Mandarin Chinese Workshop Syllabus

How much Mandarin Chinese can adults learn in 90 days?

The following is a proposed syllabus for a 90-day workshop for adults interested in learning Mandarin Chinese. Held in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A., the workshop begins August 1, 2022, and runs through the end of October. A description of the workshop and how to apply is here.

Class meeting times

  1. Weekly, 90-minute, in-person meetings, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM U.S. Eastern Time, day of week and location TBA.
  2. Weekly, 30-minute, online, conversation group facilitated by Benfang Wang, 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM U.S. Eastern Time, day of week TBA.

Required materials

Recommended online resources

Prior to the first workshop meeting

  1. Begin Mandarin Blueprint‘s 6-hour Pronunciation Mastery course.
  2. Download and begin to use the free features of Hello Chinese.
  3. Peruse the profiles of Mandarin Chinese teachers on italki and save links to the profiles of teachers with whom you might like to work and fit your budget ($100 italki voucher will be provided). Seek teachers – either by training or intuition – who seem to understand the theories of shapingcomprehensible inputcomprehensible outputTotal Physical Response (TPR), the forgetting curve, and “quick wins,” and conduct their classes primarily in Mandarin Chinese. For example, here is a video of Benfang Wang using only Chinese to teach a complete novice the beginnings of Mandarin Chinese.
  4. Sample Mandarin Chinese TV shows and movies on Netflix.**

Weekly in-person workshop format

3:00 – 3:30 PM Progress check-ins, presentations
3:30 – 4:00 PM Guest instructor
4:00 – 4:30 PM Synthesis and application of content from presentations and guest instruction; progress check-outs

More about the workshop schedule is here.

After the first workshop meeting

  1. Contemplate a useful metaphor to describe your “interlanguage”* the systematic, individualized way you will organize your learning of Mandarin Chinese.
  2. Complete The First Sentence exercise.
  3. Continue with, and complete, the Pronunciation Mastery course, then begin learning characters through the Mandarin Blueprint Method online course, progressing through the levels and phases.

Mandarin Blueprint study resources


Curriculum. Progress through the Pronunciation Mastery course, then the levels and phases of Mandarin Blueprint‘s online curriculum.

Shadowing, 5 minutes. Practice shadowing with a DuChinese story.

The First Sentence, 3 minutes. Practice pronouncing and writing the pinyin and hanzi for your “first sentence.”

Teach to Learn, 15 minutes. Teach what you’ve learned to fellow students by creating and sharing a daily, brief quiz or exercise. Possibilities are myriad and include an in-person activity, writing via email, or video.

Speak Mandarin Chinese,15-30 minutes. Speak Mandarin Chinese with a fellow student, a language exchange partner, an italki instructor, or any willing speaker of Mandarin Chinese.

Interlanguage, 2 minutes. After creating a log to track the description of your interlanguage as it develops: 1) Add a brief list of the teaching and learning activities in which you engaged each day. 2) Imagine and describe how what you learned today fits into, and enriches, your interlanguage. Write and log a one-sentence description.

Enrichment possibilities

  1. Add new sentences to The First Sentence dialogue.
  2. Start to read Mandarin Companion graded reader Just Friends?
    Here is an Annotated Word List with Simplified Characters, Pinyin, and English Keywords for Just Friends? (.pdf opens in a new tab). If you choose this enrichment possibility, an audio version of Just Friends? will be provided to foster vocabulary development through reading while listening. For those who use Pleco and wish to continue reading Mandarin Companion graded readers, Pleco offers a bundle for $99 that can be provided to members, upon request, after completing 30 days of continuous study.
  3. Memorize a piece of text with frequently used words. Consider a song (suggestion forthcoming) or a joke. Be able to sing or recite and write the piece by heart.
  4. Watch The Rational Life without and with Language Reactor.
  5. Consider doing character drill work with italki instructor Amy Jiang. She is familiar with Mandarin Blueprint and will assist you with learning characters in the order presented by Mandarin Blueprint.
  6. Watch Mandarin Chinese TV shows and movies on Netflix**, both with and without Language Reactor.
  7. Write sentences, poems, plays, and/or stories in Mandarin Chinese.
  8. Accumulate exposures. Researchers have found that second language learners may need from 3 to 17 exposures to learn a new word.

At intervals during the workshop

Submit scores for:

  • $50 award for submitting achievement scores and completing 30 consecutive days of study, one hour per day.
  • $100 award for submitting achievement scores and completing 60 consecutive days of study, one hour per day.
  • $200 award for submitting achievement scores and completing 90 days of study, one hour per day.


As the workshop comes to a close

  1. Retake the Mandarin Chinese Interest Survey. Record and save your answers. Find your pre-course answers. What insights do you gain from comparing your pre-course and post-course answers?
  2. Re-take the HSKlevel.  IMPORTANT: Save your scores as a .pdf. Calculate the percentage gain in your recognition of characters. What conclusions do you draw about your progress? Rank order the teaching and learning activities you engaged in over the past
  3. Consider whether or not you will continue learning Mandarin Chinese. If you will, write a plan of study.


Based on my reviews of the research literature, the primary way adults can optimize their second language learning is through consciously developing an inner system of making meaning of the content of the language. This is termed an “interlanguage.”

An “interlanguage” is a developmental, dynamic, individualized, structured, systematic way to use the  brain’s schematic functions to organize second language information, make meaning from it, and speak, write, and create in it. If the learner continues to be willing to receive input, the interlanguage can eventually transform into multilingualism, i.e. the person is able to think, feel, work, relate, and make decisions in many languages.

This perhaps, is a real-world example of an interlanguage at work:

“Renée Fleming spent two years in Germany studying voice while she was in her twenties. She told me that over the course of her life, each time she went back to Germany she found her fluency had mysteriously improved, as if the language had continued to work its way into her brain regardless of whether she was speaking it.”
– Ann Patchett, “These Precious Days

According to Gass et al. in Second Language Acquisition, an interlanguage is a means “both consistent and dynamic,” by which “learners themselves impose structure on the available linguistic data and formulate an internalized system.” Further, consciousness of an interlanguage may protect against “fossilization,” a language learner’s creation of over-strong schema and too-early cessation of learning in some areas.

I envision an interlanguage as a beautiful internetwork of stars and squares and glitter as words and concepts and meaning. Workshop members are asked to envision an interlanguage in images that are meaningful to them.


Here is a list of romance TV series on Netflix recommended for their use of contemporary, general purpose Mandarin Chinese and engaging story lines, in rank order, with links to IMDb or Wikipedia:

  1. The Rational Life, 2021
  2. The Perfect Match, 2016
  3. Well-Intended Love, 2019, season 1 (not season 2)
  4. Use for My Talent, 2021
  5. My Sunshine, 2015

Approximately equal


Meteor Garden, 2018, frequently recommended by Mandarin Chinese schools, belongs in a mesmerizing category of its own for the personality challenges of its characters, general misogyny, and baffling ending. Outtake videos, like this one, are often sweet.

This project 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.

With questions or comments, please contact Anne Giles.

Mandarin Chinese Workshop-related links

Last updated 5/31/22

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.