Getting All Academic

This morning I went to East China Normal University and sat in on the class of Professor 刘大为 from 8:30 to 11:00. It was a first year graduate course on cognitive linguistics. It was some pretty abstract stuff, touching on the nature of time and perception and what it means to cognitive linguistics, for example. The professor was surprisingly engaging, and I was able to follow most of it without much problem. Obviously, not having read (or even owning) the assigned text beforehand put me at a disadvantage… I didn’t find out until after class exactly what 类推 and 范畴 meant, exactly (they mean “analogize” and “category,” respectively), but I was able to follow OK anyway.

It surpised me that there was a foreigner in that class. From Macedonia! Her spoken Chinese wasn’t too polished, but she seemed pretty sharp. In a class of 18, she was one of only 4 people that responded to the professor’s questions during class.

After class I talked to the professor about my enrollment. I had spoken with him on the phone before, so he knew about me. He said they’d set up a time sometime soon to test me. I was really hoping to finally dispense with the vagueties and hear something concrete about the testing. No such luck. He merely said that my Chinese seemed very good, that I should have no problem, and even hinted that the testing was nothing more than a formality.

Then I talked to the lady in charge of admissions. She was also very nice, and surprisingly casual about the whole thing. “Oh, just get your application in to me sometime before May is over.” This is grad school! She and another teacher were also all complimentary about my Chinese, almost to the point of being annoying.

What they didn’t realize is that tests in written Chinese make me really nervous. Just before, in class, I had blanked on how to write the 普 in 普通. That’s not a hard character! Pressure seems to affect, more than anything else, my ability to recall and write out characters. That means I’m still nervous about this whole Chinese grad school admission thing.

Still, it looks like getting in is going to be pretty easy. I almost feel like it should be really arduous, and that they shouldn’t let me in so easily. Maybe it’s because I compare myself to Chinese students that go to study in the States, studying English for like 20 years before they get in? Yeah, I’m a bit short of 20 years’ study.

Speaking of academia, I was perusing my recent blog entries on the front page, and let me just say I can see why my family doesn’t comment much. The Chinese language/linguistic slant has been pretty strong lately.

Anyway, I’ll finish this nerdy entry off with a link to a really awesome post on a blog called 化境神似. I’ve been meaning to research this ever since 1999 when I first learned of the Communists’ unsuccessful 3rd attempt at character simplification doing research for my senior thesis. If you’re very into Chinese characters, don’t miss “Even Simpler Than Before.”


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. ·¶³ë£¬ i think it means scope sometimes

  2. My family members read my webpage but hardly ever comment. I think the reality is that there are two kinds of people in the world, ones with the drive to leave blog comments and ones who just ignore the comment box at the end of the page, and most of my family members just happen to fit into the second category.

  3. I can hardly wait for “even Simpler Than Before”. -) (That’s the character for “tonhue in cheek”. Do they have that one in Chinese?

  4. That was supposed to be “tongue in cheek”. The posting slipped away before I was ready. -)

  5. This poster seems to compress all of my dramatic spacing.

  6. The article you posted was one of the most interesting I’ve ever read! OI#U$(*@&%!!! It’s great. I’m making my brother (who is currently working in Shanghai) read it too.

  7. Luo Dawei Says: March 12, 2005 at 2:12 am

    I blank on writing Chinese characters all the time, but I am way out of practice! (Then you kick yourself when you look it up and see how obvious it is). Don’t fret too much, even my wife who is a Shanghai native forgets how to write a character now and then. Actually, that might be a really interesting dissertation about character recall for non native students of Chinese. When you look at western language and the cognitive process on word recall and compare that to the learning/recall process for pictographic based language, different areas of the brain are used. For an interesting article on brain activity in Mandarin vs. English, see

  8. I’ve read that the increasing use of computers for writing in China has accelerated the process of forgetting characters for native Chinese speakers. The article was in the NY Times a couple of years ago..

  9. Write more in Chinese, man, write more.

    I blank on English spelling alot, or should it be a lot?

    I remember reading that they told you it was no big deal to get in, all a formality, so on and so forth. Then they seem to be giving you the elusive runaround. Not to be nosey but what, if anything, did they ever say about the national standard grad student tests in your case?

  10. LW, Previously Reader Says: March 12, 2005 at 5:59 am

    There are two people both with name Reader here. To avoid confusion. I will change my name to LW. Just let everyone know.

  11. “{There are two people both with name Reader here. To avoid confusion. I will change my name to LW. Just let everyone know.
    Posted by LW, Previously Reader on March 12, 2005 05:59 AM}”

    Sorry, I used your “nickname”, don’t worry, I don’t think I’ll post much in the future, I am just stop by sometimes.

  12. Luo Dawei and Gin have good advice. Visual recall is a different cognitive process than recalling a character and writing it down on paper with pen (or pencil on paper, or brush on paper, or finger on sand, etc.). So if you use the computer for most of your composition, you are using visual recall only.

    Although not quite the same thing, I use to be quite nervous when flying. After a while, flying enough, I no longer have that same feeling, not at all. But, I do always identify the exits and the path to get to the exit.

    Hope for the best and give it all you got when you do begin that exciting new venture.

  13. Before I took a foreigners’ entrance exam in modern lit (distinct from and later than the national exam), the school gave me a list of materials – the same list the Chinese students had. The test was much easier and didn’t even include a Theory section. It didn’t turn out to be a problem, and I’m actually glad now I read all that theory, but at the time I was a bit frustrated with what I saw as the lack of organization in dealing with foreign students.

    In general, I’ve found foreign students at a grad level have it pretty easy. Professors fall into two groups: there are those who assume most students are in a Chinese university primarily to work on language, lacking the background in the subject that the Chinese students have – these tend to come across as pretty condescending, even if their assumptions are basically correct. Then there are those who recognize the FS’s limitations (technically fluent expression and reading speed), but hold high standards in areas that don’t demand breadth of reading. It’s nice to have one of the second types as an advisor, but really you can have rigor in any situation if you hold yourself to it.

    But that’s just my experience in the lit department. My Vietnamese friend who just started his doctoral program in linguistics after doing a masters here has a different problem: his English is not up to speed, so he has a hard time keeping up with his Chinese classmates in reading the latest literature that hasn’t been translated yet. You should be fine on that end…

  14. OT, but is there a search function on this blog (I can’t find it) or should we just use Google to search this blog? You should think about adding one since there is quite a bit of useful content on this site.

  15. Gin,

    No, nothing about the national standard grad student test. I asked the Macedonian girl what tests she had to to take, and she said none. (And she hadn’t studied in China prior to grad school.)

  16. Gin and JFS,

    Since last year, I have been practicing writing more than usual. The longer Chinese essays I put online were all written out by hand first. There are also ones that I haven’t put online for whatever reason.

    But yeah, I still need to write more.

  17. John, I think you are usually pretty hard on yourself in the academic arena, and so far, in my (humble)opinion, you do just fine. I think the pressure you put on yourself, and the anxiety you feel about your performance will only serve to help you to work harder and get better results (on your tests and in your classes). We tease you about having such good luck, but it’s really a matter of you working hard and creating your own great opportunities. I know you’ll do great and won’t have any problems getting in – no matter what they throw your way.

  18. hey, john, look how many family member comments are in this post! (ha!)
    i agree w/ grace — you push yourself at LEAST as hard as any prof would. and it sounds like the one whose class you visited values you. but we’ll sympathize and support, even if we think you’re overly anxious. 😉
    (not like i have room to talk in that quarter, huh?)

    as for us not posting, it’s true that we’re less likely to attempt to make an intelligent comment if we have little to no idea what you’re talking about. post about human behavior, massage, or arts and crafts (esp. jewelry making) and i’ll comment up a storm! ;D
    but your blog is not about entertainment, though you do that well. i always enjoy your cultural observations and commentaries.
    the intellectual bent to your blog is part of what keeps it so high-quality. keep up the good work!

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