Thanks to a MetaFilter post, I have learned that the Foreign Service Institute language courses (for a long time available only as occasional finds in used book stores, where I bought them whenever I saw them) are being put online. So far they have Cantonese, French, German, Greek, Portuguese, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Standard Chinese, and Turkish; presumably there will be more to come. The text is in pdf files, which is annoying, but they have audio as well, which makes up for it. Well done, Glen D. Fellows et al!


  1. I really appreciate the fact that they say “standard Chinese” instead of “Mandarin”, although their presentation is misleading:

    The predominant language of China is now known as putonghuà, or Standard Chinese (literally “the common speech”). The more traditional term, still used in Taiwan, is Mandarin (literally “the national language”). Standard Chinese is spoken natively by almost two-thirds of the population of China and throughout the greater part of the country.

    “The more traditional term” (a disputable claim in today’s Chinese world) here is guoyu, “Mandarin” being a Western word not even based on Chinese, which translates guanhua 官話 (administrative language), not guoyu 國語.

  2. It’s still the more traditional term (in English), and was used even by Chinese-speakers when speaking to me in English (in Taiwan).

  3. I understand that this is what they mean, but it is still misleading: ‘Mandarin’ does not mean “the national language” the same way ‘putonghua’ means “the common speech”. This was a minor remark, really; in no way am I judging the quality of the whole work from such a detail.

  4. And in circumstances where “standard Chinese” or “Guoyu/putonghua” would not be understood easily, I myself do not hesitate to write or say “Mandarin” first. Intelligibility first.

  5. And in circumstances where “standard Chinese” or “Guoyu/putonghua” would not be understood easily, I myself do not hesitate to write or say “Mandarin”. Intelligibility first.

  6. Yeesh, those texts and cassettes don’t come cheap! A bit much for my liking. I prefer the free kind. 😉

  7. Just the other day on the subway near Chinatown, in a conversation between an elderly Chinese-American gentleman and a couple of teenage Chinese tourists, in English, the names they used for their mutually unintelligible languages were Cantonese and Mandarin.

  8. The MP3s and PDFs are all free (LH, sorry for the not-quite double post; I tried to stop it).

  9. This is huge! Thanks for the heads up, Hat!

  10. Wow! Quite a find. Hope they keep expanding it…

  11. Jimmy, the text that you quote from the web page about Standard Chinese appears to be an inaccurately summarized version of a paragraph from page 8 of the text itself. The paragraph in the text is much better.

  12. Page 8 of the orientation module, that is.

  13. This is certainly an idea we should’ve seen coming long ago. Government works aren’t under copyright, also, so anyone who wishes can feel free to convert the pdf into txt.
    Concerning the name of Chinese: I was recently in Malaysian Borneo, and the Straits Chinese there didn’t even understand what “guoyu” was, let alone “zhongwen”. Much more common there, it seems, is “huayi”, which I’ve never heard on the mainland.

  14. Thank you, y!
    Indeed, p. 8 (p. 16/96 of the PDF) says:

    The more traditional term, still used in Taiwan, is Guoyu, or “Mandarin” (literally “the national language”)

    Cure, the term you heard was probably huayu 華語, which, as a matter of fact, is very common in the Singaporean media (I have never been there myself) and, to some extent is used in Taiwan as well. The pop music channel “Channel V” has a “Huayu song award”.
    Huayi 華裔, like Huaqiao 華僑 is a common way to designate overseas Chinese.

  15. Sorry, I should have been clearer: ‘huaqiao’ are the Chinese established abroad, i.e. the diaspora including those who were born in China; ‘huayi’ are people of Chinese dexcent (the word means “descendant of the Hua”) who live abroad as citizen of the foreign country. So-called “ABCs” are ‘huayi’.

  16. This really is good news. I hope they continue to put more courses online – they have some for less-well-known languages where there isn’t much else available.

  17. I used their Korean course about 20 years ago. I think all their courses were available by mail order. It was pretty good coverage of the basic grammar and included extensive audio tapes with exercises. The material was quite dated even back then, but served its purpose as an introduction.
    I imagine their courses are still among the best available in English for some of the rarer languages.

  18. For those who like the idea of the site with free FSI course materials, I’d encourage you to considering sharing (i.e. loaning) whatever FSI materials you might have that are not already available on the site, so as to make more courses available. I’ve loaned cassettes and books for a couple of courses, but don’t have that big a personal collection. But there are presumably plenty of people out there with genuine USG-produced (and thus non-copyrighted) FSI materials that could be put on the site and made more broadly available.

  19. (Wasn’t Tim May’s comment followed by one posted by Bathrobe? I was going to respond to it, but it seems to have disappeared.)

  20. It may have accidentally gotten deleted — I had to delete hundreds of spam comments this morning, and it may have gotten caught by mistake. Bathrobe, if you did indeed leave a comment, feel free to recreate it!

  21. That’s what I suspected when I saw the abondance of sπam today.
    Bathrobe wrote that he hears “Huayu” a lot around Beijing, which I find interesting, since I only heard it from Taiwanese people and non-native speakers of Mandarin who had lived in Singapore (and I saw and heard it mainly in and from media produced in Taiwan and Singapore).
    I perceive the term as an equivalent of Hanyu 漢語, i.e. Chinese “in general” rather than specifically Mandarin, but I know that this is not correct, since I did see it opposed to “Taiyu” 台語 in Taiwan. However, I do not remember anything similar in Guangdong, where the antagonism was always between ‘guoyu’ and ‘Yueyu’ 粵語, or more formally, ‘Putonghua’ vs. ‘Guangzhouhua’ 廣州話.

  22. (Of course, the alternance between Mandarin and Cantonese is well represented in the pop culture produced in Hong Kong: a successful song will have both a ‘Guoyu version’ 國語版 and a ‘Yueyu version’ 粵語版, and on records where both languages are used, a Guo 國 or Yue 粵 character in parentheses follows each title.)

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