When I first started learning Mandarin Chinese, I relied heavily on a series of Pimsleur courses. I found these very helpful in learning the different sounds and tones of the language, as the Pimsleur method places heavy emphasis on repetition (quite useful for speaking Mandarin).
It has been four years since that time and here I am: still working on the basics.
As part of my journey to pass the HSK 5 I am trying out some new techniques and experimenting with using new material. In particular, I have been very interested in using material from the US government’s Foreign Language Institute.
Today, I actually got around to downloading and listening to one of their tapes. You can find that tape here . (Please note that this site is not affiliated with any government entity and is privately owned).
Now, it doesn’t say exactly when the course was created, but on this particular website it uses the words “many years ago”. After listening to the tape, I realized that they were not exaggerating.
The two speakers I heard on Unit 1 Tape 1 spoke not only very quickly, but also with a heavy Beijing accent. After listening to the tape I found it very curious indeed how people were able to learn Chinese twenty or thirty years ago.
The tapes are interesting from a cultural perspective. They harken back to a time when people in the USA and China did not know very much about each other. I imagine that many of the more experienced China hands I know today learned Mandarin using similar materials.
PS: I could not find a record of the first US student to study Chinese in Mainland China. I would love to know who this person was and their story. If you know, please drop me a line.
Wikipedia Background Links
US-China open door policy and 1978 opening to foreign investment
Brief history of Chinese language studies