Mandarin Basic 2 at Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan

I just finished level 2 of basic Mandarin at Tsing Hua university in Hsinchu.  I wrote about Basic 1 a while ago.  Level 2 was taken at a much more relaxed pace.  This one ran every Wed. and Fri. from 10:10 – 12:10.  The cost was NT 7500 + a new book (around NT 600).  Here’s my take on the course.

Required Texts:

  1. Practical Audio-visual Chinese 1 AND 2 + workbooks for each, all from Cheng Chung Book Co. Ltd.

Basic Mandarin 2 books

Pace:

This course was MUCH slower than the last one.  We covered a unit approximately every 1 1/2 – 2 weeks.  Students progress from “This is our newly purchased television” to “Please tell her to give me a call when she gets back”.  Because there is so mch more time, a lot more focus is given to the grammar and sentence structure.  We had multiple worksheets on each grammar point.  Vocab is still a big part of the course, and quizzes are almost weekly.  Also, the vocab from the last course is often used, so the review helps solidify it in long term memory.

Writing:

We covered another 180 (approx.) characters in this course.  While there were “new” ones, a lot of the characters were made up of components of the ones already learned.

The torture of banging my head against the wall of undecipherable glyphs became easier because, by this point, I was familiar with a lot of the patterns used to write characters, so I was able to write the new ones a bit faster.

One thing thats definitely shown improvement is my ability to memorize (at least short term) the characters.  Before it would take me about around 3 hours to memorize  15 – 20 characters, but now it’s down to about an hour and 15 mins.  That being said, I still had to write numerous pages of characters – I could just write them faster now.

Chinese writing

Pages of writing

The chapters have around 30 characters each, and continue to build on each other, so keeping up with the writing is a must.

People always talked about the “beauty” of traditional characters, and weirdly enough, I’m starting to see it now – something that wasn’t apparent before.

Speaking:

In this course, the teacher starts speaking more Mandarin, at a faster pace.  The dialogues in the books are longer and more complex.  Students are expected to be able to keep up.

Luckily, our teacher had a soft spot for the…umm…”language challenged” (myself), and spoke English when necessary to convey a point.  Personally, I was able to understand MOST of what was going on, but producing the language (properly) continues to be a challenge.  While my pronunciation has improved slightly, the damn tones continue to elude me.

Regardless, at the end of this course, you come out being able to understand and produce quite a variety of things.  Asking for and giving directions, making time references (before, after, first, next, then…etc), asking for simple things at a restaurant and communicating things you did in the past are all possible  at this point.

Reading:

This is the component that I’ve had the most success with.  Because of the constant writing to memorize the characters, I was able to get a good grasp and recognize them fairly quickly.  Reading the more complex dialogues became easier and easier.

But just being able to recognize the characters, of course, doesn’t  necessarily convey meaning.  While I could recognize characters, I would still struggle with divining meaning because the grammar structures taught are considerable more complex.

Nevertheless, it’s pretty gratifying to be able to walk around the streets and be able to figure out what some of the shops are without having to go inside and see.

If you keep up with the writing, the reading will come naturally, and even if you later forget how to write the character, you will still be able to recognize it when you see it.

Grammar:

The grammar presented includes expressions of inclusiveness and exclusiveness using question words (What, where etc etc), prepositions of place (opposite, in front of etc),  directions (go straight, turn left etc), change of status and suffixes for experience.  While not very difficult (with the exception of inclusiveness/exclusiveness), putting the grammar into play while trying to remember the words and how they are said, provides a challenge.

My progress in Mandarin:

Mostly based on these 2 courses, I have gone from 0 communication to being able to communicate like a very young child.  Which I think is awesome.  I can ask for simple things, and understand simple directions.  I can read at least one character in most signs I see, and am now able to recognize what some signs are about (even if I don’t understand everything on the sign).

The thing I’m having the most difficulty with is being understood by Taiwanese.  I say what I think is the word (or sentence), but they give me blank stares because I am not pronouncing the tones properly.  Obviously my fault, but damn frustrating when you’re trying to show off!

The silver lining here, is that when they finally understand me, and repeat what I said, I can hear the difference – something I couldn’t distinguish before – and then (hopefully) remember how to say it.

All in all, I have progressed, but not as much as I’d have  if I’d worked harder if these courses had been my sole focus.  It’s slow going, but still going.  I’m looking forward to the next step.

Contact information for the university and courses is available on the Tsing Hua website.

And here is where the university is:

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