Ma LiPing Chinese Curriculum

Today’s post focuses on Ma LiPing (马立平), a person as well as a type of Chinese language curriculum she created for the Chinese American children of Chinese immigrants from Mainland China. This type of curriculum is best for children who are already fluent in Mandarin Chinese in that it is the heritage language of their family. This is not ideal for people who have no background in Chinese and are learning as a second language.

From my cursory examination and Googling, Ma LiPing sounds awesome and I wish it were available in Traditional Chinese. Even with that in mind, I’m tempted to buy it and then “translate” into Traditional for my own sake. I wonder if I could license it from them?

Anyhow, Ma LiPing is in some ways, a total philosophy and way of life. The general idea is that students are taught the most common characters used in the Chinese language (for reading books, newspapers, etc.). There is no pinyin taught since it’s for native speakers. (Even though kids in China initially learn characters with pinyin just as kids in Taiwan learn characters with zhuyin, they drop using pinyin around the third grade so most children’s books do not have pinyin in them.)

Through Ma LiPing, students are expected to know 1,500 of the most frequent words used in general Chinese books by 4th grade. In the 5th grade, to teach students to input Chinese via computer. And by the end of 10th grade, students are exposed to 2,794 characters.

In fact, this series reminds me of the Sagebooks in the sense that it emphasizes literacy of common words over learning words based on ease of recognition and writing. Unfortunately, Sagebooks is only for 500 characters.

Even though the Ma LiPing site is all in Simplified Chinese, you can get the gist of it using Google Translate (which I did). The site is fairly robust in terms of answering questions about the founder, curriculum, philosophy, FAQs, usage, lesson pacing, teacher training, phasing in to Chinese schools, sample materials, why some schools fail at implementation, and a lot of other information. It is incredibly thorough.

Or if you are not interested in wading through a passable Google Translated version of the site, you can try the American Chinese School’s site which does a pretty good job of summing up the Ma LiPing philosophy.

As the American Chinese School states, “the target learners of MLP curriculum are those students who already understand and speak Chinese at home as heritage Chinese, not a second language.  If your child can not at least understand Chinese at home and the family can not provide a continuing language environment, learning will become increasingly difficult as grades progress.”

According to Oliver Tu, three years ago, he visited a Saturday Chinese school in NC that used Ma LiPing and sat through one fourth grade class. He spoke to the teacher afterwards and discovered that some kids do better with curriculum using pinyin first and some do better with 马立平’s curriculum. But, many kids using 马立平’s curriculum have to switch to the pinyin classes at ~ 5-6th grade since otherwise, they just couldn’t keep up.

If your family goes to a Chinese school that uses Ma LiPing, I would LOVE to hear from you about your experiences and feedback!

Ma LiPing (马立平中文教材)
Site Language:
Physical Locations: 475 N. Whisman Rd # 200, Mountain View, CA 94043
Products: proprietary textbooks, workbooks, CDs, flashcards, teacher training materials, some free sample materials provided on site, AP Chinese
Product Languages: Simplified, NO pinyin

Did you know I wrote a book on how to teach your kids Chinese? You can get it on Amazon (affiliate link) and it’s conveniently titled, So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

It’s full of practical advice, detailed applications, and heavy amounts of snark. Find most of the answers to your questions about how you can help your kids learn, speak, and read Chinese.


Now, many of you know that I not only want my kids to be fluent in Mandarin, but I also want them to be literate. (An entirely different endeavor, to be sure!) As someone who is orally fluent, I am pathetic when it comes to literacy. I want my children to avoid that sense of inadequacy entirely. Ideally, they would be able to go from English speaking countries to Chinese speaking countries without any sense of insecurity. (After all, have you ever gone to a foreign country where you look like everyone and can even speak like everyone but can’t read? You feel like an idiot, constantly apologizing. You feel beneath everyone else’s contempt and pity.)

Anyhow, because of this, I am constantly looking for materials to teach my kids how to read (particularly Traditional characters since that’s what I grew up learning and prefer). Thus far, I’ve “cheated” by sending my kids to two Chinese preschools, but since Cookie Monster will be in Kindergarten starting in the fall, and I want to homeschool, I need numerous books to help him learn to read. (He already recognizes over 100-150 characters, so that pleases me. But I know all too well how easy it is to forget!)

As I mentioned in a previous post on Chinese bookstores, Sagebooks is a publisher of a proprietary set of Chinese books that help children learn to read. Instead of focusing on the “easiest” Chinese words to learn, Sagebooks focuses on the top 500 characters children need in order to read children’s books. The theory being that even if kids recognize a bunch of Chinese characters, unless they are used in the context of storybooks or readers, the characters are meaningless and the kids can’t really read a story from start to end. Thus, an incredibly frustrating experience for both parent and child.

In this way, they are like the BOB books that help children learn to read in English. The books build on each other so that in each lesson, you can read more and more stories and more and more books. Kids build up their confidence and competence – and most kids respond well to small successes so that they are encouraged to continue.

Just from his two Chinese preschools, Cookie Monster already knows 90% of the first set of 100 words. He really loves the fact that he can pick up the books and breeze through the stories. (I’m sure it helps when I gush and exclaim praises and make him show his Ah-Ma and his teachers. Nothing like stoking the fires of wanting to learn!) The books all have pinyin under the characters (Simplified and Traditional) so it helps me, too. I believe the books also come with CDs so if you personally can’t read or pronounce the words, you can listen to the CDs.

We bought the the full set which includes all five reader sets (500 characters, 25 books), Zodiac collection, Treasure Box, Idioms in Comic, Drama in Comic, and Bundle package. I haven’t broken them all out yet because I am lazy, but many of my friends are slowly going through the books (and GuavaRama just finished the whole set with her eldest child).

According to GuavaRama, the curriculum is the reader with accompanying treasure box (but the treasure box only goes up to 4th reader series right now) a comic book. You can get the idioms and zodiac as additional readers.

Some people like the idioms, others don’t. The idioms require that you explain the meaning to the kids in addition to reading them. GuavaRama‘s daughter liked them because she found them funny. But idioms need to be used and you won’t learn much just by reading them. 

GuavaRama didn’t like the Zodiac collection because she didn’t like the illustrations. Plus, they included characters they don’t teach you in the readers. That said, her daughter liked them well enough.

If you want to learn to read, she recommends you get just the basic stuff. If you are looking for additional material to read after you’ve learned your characters, there is a dearth of books, so you get the additional materials because you want your kids to practice reading. GuavaRama and her daughter were able to read regular beginning books with the help of zhuyin after 500 characters.

You can also check out some of their readers and products on their YouTube channel. (Thanks, KF!)

Some folks in the Chinese Facebook Groups combined orders and got discounts – but they really only ship to one address, so keep that in mind. My friend, Fleur, and I combined our order and had them ship from Hong Kong to the Bay Area. Since we were a large group order, we got a discount, but the shipping was close to $75 EACH and took over a month or so. You can pay more for air shipping (~$125 EACH order – depending on weight). If you ever visit HK or Taiwan, you can either pick up from their physical location or ship to Taiwan, which will obviously be cheaper (it takes about two weeks).

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards

Incidentally, GuavaRama has an AWESOME blog, GuavaRama, where she writes about all her Chinese homeschooling adventures with her adorable children. She has just finished all the Sagebooks with her daughter and has reviewed their progress through the Sagebooks on her site.

I swear, after reading each of her posts, I feel simultaneous envy, inspiration, and despair. How can I ever compare to her awesomeness? Her meticulousness? Her incredible preparation?

Well, I’ll tell you how. I cheat. I buy the amazing materials she creates. TOTALLY WORTH EVERY SINGLE PENNY. In GuavaRama‘s infinite creativity and patience, she has created flash cards for every single word used in the Sagebooks 500 series. On top of that, she has them color-coded to each book set, has the radical of each word highlighted in red, and will even cut and laminate them for you if you prefer she does it for you.

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards laminating

Mindful Mandarin Sagebooks flash cards laminating

In my case, since I do so enjoy cutting and laminating because I’ve got problems, GuavaRama just printed out the cards for me on card stock and hand delivered them to me through mutual friends. (It was quite the elaborate mule train.) I’m sure if you pay for shipping, she can harness the power of USPS and get them to you that way.

You can check out her other products on her etsy site, Mindful Mandarin. (She has a really cool game that mimics Chutes & Ladders that kids love to play.) I will be doing a more lengthy review of Mindful Mandarin in the future but until then, I highly recommend her blog since it is SO useful and helpful in my journey to teach my kids Mandarin.

ETA: Some readers have asked about where to buy in Canada or US. You can find them at online bookstores such as China Sprout or Little Monkey and Mouse. (You can usually search for “Sagebooks” or  “Basic Chinese 500.”) However, there is a markup since they would like to make money. If you want to only buy a book or two, then these sites are the way to go.

If you want to buy the entire set (all the books and sets and extras like I did), then it will be cheaper to contact Sagebooks directly. Likely, you can get a discount, and if you get others to order with you, you will get a bigger discount. That usually offsets the shipping – which in the end, is STILL cheaper than buying from the US sites.

SageBooks (思展) – Provides proprietary literacy materials for young readers. Explores the philosophy, history, art, geographic nature and many other interesting facets of China.
Site Language: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
Physical Locations: Hong Kong
Products: Proprietary learning materials, children’s books (learning Chinese and stories), multimedia, ebooks, free learning resources
Product Languages: Traditional, Simplified, English, pinyin

Mindful Mandarin – Provides Traditional Chinese characters learning materials. Many supplement the Sagebooks curriculum and are also Montessori based. (Disclosures: The owner is a friend and I have purchased her products in the past. I was not compensated for this post.)
Site Language: English
Physical Locations: No. Bay Area, CA based.
Products: Proprietary supplemental language learning materials
Product Languages: Traditional, pinyin

Did you know I wrote a book on how to teach your kids Chinese? You can get it on Amazon (affiliate link) and it’s conveniently titled, So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese.

It’s full of practical advice, detailed applications, and heavy amounts of snark. Find most of the answers to your questions about how you can help your kids learn and speak Chinese (as well as read).

Sky Mandarin

From what I could tell, Sky Mandarin textbooks is a proprietary system of learning Chinese. They offer materials from K-3, elementary, intermediate, and high school levels. They also seem to provide materials for the Chinese AP Exam. Unfortunately, even the site claims it has an English version, I could not get it to work. Google Translate, though helpful, is not always the best for conveying nuance.

Sky Mandarin offers a decent number of resources on their site with teacher guides, sample curriculum, and member only areas. From my cursory look, it seems like each book is about 50 characters, which isn’t really a lot when they recommend you go through a book a year or a book every half year. That seems really slow to me.

They also seem to offer a “magic pen” to help with learning Chinese. (A lot of companies offer something similar.)

As always, if any of you readers have direct experience with the books, please let me know in the comments!

Sky Mandarin (藍天生活華語) 
Site Language: Traditional, offers English but I couldn’t get it to work
Physical Locations: No
Products: proprietary textbooks (K-3, intermediate, advanced), teacher guides, proprietary “Rainbow Stroke Order” materials, teaching references, CDs
Product Languages: Traditional, pinyin