I just completed a 6 week, intensive Mandarin course at Tsing Hua university in Hsinchu, Taiwan. It ran every day (Mon-Fri) from 9am – 12pm. On Tues and Thurs, there was an extra component from 1:30pm – 3:30pm ( I was unable to attend these sessions due to work comittments). The cost of the course was 7500 NT + books.
So here is a rundown of the course and what it’s all about for anyone considering taking it.
- Practical Audio-visual Chinese 1 and workbook, both from Cheng Chung Book Co. Ltd.
- Far East Everyday Chinese book 1 and workbook, both from The Far East Book Co. Ltd.
The Practical AV Chinese comes with an audio CD as well.
Being intensive, this course moves at a pace akin to a fat kid chasing a chocolate bar. In 6 weeks we covered Ch. 1 – 8 in the Practical AV book and Ch. 1 – 4 in the Far East book. You move from “What is your name?” to “This is our newly purchased television.” There is a quiz (almost) every day, as well as a midterm and final. Each unit is covered in about 2 – 3 days, so put on your sprinting shoes.
Writing characters is a big part of this course. We learned around 180 – 190 characters. Make sure you have 2 notebooks just to cover the assigned homework, and many more pages to cover the practice you will have to do on your own. Besides the characters, this course also focuses on Pinyin.
For the quizzes, you have to write the Chinese characters along with the Pinyin equivalent.
Writing the words out in Pinyin is relatively easy (compared to the Chinese characters), but remembering the tone marks…ahhh…that’s just about as difficult as trying to figure out what goes on in a woman’s mind.
If writing is the meat, then speaking is the potatoes of this course. The teacher starts speaking Mandarin right at the beginning, and you will soon be able to form simple sentences. Pronunciation and tones are the most difficult part of this area, but there are videos for each unit that show you how to properly say the dialogues. Be warned that these videos are incredibly cheesy. It’s really hard to concentrate on the material because you are too busy laughing at the characters in the videos.
All that being said, if you do all the work and concentrate, you will come out of the course saying simple sentences and being able to express simple opinions.
This component of the course goes hand in hand with the writing. There is not a whole lot of reading in this course besides the dialogues in the books which become fairly simple once you have really practised the writing. I found that copying out the characters repeatedly greatly helps with recognition.
The course covers elementary grammar, and teaches basic sentence structures. It’s not too complicated, and pretty easy to figure out.
The teacher and extra cirricular stuff:
At the time of this writing, there are 2 teachers who teach this course at Tsing Hua. I had the pleasure of having Enyo Lin as my instructor. She did a great job. The lessons were well prepared, well structured and (even though they were fast) mostly easy to understand. One of the things I most enjoyed were the extra cirricular activities that she included in the course. These were Chinese sign language (which I missed – again due to work interfering with my life), songs, poetry, a ukelele lesson and a calligraphy lesson.
These really helped break up the monotony of an endless parade of Mandarin characters and infernal tone marks.
My take on the course:
I have had no formal training in Mandarin. Living here for a year, I did pick up some words and phrases, but nothing really structured. I have come to realize that an intensive course is a great way to start learning a language because it forces you to do a lot of concentrated work at a fast pace.
BUT, it’s painful. It was especially horrible for me because I was also working full time during the course. I have had to put in about 2-3 hrs of work every night to be able to keep up with the material.
If you don’t want to be sodomized everyday, I’d suggest not working and just focusing on the course if possible. Once you get through the intensive, then the following courses can be taken at a more relaxed pace.
This course is just part 1 of a series of courses designed to teach all aspect of the language (reading, writing, oral). I went in with the initial thought of just taking this course to get a base, and then learning on my own, but that quickly changed. I have since decided to follow the program and take the rest of the courses. If you just want to learn how to communicate orally, then this isn’t really the course for you. It’s more for people who want to spend time learning all aspects of the language.
Practical AV Chinese is the main book, and it has a lot of vocab, dialogues and sentence structures. It also includes drills, Pintin and b-p-m-f. It’s your typical classroom study book. The workbook is great, and the exercises really helped me understand and retain some of the material.
Far East Chinese is a more conversational / everyday situation book. For those who want to learn simple everyday language, I’d suggest the Far East book. It’s easy to understand and shows you how to order food, rent an apartment etc.
All in all, I think this a good course if you plan on continuing to study Mandarin. It gives you a solid dose of vocabulary, a good introduction to the sounds of this alien language and a firm grounding in recognizing and writing characters. The teacher is fantastic, and if you can take the pain, it’s definitely worth the prize.
The next course I will be taking is Mandarin Basic 2. This course will run for 4 months on Wed. and Fri.. from 10am – 12pm; a much slower pace (thank God!)
Contact information and a schedule is available on the Tsing Hua website.
And here is where the university is: