Meaningful Words Course

Designed as an enrichment course to supplement other English language curricula, the Meaningful Words Course 意义词 课 Yì Yì Cí Kè offers lively instruction, many opportunities to speak, and is conducted primarily in English. Elementary Mandarin Chinese may be used for quick explanations or to provide a synonym.

The Meaningful Words Course 意义词 课 Yì Yì Cí Kè attempts to synthesize the latest research on second language acquisition – including the findings of neuroscience and psychology on learning and memory – to select content and instructional methods that optimize the acquisition of English by Mandarin Chinese speakers.

“Optimize” is defined as what will produce the greatest desired outcomes, in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort.


  • Create a powerful ability to hear and be heard using English, whether speaking, listening, writing, or reading, in both formal and informal contexts.
  • Achieve tangible desired outcomes, including high scores on standardized tests.


Research and our experience suggest that Mandarin-speaking people learn English optimally when they are:

  • Respected for bravery.
  • Encouraged to speak when they are ready but not pushed to do so.
  • Treated as if they *already* are speakers of English and are worth listening to.
  • Provided adjusted language content in both English and Mandarin Chinese – termed “scaffolding” – to get from where they are to where they want to be.
  • Provided multiple exposures to important words in a variety of contexts. (Researchers have found that second language learners may need from 3 to 17 exposures to learn a new word.)
  • Encouraged to be conscious of the words they use and learn.
  • Encouraged to make meaning from what they learn.
  • Offered opportunities to build an internal system of making meaning – an “interlanguage”* – and to integrate previously learned content with new content.

From our Coordinator


The current formulation of the course includes:

  1. Weekly sessions of 30 minutes each.
  2. Prior to the session, via WeChat, students may submit words of meaning and interest to them. The instructor will attempt to use these words during the session.
  3. Use of the most common words used in English as part of the session’s content. [Although other corpora exist, we’re using this list from Wikipedia and here’s an excerpt (.pdf).]
  4. Primarily English-only instruction using spoken words, pantomime, props, and facial expressions to convey a) as much student-selected – and thus highly engaging and relevant – content as possible, b) a powerful set of common, core words in English, and c) skill with problematic English pronunciation, all using the instructional methods of shaping and comprehensible input, kě lǐjiě de shūrù 可理解的输入. (To learn more about these methods, please see the video embedded in this description of Stephen Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition.)
  5. Reading aloud of stories frequently read by American children and likely to be part of the cultural lexicon of the students’ generation. (This process also begins to introduce the benefits of extensive listening and reading.)
  6. Enrichment materials and interaction through the course’s WeChat group.

More about the course

For whom?
To start, the course is for children and teenagers who plan to take the Zhongkao (中考), Gaokao (高考, TOEFL, IELTS, or other standardized exams. In the future, we hope to hold courses for pre-college students, college students, and adults.

For how long, when, and where?

  • Each course is comprised of five, 30-minute sessions, once per week on Sundays.
  • Each course is unique so students may enroll as many times as they wish.
  • Sundays, 5:00 – 5:30 PM Beijing Time, online via Zoom
    (5:00 – 5:30 AM U.S. Eastern Time)

Who is the teacher?
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. She attended the virtual National Chinese Language Conference in 2021. She has taught English at the middle school, high school, and college levels.

What does the course offer and not offer?
The course offers a brief, weekly experience with learning English in a research-informed way. It is considered an enrichment course and is not a replacement for comprehensive instruction in English.

How do I enroll or how do I enroll my child?
Please fill in the contact form on this page. Anne Giles will forward this information to the Coordinator who will contact you with enrollment information, technology requirements, and fees.

What happens during the first session?
The Coordinator will make introductions and explain ground rules in both Mandarin Chinese and English.

Ground rules:

  1. When the teacher is speaking, students are silent.
  2. When one student is speaking, other students are silent.
  3. If students have questions, they raise their hands and wait to be called on by the teacher.

The teacher will greet the students, introduce a story, share her screen, and read the story aloud. She will then read the story aloud sentence-by-sentence, and ask students to repeat after her. The teacher will ask questions for thought during the portion where students read aloud. She will attempt to use words that students have identified are meaningful to them.

What is the homework?


  1. Experiment with using the words you learned. Speak them mentally to yourself or to others. If you wish, consider composing a sentence or two with the words you learned. If you wish, share in WeChat the sentences, photographs, or videos you make that relate to the words.
  2. Become aware of words you use often and/or are important to you. Consider beginning to make a list of these meaningful words. Consider posting these meaningful words in WeChat.
  3. Consider doing the optional exercises posted in WeChat.
  4. Please post any questions you have about English in WeChat between sessions. The teacher checks WeChat often and will respond to questions as quickly as she can.


The latest research on second language acquisition suggests that learning can be optimized if people engage with content that is meaningful to them.

Further, if learners can gain facility with a core set of words that are meaningful to them – and use these words in ways that are important to them – they begin to create an inner knowing in their own minds and hearts about how the language works. (This inner understanding is termed an “interlanguage.”*) From this central set of personally meaningful words, learners can then add new words that also make sense to them. From hearing and reading the language, they naturally learn grammar constructions. Over time, the second language becomes second nature.

Logically, then, if students choose words for the course that are meaningful to them, learning will be efficient, maybe even exponential.


Please feel free to fill out the contact form in either Mandarin Chinese, English, or both. The Coordinator and/or Anne will reply to you.

*An “interlanguage” is a developmental, dynamic, individualized, 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 bilingualism, i.e. the person is able to think, feel, and make decisions in both languages.

This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.