I thought I’d take a minute and describe my language courses at Zhejiang. Language education in China is pretty old school, teasing out the separate skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. There is also a much higher cultural awareness of the difference between spoken and written registers in Chinese, and that can be seen as you go into higher levels of Chinese language courses. I am currently in the 3-6 class, among the last of the "beginner" classes (probably could be considered low intermediate). The intensive language course is split into four different courses
精读 (reading / grammar): This class so far has put a huge part of the focus on memorizing vocabulary lists, with the bulk of the lecture being usage advice on a few of the key vocabulary terms. Every lesson we have a 听写 (listen and write) quiz on around 40 new vocabulary terms, some of them using new characters, others being compounds of characters we should already know. Many of the new vocabulary are for use in the written register (书面语 "book-language") — a classmate of mine who is Chinese-German with pretty much native-level spoken Mandarin remarked that a good number of them were new to her. There is also a short reading that goes with each lesson, and we are asked to construct sentences using new vocabulary.
口语 (spoken language): 口语 (kou3yu3) literally translates as "mouth-language", referring to spoken language, which this class was geared toward developing. To me the spoken language class seems to be a bit behind the reading classes in terms of grade level. Each lesson has two dialogues and a list of exercises, which include giving original monologues in front of the class. For me, this is the "fun" class, as I like having some interaction and involvement in my language learning.
听力 (listening comprehension): Older Americans might remember something similar to this class format. We were at separate desks each with a set of headphones and a small media device that was hooked up to the teacher’s computer. We then had to listen to recorded dialogues and answer questions about them in a workbook. Pretty much everyone I talked to hates this class, almost universally describing it as "boring". As I said before, language instruction in China is old-school, and continues to use techniques that aren’t that common in the US anymore. The highlight of the class is during breaks when the teacher plays Chinese pop songs for us.
阅读 (reading comprehension): This class involved reading a number of short texts and answering standard reading-comprehension questions (mostly multiple choice). The first lesson involved a couple of short essays, an article from Sina.com, some jokes and two poems. This class made me feel that I might have been placed a little too high, since I was missing a lot of information as I tried to read each text. I’ll give it some time before I think about changing, though.
All in all, the classes are not too bad. I feel like each one of them gives me some level of challenge. The only class I wish I could get rid of entirely is listening comprehension — to me it seems to be an outdated format that doesn’t add much to my learning and just isn’t as stimulating as the other courses.
[categories Expl, Trav, China]