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My rant: Problems with the Chinese Teaching System


self-taught-mba
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one thing I have noticed about your post is that its pretty ethno centric and seems to be railing against the very thing youre there to do...

I don't believe it is ethnocentric to point out faults in something. If I were to speak about the US educational system I would find many many faults there as well.

In fact if you are to join me on some business forums or discussions you would hear me rail against some American manufacturers, (especially steel, cars and other heavy manufacturing industries). Nor, would it be for an outsider to criti ethnocentric for an outsider to criticize our systems. That is why Toyota and Honda are doing well and we are trying to catch up.

If you read about my background you know I've been trained in a lot of things going with operations an dealing with operations and efficiency. This deftly shapes my perception, and of course I will apply these theories in my evaluation of the Chinese learning System.

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I knew I would catch some heat for this, but I'm sorry I have to go out now. I will try the reply again in the future although I don't know if I can reply to every post.

I thank you for the time of your reply but would also appreciate in objective evaluation of some of my points without too many attacks.

I hope this can remain cordial. I am not saying: " I am always right and the Chinese are always wrong"

I think that is a broad generalization and an unfair characterization. I am however addressing what I believe are specific complaints with the existing system.

I hope everyone has a good night and if I don't speak to you before then have a great new year.

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Maybe we just used different books but the problem is I’ve yet to run into something that is a non-important or non-priority culture item in any of my classes at BLCU. Again coming to the school I knew I was coming to a language AND culture university so I knew aspects of both would be present in all of my classes. I do feel it is unfair that worldlink said to you what they did and that does seem like they misrepresented themselves. .

Of the two examples you gave this was my take on when we started learning them. Hutong are an important part of Chinese culture though at least much more so than your log cabin illustration gives them credit for being. One generation ago many Chinese lived in a Hutong. How do you priories such a thing as the culture that defines a person? I feel that if you can introduce aspects of the culture while as the same time teaching various grammatical constructs they should. If one really finds the culture that difficult or boring they are free to ignore the topic of the reading and look at it from a purely linguistic exercise. Look at the linguistic difference in the US between those who live in the inner city vs. those who grew up in suburbs. Ancient poets are another good example that appears non-important but if you want to communicate they are commonly used in 成语 people will commonly say them and just expect the listener to know the meaning because everyone who studied Chinese would have learned it. An example would be when someone says 井底之蛙, they would just expect you to have read a story that seems pretty useless at first read.

Learning about things such as Hutong and ancient poets many do consider boring, but it is important when talking to people who have them as important parts of their culture. I too took many Chinese history and society course and found the language crept up much more often than I though it would to the point the teacher took the time to review the various pronunciation methods with us. It would be very hard to learn about things such as 磕頭 without learning how to at least say it and understand why it may be spelled differently in different books.. I agree you can learn the culture in-depth without learning the language at great length; however, you can’t become completely proficient in the language without learning the culture.

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I don't believe it is ethnocentric to point out faults in something. If I were to speak about the US educational system I would find many many faults there as well.

In fact if you are to join me on some business forums or discussions you would hear me rail against some American manufacturers, (especially steel, cars and other heavy manufacturing industries). Nor, would it be for an outsider to criti ethnocentric for an outsider to criticize our systems. That is why Toyota and Honda are doing well and we are trying to catch up.

If you read about my background you know I've been trained in a lot of things going with operations an dealing with operations and efficiency. This deftly shapes my perception, and of course I will apply these theories in my evaluation of the Chinese learning System.

By ethno centric I meant that your views were particularly built around a certain ethno point of view and it comes across as a very mtv generation type of thing, by that I mean looking for the quick fix as the patience is not there to persevere and do it properly... Its fine to criticise something but the point from which you criticise can be influential on WHY you are criticising...

Dont forget that alot of western schools when teaching english teach what seems (at least to me when I went through, although admittedly it may be different now as its bee a while) to be trite and inconsequential, this is also true of maths...

I had a quick look at your member details but havent read that massive thread you have posted about your learning Chinese yet... I will hopefully get time to look at it later but I am studying for an exam at the moment so time is of a premium...

Out of interest are you a 70s child or 80s...??

I think that there have been a couple of great posts here that you should reread...

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Sorry, but self-taught-mba is right. He's on a totally different plane.

It's simply a matter of prioritising and then increasing volume of input. Why is maximising efficiency by improving the delivery mechanism so hard to understand? It has nothing to due with culture or quick fix impatience, but technology. If you try to put into the context of culture, then you'll never get it.

You other guys must like to dig holes with a shovel rather than a bulldozer, and then sit around and discuss cultural relevance of shovels.

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Just a few random comments after reading the post.

People learn languages for different reasons so each person will have different goals. As such it's hard for one program to satisfy everyone's demands.

The major language schools serve overseas Chinese, other Asians and Westerners.

Someones negative is someone elses positive. I've heard that some westerners like learning with Asians, as it means they are forced to use their mandarin to communicate with them as it's the only language they have in common (and as they're the only people who don't get annoyed with their limited vocab, as it's their level of vocab too). Conversely you hear reports of how westerners don't like how Japanese and Koreans seem to have a headstart with the written language etc and resent being in the same class as them.

To be honest, I don't think the books are that much of a problem, you only use them for a bit, after a year of so you'll be tackling newspapers and real books etc and seeing how the language is really used. There are a finite number of sentance patterns and once you know them, you shouldn't really have to refer to the beginner books again.

I never liked dictation, but getting low marks in a few tests really was an incentive to pull your finger out and to get studying. Dictation also really makes your reading faster.

Learning Chinese isn't competitive, it's not a race, it should be seen as a collaboration.

It's hard to come up with a syllabus that will suit people of differing ages and abilities.

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Since I have not yet been to China, but hope to, I can't comment yet on conditions there. I can say that at the school I attend (an adult education class), that the methods are very (almost uncanily) similar to what self-taught-mba has outlined. I've kept with the class, but also hired a tutor, and done a lot of outside extra work.

One thing is that these classes "self select" for a type of mindset and learning style. The people who keep with the program are the ones who succeed with this approach. So, those one this forum who have good experiences are a valid subset of all learners, but there are many who are very interested in Chinese, but do not flourish in this type of school.

So, self-taught-mba's school should do well, if it can match up with a large enough percentage of learning styles. That should be easy, considering the large number of people coming to China to learn. It's not about percentages, it's about actual numbers, here.

That said, I would like to see what measurement criteria you (self-taught-mba) are going to apply to your school's performance.

Will you accept anyone, or try and advise people that do or don't fit to your approach?

Will you meet the needs of business people, coming over to learn to communicate effectively in different settings and different industries? (My opinion is that this is potentially your strongest appeal).

I'm not trying to expose any private business plans, but I'm interested in your measurement criteria, as it will show me what direction is important to you (at least to begin with).

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Yeah I agree with the above two. self-taught-mba and hakkaboy are on different planes. One wants to be efficient and just do what it takes to do business and the other wants a deep understanding of the language. I love languages so I'm looking forward to studying it in a University setting for the first time and learn the whole shebang and meet the other students.

One thing though I would like to ask is if mba can read hand-written Chinese, I know I have trouble, because I never learned to write proper and am not familiar with the stroke-making like I'm sure the Univ students are.

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Someones negative is someone elses positive. I've heard that some westerners like learning with Asians, as it means they are forced to use their mandarin to communicate with them as it's the only language they have in common (and as they're the only people who don't get annoyed with their limited vocab, as it's their level of vocab too).

:-? they'll just talk in English

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You need to be able to write long hand for the high level HSKs. A course that finishes without a recognised certificate is going to be a very hard sell.

You do see a lot of people who are disappointed with the level of Chinese they attain after a period of tuition. Chinese progression seems to be a series of jumps and plateaus rather than something linear. People should be warned of that before they start.

they'll just talk in English

Believe it or not, not everyone speaks English.

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I made a lengthier post earlier but it seems not to have registered here.... something which is probably a fault with the Internet in China more than anything else.

Reviewing what people have said in this thread to date now, the only thing I think I can really say is that I think Craig is being overly defensive. I've never met anyone who has attended a Chinese university and is reasonably fluent in Chinese who hasn't had major reservations about the quality of education offered by these institutions for the time expended in learning. The issue isn't that hutong are covered in the curriculum. Culture is important but I think the criticisms MBA makes are much broader and generally valid, and that it is safe to say that Craig is probably in a minority if he feels his time spent in class is a major factor driving his fluency in the Chinese language.

MBA --> I hope that if you open your school it is a major success. The one suggestion I wanted to make in my earlier post is that you might want to look into offering tourism/language classes as opposed to straight educational courses. Something like 80+ percent of the foreign students in China are Korean, and so you are focusing on a small subset of the market by marketing to English students and an even smaller subset if you want to target those with the money to pay for things like PDAs out-of-pocket. There are already many private schools offering better classes than are available through university courses. I would certainly be more interested in taking a vacation to certain parts of China if I knew I would be travelling with fellow language learners and that part of the trip (bus rides, etc.) would be spent in structured learning, or at least allow the opportunity for such learning.

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Will you meet the needs of business people, coming over to learn to communicate effectively in different settings and different industries?

Incidentally, is this a total myth or what? Does anyone know ANY non-Asian business person who is learning Chinese in order to do business in China? I mean this as opposed to someone who has been dispatched to China or otherwise found themselves here and is learning Chinese because of that. Unemployed students hoping to get into business don't count.

I'm just curious, because one hears a lot about this category of student but I honestly don't know a single person who is already in business and is now trying to learn Chinese in order to enter the Chinese market.

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I agree to Trevelyan...

In my chinese school, here in Brazil, nobody fits to this category...

even in my company (we are axpanding our plants in China and building a new plant..) nobody (except myself) learn chinese...

its more or less the myth of learning japanese in the 80´s...

about the post, I agree to MBA. maybe i do not agree the wording he described the situation...

in my chinese course here, of course the teachers are chinese from beijing (we have 3 teachers), graduated in chinese language (two of them with master degree)...

the first 2 levels (500 words... 1 year), we only stress "communication" (to use MBA wording). Hanzi we start to learn from the 3 level. Comparing to learners from other school, we "communicate" quite better.

But of course, I dont know about your cities, but in são paulo you could go on saturday morning in downtown to buy electronics and software... and practice your chinese... because we have chinese enough for that...

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I like the points raised here and they make sense..

Let me first to say that I know plenty of people learning chinese for buisness. Most, if not all of my classes in china were all doing it to get money. Many of my x-pat freinds in china that do work in buisness there can speak english.

And even me, I dont study chinese, to study chinese.

Anyway, one of the points MBA is right on is; resistance to change. But I think in a slightly diffrent manner. I can speak (fluently) Russian, French as well as english. My chinese is pretty good, I studied in China both at a University and Language Schools. And now, when I came back to the USA i started studing Japanese. And not only from my experiences, but even of those of my freinds and collegues as well as teachers; Chinese language education is WAY behind most other languages. And I think resistance to Change is the big problem, jus the style of education, most of my teachers will go through the same motions when teaching. Teaching alot of irrelevant material. People have to realise you can teach about chinese the significance of green-tea flavored tooth paste under the cover of ‘culture'.

If MBA is talking about the language, and i think he is, he's right. while yes some of his manners i might disagree with, but generaly his correct. To learn a language you have to employ the most effective means possible, period. While culture is an important part, you cant go overboard, ive seen many language programs turn in to social, or politcal sience classes. No matter how significant they are on chinese culture, its not a sociology course, but a language course!

And now, as it seems after looking at this thread, many students are also reluctant to change.

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maybe this is a slightly different take. i don't believe any language school can actually teach a language. they are there to offer assistance, but the learning is up to the student. i'm currently taking 12 hours 1:1 for 10 weeks, awaiting the start of the spring semester when i can join a group class. will i learn the language in 10 weeks? of course not. i expect to become proficient (somewhat) at tones and pronunciation of intitials and finals. anything else will be done outside of class, self-study with flash cards, tapes, misc. books and practice on unsuspecting locals. the university is really nothing more than a convenient visa office. success or failure will ultimately be my responsibility.

experience so far? began with a schedule of 4 hours each: speaking/listening/writing. within the first week, changed to 6 hours conversation, 4 hours tones/pronunciation, and 2 hours character writing. characters for me are very easy to write (difficult to memorize), but i wanted some tutoring on stroke order and 'cleanliness.' listening was a waste of time: 3rd or 4th generation copies of cassette tapes on a cheap 'boombox' in a room with poor accoustics. i bought new copies of the tapes and do them on my own, and listen to radio talk shows when at home. i've explained to my instuctor/tutors that i'm not that much interested in moving through the books quickly, and don't need that much new material. rather i want to concentrate on the basics: tones & pronunciation. yes, we do some real-life drills....living in china, i need to: count, tell time, order in a restaurant, buy from a veggie market, change money, ask directions. when they want to use chapters of the book, i always have to ask how i can use this in daily life. when will i ask the bus driver or traffic cop or street vendor about their birthday or astrological sign? i do not need to ask about your health or how many people in your family (at least not yet).

i'm seeing some progress, albeit very slow. i think i've finally gotten a handle on tones, i can pick out a word or three in every sentence on talk radio. i 'usually' get what i ask for at the noodle bars. usually. i have about 300 characters that i can recognize, 200 of which i can translate back and forth. speaking is problematic. i have enough useful phrases to get by, but the accent of the locals in kunming can be difficult. (meiguo is pronounced ma-gui). and hooray, i can read about half the items on the standard street-vendor menu board!

my main complaint about the school is the choice (is there?) of textbooks. they cram the first half with mostly useless phrases, yet the important content is in the final chapters. grammar explanations are direct word-for-word translations of a short chinese phrase. "a sentence with 是 is known as the 是 sentence" and "a sentence with a noun....as its predicate is known as the sentence with a nominal predicate." (and the point is????)

four textbooks tell me the reflexive is formed by adding -er, but they never explain what the reflexive is, or how/when it is used. imagine teaching english grammar with "the sentence with a pluperfect constuction is known as the pluperfect sentence." not terribly useful.

ancient chinese poetry? i wouldn't think it essential in the first year, other than as a transcription exercise. however, further into your study, especially if you will be living in country for an extended time, it should prove useful when trying to more fully understand the meaning of a statement or article. consider a similar situation in english with references to greek mythology, roman orators, german & french terminology, goethe/faust, grimm fairy tales. how does a reference to 'damocles' emphasize an author's intent? (did santa bring you a 'gift horse?' can i buy a 'freudian slip' at victoria's secret?)

btw, i attended the defense language institute (long ago). i was not particularly impressed with the basic german course. students were pumped out with little more than tourist german, hardly equal to one year at university (in my opinion at least). fortunately, i had prior german in high school and college, along with several vacations to germany, and was able to skip to the advanced course, which in turn allowed me to work as a translator in germany. sure beat picking up cigarette butts on a stateside base.

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Just to clarify my statement. I don’t feel the time spent in a BLCU class is the driving factor in advancing my Chinese. I feel the best way to do that is working with a one-on-one tutor with a lesson plan that you come up with together. I do feel that the Chinese education system has some serious flaws that I complained consistently about for the first two or three months I was in china; one of largest being mixing student with different language needs in different classes. Japanese students generally have little or no problem with written Chinese while their pronunciation often is more difficult. By putting everyone together it is difficult or impossible for a teacher to work on the “trouble areas” of students because everyone has different areas they need to work on. The size of the class (around 15) as opposed to around 8 when studying at University back home can also be a problem for any 口语 class. I realize one of the main reasons the school works is because they will help you do well on the HSK if nothing else: This is why most of the Koreans and Japanese students, who make up over 70% of the classes are there.

My problem with the OP was when someone uses phrases such as “Forcing culture down the throat of the student” and “The lack of priorities in teaching” those are strong claims and should not be made lightly. Perhaps they didn’t mean to sound as harsh as they came off I can’t be sure of the intent. If one is testing into BLCU C level it is expected they can already communicate on a basic level in the language on daily needs. From that point it is hard to create a curriculum of important words one doesn’t already know at some point you have to learn about even “useless things” because to reach a higher level of fluency one just needs to learn them. I would have stayed out of this thread but I took offence when I read things such as “I laughed at my classmates” Again I’m not sure if it was indented in the rhetorical sense but since I’ve seen People in my class do that, I couldn’t take it for granted.

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Yeah I agree with the above two. self-taught-mba and hakkaboy are on different planes. One wants to be efficient and just do what it takes to do business and the other wants a deep understanding of the language. I love languages so I'm looking forward to studying it in a University setting for the first time and learn the whole shebang and meet the other students.

Not quite. It's more sophisticated than learning business language vs. cultural understanding. They are not mututally exclusive. It's more like the difference between learning vocabulary and learning circumlocution. Learning vocabulary is a weak approach. Learning circumlocution is powerful.

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Just a few random thoughts about these posts:

1) Chinese culture is inseparable part of the Chinese language. I don’t want to misrepresent MBA’s original idea, which was for better prioritization of what to teach at the early stages. Also, I haven’t used too many BCLU books myself, but some of them seem to be highly nationalistic, which is off putting. Nonetheless, I think that in the process of going from an intermediate level to an advanced level, the foreigner realizes his/her vast ignorance of Chinese culture, which impedes understanding of all sorts of texts and even daily conversations. In fact, I think there need to be more books focused on addressing the problem of “cultural literacy”. One useful book that has helped me is “中国文化中的典型人物与事件, 陈贤纯编者, 北京语言大学出版社”.

2) I’m pretty much self-taught as well, so I can’t comment about the traditional teaching system. However, if it is bad, I’d speculate that it has more to do with the rapid increase in demand for teaching combined with very little systematic knowledge of how to teach foreigners. This, at least, is true of the situation of learning English in China. China two and a half decades ago was utterly self-isolated. Students learned languages by reading phonemic charts with diagrams of where the tongue is for every sound. Then, probably a physics or math teacher would analyze English grammar, and try his best to teach texts. Everybody knew the system sucked, but there was no immediate alternative.

On top of that, I’d estimate that it takes at least three to five years to develop the practical teaching skills necessary to have a good class. From what I’ve read here, it sounds like you could make a few Mao Zedong’s if you opened a teacher training institute. For example, my good friend, and fellow English teacher, quit teaching to become a full time student of Chinese. At first, he said, although his teacher was a very sweet, caring woman, the Westerners felt that they weren’t getting much practical communication skills out of the class. My friend spent some time with her after class, and “CELTAfied” her teaching. This included: decreasing teacher talking time, increasing student participation to the highest degree possible, giving brief concise definitions of words, followed with simple concept checking questions. He also taught her how to strictly correct student pronunciation, and then give them activities in which they could practice the just learned target language. All of this helped improve the class. And, indeed, his communicational Chinese has improved tremendously. The point is, I’d speculate (perhaps wrongly) that in the teaching Chinese to foreigners system there is a lot of latent talent and hidden potential, but few school administrators know how to get the most out of their students, teachers, books, and schedules.

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