Chinese Language Program Alumni

Jamie Fleishman, Class of 2011:

"Almost all parts of where I am now can be traced to deciding to sign up for Chinese 10a the summer before my freshman year. However, at the time I started learning Chinese, I went to class with no expectations of having any future connected to Chinese language or China; I just wanted to try something new. My first Chinese teacher, Professor Feng, made it so that Chinese class felt fun, and we did not think learning Chinese was an insurmountable variable. My second Chinese teacher, Professor Lu, continued making Chinese class interesting and showed incredible amounts of care to her students. Both Professor Feng and Lu encouraged me to study abroad in China, and after I returned from a semester in Beijing, I knew China would become an important part of my life.

That's turned out to be true and my Chinese professors have continued to be at my side. In the spring of my senior year, Professor Feng told me about an internship opportunity at the Chinese language textbook publisher Cheng and Tsui and I ended up interning there for 6 months. My China experience then helped me find job at the Yale-China Association. In November 2012, I came back to Beijing and started working with Elite Scholars of China, mentoring and guiding top Chinese high school students to apply to top colleges in the US. In China, I am the founder and president of the Alumni Club of China and seeing my Chinese teachers and friends from Chinese class in China and the US."

Learning Goals: Year One

Beginning Chinese


  • Speak excellent Chinese with accurate pronunciation and tones, OK if in slightly lower than natural speed.
  • Understand basic grammar rules.
  • Be able to engage in communications on topics taught in the textbook orally or in writing. You can express yourself in complex sentences or short paragraphs with limited vocabulary.
  • Recognize 600 or more Chinese characters that form 1,000 or more Chinese words.
  • By the end of the second semester, your oral proficiency level should be "Novice High."


  • Pay attention to pronunciation and tones to lay a solid foundation to future success. You will have greater difficulties to correct if you have got used to wrong pronunciation/tones.
  • When you read the lessons, you must read aloud because that will help you memorize better.
  • Don't forget the goal is to speak Chinese in a natural speed. It is NOT natural to make too many pauses.
  • It is a bad habit to read the pinyin text instead of reading Chinese characters. The best way is to listen to the audio recording while reading a lesson.
  • For Chinese characters, hand-writing is NOT so important at this stage. It takes too much time to practice hand-writing and therefore it is not an efficient way to learn Chinese. Use computer to write Chinese (full pinyin input to write Chinese characters). Use larger font (24 or larger) to stimulate your memory. NEVER write pinyin with pen because pinyin is just a tool, NOT a form of Chinese language.
  • A very useful exercise is to listen to the audio recording of a lesson and typewrite it in Chinese. Compare the Chinese you created with the textbook if see if there is any mistake.
  • Most of the textbooks of the Beginning Chinese teach Standard (idealized) Spoken Chinese that is neutral (neither formal nor informal). Don't be surprised when you hear native speakers say something differently or even contrary to the grammar rules that are often with limits.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Should I consider going to China to learn beginning Chinese?

Although some programs in China offer first year classes, I don't recommend because Chinese teachers in the United States often know the needs of beginners better and the environment is not too important for a beginner. If you can only stay in China for one semester or one summer in your 4 years of college, the ideal time should be for Intermediate or Advanced levels.

I just want to learn speaking Chinese, so I don't need to learn Chinese characters.

Well, you can do that. As I know, however, there is a great chance that you will regret when you want to reach a higher level. To learn Chinese characters is not so difficult although hand-writing is really difficult.

Some say if you don't use pen to write but use computer to typewrite, you will not be able to memorize Chinese characters. Is that true?

Some experiments show just the contrary. Computerized learning of Chinese characters will enhance students' ability of recognize more Chinese characters. Now in China, most people use computer to write. There is no reason for our students to ban computer input of Chinese characters. However, hand-writing is surely a plus since calligraphy has been a significant part of Chinese cultural heritage. The key point here is on this beginning level, it is not worth spending too much time on hand-writing.

I understand there are two writing systems: traditional and simplified. Should I know both? If so, should I start with traditional Chinese characters since, as some suggest, it is much easier for one who knows traditional characters to learn simplified characters?

You don't need to learn both in this stage. Knowing both is a goal for advanced learners. You may start with either. Nowadays there are more people to start with simplified characters since there are apparently more people in the world to be using simplified characters. When one reaches advanced level, it is not too hard to learn the other writing system by intensive reading. With computer, to converse one into the other may be as easy as a single click (depending on your computer settings and software). If you are interested in Chinese history and intend to read of many classical writings, to start with traditional character will be a better choice.

Should I try to understand the meaning of each characters of which a word consist?

Better not at this stage. I would suggest intermediate learners to start doing so because then you will have enough characters/words to make analysis.