Studying Chinese

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.

10 thoughts on “Studying Chinese

  1. Isn’t Jongshing Village a small place between Tsou-tuen and Nantou?If you keep studying Chinese will you do it through TLI, a university or some other means? If my memory is right TLI is a lot closer to Jhongshing village than any university.

  2. You do a good job of keeping us up to date and have some sweet ass pictures. i will email you soon with the Washtenaw County Update.

  3. Paul – Great to hear from you again, I miss our conversations at Greenbrier Apartments.Joe – I look foward to the update.David – You didn’t miss anything.Chris – That is right. In fact, I myself am not sure how it will work out. Plan is to move to Cathy’s home in Jhongsing and possibly taking a bus from Jhongsing to Taichung 3 days a week for classes at Tunghai University…. we’ll see, everything is up in the air now.Mark – The test was a standardized test, we were in the testing room. The test was divided into four sections: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.The reading section had passages that we had to read and then answer a handful of questions for each passage by picking from multiple choice. The writing section was very small, we were given a sentence with a blank we needed to fill in the blank for the right character (zhuyin and pinyin were provided). In another we had to plug in characters so a sentence would be grammatically correct. Another section had a set of maybe 6 characters that we had to insert into the appropriate places of a passage.For the listening section we all put on our headphones and listened to the same section at the same time. The speaker on the tape said a word or two and we had to circle the correct pronounciation (zhuyin and pinyin). Another part involved a short sentence and we had to cirlce the right picture for the scenario. The third part was a longer passage we listened to then had a handful of multiple choice questions.For the speaking section we answered each question when the prompts came up, it started with saying our name and student number. After this we were given a list of maybe 8 or so characters that we had to speak into the headset followed by two complete sentences. I found this section a little hard because I could hear everyone’s responses around me and everyone was either +/- 2 words from the next person so it was a little hard to focus. The last part of the speaking section had a picture of two people in an office talking about what they did the day before (the test was a clipart extravaganza) and we had to answer what each did the previous day.My instructor said that this was the first time they were giving a schoolwide final exam. She said the first draft had a lot of errors because it was written by the office staff so it didn’t match instruction completely and that the current one still had a few errors.According to the powers that be: If you scored above an 80 you would start the next semester at Chapter 12…. from 50-80 you would start at Chapter 5… and below 50 you would start over at Chapter 1.

  4. I’d be interested to hear more about your final exam. It sounds like maybe it’s changed a bit since I was a student there. Did the teacher make the test herself, or was it standardized? Also, did it involve listening to a CD? Back when I was a student, we didn’t even necessarily have a final. It was all pretty much up to the teacher.

    The other aspects of the class sound just like the good ol’ Shida I knew and endured.

  5. I had a far better experience than you did at Shida, but it was in 1988.

    I think the problem with Shida (and schools here in general) is that it just has too many students now that learning Chinese has become a Big Business. Back when I was there, there were only three of us in a class.

    I also now appreciate the fact that our teachers were Mainlanders from the north.

    I’m curious to learn where you’ll study in Taichung. I did my junior year abroad there in 1989-1990, and was a classmate of Poagao.

    What have you heard about TLI?

  6. Roy – until your post, I didn’t even know TLI ran a branch in Taichung. Everything is up in the air at this point, I am leaning towards attending Tunghai.For the first day of class today, I seem to have won the instructor lottery: my new instructor is excellent, the class was conducted 100% in Chinese, she spoke quickly, clearly, kept us all on our toes, used visual aids, and we all had a lot of opportunities to speak.

  7. I started studying at the TLI a few years back in Taichung just doing one on ones. The emphasis is on conversation and spoken vocabulary only which I personally think is better for beginners. Taichung TLI is quite close to the railway station. It’s on Taiping Street. I don’t remember the exact address. It’ll be a lot closer to you than Donghai university.

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