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Just finished a semester of 清华大学's IUP Program - my review


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Jan Finster
6 hours ago, jiaojiao87 said:

Analysis of outcomes:

It is hard to measure self improvement, but here is what I would say:

  • My vocabulary improved substantially
  • My listening ability improved substantially
  • My essay/speech writing improved substantially
  • It is hard for me to evaluate my speech improvement.  I believe it improved a little bit.

 

That's about it.  Happy to answer any questions if you have any!

Thanks for the great write-up. Quite impressive what you can squeeze into your day between job and partner!

 

The obvious question: was it worth it?

 

After 10 hours of 1:1 per week and 10-14 hours of homework per week for one semester (= 4-5 months!?), you would have done 160-200 hours of 1:1. Obviously you are doomed to improve, but I wonder, if you could have achieved the same for much less money organizing it yourself and if you hired professional tutors (maybe even former teachers at Tsinghua Uni)?

 

I guess the main selling point of such a program for me would be one or more of the following:

  1. the particular degree or certificate you get from it is useful for your career/CV
  2. the teachers are truly second to none
  3. the curriculum is second to none
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roddy
1 hour ago, Jan Finster said:

doomed to improve

Going to put that on a t-shirt. 

 

I suspect organising that much tuition, in that short a space of time, would be pretty challenging. I don't think I'd want to do it all with one tutor (and would they want to do it with me), but then you have to coordinate across classes... I understand the price concerns, but I can see advantages to just having it all sorted out. There's an option 4: It's really easy that way.

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mungouk
18 minutes ago, jiaojiao87 said:

One thing I forgot to mention that I really liked is that all homework is forward-looking, not backward-looking.  By this, I mean that homework is all for the NEXT class's material, and the classes themselves are closed-book.  In other words, you HAVE to prepare all the material very well beforehand, because you can't reference it during class.  Classes aren't spent learning vocab or covering new material, they are spent reinforcing the grammar/vocab/material you were supposed to study yourself the night before.

 

This is very interesting, almost a "flipped classroom" approach...  I think this assumption is perhaps built into the HSK standard course textbooks, at least from Level 4 upwards. Each chapter starts by quizzing you on what you know of this chapters' vocabulary, which is why I came to the conclusion you need to pre-learn for the vocab for each chapter before you start studying it with your teacher.

 

Is this perhaps a common model in teaching in China?

 

 

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NanJingDongLu
42 minutes ago, jiaojiao87 said:

all homework is forward-looking, not backward-looking.  By this, I mean that homework is all for the NEXT class's material, and the classes themselves are closed-book.  In other words, you HAVE to prepare all the material very well beforehand, because you can't reference it during class.

IMO this is by far the most efficient way to use class time, and I don't think it's even close. You pay by the minute for time with your teacher, so ideally you should do everything possible with the material before you get time with your teacher and get answers to questions.

 

There is one downside to this approach though, and it's a big one. If you are in a group class situation, there is a near 100% chance that the majority of your classmates will not do the necessary preparation. Therefore, you are forced to cater to the lowest common denominator.

 

I think since most students are familiar with the backward-looking homework style, so even when they are in a 1-1 environment that's the style they expect. Therefore, most teachers are most familiar with this method of teaching, even in 1-1 classes.

 

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mungouk

@NanJingDongLu 1:1 lessons definitely work best for me, but the flip-side is that the peer pressure has gone away.  My teacher is sympathetic to my circumstances (very busy with a full-time job, like many of us) and she never hassles me for not doing my 作业. Sometimes I wish there was a bit more pressure to actually do it and I might try harder.

 

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abcdefg
On 6/9/2021 at 7:24 AM, mungouk said:

Is this perhaps a common model in teaching in China?

 

I don't think so. Wish it were. Most of the classes I've taken have approximately followed the pattern of:

1. Brief preview of today's new material

2. Tackle the process of learning the new material, with explanation, discussion, exercises and practice.

3. Brief summary/review of what was learned, with homework designed to re-enforce the new material.

 

I have usually urged and exhorted my teachers to spend time at the very beginning of each session reviewing key parts of what went before. That helped me a lot, making it less likely that things would just go in one ear and be quickly forgotten. Some teachers never could "get it." They were hell-bent on rapid forward progress, at least in part so they could brag to their colleagues that "My student is already on Lesson 7 even though it's only week 4." It was a point of pride for them as educators.   

 

Occasionally I've been encouraged to pre-learn the vocabulary for the next lesson before class on my own time, but I don't think I've ever been required to learn it. When at my best, motoring on all eight cylinders, I've tried to pre-learn the vocabulary very well. I would arrive at class with any questions well formed so the teacher could help me with the problem bits. But I don't think I've ever tackled the grammar in advance. 

 

This experience is very impressive, @jiaojiao87. Many thanks for writing it up. I also am very impressed with the way you "seized the moment" by doing these on-line classes at a time when it was not possible to physically travel to China. It was a bold commitment that required not only initial enthusiasm, but strong daily follow through as well. 

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NanJingDongLu
10 minutes ago, mungouk said:

I wish there was a bit more pressure to actually do it and I might try harder.

 

Set yourself a forfeit/punishment if don't do your homework. Tip your teacher. No beer for a week. No TV until H/W is done. Whatever you feel is appropriate for your situation, and likely to actually motivate you.

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mungouk

Thanks, but I'm too old and cynical for behaviourist tricks like that to work! 

Much respect to @jiaojiao87 for doing this self-initiated sabbatical. I'm considering something similar myself. 

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NanJingDongLu
7 minutes ago, mungouk said:

Thanks, but I'm too old and cynical for behaviourist tricks like that to work! 

Then why would "the peer pressure of being in a class" have any affect on making you try harder?

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Jan Finster
2 hours ago, jiaojiao87 said:

3.  One thing I forgot to mention that I really liked is that all homework is forward-looking, not backward-looking.  By this, I mean that homework is all for the NEXT class's material, and the classes themselves are closed-book.  In other words, you HAVE to prepare all the material very well beforehand, because you can't reference it during class.  Classes aren't spent learning vocab or covering new material, they are spent reinforcing the grammar/vocab/material you were supposed to study yourself the night before

 

I am in a similar situation to yourself. The limiting factor for me would be the time pressure of only less than a day to prepare for next class. Mastering (for instance) 30 new words or characters for tomorrow's class (and this for 16 weeks) would end in a disaster with me. I often just need more time to let things sink in or learn at my own speed. Maybe it is also because my Chinese is not at your level. I would rather want to know what I would have to prepare for the whole degree 6-12 months prior to taking it and come fully prepared for the program😉

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NanJingDongLu
2 hours ago, jiaojiao87 said:

I specifically wanted a serious program that I could use to "go hard" in Chinese for a period of time.

 

4 minutes ago, Jan Finster said:

Mastering (for instance) 30 new words or characters for tomorrow's class (and this for 16 weeks) would end in a disaster with me. I often just need more time to let things sink in or learn at my own speed.

 

It sounds like you just have a different goal with your studying. There's nothing wrong with that.

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mungouk

 

29 minutes ago, mungouk said:

1:1 lessons definitely work best for me, but the flip-side is that the peer pressure has gone away.

4 minutes ago, NanJingDongLu said:

why would "the peer pressure of being in a class" have any affect on making you try harder?

 

Because I only do 1:1 classes these days. So there is no peer pressure, and almost none from my teacher.

 

Let's not de-rail the thread by quibbling about details.

 

 

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jiaojiao87

Thanks all for the positive words!

 

3 hours ago, NanJingDongLu said:

IMO this is by far the most efficient way to use class time, and I don't think it's even close.

I completely agree.  Before signing up for the course, this concept intimidated me.  My historical courses were similar to what @abcdefg described.  However, for this program, the fact that homework is never "optional," but actually required in order to function at all in the next class, was a huge motivator to put the time in.  The class time is also just substantially more useful, since literally 0% of class time was spent on material I hadn't seen before.  the 1-1 setting let the teacher spend time on the components that were actually difficult for me to grasp, and quickly pass over those that I understood.  

 

3 hours ago, NanJingDongLu said:

There is one downside to this approach though, and it's a big one. If you are in a group class situation, there is a near 100% chance that the majority of your classmates will not do the necessary preparation. Therefore, you are forced to cater to the lowest common denominator.

Agreed, I don't think it would work at all for group settings - it would just end up defaulting to covering everything slowly.  However, this experience was for 1-1 classes, so it worked quite well.

 

2 hours ago, mungouk said:

My teacher is sympathetic to my circumstances (very busy with a full-time job, like many of us) and she never hassles me for not doing my 作业.

This has essentially been my experience with self-driven classes, so I can totally relate :D

 

2 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

The limiting factor for me would be the time pressure of only less than a day to prepare for next class. Mastering (for instance) 30 new words or characters for tomorrow's class (and this for 16 weeks) would end in a disaster with me.

Everyone learns differently, and wants different things out of studying.  I definitely would not universally recommend this program - it is intense by design, and caters to a particular type of learning style.  The teachers actually talked about how some students would burn out/over-prepare/become extremely stressed out because of the nature of the program, and they seem to be willing to make accommodations for different circumstances. 

 

For example, they recommend and default to everyone doing all writing assignments, tests, and homework by writing by hand.  I made it clear before I started the program that while I have a decent reading and speaking level, I can write maybe 50 characters by hand, and am not interested in improving this skill.  Throughout the semester they repeatedly tried to push me to give it a shot, but I can't justify the time sink it would cost, especially on the demanding time schedule.  They were willing to allow me to just type up all my essays, homeworks, and speeches.

 

This particular program could seriously use a materials refresh, though.  I got out a lot regardless, but more modern material would go a long ways.

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Jan Finster
11 minutes ago, jiaojiao87 said:

I made it clear before I started the program that while I have a decent reading and speaking level, I can write maybe 50 characters by hand, and am not interested in improving this skill.  Throughout the semester they repeatedly tried to push me to give it a shot, but I can't justify the time sink it would cost, especially on the demanding time schedule.  They were willing to allow me to just type up all my essays, homeworks, and speeches.

 

This is crucial information. The writing part would have killed me since I am not even 100% confident about writing "1", "2" and "3" in Chinese by hand 😉

Even though you did not write by hand, how difficult was writing for you? Correct me if I am wrong, I could imagine you may not (type-) written many texts before (?) And how much google translator did you use for your assignments? 😉

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jiaojiao87
6 minutes ago, Jan Finster said:

Even though you did not write by hand, how difficult was writing for you? Correct me if I am wrong, I could imagine you may not (type-) written many texts before (?) And how much google translator did you use for your assignments?

Haha, good questions :D I actually have historically written a decent number of essays - for my previous teacher, I wrote approximately 1 essay per week as homework.  Additionally, I have used "HelloTalk" as a bit of a blog where a few times per week I would post various essays I would write.  I used minimal to no google translator for this course.

 

Since I was doing this for my own growth, and not for a grade, forcing myself to type essays was part of the learning.  This actually helps the teachers identify common, repeat errors (those that are ingrained and need to be corrected).  During the course of the term, I found I was able to write more complex, less error-prone essays than historically.  This was actually one of the easiest things to reflect upon, because I can look at old essays and compare :D

 

Some people wrote much shorter essays than I did, but I tend to be long winded.

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somethingfunny

Could you say a bit more about the remote learning experience? How did you find being on a one-on-one call for two hours? Sounds a bit intense.  I’ve never really been able to imagine it being that enjoyable to learn through video conferencing.  Certainly, my experience from the other end has put me off it quite a lot.

 

Did you ever have any technical issues? Poor quality sound, time-lag, etc.

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jiaojiao87

Sure!

 

It's actually two 50-minute classes.  Each 50-minute class is with a different teacher.  After 8 weeks, the teachers and learning material were changed, and I had 2 new teachers and new material in the same format.

 

Both teachers focused on different aspects of the material; for example, one might focus on grammar constructs and understanding of the material, and the other on proper vocabulary usage and pronunciation.  The teachers were very friendly, and I enjoyed the classes.  However, they certainly are intense...although not necessarily more than the in-person version would be.  The intensity is why I chose the program, though 😉 

 

I had two incidents with audio issues, both were handled quickly and easily.  For the first one it was a mic issue, and so she contacted their IT service and got it resolved.  For the second one, we ran into occasional audio issues.  If we encountered them, we just swapped over to a different video conference software.  They were not common and quickly resolved.  I also once had a power outage, but the teachers were understanding and just rescheduled the time so I didn't miss any content.

 

I'd wager In-person learning is superior to video conference learning, but I've never had an in-person Chinese class.  If given an equal choice, I'd certainly opt for in-person classes.  However, I'm not in a position where in-person vs remote is something I can select between.

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