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Beginners Chinese OU course review


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Hello - Im a new member here and noticed the OU course has been referred to, but as someone on the course I thought I would review it, and explain it in a little more detail.

The course includes; two study books, 4 CDs and two study work books. The study books contain 36 units, with each unit taking one week. These units are divided into fairly straightforward topics - ordering food in a restaurant, asking directions, talking about jobs etc. Within each unit are sections that introduce new vocabulary, translation tasks, match the sentences, dialogues, reading, grammar (which is explained in simple terms). These are backed up with the CD which has vocab lists and dialogues etc.

The study work books complement the main study books, and offer tasks allowing the student to practise the new vocabulary and structures learnt each week. They also have a page with a grid for students to practise writing the new characters.

Alongside this the OU have a student forum for course students to discuss their learning experience and share ideas etc. In addition, the OU homepage has a very detailed course diary page with additional resources and a comprehensive study calender showing learning outcomes per week etc. Part of this also includes online exercises based on each unit, with recordings to listen to and a recording feature where students can record themselves answering and asking questions to simple tasks.

The blended part of the learning process is covered in face to face tutorials, which are offered at about 6-8 weeks apart. These are offered regionally and should cover and summarise units studied with OU tutors. Supporting this are online tutorials offered at the same intervals, but staged in-between face to face tutorials and are held on the OU software called 'elluminate'. This is a conference call type PC software with interactive white board etc.

They also have their own flashcard sets for students to use online.

The course is assessed on 6 assignments which can be submitted electronically. Voice recording software is used to make MP3 files for oral tasks, and there is an end of course assessment which includes 3-4 minutes of speaking. This course is designed for students with no prior knowledge of Chinese, although previous experience doesnt exclude you from the course.

The materials etc are quite comprehensive, and with 36 units they cover a wide range of every day topics meaning students should have some communicative ability at the end of the course. Another aim is for students to be able to write 2-300 characters, and read/recognise up to 500. They state this is similar to a UK GCSE qualification in terms of equivalency. There is no certificate for completing this course though, and no recognised qualification attached to it. Its a 30point course which I believe just slots in as a module within a degree. I dont think it counts for any specific qualification, although I could be wrong there.

One thing that is different, is you DO NOT have to write characters to complete this course. All assignments can be typed, so this may offer a disadvtange to students who really want to learn to hand write. Whilst provision is made for writing, and it is encouraged, it isnt compulsory.

Good points are definitely the material and the course structure. The learning curve is set just about right IMO, and most of the topics learnt should have some use. Grammar is explained in simple terms, and the material and OU forums also discuss elements of Chinese culture which promotes a greater understanding the country and people.

The software and online facilities are also quite good, and its nice to be in constant contact with other OU students. The online conferencing software is also available for students to arrange their own online sessions for more practice.

Some bad points have already been mentioned - you ddont have to write, you dont get a Chinese qualification certificate. Also, no further courses are planned at time of writing which is also pretty poor for people who wish to continue their studies. Of course the other disadvantage, which I guess is the same on all distance learning langauge courses, is the lack of oral practice. Yes, you can arrange online meetings with other student, but this can be difficult. Not all students use the online tools, and some lack the confidence to practice speaking. Students who study alone, and dont have Chinese spouses, friends or social circles are at a severe disadvantage as they will lack the speaking skills compared to their peers. In my experience so far, OU tutors tend to favour the weaker students in tutorials quite a lot, which further reduces practice. With the tutorials being so few in number, actual speaking time with a tutor is quite low IMO.

I have also found (in my limited experience) that OU tutors may be native speakers/well educated/linguistic majors, but they MAY NOT be teachers of foriegn languages. This means if you have been used to language classes with able teachers who can structure activities and model them, such things may be absent with OU tutors. I teach English as a foreign language and so notice such things. An example from one physical tutorial I attended was the use of a 'find someone who' activity, which is a tried and trusted activity in an EFL classroom. My tutor tried to use it, but clearly didnt know how to set up, control and manage the task in the way an EFL instructor would do.

Tutors can also take some time to return assignments. My first assignment took 18 days to come back. For a beginner this isnt great, as I think feedback on work submitted needs to come quite quickly, so faults can be addressed before they become fixed or embedded in the learner.

So overall, its got some great material, but possibly due to the delivery method, it lacks a few things making it a great way to learn Chinese. At £440 its not cheap and Im not sure I would recommend it 100% to people. I am learning, I am making progress, but I pay £42 a month on an OU DD for this course...Im not sure I couldnt make the same progress quicker by following a good text book and having occasional classes and a language exchange partner/Chinese friend.

Now I have written this post in a rush ... if anyone has any questions please feel free to ask them, and if I can think of anything to add Ill come back and do so later!

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Thanks for your post. I do have a few questions, just out of curiosity.

1. Do you know approximately how many words or characters you woill haved learned by the end of the course?

2. How do the tutorials work? It sounds like these are face-to-face. How many are there during the year and how long do they last? (I'm not familiar with the Open University and thought it was entirely "distance" learning.)

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The course aims state students should be able to read/recognise 400-500 and be able to write 200-300. However, the writing part is not compulsory so some students may not be able to write nearly as many characters as stated. I am one of these as I am not even attempting to write characters. Maybe thats a topic for another thread, but I believe that most of my interactions in Chinese will involve speech or email, so at this stage I am concentrating my efforts on recognition and rather than writing.

Tutorials are regional, and the face to face ones have the tutor and as many OU students from the region who a) wish to attend (they arent compulsory) and B) are able to attend. In my OU experience, this is anything between 3-10 students. Tutorials are normally up to 2 hours in duration, and are a time to review some course material, discuss problems, and discuss upcoming assignments.

The online tutorials are similar in timeframe, similar in content, although the delivery method is different.

All courses with the OU offer tutorials like this, but this is probably more focus on tutorials in language courses for obvious reasons. They describe these as blended learning, but in honesty, I think all the OU courses work in the same manner. (This is my 6th OU course BTW)

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Many thanks for the progress report nickpellatt, best of luck with the rest of the course.

Just a point on availability, the course seems to be available in most countries in europe, see the drop-down list on this page about the course: http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/l197.htm

The next presentation of the "第一步 Dì yī bù: beginners’ Chinese" course is from 01 Nov 2011 and registration closes 13 Oct 2011.

(I don't work for the OU, but my wife and I both have OU degrees... and my son is currently studying for his!)

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