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The Chinese Outpost | About This Site

This site, The Chinese Outpost, is a "labor of love" hobby site that grew from one person's interest in the language, history and culture of China. I'm that person, Mark Baker, originally from Ohio but now living near Seattle, Washington, with my wife (a native of China) and our two young daughters.

The Roots of This Site

This site is centered around an "Introduction to Mandarin Chinese" tutorial I started up in 1998.

Here's how that Learn Chinese resource came about....

Back in early 1993, after I knew I would be heading to China later that year to teach university English and Literature courses, I decided it might be good to learn something about the Chinese language in advance. I didn't have the time for courses or tutoring in the language at that point, so I tried to find a book or article that would give me a quick high-level overview of the language before I plunged in.

Tutorial Objectives
To reassure those who are curious about the language that learning Chinese is by no means out of their reach.
To help new learners "get their bearings" with Chinese faster by pointing out some of the connections and characteristics that traditional language teaching systems don't cover until much later...if at all.
To provide a readable, useful introduction that teachers of Chinese can direct their beginning students to, using it to help "demystify" the language a little and give students a more confident starting point for beginning their classes;
To provide some information "about" the language to those who don't necessarily want to learn Chinese, but are still curious about how it "works."

Unfortunately, every resource I found that was billed as an "Introduction to Mandarin Chinese" failed to help. Some were written so poorly that they were incomprehensible. Others were so "academic", so technical, that they were irrelevant.

For someone like me, who just wanted to learn how to read and speak everyday Chinese, not earn a Ph.D. in Chinese Linguistics, it was a frustrating experience, and I left for China still lacking a firm notion of how the Chinese language "works."

That kind of insight, it turned out, I had to piece together for myself a little at a time during my four years in Asia, with a private lesson here, some hours with a dictionary there, a few questions to my Chinese students or colleagues everywhere else, until I finally had, in my own handwritten notes, the kind of introduction to the language I wanted in the first place.

By the time I permanently returned to the United States, in 1997, the Internet revolution was well underway, and a number of Web sites devoted to Chinese language education had already appeared on the scene. Some of the problems I'd encountered with materials in print, however, were echoed online. Most "lessons" were either too simplistic or too academic, and few free resources offered a good starting point for people who wanted to begin learning the language independently.

Realizing that, plus the fact that I wanted to better organize the notes I had made on the fundamentals of the language, prompted me to create my own "Introduction to Mandarin Chinese" tutorial, which is now a primary feature at this Web site. The Chinese language continues to fascinate me, but since my wife and I are trying to raise our two young daughters to be fluent in both English and Chinese, and since I don't want my daughters' Mandarin skills to outpace mine too quickly, my interest in the language is still more than just academic.

On Learning Chinese

Feedback I receive suggests that the "Introduction to Mandarin Chinese" tutorial on this site remains one of the Web's best informational introductions to does the number of sites that have ripped off some graphics from the tutorial without giving proper credit to this site, including some commercial enterprises...sigh...and some university faculty members...gasp!...

Be that as it may, the online Chinese language-learning landscape has changed dramatically since the first version of this site went online in April of 1998, and there are some great options for continuing with your Chinese learning proper, including sites with useful and usable audio samples, step-by-step lesson units, podcasts and more.

There's quite a lot to sort through now, truth be told--learning Mandarin Chinese has become staggeringly popular throughout the Western world in the past decade--but I think the resources can be sorted into two main categories:

For do-it-yourselfers, a great anchor site for you is Roddy Flagg's Chinese Language and Culture Forum, and I've listed some other Chinese Learning Resources for you on this site, too.

That's A Wrap

I hope you find the "Introduction to Mandarin Chinese" and other resources on this site useful...

...and here is a related site I'm adding to the Internet glut:

A Couple Photos

Me with my wife and our one-week old daughter in April, 2001:

April 2001 Family Photo

This one wasn't working out quite as planned with Santa (one daughter wouldn't look at the camera, the other was crying), so my Wife and I jumped in the frame to capture the true Spirit of Christmas, 2004:

December 2004 Family Photo

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