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realmayo

Chinese MA at SOAS or elsewhere outside China

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realmayo

Seeking any thoughts/advice:

 

Bored at work and later this year I think I'll quit the job again to spend a year doing something Chinesey. But this time I can't really leave the UK for more than a couple of months. If I could I'd probably do an intensive year of Chinese lessons at Taiwan's ICLP. But I'm stuck in London, although won't have any rent or bills to worry about paying. 

 

I started thinking about how I could study the language in London, but struggled to find any language programmes suitable. While I'm sure I have the worst posts-to-ability ratio on the forums, I am at a stage where I can read simpler novels slowly, without much pain: I'd like to get to the stage where I can read them faster and much more easily, and manage difficult texts too. 

 

I toyed with the idea of a year of private tutors in London but as well as being too expensive I think such an unstructured approach might not be that helpful: I could see it working fine in a Chinese-speaking country though.

 

Then I took a look at the MAs offered by SOAS (link): these are in Chinese Literature, Chinese Studies and Sinology. These all have components that interest me, and it seems quite straightforward to lever some language tuition into them, as well a lots of reading Chinese texts. SOAS also do an MA in translation but I don't think my Chinese would be good enough for that yet.

 

Does anyone know anything about these MA courses at SOAS? Or have any opinions about these kind of MAs in general? Is there another way to usefully spend a year in London improving my Chinese that I've overlooked? Maybe I should just be brave and take a year out to self-study, with no course or qualification at the end of it?

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zhouhaochen

I did an MSc at SOAS. We had Chinese courses, but to be frank if your main aim is to improve your Mandarin you would be better of by joining a language course in London or simply start hanging out with the Chinese students in London (of which there must be about a million by now). The courses at SOAS include a lot of history, culture and business, all of which is interesting, however it is taught in English and that will not do much for your Mandarin.

A private tutor in London might indeed not be as structured and qualified as a proper Chinese course, however at least it will fully focus on Mandarin and not on loads of other (while interesting) topics that will not really improve your language that much.

I studied Mandarin in Beijing for a year before going to SOAS and just about managed to stay at the same level (even while taking their "highest" Mandarin level course), but that was mainly because I spent a lot of time with my Chinese classmates who all did not like speaking English. The classes themselves were not bad, but the hours were simply not enough per week to make real progress.

They might have MAs where they teach 20 hours a week of Mandarin, so that might get you ahead. Anything less is really not that effective, especially if you live in a non Chinese speaking country. From what I have seen, the quality of teachers at universities is not necessarily better than what you would find at a private school (I would say in fact probably worse), so I would suggest checking those out too - though my Chinese teacher at SOAS was actually very good, it all depends whom you get.

Bottom line, if you want to learn Mandarin, don't study an MA in something Chinese related, but go and take real language classes. If you want to learn about a specific part of Chinese culture, history or economics, then a university course might be a good idea.

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Touchstone57

Agree with the above. Taking an academic masters course in a China related subject may not help your Chinese as much as you wish. 

 

However SOAS also do a full time Diploma in Mandarin Chinese which is what you may want. It is full time intensive language course rather than an academic one, and you can study it in SOAS. Though it isn't cheap.

 

Oxford University also run an M.Phil in Modern Chinese Studies, which actually has intensive language study for a year with some academic elements, which could be what you are looking for. 

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realmayo

Thank you both for your replies.

 

Touchstone57: Thanks for those links, both of which are interesting, but in both cases I think my Chinese is already at or near the level targeted for the end of the courses. There seems to be a massive gap between 'intermediate' and 'advanced-so-you-can-read-novels-with-ease' for courses offered outside China, and I fall somewhere in that gap.

They might have MAs where they teach 20 hours a week of Mandarin, so that might get you ahead. Anything less is really not that effective, especially if you live in a non Chinese speaking country.

zhouhaochen: I take your point that those MAs aren't language courses. But can you think of anywhere in London where I could get 20 hours of language teaching a week? The only option I can see would be googling for private tutors and even if I lucked out and got cheap ones who were very good, it would be loads of money i.e. £30*20hr*6months=£15k.

I suppose I'm hoping that if I do an MA that is mainly in English, it won't be too demanding: I'll have a few hours a day to spend self-studying Chinese. And if more of it involves working through Chinese texts, well that's fine by me. 

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roddy

Just as a thought - what about seeing if you can sneak onto a translation / interpretation MA? It'd give you the opportunity to do a ton of language work and pick up some useful new skills. Your level might not be quite where it should be, but if you can't find the actual language course you want...

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realmayo

Yes that's definitely an idea -- in fact I only started looking at the other MAs when it seemed that my Chinese wouldn't be good enough to do the translation one. The more I think about it the more I need to meet with one of the staff at SOAS to get an idea of what my current level would allow me to do.

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Baron

I can give you some insight about the Chinese-related MAs at SOAS. The only one that's really going to benefit your Chinese is the Translation MA. Usually what you get language-wise if you do Sinology, Chinese Studies etc is some modules called 'special Chinese', which are language classes for people who are doing Chinese related MAs, focussed on intensive and extensive reading. They are alright, and the teachers are good, but if you feel your level is more on par with translation studies degrees you'll find it even the highest level easy, and the pace of your classmates frustrating.

 

I audited most of the modules on the translation studies degree while on a different MA. They were worthwhile, and a lot of fun. If I had a spare x grand I would consider doing it for credit. The weird thing about it is that there is a high bar to entry for non-native speakers of Mandarin. Native Cantonese speakers with near native English and Mandarin are turned down. Yet half the people who take the course are English speakers doing the Chinese Studies MA. It's likely that the reason they're strict is that unusually the degree is equally weighted on Chinese to English and English to Chinese translation, while most translation degrees are weighted towards L1 to L2 translation. Most of the English speakers who took the English to Chinese module and exams for credit bombed. That said, if you're doing it for fun/educational benefit rather than grades, it would be worthwhile, and if you took some time to sweet talk some of the professors before application I'm pretty sure that with a decent level of Chinese you could get on it. Bunch of paper tigers they are...

 

You might consider taking a different MA and auditing the hell out of the classes you like, but it's not certain to work and there may be some ass-kissing involved.

 

If you're interested in translation as a career rather than translation as a means to improve your Chinese, you could look at the translation MSc at Imperial.

 

Meridian Dao school are alright if you're looking at private schools  - teachers are pretty good, and there's usually a BBC-dominated class which should be the right level for an advanced learner. I think they're 200 odd pounds for a term of classes, 2hrs/week.

 

There's an organisation, the Chinese Information and Advice Service or something similar, near Leicester Square who take volunteers. You can get whole days of Chinese for free from them, or London Chinese Radio is another place where you can volunteer and speak Chinese all day.

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michaelS

Fwiw, I agree that Meridian are a very good London school, I did evening classes all last year there and the teaching is brilliant.

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realmayo

Hi Baron, thanks very much, that's extremely helpful.

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roddy

Any updates for us, realmayo?

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realmayo

Sadly not -- may yet apply this year for Chinese Literature MA -- unofficial requirement appears to be at least 80% on HSK5. But should probably have started an application by now. Or might continue 韬光养晦-ing for another 12 months. 

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LiMo

Hi guys,

 

I'm considering doing MA Chinese Studies at SOAS and this seemed like the most appropriate place to post. Have there been any further developments?

 

I emailed a few former students and the reviews were mixed, one person said lecturers were on strike half the time. Generally stuff like industrial action doesn't last long but you're pretty unlucky if you're on a one year masters, 3-4 months isn't too much out of a bachelors degree but it's a big percentage of a masters course. I went to the last open day and it seemed OK but I'm still not certain about it. I'll not be bothered if the social life is crappy, at the end of the day I'm paying for teaching and, hopefully, contacts and job opportunities in the end.

 

@Roddy I actually emailed Michel Hockx when I became interested in SOAS mostly enquiring about possibilities for advancement in academia after the course and he also recommended this MA in Advanced Chinese Studies which is 2 yrs long and has several months in China (Hangzhou I think).

 

My undergraduate degree is almost over and I'm already behind if I'm going to do a masters. My interest in Chinese, at the moment, is very broad, I'd love to master the language at some point and I'm interested in Chinese history and the social changes in China in recent years. I've considered what others have said regarding the utility of a master course that is primarily taught in English but I think this may be OK. My main reason for looking for a masters in Chinese studies is that I haven't studied Chinese to a high enough level to take something hardcore like sinology but at the same time I'd rather not jump straight into another bachelors. I could try what others have done and just go to China and hope for the best, but my health and general disposition make that very unlikely at the moment.

 

I'm hoping that the 2 year masters will give me a good enough grounding in Chinese, at least in reading ability, to go onto do other practical things with it. If it's any good then HSK 5 should be more than achievable for work in China or if I find the experience of studying Chinese history/politics/development a good one I may even try for a PhD and make a career out of it. I'm wary though because up to now Chinese has been my hobby, I'm wondering if my relationship with the language will change when I'm spending 7 grand a year on it.(Frustratingly all scholarships for the Advanced course seem to have been withdrawn)

 

(Sorry for the lack of structure, I wrote this over an hour while studying and fact checking  :shock: )

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