Road Map for Chinese Learners

How to Reach an Advanced Level in Four Years or Less

Year 1: Beginning Chinese
Year 2: Intermediate Chinese
Year 3: Advanced Chinese I
Year 4: Advanced Chinese II

Learning Goals: Year Three

Advanced Chinese I


  • Listening: A milestone is that you will be able to catch the main meanings of authentic Chinese news announcements (radio and TV) although as well as colloquial Chinese used in Chinese movies and TV dramas (without influence of local dialects/accents) although you will unavoidably miss some "technical" details. At the same time, you can understand the speech of native speakers in a wider range of topics even if they use quite a few colloquial or classical idiomatic phrases.
  • Speaking: You can express your ideas deeper and more clearly in a wider range of topics with more properly used idiomatic phrases although you are not yet able to make a formal speech without preparation. You can also narrate a well organized story with both elaborate frame and enough details.
  • Reading: A milestone is that you can read authentic Chinese writings beyond your textbooks which now consist of authentic or slightly modified reading materials. These authentic writings include: headline news, short news reports, short social/cultural comments, and short stories. However, your reading speed will still be relatively slow (60-100 characters per min.). Now you can recognize 1,500-1,800 Chinese characters or over 5,000 Chinese words/idiomatic expressions. As mentioned above, 1,500 characters mark a turning point: You will no longer forget a lot of "old" characters since you can always link the newly learned characters with the previously learned ones.
  • Writing: You can write short (1-2 pages) social/cultural comments in appropriately written style (not as formal as academic writings) and can also write well organized and detailed stories based on your own experiences.
  • Grammar: You understand very well the distinction between Standard Spoken Chinese and Written Chinese (not only knowing the vocabulary differences but also the structural differences). You also know something about the distinction between Standard Spoken Chinese and Colloquial Chinese, although not thoroughly yet. You understand the basic rules of how to use Chinese idiomatic phrases.
  • Culture: Now you know much better and deeper about Chinese culture and society for both built-in cultural heritages (e.g. idiomatic phrases) and contents.
  • By the end of the semester, your oral proficiency level should reach at least advanced low. If you take HSK test, you should get at least Level 5 (6 or 7 is possible).


  • In the beginning, you may feel the Written (Formal) Chinese very difficult. That is normal because you have been learning Standard Spoken Chinese. As a matter of fact, they are quite easy since they have almost fixed formats. For example, the news report today is nothing too different in terms of format and patterns from those of 60 years ago. Try to get familiar with the patterns and you will make fast progress.
  • Now you need to take some time to reflect on the relationship between Chinese characters and words. Many Chinese characters themselves are single syllable words but some are just word elements used to form multi-syllable words. A word element cannot be used as a grammar unit. Then, you can understand the structure of Chinese words better and when you encounter a new word you have not yet learned, you can guess the meaning by the word elements of which the word consist.
  • It is also the right time for you to understand "Sound Elements" within characters. As you know, 85% or more Chinese characters consist of radicals to indicate meanings and sound elements to indicate sounds. To group them yourself and you will learn Chinese characters faster and better.
  • Try to read something beyond textbooks. Do NOT read modified reading materials and go to the authentic. Find something in which you are really interested. Attention, they should not be too long (no more than two pages). Guess the meaning of new words before looking at dictionary.
  • In writing, try to apply the newly learned patterns and idiomatic phrases. A common problem for Chinese learners is to repeatedly use the 1st and 2nd year patterns and words and to feel that is the most natural. However, Chinese native speakers do not write that way.

Frequently Asked Questions

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My oral Chinese still needs improvement so I don't understand why we should pay such a great attention to written Chinese.

The Chinese language has four sub-systems and they are all very important: Colloquial Chinese, Standard Spoken Chinese, Written or formal Chinese, and Classical Chinese. If you don't know colloquial Chinese, you will not be able to understand contemporary movies; if you don't know formal Chinese, you will not be able to understand Chinese newspapers, magazines, business documents, and almost all kinds of authentic materials in writing; if you don't understand classical Chinese, you will not be able to fully understand academic papers. After learning 2nd year Chinese, you already have a quite good command of the standard spoken Chinese. It is high time for you to widen your Chinese skills except for Classical Chinese which will be an important part of your 5th year Chinese. To decode the written Chinese is your current task but you will also learn colloquial (informal) Chinese and improve your standard spoken Chinese you have been learning since the very beginning.

Why don't we start learning written Chinese with short stories?

Two reasons: First, short stories are not written in typical Written (Formal) Chinese. A common practice is to use a special written style for the narrative parts but spoken (usually very informal) style for the conversations. Second, authors of the short stories have strong personal styles that differentiate from each other. On the contrary, the social/political comments share largely the identical style. So are the news reports. But we shall learn some short stories to use them as models to improve your narrating skills.

Shall we use idiomatic phrases in formal writing only?

There are two kinds of idiomatic phrases, classical ones and colloquial ones. The colloquial ones are mainly used in everyday life conversation while the classical ones can be used in many occasions, either in writing or in speech. Even in everyday life conversations, you may use classical idiomatic phrases that may create humorous effects.