Monday, June 01, 2009

First Day at NCCU - Lord, help me!

I left my first day of Chinese class at NCCU today with very mixed feelings. In fact, I'm quite perplexed over what I should do. Here's my situation. I took their placement test just so they could officially tell me what I already knew; my speaking isn't bad, my writing sucks, and since writing trumps speaking in this system*, I'm going to the beginner class. I mentally prepared myself to be stuck in a class full of "ni hao" learning, but I still didn't despair for a few reasons. One, I knew that the teacher, once I impressed her with my stellar speaking skills, could chose to send me to the next level up (why are the office people often more picky about knowing characters than the actual teachers themselves?), and two, I knew that the class would probably have quite a few students that were in the same boat as me (being able to speak okay but not able to write), and so even if I didn't get moved up I could still have some substantial Chinese conversations and just tune out all the boring stuff. I was also looking on the bright side by telling myself that I could just breeze through this class and easily get a score of over 80, which is just what I need to get a scholarship and then start taking my "real" Chinese class for free next session. Also, as much as I hate to admit it, I do need time to get caught up on my characters.

I looked at the Summer class schedule that they posted on their website, and I thought it said I was in level one. Well, apparently I just don't understand how to read their crazy schedule. It turned out I was put in the next level up. Cool! I was so happy because that would mean I would still learn some new stuff, but it would be easy enough for me to spend time getting caught up on my characters. The class is still book one of the infamous PAV (Practical Audio-Visual Chinese) book, but it starts at lesson 11. This was just what I wanted!

My joy was very short lived. As soon as I got to the class and started chatting with the teacher, she told me this class would be too easy for me. I thought she was just flattering me because I don't think I have a firm grasp of all the grammar constructions in the class material yet. Then this guy comes in. I think he said he was German, but I don't know for sure because he was very hard to understand. He was what you would call a hippie type, which I gathered by the fact that he wore weird pine cone jewelry and had really long hair. Anyway, this guy couldn't really speak Chinese. That's fine, we've all been there. But shouldn't he be in the beginner class? No, because he just finished that class and was indiscriminately funneled up into the next class. I kept waiting to get into PAV, but the teacher had to spend the whole class teaching this guy stuff like how to tell time and the difference between shang ke and xia ke. Where was he during level one? Out gathering pine cones apparently.

It was only me and the hippie guy in the class, so he ended up (although I know he didn't mean to) determining the pace of the class. I learned absolutely nothing new and was not able to have a single substantial conversation. And get this, on the break he tried to English bandit me! He had been using English the entire class (even though both me and the teacher kept trying to guide him back to Chinese), and on the break he asked me if he could please speak English with me because he was also learning English at TLI. I told him, in a very nice way, that he should speak English at TLI and Chinese at NCCU, and that I come to Chinese class specifically to speak Chinese. It didn't do much good though.

Here's where I'm at now. The teacher wants me to try a different level class tomorrow morning, but that class is in lesson 7 of book 2 of PAV. That seems like a huge jump to me! I just don't feel like I'm there yet. I peeked in the book and I'm supposed to already know how to say things like "psychology" in Chinese by the time I get to lesson 7 of book 2. I also have the option of going to a class that is starting lesson 1 of book 2. This seems like the most logical choice, right? That's what I want to do, but my teacher insisted that that class is basically the same as hers, and if her class is too easy then that one would be too. I don't see how that can possibly be true, because there are 14 lessons between her class and the other class that starts at lesson 1 of book 2.

I'm annoyed, to say the least. I'm annoyed because I think that I'm actually in the right level now, but I have to go to a level that's too high for me in order to get away from this guy that obviously should have been repeated and is now slowing down the class I should be in. I'm annoyed because the teachers keep telling me that I should go to another level if I actually want to learn anything, but I'm going to fail all the tests in that "better for me" level because I don't know the Chinese characters. So I basically have to choose between really learning and failing their "system" or succeeding in their system and not really learning anything. I'm also annoyed that they act like they expect so much of you when you take the placement test (and make you feel stupid and guilty for not knowing characters), but then once you're in the system they won't hold back the people that need to be held back (I know this because they're even very reluctant to let people willingly repeat courses at places like NCCU and Shida).

I realize that this is a very ranty post, and maybe I'm being a bit hard on the hippie guy. It's not his fault that he's in the wrong level. He's only been in Taiwan for 3 months (as opposed to my 3 years), and he's obviously just being rushed through their system. Also, his character writing is very good! I did my best to encourage him, but I draw the line at letting him use me for English practice in Chinese class.

There are a lot of good things about NCCU. The teachers seem good, and they have the smallest class sizes that I've ever seen. I'm just so worried about being put in the wrong level. Is it okay to be put in a level that's too high because it'll force me to play catch-up and learn quickly, or will this be completely overwhelming and drive me crazy? Help! Please give me some advice!

*Some may wonder why I'd willingly subject myself to such a stupid system that valued writing Chinese hieroglyphics characters over more important things like speaking. All I can say is that in the 3 years I've been here I've tried learning Chinese many different ways, and as flawed as this system is, it just works the best for me. I struggle with laziness and motivation, and the only way I can get myself to study is with a test looming on the horizon. Also, as I progress in my Chinese, I'm starting to want to learn characters more and more.


  1. First . . . yay for adding "link within." I think it is one of my favorite "surfing" widgets.

    Second, I know I hate to fail. But I hate not learning anything even more than failing.

    Are your summer obligations less than your "school year" obligations? Will you have more time to play catch up?

    Can you put yourself into the class that is starting at book two?

    That to me seems like the best compromise. If the speaking is still too easy, at least you will be working with a more manageable amount of characters than if you were starting halfway through the book.

    But, of course, I have no clue what I'm talking about . . . just trying to offer a sounding board for your own thoughts. :)

  2. Jia yo, Cahleen! Soon you will be in just the right course and then soar. I am so proud of you learning so much Chinese.

    I agree that you don't need to practice English during breaks with the German hippie. I've had similar experiences with my classmates. Our purpose is learn Mandarin.

  3. Amanda,

    "Link within" is way cool isn't it? I saw it on someone else's blog and then I just had to have it. What's a "surfing" widget? Does that mean you found it while surfing the internet? I'm kind of dense, as you can see.

    I did go to the higher level class, and I'm loving it. I'll post about it soon. I think you definitely know what you're talking about, and thanks for being my sounding board!


    Thanks for your positive attitude and encouragement! Now that I think about it, I think I remember you posting about a similar experience on your blog.

  4. By surfing widget I meant a widget that is good for when I want to go surfing online. :)

    Looking forward to hearing about your class.

  5. Amanda,

    I just posted an update. =)

  6. I didn't know what to say until your last paragraph. For me you answered your own question. You respond well to pressure. Even if that pressure makes you a little nuts for awhile, its still better than a slow moving class, that you would probably drop out of from sheer boredom. That's my 2 cents.

  7. Colleen,

    I agree! I ended up going with the higher level class, and I haven't regretted my decision yet.

  8. I don't know about NCCU, but many of the university programs are designed to prepare students for their academic programs. As such, reading and writing are crucial, even though this may not be why large numbers of students are there.

    In fact, I feel many of these programs are very badly run. There is no proper curriculum, the teaching materials are terrible, and the methods out-dated. as I once put it to a colleague, if we taught English the way they teach Mandarin, we'd be fired.

    I once wrote more about this here,

    Sorry if I sound discouraging. I don't mean to be. In fact, the programs in China are much worse.


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