this video of Benfang Wang using only Mandarin Chinese to teach a complete novice. For further context, please also see the Middlebury Language Pledge.
  3. “Othering.” Although the use of English may be well-intended, the result is othering, a form of exclusion. However unintentionally, use of English communicates to earnest students trying their best: “You don’t belong. You are, and always will be, a 外国人.” A sense of not belonging can invoke a sense of shame, an intensely painful feeling destructive to learning.

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

Job description

Plain language summary, in the beginning student’s words:

“Please use Mandarin Chinese to help me practice speaking using the first characters and words in Mandarin Blueprint‘s* curriculum. Although the curriculum is behind a paywall, here is the list of characters and words I am learning through Phase 4, Level 36. Please use words I know to help me learn new words. A ratio of 80% or more known words to 20% new words works best for me. My system for understanding Mandarin Chinese is fragile. Using English disrupts my train of thought and my understanding and leaves me feeling disconnected from you. For my sake, please do not use English. Someday, I hope to take and pass the HSK 3 exam. I measure and track my achievement of proficiency using HSKlevel.”

More specifically, let’s begin with the ends in mind.

Students would:

  • Hear and speak only Mandarin Chinese.
  • Gain measurable proficiency efficiently.
  • Experience a sense of genuine accomplishment at the end of each session.
  • Attend the next session.

The instructor would:

  1. Have in mind that bright and motivated adults begin studying Mandarin Chinese. Most quit. Learning Mandarin Chinese as an adult requires no less than inserting a new priority into a set of high stakes priorities already in place, often family and work. We try to help by screening for readiness. But Mandarin Chinese classes can have dropout rates as high as 95%. Our goal is to be able to say, “Most of the students who begin continue.” We would consider a 51% continuation rate a significant accomplishment.
  2. Have in mind that busy adults have, at most, one hour per day to engage with Mandarin Chinese. Immersion in an in-person culture of speakers and listeners is nearly impossible. Regardless of how helpful the “input” of listening to or watching electronic versions of spoken Mandarin Chinese might be, listening is suboptimal because it is not interactive,
  3. Rather than focus on students’ 努力, use the content of the curriculum to create “quick wins,” i.e. “feel-good” quick and early successes.
  4. Use shaping to reinforce successive approximations of accurate pronunciation and expression.
  5. Help learners build proficiency by creating speaking practice sessions that contain 80% or more of content students already know – that is comprehensible to them – and 20% or less of new material. Understand that this helps counteract the “forgetting curve.” Please see John Pasden’s essay, What 80% Comprehension Feels Like.
  6. Attempt to create one or more of the 3 to 17 exposures researchers have found language learners need to master a new word.
  7. Use the skills of a conversationalist to engage the learner in dialogue and discussion.
  8. Selectively correct students’ pronunciation and grammar through asking clarifying questions using the student’s words, but pronounced correctly. Little to no direct instruction and no use of English would occur.
  9. Desired but not required: Provide assessments.
  10. Be able to be paid though PayPal or another readily available electronic means.

To apply

  1. Fill out the contact form here. (If you are an italki teacher, please feel free to message me through italki.)
  2. In the message section of the contact form, please include a link to a page that identifies you. (Not needed for italki teachers.)
  3. In the message section, acknowledge that you have read and understood the job description in its entirety.
  4. Prepare a 10-minute demonstration of a group speaking practice session that displays your willingness and ability to meet the criteria above. These criteria will be used as a rubric for evaluation.
  5. Applicants will be compensated at their 30-minute rate for doing a demonstration group lesson.

*Mandarin Blueprint is an online curriculum for learning to read and write characters. Mandarin Blueprint introduces characters in order of frequency of use to accelerate proficiency. Here is the list of characters and words through Phase 4, Level 36. Note: We acknowledge the challenge of working with beginners using characters in this order.  做 isn’t introduced until Level 26. 学 isn’t introduced until Level 27. For 90-day Mandarin Chinese Workshop sessions for beginners, our milestone is for students to complete through 想 xiǎng, “to think.” character #117, part way through Level 13.

With questions, please contact Anne Giles.

Last revised 10/12/22.

老师,你好。I am experimenting with a new method to remember and deeply understand what I learn. I have studied Mandarin Chinese for nearly 2.5 years and have not achieved my primary goals: 1) to be understood by a non-teacher, native speaker when I speak Mandarin Chinese, and 2) to pass the HSK 3 exam. My primary challenge is remembering what I learn.

I have done extensive reviews of the latest research on cognitive neuroscience, memory, language learning, and the psychology of language learning, and have an idea for how to apply these findings. What seems to be missing from my study plan is natural interaction.

If of interest, here’s an article from 2020 that reports on much of this research:

I would like to ask if you would be willing to work with me in this way:
1. We speak for approximately 15 minutes but I pay for a full, 30-minute session.
2. We attempt to converse. There is no teaching or explaining. (I appreciate your willingness to try to teach me but I have difficulty remembering grammar points without being able to study them beforehand. I welcome explanations posted in the comments after we speak.)
3. There is no English. Why? I’m trying to directly use Mandarin Chinese because translating back and forth hurts retention. Here’s an excerpt from the article I mentioned above. [Language 1 (L1) for me is English and the second language (L2) I’m trying to acquire is Mandarin Chinese.]
“According to MacWhinney, adult L2 learning is susceptible to several major ‘risk factors,’ factors that prevent adults from acquiring a foreign language to native competence. These include thinking in L1 only (which implies the need to translate from L2 to L1 rather than directly using L2 as a medium).”
4. For 15 minutes – however awkward, strained, slow, and boring it might be – we speak only Mandarin Chinese.
5. We try to have a natural, flowing conversation. If you don’t understand what I say, or I make an error, please say, “再说一遍,” and give me a chance to correct myself. If I make a significant error that might cause me problems, please state the sentence correctly. I will know you are trying to help me and I will repeat it the best I can, and then we can continue.
6. To help the conversation, I may invite you to 角色扮演 juésè bànyǎn role play. For example, I have two rooms for rent in my house to international scholars. I might ask you to pretend you are a potential renter.
7. I will provide a list of words I am trying to learn and would like to hear you speak in context and would try to speak myself. For the 房东例子, I would like to try these words:
房东 fángdōng landlord
租 zū rent
房间 fángjiān room
公寓 gōngyù apartment
租客 zū kè | 承租人 chéngzū rén renter, tenant (not sure which is best)

老师, what do you think? Would you be willing to try this?

Thanks for considering.