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Beginners' Chinese

第一步 Dì yī bù: beginners’ Chinese will give you the skills you need to speak and understand simple Chinese (Mandarin) in everyday contexts. No previous knowledge of Chinese is required. This key introductory OU level 1 module will take you through a wide range of practical situations such as socialising, shopping and getting around. Study resources include printed materials and a dedicated website with a variety of online activities - which support independent learning. And while you’re learning the language you’ll explore aspects of Chinese society and culture, which will give you a real feel for the Chinese way of life.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

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What you will study

This module has at its core the following elements:

  • a step-by-step introduction to the Mandarin Chinese speech sounds and the formation of Chinese characters
  • user-friendly, concise instruction dealing with the Chinese grammar and language use, and useful information on relevant cultural aspects
  • gradual introduction of basic vocabulary, set phrases and sentence patterns
  • audio materials, featuring recordings by native speakers of Chinese
  • regular online listening, speaking, reading and grammar exercises with immediate feedback to monitor your progress
  • gradual development of study and language skills.

The study materials are carefully structured and graded, and provide ample opportunities to practise the language in realistic contexts. This module presents Mandarin Chinese in simplified characters accompanied by pinyin throughout the first part of print and online materials (note: pinyin is used less in the second half of the materials). There are notes on significant regional variations in the language whenever relevant.

This module is designed to enable you to achieve a level of language proficiency equivalent to level A2 of the Council of Europe Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. You will have developed your knowledge and understanding of the language as well as an awareness of cultural diversity in Chinese speaking countries which form a key part of the learning outcomes for studying at this level. By the end of the module you will have developed key OU level 1 undergraduate study skills such as learning to work independently and using strategies which enable you to solve problems and analyse data.

Please note that no further Chinese modules are currently planned.

Professional recognition

The Chartered Institute of Marketing recognises this module under their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material. They will mark and comment on your written and spoken tutor-marked assignments (TMAs). You can also ask your tutor for advice and guidance. If you are new to the OU, you will find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study methods. This module usually includes a mix of face-to-face and online tutorials. Please note that depending on where you live, the mix will vary and in some places face-to-face tuition may be replaced by telephone conferencing. All of these will provide you with plenty of opportunities to speak and listen to Chinese. Whether and where day schools are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) and the end-of-module assessment (EMA).

TMAs assess your writing and speaking skills. Your listening and reading skills will be tested by computer-marked assignments (iCMAs) presented on the website.The EMA has a written element. You will be given more detailed information when you begin the module.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
4 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning. 

No prior knowledge of Chinese is required to study this module. To help decide if this is the module for you, see A taste of our module materials.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of this module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jul 2016 £1350.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 30/07/2015.

What's included

Books, audio CDs, and a dedicated website with additional online resources and activities. As a registered language student you have access to an online forum where you can communicate with fellow students.

You will need

You will need a headset with a microphone and headphones to record speech in activities featured on the website as well as for use with the real time audio-visual conferencing tool used for online tutorials.

You will need a CD player, and a device to play mp3 files.

You may wish to check that your computer set up allows you to access the Chinese Simplified font, or whether you will need to purchase an additional language pack. You should check your specific operating system and software for guidance. Please also check the Computer requirements and Assessment sections.

We recommend that you purchase a bilingual dictionary as well as a grammar book, such as:
Collins Easy Learning Mandarin Chinese Dictionary (ISBN 9780007261130), HarperCollins Publishers, and
Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar A Practical Guide by Ross, Claudia & Jing-heng Sheng Ma (ISBN 9780415700108), Routledge.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

We are trying to make the study materials accessible to as many people as possible. Please note that this module makes substantial use of audio and visual materials. Full transcripts of the audio CDs and online activities are provided on the module website except for those used for assessment purposes. The written and spoken elements you will be asked to complete as part of your assessment use audio and possibly visual stimuli. Students who require a transcript for their assessment because of their disability are able to apply in advance for restricted access to these but will have to provide evidence of their needs.

Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of the printed material are available on the module website. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Some images in the study material are used to help teach the correct stroke order for handwriting Chinese characters, and these may not be read by a screen reader. The assessment to pass this module does not require you to handwrite characters, and you will be able to complete the assignments using the taught method of creating characters with word-processing software.

Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

You will need to make extensive use of a personal computer and the internet. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in operating a computer or with this type of material you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.