An Introduction to the MLP Textbook Series

(cited from DW Center for Language, Culture & Technology Education)

In 1994, a breakthrough in the curriculum of Chinese language took place with the publishing of a Chinese Textbook series by Dr. Liping Ma, a math educator, a language scholar, and the author of a Chinese language textbook series with brand new concepts.  The Ma Chinese Textbook series, with its innovative and effective curriculum design, has become the most hailed textbooks among Chinese communities outside China.

The Ma Chinese language series is an 11-volume textbook series, written specifically for school-age students of Chinese background living outside China.  The volumes include kindergarten and Grade 1 through Grade 10.  Its users are, by design, children learning Chinese as a heritage language; i.e. Chinese (Mandarin) as the home language.  Each volume consists of three units, with each unit taught in 10 weeks, eight weeks on lessons, one week of review and one week of testing.  Every unit is accompanied by two workbooks (for alternating weeks), a multi-media CD with complete sets of weekly homework assignments for each lesson week, and a complete set of student flash cards.  Each volume also comes with a set of teaching guide and large-size flash cards for teachers.  In lower grades, the textbooks incorporated the time-tested rhymes, poems, or essays that are culturally appropriate and cross-culturally stimulating.  These materials were painfully selected from the existing China’s national language education curricular, Chinese literature, as well as the world literature classics.  The selections were repeatedly reexamined, revised, and tested for over ten years by students in the U.S during its design phase.  The majority of the materials were selected to represent the level of Chinese language for students in China, with a goal of enabling children outside China to reach the proficiency level of Chinese language deemed adequate to function in a Chinese environment.

The most advanced feature of this series is its attempt to introduce Chinese in a fundamentally different yet utterly effective way of teaching and learning.  Instead of following suit with many existing textbook series, the Ma series focuses in lower grades primarily on building adequate vocabulary through repeated exposure to and spiral expansion of characters presented in fun and culturally appealing contents.  Chinese Writing is given much smaller amount of attention in the first 6 years until students have accumulated adequate vocabulary and has built a strong sense of language sounding and idiomatic expressions through a large quantity of reading (texts and supplemental readers).  As a result, students are kept motivated in the early years of Chinese learning and are much less likely to stop learning due to difficulty in climbing over the writing hurdles often introduced too soon in other existing textbook series.  The Ma Chinese series achieves its goal of knowing (hear, speak, read) more rather than writing few, given the same amount of learning time and the same amount of effort. Characters presented in texts are carefully selected that are scientifically proven the most frequently spoken or read characters in the language.

The Ma Chinese series is best known for its unique approach in teaching; i.e. the “Direct Character Recognition” approach.  Students are introduced directly to printed language on the first day and for the first three years including kindergarten, with no use of Pinyin, the phonetic symbol system.  Through selecting the texts that are of interest to young minds and through making students listen and read aloud (like speaking) the text multiple times a week, students learn to read immediately. The learned words appear repeatedly in the later texts or supplementary readers and in higher grades to strengthen the recognition and to give students a sense of accomplishment.  This approach “saved” countless number of children from dropping out of Chinese study all together.  That explains why classes or schools using this textbook series are flocked with parents and all classes are packed to the limit.  All of the parents who devoted time and energy supervising homework completion have no one but Dr. Ma to thank for writing the world’s first textbook on Chinese language that actually work for children of Chinese-speaking families.

This series is not suitable for learners learning Chinese as a second language.  A Chinese-speaking family environment is the essential part for this curriculum to work.  For more information, visit Dr. Ma’s website (in Chinese only).