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Hey there,

I wasn't really sure where this post should go, so I'll put here and if it's in the wrong place, it'll get moved hopefully.

Anyway, I'm 16 years old and I've been learning Chinese for about 2 and a half years. I have never felt this passionate about anything in my life, so needless to say I plan on doing a degree in Chinese at university. The only problem is, my parents don't think it's the wisest choice. I eventually want to go to China (not sure for how long yet) and I was wondering what would be a good thing to study with Chinese to complement it and aid in finding a good job. I was thinking of eventually teaching Chinese as a foreign language in New Zealand (where I currently live) or some other western country. The main thing my folks are worried about are job opportunities, so yeh. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!!!

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I've just finished a gruelling run of academic exams, (In my case Politics BA, then a law conversion course, the the professional course..) which people have to do to get into the top law firms and should (fingers crossed...) finally be ready to start some proper work! I've been studying Chinese since I was about 19, and i'm taking a few months off to study, it may be my last chance for a while.

My strong advice is to do what u want to do- leaving university with some king of genuine 'vocational' skill will have you in good stead. Eg Most Arts subjects teach you about a subject, not much in the way of 'skills' as such, whatever people say. The poitn is that it is good to broaden your horizons.

I had to go through a bunch of interviews when i left Uni. Having a high grade in Chinese would not have precluded you from lots of jobs with top Law firms in London- and they should be as demanding as anyone. A good balance would be to do Chinese with another subject eg law/politics/economics- you should still get a year away and consistent language instruction but with a broader base. That would like quite impressive to any employer.

The only really important thing is to make sure you get the highest grades u can before and during Uni- its tough out there...

if you want to know about where the best Chinese/joint degree programs are in the UK then i'll let u know.

Rgds Tom.

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I don't know how much this might help, but I felt like you once did Etwood. My parents were against me getting a degree in language. In fact they refused to help me unless I studies business, engineering, or science. So I went for a degree in Electrical engineering. To this day, I regret it. When I started school sure it was a good major, but the economy dived, and when I graduated I was unemployed just like everyone else. In fact it turned out to be a language that helped me get my job. So the first thing I want to say is just follow your dreams. They will take you far, and you won't feel so burnt out along the way. I agree with Smashy on this one.

As for grades, I agree with Smashy too. But I think no matter where you attend school and at what level, you should always strive for the best. It says a lot about your work ethic. It may not matter a lot, but someone who consistantly makes the same grades...it speaks so much about their work ethic.

If you want to get a degree to complement Chinese, get any sort of degree that you can take anywhere in the world. Most of the foreigners I have met here in Japan all work in ESL or Finance. There are few of us engineers here. I have seen many people with finance degrees go all over the world working, so I think that has been the most impressive I've seen. Just make sure what you study doesn't pin you down to one country. If you have a skill that not so many people have and that companies desire, and then decent Chinese language skills, you can work in the PRC or Taiwan. That is why they call the work visa in the PRC a "foreign expertise" visa.

Lastly I'll say that your connections to people in the real world are worth more than your degree. I knew guys with Latin degrees getting great jobs in areas they knew nothing about. While I was working late in the lab, they were meeting professionals and making connections, and it paid off. So just be active while a student, try to meet as many people as you can, make good impressions...you'd be surprised at how far that can get you. And always keep business cards if you receive any. Even as a college student, I recommend making your own with your name, academic studies, and contact info.

I hope someone working for a Chinese or foreign company in the PRC or Taiwan will be able to comment and help out. Best of luck friend, keep following your dreams, no matter what!

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There are so many jobs that you can get from knowing a second language. First of all, in the world, Chinese is quickly becoming the most popular language to learn. Do you know why? Because within the next 5-15 years there is going to be an economic revolution in China. China has the largest upcoming economy, and because of this, there is going to be a huge surge of jobs and other opportunities in this area of the world. The advantage of learning Chinese and becoming fluent is huge in this time.

I am in the same boat as you. I too have an unfounded passion for Chinese culture and learning Chinese. I have been learning for over a year now, and I'm more in love with it than ever. I will soon be attending a college here in San Francisco (where I live) that offers one of the US's best Chinese programs. However, it is true, unless you'll be an interpreter, it is good to go for something else as well. Luckily at the same college they offer a degree in "International Business". I will try to get a major in chinese and a minor in International Business. I believe that this is truely the best combination that you can get right now, and by the time you graduate, you should have a huge number of job opportunities. I know I will. :) Hope this helps. Best of Luck with your decision.


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Not sure how your previous study experience has gone. But if you haven't been to China you probably shouldn't decide to specialize in Asian studies without going. If you're really unsure of what to do you can always defer admission to university for a year and travel/work/study somewhere in China to get your feet wet.

In the spirit of "cold-water-meet-fire", I can think of a lot of reasons not to specialize in Chinese. The most basic is that if your university classes will be anything like mine were, you'll end up sitting in a classroom packed with the children of overseas Chinese. Many will already be fluent in at least one dialect, and many will be there just to learn how to write. There will not be an effective pedagogy simply because... there isn't one. So good luck keeping up a reasonable GPA no matter how much you work. If you are part of the 10% caucasian contingent you might get some sympathy and a lift in grades from your teacher, but you'll still struggle. And it will get worse the higher you go since there isn't a natural progression in Chinese language courses year to year the way there is in the romance languages. You'll get put in a more difficult course because you've already completed the easier one, not because you're ready for the exponential step up in difficulty.

I'm going to guess that three years of high school study are equivalent to the introductory year at University, maybe more. If you want an informal test to get a sense of where you stand vis-a-vis the University of Toronto, take a look at Lu Xun. We were reading Call to Arms in my 3rd year Chinese non-speakers class. Studying was text-oriented and there was little opportunity to practice the spoken language. The third year courses I saw at an American university later were less text-oriented, but simpler.

If I were you I'd take a variety of courses that interest you in your first year and not worry about specializing. You can take a language course every year and come close to getting a minor. That being said, I would avoid business and finance like the plague.

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Hi Etwood, I was in a similar position to you a few years ago, when I was about to graduate from high school. I really wanted to do a double degree in Asian Studies (majoring in Chinese)/Law, but at my parents' insistence, I ended up taking Commerce/Law instead, which I regret. If you really like Chinese, continue it in university - even if it's a struggle, it will be rewarding. If your parents are worried about jobs, try taking a double degree eg with international business, anything else commerce-related, law (if you're into that), education (if you want to become a Chinese teacher) etc.

I agree with what other people have said, getting a job is not so much about what courses you took or what grades you got (although they help), but your connections and previous job experience (so if you can find some work experience in your area of choice, that will help a lot).

While spending some time in China before taking an Asian Studies-related course is helpful, I don't think it's essential. A lot of Asian Studies programs include a year-in-Asia, an exchange program or something similar. That said, if you can spend some time in a Chinese speaking country before starting uni, it would give you an advantage.

If you're willing to come across the sea to Australia, my university (the Australian National University) has a very strong Asian Studies department. First year Chinese for beginners is a very intensive course, you will learn a lot in a short space of time, and you probably won't be with many overseas Chinese/Australian-born Chinese who are already fluent (I don't think). Although it could sound intimidating, if you can keep your interest up and work hard, you'll achieve what you want.

Keep in mind that even if you don't continue Chinese at university, there are other ways to continue learning Chinese. In Canberra there is a volunteer Mandarin tutoring program, where you can be matched up with a volunteer tutor. There are often Chinese students on campus who could be willing to participate in a language exchange with you as well. And don't forget to make use of your university's library, even if you aren't taking a Chinese course, there will often be Chinese and Chinese-learning materials available for loan.

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If you want an informal test to get a sense of where you stand vis-a-vis the University of Toronto, take a look at Lu Xun. We were reading Call to Arms in my 3rd year Chinese non-speakers class. Studying was text-oriented and there was little opportunity to practice the spoken language.

Could you give a little more detail? Does the teacher explain things on a sentence level, or is it all interpretation? Lecture or discussion? How many days for a story, for example New Year's Sacrifice?

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Hello Etwood,

As a fellow New Zealander who has devoted his life to Chinese and the study of China, and had always wanted to become a Chinese teacher, I have often thought about similar things as you. The important thing to know as a New Zealander, is that Chinese study is much more popular and much better funded overseas than in NZ, you won't find too many people in Australia or Southeast Asia rubbishing the idea of learning Chinese.

I don't know why, but the popularity of Chinese among NZ students seems to have halved since I started doing Chinese ten years ago.Some people I know blame it on bad the constant bad publicity about China and the Chinese in NZ news.

As a result, now most of the people taking Chinese in NZ universities are overseas students from Japan or Korea, and very few Pakeha or Maori seem eager to take up the challenge, or at least to take it through to the end. When I was a first year student people were always telling me what a clever thing it was to be learning Chinese and that I'd definitely get a good job at the end of it. Actually as it turned out the shrinking popularity of Chinese made it unlikely for me to get a job teaching at a university, and I didn't feel like teaching at secondary level, so I just stayed a student, and after several years living in various East Asian countries teaching English to support myself I am now in Canberra, which as has been noted above, has an excellent Chinese programme. I don't mind too much about the job either, because my life is interesting.

Don't let my own story put you off, however, China is not going to disappear in the next few years, and non-Chinese who have a good knowledge of Chinese language and culture get a lot of respect from Chinese people. Even if the only thing you study is Chinese you'll have have a huge advantage when it comes to getting high-paying jobs in English teaching (a very good way to support yourself when learning Chinese) in China or Taiwan. Most westerners in China and Taiwan can't explain the English language to Chinese in their own language, and have to live their lives through interpreters or amongst a small group of English-speaking Chinese, and those who can are rare and very precious to people who really want to learn.

If I were you. I'd do my undergraduate study in NZ and maybe my MA, if you are still interested after that, NZ Asian studies graduates can get good scholarships from the Australian government for further study in Australia.

I definitely think the best Chinese programme in NZ is at Auckland University. If you want to concentrate solely on the language, then AUT is good too, but not so good when it comes to studying Chinese culture, history, linguistics, literature etc.. The reason I recommend Auckland especially is that they introduce both simplified and traditional character sets for reading comprehension, something that is neglected, I believe, by all the other universities, but it is important to learn to at least read both sets. They also teach Classical Chinese in the third year, which comes in handy if you want to do graduate study, or learn to read and write Chinese beautifully. The textbooks used at Auckland are definitely the best I know.

To quote Forrest Gump:

That's all I've got to say about that.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Etwood,

One thing that is always worth considering before embarking on a language course is what do you want to do with it afterwards? You need to start narrowing down job possibilities. If its teaching start looking into how many jobs there actually are and what they require (often its more than just the language, e.g. teaching qualifications or a literature background). If it's translating you really need another area of knowledge so you can specialise (engineering, finance etc. Companies need people who can translate obscure technical terms). As for other areas, make sure you do your research before going in. And, as others have said, a bit of guanxi never hurts. Internships are always a good route. Final note, don't forget that there's always the option of evening classes in some universities, and they're often cheap for students.

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