The class schedules
During my semester at the School of Chinese as a Second Language at PKU, we had four types of classes:
- Intensive reading and writing
- Spoken Chinese
- Elective 1: Intermediate Business Chinese
- Elective 2: Upper Intermediate Listening Class
The intensive reading and spoken Chinese classes were core modules, that means we had about eight hours of intensive reading and six hours of spoken Chinese class every week. The elective 1 was taught in two blocks of two hours every week and listening class was only accounting for two hours per week. The total amount of classes was therefore 20 contact hours.
For the intensive reading class, the homework would take me about one to two hours everyday including learning the words for the next day’s dictation, our ambitious and young teacher would also give us extra homework such as exercises from the book for the weekend as well weekly journal entries of about 400 characters. The weekend homework would take up at least half a day, since the freshly learned characters have to be revised.
The spoken Chinese class however, had significantly less homework than the intensive reading class, we were having only one to two dictations a week but therefore had more grammar tests and presentation assignments to make up for the fewer dictations. The homework was pretty much the same every time, we had to build phrases from the book using the same grammar constructions that were used in the respective chapter.
The class content
Our spoken Chinese teacher was very quick-witted and could come up with tons of examples for every imaginable grammar structure in seconds, she would also make us build sentences with those particular grammar structures in class and give us the opportunity to speak among our classmates and be actively involved in the class.
During the intensive reading class, our teacher would start by going through the new words for the chapter that we were currently working on, the pace was pretty fast, we would spend between 30 seconds to four minutes per word or grammar structure, depending on the importance of the word. Per lesson, we would cover about thirty to fourty new words, which would be tested the next day during the “highly-anticipated” dictation or also known as 听写ting1xie3. We would then proceed by reading parts of our rather complicated (judging from my intermediate level) textbook chapter articles, written by a selection of well-known and lesser-known Chinese writers, covering diverse topics such as character distinctions of pets, to the passing of family members to the honouring of past ancestors, and even an entire chapter devoted to smoking, in which we learned about fifteen related words for cigarettes and tobacco… as a non-smoker, I found myself wondering whether I could have spend that week differently, but then again, saw it as part of the cultural experience and came to the conclusion that smoking still plays a traditional role in settling business, and building business and sometimes even regular social relationships, as a female, one is luckily exempted from attending this not-so-healthy but still widely-spread habit.
In Intermediate Business Chinese, we were getting lots of opportunities to speak and practice business conversations from the book, our teacher would always equally divide the amount of time spent answering questions per student by calling students from the name list, very effective and I actually took a lot of useful vocabulary and sentences from this class.
The final elective was our Listening 2 class, the teacher was absolutely hilarious and taught us an abundance of useful Chinese sayings and traditions in a quick and enjoyable way. We listened to the book’s recordings and did the exercises at a record speed, getting the most out of the two weekly hours. She also never failed to give us her HSK test tips during every single class, this was a very fruitful two hours spent on a weekly basis in the basement of the 对外汉语学院- the School of Chinese as a Second Language at PKU.
The School of Chinese as a Second Language at PKU is a good institution for learning to write Chinese characters, improve listening comprehension and get to know the Chinese language and culture, I can recommend the school especially for the beginner levels as the teachers require high amounts of attendance and attention from every student to pass the courses. The sheer amount of homework and learning material available creates a good environment to study Chinese, however I did find a couple of drawbacks to this experience as well, mainly concerning the international English-speaking classmates and the relatively big classes of fifteen to twenty students which leaves fewer opportunities for the individual student to practice spoken Chinese in class.
Overall, I can absolutely recommend to take out a year of one’s educational journey to study Chinese at PKU, since the academic environment and location provide a rare opportunity to truly understand and widen one’s horizons 开眼界 on the plentiful aspects of the Chinese culture.
The language progress depends on the goal of the individual language learner, for people who want to solely improve their spoken Chinese, the general language program might take up too much time dedicated to writing reading and testing characters, but for the individual who wants to improve the overall Chinese language skill, it might be a more suitable choice. Another aspect is the flexibility of the school administration and the class choice, unfortunately, the PKU administration still needs to improve on its organization and information distribution regarding the semester-long courses of the School of Chinese as a Second Language in terms of accuracy, timing and even missing English language translations. On a few occasions, I found myself wondering about potential missing information on classes and registration dates, i.e. almost failed to extend my Visa because I didn’t receive any information on the early deadline and finally also was left without internet access and canteen access during the month-long winter break because the administration failed to inform me of an additional student card extending procedure, even after asking whether I had completed all required steps in order to extend my stay at PKU for one semester. Hence, I can recommend contacting the international office as early as possible regarding all required documents and forms but also talk to other international students to find out how their completed their registration and visa extension etc..
Overall, I absolutely do recommend to take out a year of one’s educational journey to study Chinese at PKU, since the academic environment and location in the country’s capital city of Beijing provide a rare opportunity to truly understand and widen one’s horizons 开眼界 on the plentiful aspects of the Chinese culture. During my time at PKU, I met wonderful Chinese and foreign friends, classmates and teachers who have and continue to inspire me to continue learning about the East-Asian world and work hard as a student to achieve my language fluency goals.