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kongli

Amount of Language Study for History Masters

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kongli

Hello all,

I have been accepted to do a master's program in Beijing. I may very well have the option of either A. studying one year of Chinese and then doing the master's or B. delving right into the Master's program alongside other Chinese.

I initially thought I would def. do the year of study because I really do need to improve my Chinese reading and writing (listening is OK). But now, after thinking about the time commitment of 4 years to get a master's, I am wondering if I shouldn't just do the master's directly and try to just bust my butt studying Chinese AND the material at the same time.

What do you all think? I am currently 23. So if I did the 1 year of language prior to grad. study, that would mean I would be 27 on completion of the Master's. Would it be worth it (or even possible) to just try and bust ass and get out a year earlier?

I didn't really think about this until today when I was talking with one of the administrators at the school who said that most programs are 2 years, and since mine is three it may mean the pace is a bit slower and that I could 'shangliang' with the teacher and maybe get some breathing room to self study and do the courses. Though I am not sure how true this is...

Any advice would be really appreciated!

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anonymoose

This kind of things is really up to you, and depends on how you value your time, how you'd value the experience of the year learning Chinese, and so on.

This is in no way meant to suggest to you what you should do, but if it were me, I think I'd try to go straight into it. I don't know how good your chinese is, but I suspect that by the end of the course, there wouldn't be a big difference in your chinese regardless of whether you do the one year language course. The difference will be in how difficult it is for the first year or two whilst you are trying to get to grips with the chinese at the same time as coping with the masters. Personally I prefer short-term pain over anything long term. Besides, 4 years is already a long time to get a masters, when one can be had in one year in the UK, and in two years in many other countries.

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doraemon

I've always believed time to be a valuable commodity. I suggest that you just study Chinese alongside your Master's Degree. I think you'll be fine because you'll be living in a Chinese environment and will be needing to use the language pretty much everywhere you go, so your Chinese ability will soar once you're there. Just remember to do some reading and writing in your spare time as well so you can improve on those weaknesses much faster. Also, being accepted into the Master's degree probably indicates that your level of Chinese is adequate or else they wouldn't have done so.

In the end, it's best to do what you feel is right but those are just my suggestions. One year can make a lot of difference if you think about it! :mrgreen:

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rezaf

I'm doing my bachelor's degree in China and my Chinese is improving much faster than when I was just studying Chinese. So, I'd say start your master's degree.

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gato

Since you are asking this question, I would guess that you are not yet fully confident about your Chinese. I think you would need at least a HSK level 9 level of reading and listening skills to be able to function to college class for native speakers.

If you are studying in a math/science field, I would say go ahead with the Master's. But if it's a field that require a high level of Chinese, then I think you'd probably need to dedicate some time to improve your Chinese; otherwise, you are not going to get much out of it.

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Archie.

In my opinion, what makes your choice difficult is that you are not so sure whether you can catch up with your Master course given in Chinese without one more year Chinese learning. I suggest you can have a talk with the students and teachers in your dept. Then you'll see more exactly if your Chinese level is enough to start your master's program.

As far as I know, most program with the time commitment of 3 years are in science & engineering field, while 2 years programs are always for business,liberal & arts. If you major in science & engineering, Chinese is not the first importance, and your math ability plays a more important role in your study.

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roddy

Say you try it, and it doesn't work - what implication does that have for your course / fees? If you can have a second go at the first year of the masters then the worst case scenario is you do that and finish in four years - which is what it would take if you did language first.

I'd say it's possible, but you are going to have to be absolutely disciplined. Are you? Could you afford to pay another postgrad student to sit down with you and explain stuff?

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kongli

Thanks for all the advice everyone.

I am on scholarship so the finances would all be covered, but I can't mess up and repeat a year otherwise I would lose the scholarship. Though I heard the third year usually people don't have classes, so maybe I could just go at a slower pace and use the third year for actual study, hehe.

My masters is in modern Chinese history, so I def. will need to understand what is going on hehe.

Am I disciplined? Fairly. I mean I really feel I would have the discipline to study hard as I did pretty well in my undergrad.

Gato- Yes, you are correct I am not confident enough in my Chinese, for good reason I think. and I did not have to take the HSK to get in, just had really high grades and a couple extremely helpful rec. letters.

Also, after the first year of the program there is a test to weed people out. if you don't pass you don't continue. I assume this is why they don't require HSK scores, cause they figure you will be screwed after a year anyway if you are not on top of your game.

I think today I will go track down some teachers in the history dept. and see what they say. The problem with all the administrators I talk to is that they say "oh your spoken chinese is fine, you will be okay" but this is after about 3 minutes of talking with me. So in reality they have absolutely no idea of my real chinese level.

Roddy-yes, I could afford to pay a tutor to help me through the material, but not sure how much of an uphill battle this would be....

The more I think about it, the more I think I really need the year. I get my books today and grad. classes start tomorrow. Thing is, this week I have to take grad. classes and language classes at the same time until the decision comes down of whether or not I have the option to do the language classes.

pray for me.

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gato

History obviously requires a very high degree of language proficiency -- the highest among all specialties, in my opinion. In addition to talking to professor, I think you should try some books that you might be expected to read and how you do with it.

I would first recommend Ray Huang's "万历十五年" to you, partly because I'm reading it right now. It's challenging as it's written in a formal style and uses a lot of Ming dynasty terminologies.

http://plecoforums.com/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=2440

万历十五年 (1587, A Year of No Significance) by Ray Huang (黄仁宇)

Yang Kuisong, a well-known scholar of CCP history at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has provided the following reading lists for undergrad, Master's, and PhD students in modern Chinese history. Ray Huang's "万历十五年" is number 1 on his undergrad reading list. Yang, by the way, graduated from Renmin University's CCP History Department. Renmin University is referred to by some as the second Party School, as it's very closely aligned with the Party. Many of its graduates end up working for the government.

http://www.yangkuisong.net/blog/000273.htm

本科生推荐阅读书目

http://www.yangkuisong.net/blog/000294.htm

现代史硕士生推荐阅读书目

http://www.yangkuisong.net/blog/000295.htm

现代史博士生推荐阅读书目

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Jive Turkey

Postgraduate history study is going to require strong reading skills in both modern and classical/literary Chinese, and decent argumentative writing skills in modern Chinese. It seems to me that if you aren't HSK 8 or above in reading and haven't had some systematic exposure to literary Chinese, your chances of thriving and really learning a lot from your studies will be low.

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skylee

I am at HSK level 0. :D But I agree with gato that you could try reading 萬曆十五年. It is nothing academic, just a book for general readers to kill time. If you can manage it I think your Chinese is probably good enough for you to pursue your degree. But if you need to read stuff in Classical Chinese, then it is another story.

PS - or you could try 中國大歷史, same author, similar level. I liked this one better.

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kongli

Just got back from talking with one of the professors at the history dept. She said I should attend language classes and she and my advisor will just give me things to read throughout the year to get my level up. Than, since I will have been expected to have read a fair amount of stuff already, I can try to get my masters in 2 years.

So, all in all, a pretty awesome result. Now all I have to do is work my arse off....

Also, I find 万历十五年 very difficult. I need some reading software to get through it, so yea I have a lot of work to do.

Thanks everyone for all the advice! Really much appreciated.

Kongli

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gato

I don't think skylee was entirely serious that the book was written for "general readers to kill time", so don't be discouraged if you're finding it challenging. :P I do highly recommend it if you can try to make it through with the help of software. I'm reading it with the reader in Pleco myself.

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jbradfor

kongli, first of all, congrats!

Are you in Beijing now? If so, could you just sit in on one of the classes and see how it feels? Obviously jumping into the middle of a class is hard in any language, e.g. everyone else will have heard about the names and places 100 times before but it will be new to you, but I expect you can distinguish which are the proper nouns and ignore them...

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kongli

@gato-Haha, yea I figured most people aren't sitting out with a cocktail browsing 万历十五年 haha.

@Jbradfor-

Thanks! I know I can attend undergraduate classes, so I am definitely going to do that. Not sure about the Master's classes but I am supposed to be hearing from someone in the next week or so. Hopefully a prof. who can start giving me reading material...

Honestly, i am extremely surprised at how seemingly flexible and non-chalante everyone has been. It's pretty remarkable.

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kdavid

This is a great thread. It relates to me as I'm planning on enrolling in the MA program at HIT here next fall.

One question: as an MA student, should I expect that all other Chinese students studying for the MA will have read through the required reading for undergraduate courses listed above?

Would how easily I could read through one of these books be a good indicator as to how prepared I am for such a course?

My HSK score isn't an issue. I can express myself clearly in just about all aspects. My major concern is reading formal texts as I have no experience doing so.

I'm mostly concerned with finding the course materials too difficult. I'm haunted of my first philosophy class at university where it took me 5 hours to read 30 pages of Nietzsche. That class really bogged me down because I had to learn so much supporting history, theory, etc (which I hadn't learned before) that I had difficulty not only keeping up in that course, but also focusing on my other courses. I'm afraid I'll experience the same problems studying an MA in History all in Chinese.

Thoughts?

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gato
I'm haunted of my first philosophy class at university where it took me 5 hours to read 30 pages of Nietzsche.

In English, right? If it's Chinese, it could be that it was a bad translation. ;)

Seriously, though, the three reading lists I posted above are recommended outside reading for history students by Yang Kuisong, who's a scholar of the 1920-1949 Republican and war period. It's a very personal list. Many of the items on the lists do not follow the Party line, so it's unlikely to be a common course reading list. However, I think the items on the list are indicative of the degree of difficulty of the reading material at each level. So the best preparation one might make is to read as much as you can from the undergrad / MA list if you are preparing for a history MA. If you are very motivated but find the material difficult, the thing to do might just be to lock yourself in a room for a few hours, without any distraction, and just try to power through, using some of the techniques for reading advanced material that has been discussed elsewhere on this forum.

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/26585-how-do-you-practise-reading/page__view__findpost__p__218925

How do you practise reading?

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/23505-advice-to-higher-chinese-student/page__view__findpost__p__193729

Advice to Higher chinese student!

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kdavid

Thanks, Gato. That was very helpful.

I guess it's about time I start doing just that--sit down and just power through.

I'm adverse to the idea of reading all on my computer, but it's so much more convenient when coming across words I don't know to look them up almost instantaneously and then throw them in ZDT to review later.

Thanks again!

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gato

You might want to make sure that your reading material is challenging but not overly challenging; otherwise, you probably won't be able to sustain the use of the "power through" method. I think maybe a maximum of 15-20 new word lookups is probably the most can do for long-form reading. I don't know what your current level is, but maybe the weekly 南方周末 would be about right. You could try the suggestion of reading through first and trying to understand, only underlining new vocabulary without looking them up. You then look up all the vocabulary in batches after you have finished an article or read four, five pages. It's the assembly-line approach to lookup and saves a lot of time. I used to do this when I first started reading Chinese magazines (like 南风窗 and 财经) a few years ago.

I would also recommend reading away from the temptation of the internet, which is a big benefit of reading from a hard copy. You don't necessarily have to lock yourself up in a window-less room. I've gotten a lot of works done in Starbucks (the Starbucks here don't offer free internet).

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amandagmu

This is a great topic and close to my own problem, so I thought I'd respond. By the way, I'm a PhD candidate (in the U.S.) as of Monday! (Just passed the qualifying exams and submitted my prospectus, hurray!) Anyways, I thought I'd begin by telling you first that I couldn't even do the research for a master's degree on my topic (20th century China no less) without obtaining a low advanced level of Chinese. I considered myself a "low advanced" level when I could sit through an undergraduate lecture and understand about 75% or more of the material presented and when I could read superficial texts on my topic, such as about 75% or more of a description on my topic in 地方志. At that point, I didn't really need a dictionary for the gist of the description--often my confusion came over 成语or other 四个字 that remained a cloud of mystery to a non-native speaker. Occasionally I'd look up something I had studied but subsequently forgotten, but I found I also discovered that the same words and language tends to be used by academics in history over and over again, making this process less tedious. I recommend you start reading things on the topics you're interested in ASAP, that will help the most.

Of course, I have found that while I can read some of the necessary magazines, newspapers, and secondary sources I need to do my research, I still lack the ability to read very difficult or highly theoretical works in Chinese (so very glad I'm doing my PhD in English! Because reading in Kristeva in French was about as bad as in English, and I certainly can't imagine the same thing in Chinese, ugh). Additionally, my reading level has progressed beyond my speaking level (although my comprehension is thankfully not too shabby), so when I return to Beijing next month for the first time in several years the first thing I'll be looking to do is one-on-one classes with materials in my field.

By the way, despite my mixed experience with ICLP in Taipei and other people's mixed experiences with IUP in Beijing, I have to say that they have specialized for years in helping people in the humanities and social sciences and it shows. The materials and teachers are entirely geared towards people like us... too bad the cost is astronomical!

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