Last week, I finished my first semester of learning Mandarin at Shida. The first six chapters were taught at an excruciatingly slow pace. I understand the need for everyone to have a good foundation for future learning, but we were going over things again and again that everyone obviously had mastered. Since we weren’t knocking out a chapter every five days for the first six chapters, we had to run a gauntlet to finish the first ten chapters in time for the end of semester placement exam. The teacher in an effort to not lose face even went so far as to start each class at 7:50 instead of 8:10 every morning so that we could finish the required material in time. Needless to say, I think I only retained about two-thirds of the characters from the second half of our semester. We were being tested every three to four days and going to class was really becoming a drag on everyone.
My instructor also spent far too much time sidetracking the class into off topic discussions conducted in English. Each morning the newspaper had a picture of President Chen Shui-bian on the front page she would remind us how much she hated him and his family. Just about everyday she would also mention how handsome she thinks Ma Ying-jiu is. She also went so far as to blame the high number of unmarried women in Taiwan on her theory that they are all waiting for a man like Ma Ying-jiu… “But unfortunately there is only one Mayor Ma.”
Our end of semester exam was not nearly as difficult as everyone in my class had thought it would be. I had imagined that our exam would be something like a scene in the movie Hero, we would be sitting in a room frantically writing while arrows fly through the ceiling and pick us off one by one. There were no arrows, except the ones shot at me from one of the instructors there when I was playing with the headphones on my desk that were reserved for the listening section of the exam before we reached that portion of the exam. Lesson: being fidgety is not allowed during exams.
Is this the best program for learning Chinese in Taiwan? Probably not given that the textbook appears to have not been updated in a quarter century. However, the amount of preparation for each class is not very overwhelming and does allow me to continue working around 25 hours a week without much stress. So the plan is to stick with this program for one more semester before beginning a program in Taichung after I move to Jhongsing Village next year when my current work contract expires.