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Newsweek says: Stay Home to Learn Chinese

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There is a small number of very distinguished East Asian studies departments in western universities which offer very high-quality training in Chinese. These are probably better than most Chinese universities. However, in most western universities, Chinese-language training is quite a new occurrence and frequently sub-par. Chinese is often taught by Chinese natives with university degrees but little understanding of teaching Chinese as a foreign language.

I think he throws too much crap on textbooks in China: there is a bunch of really crappy textbooks in some bookstores, but these are very rarely used in teaching.

The author of this article sounds a lot like that poster who had studied Chinese at Columbia but was frustrated about not understanding the word 到....

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Interesting article and while I agree that many classes and uni's are still conducted in such a manner, I think it was a fairly unfair {as in biased} article. It almost sounded like the guy did it himself, or his daughter or something and got burned.

And he bases on the curriculum just a tad too much. I went through the BLCU series and while there was some outdated things, what is more important is the teacher and I had a great one of those.

I know plenty of people who had good teachers and good methods at universities.

Kind of makes me upset that the article was written the way it was because I feel it could discourage some people from learning chinese all together. And he doesn't mention the incredible benefit of learning in country as opposed to online.

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It's a pretty weak article - it might be the case that you're better of learning at home, but a quick reference to BLCU not being all it's cracked up to be and mentioning a book published in 2002 as a step forward doesn't cut it. No mention of private schools, the possibilities of self study, the foreign-run intensive courses, the benefits of actually being here.

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Hmmm... I just went and looked at a lot of his other articles and there is a lot in China and while some of them seem to be fairly straightforward even more take a fairly negative tone towards the chinese {usually government, economics, or how they do things}. Sounds like the guy has a bone to pick in my opinion.

But I don't want to do too much of a consider the source argument, I am just trying to understand where he is coming from.

I'd say the biggest problem is not so much teaching style but the size of some of the classes that larger uni's can have and naturally in those environments one type of teaching will prevail- the non-student centered kind. And it just reinforces a certain type of teaching that is not suited for language learning.

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Shallow article -- doesn't distinguish between people wanting some basic Chinese in case it comes in handy in the future, and those who want to learn it a bit more thoroughly, ie including the ability to read and write the language.

The emphasis on "real life" scenarios seems exaggerated: if you're living in China then you'll be experiencing real "real life" situations where you use and listen to real Chinese, no amount of supposedly realistic textbook scenarios can emulate that, I'd have thought.

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I'm selflearning for a while, the last course I took here in Europe was as bad as those in China.

We had 2 teachers, the first was some Chinese professor who was also building a confucius institute in a nearby city. His teaching style was extremely boring. And then there was his assistant, young and had a very entertaining style. Unfortunately we had to see the professor 2 times, to get one class with the assistant. After a while I only took part on those days where the assistant was there, so the professor didn't like me after a while.

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I took about 3 years of part time study in the states and a full semester at Shanghai and I would say no matter what classes you take you still got to get out and converse with people.

I never made real progress untill I forced myself to speak to non-English speaking Chinese. That's it.. Study, go out and practice, study, go out and practice.

I would say the online classes if someone wanted to stay home would be the best bet for the money but you still need to go out into a Chinese community and practice.

That's what China gives you. Immersion, which you wont' get at home.

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I think it is nonsense to discuss this. The best and the most efficient way to learn a language is doing it in the homeland of the language. More practice means permanent learning of the language. In your own country you can take courses too, but since you will not be able to practice it as you would be in China, you'd probly forget it. Besides, knowing grammar is not speaking a language and at home grammar is what you get most of the time.

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I agree.

Actually this report looks like a pretty unconvincing piece of advertising of 国外 "Mandarin courses" to me, and if it isn't, then it's probably written by people who have no idea what they're talking about.

What you learn in your home country can be a huge advantage, but it's 'living' your Chinese in China that's PRICELESS. I've been involved with the language on-and-off academically & personally for many years now, but despite my huge passive knowledge, the truth is I wasn't really able to reach a decent level of speech fluency until after I went to China.

And that's study-in-China advantage enough for me.

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I think for beginners though the advantage of living in-country are minimal, unless you are extremely outgoing / are a fast learner. I don't think I did anything my first two months in Russia that I couldn't have done at home. Likewise, my first six months in China (especially since I was working) weren't all that much more productive than had I stayed at home [especially considering all the digital resources available these days].

Also, China is a special situation, because a lot of the local dialects are nothing at all like the official language. Living in Suzhou doesn't exactly give you an immersion experience, there isn't a lot of ambient Mandarin language speaking going on around you.

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Wasn't sure if this article is good news or bad news.

Certainly a lot of what she says is true (Remember my "My rant: Problems with the Chinese Teaching System") So in some way I am glad to see it exposed.

But she certainly paints with a broad brush. We set up our system with a ton of listening and speaking in the beginning to avoid just such problems. Some other small schools do as well (just not nearly as well:D).

Also agree that the US universities might not be the best (at mine they just tasked out the Phds/Masters students to teach lower levels of Chinese as part of their scholarship/fellowship deal--no teaching experience in many cases). And a bias towards online learning seems ill-conceived. With hundreds of junk products, no oversight in many cases, quickly pieced together curricula for many and the lack of feedback and environment as mentioned here, it seems like a snap and over-generalizing judgment. (To her credit they are more likely to offer interesting topics I think)

But she has written a lot about China. Many articles. So we would hope she has some understanding.

So then I find this:

The Chinese phrase for "crisis" combines the words for both "danger" and "opportunity." Those are the opening words for an article about the earthquake.

So she certainly has a grasp of the culture bit at least right?:mrgreen:

Like this hasn't been discussed here ad nauseam . . . .

As we all know typing <<>> into google brings up this at the first result:

danger + opportunity ¡Ù crisis This catchy expression (Crisis = Danger + Opportunity) has rapidly become nearly as ubiquitous as The Tao of Pooh and Sun Zi's Art of War for the Board ...


Of course I am no journalism major, but I think if I was running a mag and my China expert wrote that. . . I might suggest she go brush up on her Chinese. I can suggest a good school . . .:mrgreen:

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  • 2 weeks later...

I personally think its a lot of the same old mish mash with some quotes thrown in. Yes the teaching in a lot of Chinese classes is outdated and won't work for most. It's true, most of language learning, is mostly (I think) about the quality of the teacher, and at Beishida I got a huge range of teachers. You stick with the good and actually study in their classes, the bad ones you either skip or sleep through.

I am sure that Cornell's Falcon or Middlebury's summer program are probably better for pure language learning, particularly the latter, than being in China - at least in the short term. One of my Beishida teachers actually told me to go to Middlebury for the summer (she's a star teacher, has written textbooks, taught at Midd and Princeton etc), since the quality of teaching (they pick only the best) is so strong, and she's of course an incredible teacher. But she did have an understanding that it certainly was not cheap (7-8k USD) and only for 3 months.

The critical point that's missing is that the author is treating going to study in China as an excercise where one studies 3-4 hours a day in class, maybe some more at home and that's it. That the student will not go to local restaurants or make use of local businesses, not interact with other Chinese (students, shop clerks, etc) and will speak English the entire time (this is most certainly true for some or many). One who's dedicated enough (I wasn't hard-core, don't get me wrong), will learn a lot of Chinese inside and outside of the classroom. Plus, you're living in China and its much cheaper than in the US (usually). I know I learned a lot, made some great friends, didn't drop loads of money and lived in China...

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