As I’ve mentioned before, lately I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with my progress in Chinese. I think there are several reasons for this stagnation. One reason I can’t ignore is that I’ve really been having a good time here for the past year and a half, and I’ve just plain been lazy about studying. I can’t deny that. But there’s more to it than just laziness. My spoken Chinese has reached a sort of plateau. I know most of the words for everyday life. If linguistists’ estimate of 10,000 words for a basic vocabulary is correct, then I know those 10,000 words in Chinese, and I can use them fairly fluently in conversation. Remember, though, that’s a basic vocabulary; it is an accomplishment, but it’s nothing to be exceedingly proud about. I’ve gotta keep pushing. Basic conversation is no longer sufficient to help me learn the more sophisticated vocabulary I want to work on, and basic conversation doesn’t help me with reading or writing, two skill areas I’ve definitely been neglecting. My conclusion? I need to take formal classes.
Besides a simple desire for further progress, there’s another reason I want to start taking formal classes. I’ve decided that I need to take the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi – Chinese Proficiency test, China’s “TOEFL”) in order for my progress in Chinese to be formally recognized. I didn’t major in Chinese; I just took a few courses in college, so at this point I have no official documentation to prove that my Chinese is decent. If you throw me into China it’s pretty clear that I can handle myself, but that doesn’t readily work itself onto a resume. The HSK score will provide a recognized standard that I might need for the future.
Also, I think it’s pretty clear that I thrive on competition. (Maybe that’s part of the reason I took up the study of Chinese… It’s undoubtedly quite a challenge, and there aren’t a whole lot of Westerners that can do it, so I could realistically compete with the best if I tried hard and stuck with it.) I think classroom competition in the form of other serious classmates will be a powerful form of motivation for me to excel in my studies.
I have already announced before that I plan to study Chinese at Zhejiang University for the 2003-2004 academic year. This past semester I’ve been putting aside over two-thirds of my income every month for that express purpose. Recently, though, it has come to my attention that Zheijiang University may not be the best choice for me, especially since I plan to continue living on campus at ZUCC next semester (and teaching part-time). Below is my comparison and evaluation of the three main choices for Chinese study in Hangzhou.
Zhejiang University (Yuquan Campus)
Chinese Studies Program: Good – generally considered to be the best in Hanghzou
Students: 500-900, from all over (but especially Korea)
Campus: Pretty large, attractive with lots of trees, but classrooms are a little run-down
Class Sizes: medium (20-35 students)
Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:00am
Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 30 minutes by bicycle, at least an hour by bus (requiring one transfer)
Tuition: US$1000 for the first semester; US$800 for the second semester
Evaluation: A decent program which perhaps charges a little too much because it knows it has the reputation of Zhejiang University behind it. It would be cool to be part of such a big international community of students, but I’m afraid the daily commute (which would necessitate me waking up at 6am for a grueling daily ordeal) would kill me.
Zhejiang University of Technology
Chinese Studies Program: Fair – emphasizes listening and reading skills and HSK prep, but doesn’t seem to have much of a clue about conducting interesting conversation classes
Students: about 100, mostly from Korea
Campus: Pretty large, unattractive, classrooms are a little run-down
Class Sizes: small (10-15 students)
Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:55am
Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 15 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus
Tuition: US$780 for the first semester; US$750 for the second semester
Evaluation: I’d prefer to study at a school with a more attractive campus, but I guess that isn’t the most important thing. The school’s reputation isn’t the greatest and the classes might not be the most imaginatively planned out, but as far as what I want to study, it should get the job done. The fact that it’s very close is a huge plus.
Hangzhou Teachers College
Chinese Studies Program: Fair/poor – very personal interaction, but doesn’t seem to have an established study curriculum
Students: about 30, mostly from Korea
Campus: Pretty large, nice pond in the center of campus, some attractive architecture, but classrooms are a little run-down
Class Sizes: very small (1-5 students)
Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:30am
Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 20 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus
Tuition: US$800 for the first semester; US$800 for the second semester
Evaluation: I really like the campus, but I don’t think the study program cuts it. First, the classes are just too small. I’m afraid I wouldn’t get the competition I’m looking for, or much of the comraderie. Second, the curriculum is just unimpressive and seems somewhat vague for advanced students.
Hangzhou University of Commerce
Chinese Studies Program: Fair – very personal interaction, established study curriculum, but doesn’t seem to go into advanced study of Chinese (although it does offer “business Chinese”)
Students: about 50, from all over
Campus: Pretty large, not unattractive, but classrooms are a little run-down
Class Sizes: small (5-10 students)
Class Times: weekday mornings, beginning at 8:30am
Commuting Distance from ZUCC: at least 30 minutes by bicycle, at least 30 minutes by bus
Tuition: US$900 for the first semester; US$900 for the second semester
Evaluation: The first thing that strikes me about the program is that to study for one year it’s the same price as Zhejiang University’s, and it doesn’t seem anywhere near as comprehensive. On the plus side, it’s closer and has smaller class sizes. I worry, though, that the program is not designed for higher level students of Chinese, because an “advanced” class is not even listed in the program description.
So, it looks like my final choice is Zhejiang University of Technology. Zhejiang University’s Chinese studies program application deadline is June 15th. I think I have to count out Zhejiang University primarily because of the commute, but it will also be nice to keep the money I save. Zhejiang University of Technology is a good compromise between convenience and excellence, and it should help me accomplish my goals. I can always re-evaluate the situation after one semester if I don’t like the program.
So, after three years of working full-time at ZUCC, I’m finally going to be a student again this fall. It feels good.