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Introduction of Dr. Liping Ma Chinese Language Curriculum

By Diana Wobus, Ph.D. from University of Maryland College of Education
Director & teacher of Ma Liping (MLP) Chinese Program
American Chinese School, Rockville, MD

Many parents have heard about Liping Ma’s Chinese curriculum and wish to know
more about it. From my personal experience in teaching this curriculum and in
helping my child learning this curriculum, I would like to mention a few major
characteristics of the curriculum.

1. The curriculum was specially designed for children who already understand
the spoken Chinese and wish to learn it as a heritage language. Those
children with little comprehension in Chinese will have difficulty in using this
curriculum. The curriculum requires parents to speak Chinese as much as
possible at home for students to succeed in learning.

2. It is not until the third grade that curriculum introduces pinyin to learners,
so that children learn the basics of the Chinese language without the help
of pinyin, a phonetic system used in marking the sound of each Chinese
character. Dr. Ma believes that for children who already speak the language,
the purpose of learning pinyin is not for studying characters or learning
to speak but for using Chinese dictionary or Chinese word processor as
well as for continuing with Chinese language study at a higher level and
independently. This philosophy is not new and has already been implemented
in schools in many major cities in China.

3. All of the content in a lesson focuses on one theme. All seven lessons in Unit
One, for example, include a text which is also a children rhyme or a riddle,
easy to read. Children know them by heart after just a few times of listening
and repeating. Those texts are particularly attractive to children, who often
find it fun to “recite out loud” or to “act it out” at home. For higher grades,
the texts are carefully selected by Dr. Ma from those traditional Chinese
stories or essays that are age appropriate.

4. All of the reading exercises in the lessons focus on the new characters but
also repeat the characters in previous lessons. Characters are creatively
put together to form new, interesting phrases or sentences, yet maintaining

meaningfulness and providing maximum exposure to the learned characters.
I have not seen any Chinese language textbooks with such an effort of
scientifically creating these exercises. What surprises me is that children can
truly read every character without any help of pinyin.

5. The curriculum includes a complete set of homework in each lesson. The
formats of these exercises are consistent and the content changes with
the lesson. This multi-media format of homework is strengthened by Dr.
Ma’s personally writing and recording the content. The content of the
computerized homework completely focuses on the skills required, with a
fun game of text ‘spelling’, and is loved by all children. Children finish their
homework in a fun and relaxed environment. The homework is created
in such a way that it’s easy to follow and that it forces children to finish
all pieces in the right order on their own. Getting a child to do Chinese
homework can be stressful for both the child and the parents. With this
curriculum, many parents do not feel helpless any more as the children are
motivated to do their homework by themselves.

6. This curriculum takes a great deal of burden off the teacher’s shoulders. The
amount of content in each lesson is especially designed to fit into a two-hour
class in weekend schools. Some of the lesson work is for classroom and some
for home. The large character cards prepared reduces the time teachers used
to write characters on the board and are particularly useful for training short-
time memory or making up new phrases. The curriculum provides useful
teaching strategies and arranges the content efficiently. Teachers can follow
the curriculum step by step and it’s not difficult to finish the teaching plan for
each lesson.

7. The curriculum focuses on listening, speaking, and reading, with writing
as a secondary priority. I am in full agreement with this philosophy. For
most of our children living outside a Chinese-speaking environment, it’s
almost impossible to be good at all four aspects of the language. Writing
in Chinese takes much more effort, which is a number one killer of interest
and enjoyment in children for learning Chinese. Children learn to read much
more characters than to write them in the same period of time. Rather
than spending effort and agony for children to write every character, time is
much more effectively and efficiently spent in learning to read first. With the
growth of maturity in children, they will be able to learn to write as long as
they keep their interest and enthusiasm high in learning Chinese.

8. This curriculum is potentially fit for large size classes, without teachers
feeling over burdened. The reason is that the design of the content allows
for children to have maximum opportunity to participate and to have enough
work to do in class. Teachers have fewer class discipline problems to handle

because it’s easy to keep all children busy and pay attention. The curriculum
also allows teachers freedom to be creative and imaginative in teaching the
required content.

9. What makes this curriculum so effective? Dr. Ma was educated in China and
an accomplished educator and researcher with a Ph.D. degree from the U.S.
She spent over ten years writing and experimenting this curriculum. She
made decisions on the use of every character in each lesson, with several
revisions and rounds of experimentation by her students for years. This
process itself makes this curriculum trustworthy. Parents and teachers
should visit Dr. Ma’s website ( to get a better
understanding of Dr. Ma’s teaching philosophy.

10. Dr. Ma pioneered this set of curriculum with teaching her own daughter. Her
daughter came to the U.S. at the age of six and was taught Chinese at home
by Dr. Ma. When she was in the fourth grade, Dr. Ma returned to China for
her doctoral thesis and took her daughter with her. The daughter entered
the fourth grade in a good school in Shanghai, with little problem. This is
the living proof of Dr. Ma’s pedagogy in teaching Chinese language. Urged
by her colleagues, Dr. Ma started writing her own textbooks, combing her
personal experience, her mastery of the Chinese culture and language, and
her learning and research in teaching. She gave a priceless gift to teaching
and learning the Chinese language overseas and she devoted her heart to
children. The curriculum emerged from the hands of a China-trained educator
who had many years of living and working overseas, who understands
well and sympathizes with the difficulties facing overseas children learning
Chinese, who is profoundly knowledgeable about the Chinese culture and
language, and whose textbooks have been used and tested by her students
for a decade.

This curriculum may not be suitable for each and every child. The outcome also
may vary from child to child. Parents are advised to have a full understanding of the
curriculum, the child’s learning style and interest, and to have a personal evaluation
of different textbooks out there before sending your child to a MLP Chinese class.