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Course Description

This subject is the first semester of four that form an introduction to modern standard Chinese, commonly called Mandarin. Though not everyone who enrolls will be an absolute beginner, the course presupposes no prior background in the language. The emphasis is on developing:

  • Basic conversational abilities (pronunciation, fundamental grammatical patterns, common vocabulary, and standard usage)
  • Basic reading and writing skills (in both the traditional character set and the simplified)
  • An understanding of the language learning process so that you are able to continue studying effectively on your own.

The Textbook

The core text is J. K. Wheatley. Learning Chinese: A Foundation Course in Mandarin, part 1, which is available in electronic form (pdfs) on the 21F.101 (Spring) MIT server. The textbook consists of a total of 12 major units (plus a number of peripheral chapters). Chinese 1 covers the first 4 units (plus introductory chapters), but not the character component of unit 4, which comes at the beginning of Chinese 2.

Recommended Dictionaries

DeFrancis, John, ed. ABC Chinese-English Dictionary (regular or pocket edition). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996. Amazon logo ASIN: 0824817443 (regular); Amazon logo ISBN: 0824821548 (pocket).
This is the only Chinese-to-English dictionary ordered by alphabet without reference to the head character of a word. In effect, it allows you to look up a word on the basis of its pronunciation alone, with no knowledge of the characters associated with it (though searching by character is also possible.)

Amazon logo Yuan, Boping, and Sally Church, eds. The Starter Oxford Chinese Dictionary. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN: 0198602588.
This is a handy starter's dictionary, with good definitions and clear format.

Amazon logo Manser, Martin H., ed. Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999. ASIN: 0195911512.
More entries than the previous dictionary, and with English-to-Chinese.


As the calendar shows, there are five tests, evenly spaced over the course of the term, and an oral interview. Classes need preparation if they are to be effective. There is a listing of the daily assignments for all 52 days of class. The textbook itself contains exercises for monitoring progress. These will sometimes be collected at the beginning of class when they are due. As the calendar shows, there is a practice test on day 8, then three other tests spaced fairly evenly through the semester, and an oral interview towards the end of the term. There are also frequent quizzes, many unannounced. These will be factored into the 'class grade'. Written tests will cover pinyin transcription (including tone), grammatical knowledge, usage (choice of words), appropriateness (choice of expression in a context), comprehension, and reading in characters. The oral interview will test pronunciation, fluency, accuracy, and appropriateness of speech, and comprehension.


The course grade will be based on class performance, and on tests. Class performance will be evaluated on the basis of attendance (including promptness), and preparedness (as demonstrated by performance and quizzes). Other factors may come in to play, e.g. improvement vs. stagnation over the course of the semester, and progress relative to starting level. Quizzes or tests missed without written excuse cannot be made up. Attendance and promptness is assumed; more than four unexcused absences (a week's worth) lowers your grade one letter; significant lateness will add up to absences.