I arrived in Beijing knowing almost nothing of Chinese language. After a trial lesson at Mandarin Zone I discussed my goals with Margherita Liu, school director. After 80 hours or so of instruction at the school I sat for HSK-2 and passed. Margherita was tremendously helpful in my preparation for the test. She provided sample tests and other study aids. I completed the practice exams under her supervision, she graded the exams and we reviewed the results until I understood what vocabulary I was missing or what grammar points I was not understanding.
The school teaches from a series of text books called "Short-term Spoken Chinese" published by the Beijing Language and Culture University. The quality, quantity and the format of information in books 1 & 2 are high. The teachers at the school know the material in detail, there is never any time lost as the teacher searches the book for the relevant vocabulary or grammar topic.
The teachers are supportive and answered my questions not only about Chinese language but also about how to get around Beijing. My teacher, Liang, was incredibly patient and focused while I stumbled through pronunciation and incomprehension. And somehow she always made a connection between any random question I had about life in China and the topic of instruction for the day.
After 180 hours of instruction at the school I had completed the first 2 textbooks and, more importantly, felt I was really starting to understand Chinese language and something about China. I was able to discuss simple topics with Chinese friends and read/write simple text messages using Chinese characters.
I had to leave China and these days I continue my study on my own. The instruction at Mandarin Zone gave me a strong foundation so that I can continue to learn with self-study and with Chinese people I meet in the world.