Written by Ray Torkelson, (Student Correspondent) Lewis & Clark University
Intensive Chinese Language in Beijing, Spring 2015
The student experience with CET on the Beijing Language Intensive comes with the bustling campus life Capital Normal University, great roommates from all over mainland China, and an excellent location on the West Third Ring Road to access all aspects of Beijing city life. CET runs extracurricular courses in Chinese painting and Wushu (martial arts), offers housing on the south side of CNU’s campus, and leads excursions to visit well-known historic sites in China such as the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army. Additional activities include attending Beijing Opera, seeing the Temple of Heaven or even visiting the Lama Temple known as Yonghe (雍和宫). While these topics should be visited, all students will get a chance to enjoy these activities for themselves if they so wish. The purpose of the Beijing Language Intensive is to improve students’ Chinese so this topic merits some discussion.
The classes are meant to be challenging but will really improve students’ Chinese over the semester. Just a five to ten minute walk from the dorm, which is actually a hotel now being used partly for CET student housing, Keyuan Plaza is home to the classrooms students hone their language skills in Monday through Friday. A placement exam at the beginning of the semester determines the level of course students will attend. Each day for the first and second level students are just three classes, with additional one-on-one classes and one-on-two classes spread twice throughout the week. The students in the third level and above also have these three classes, with an additional elective course every afternoon. The third level students can pick newspaper or business as an elective, and the fourth level or higher students study ancient Chinese as well as colloquial Chinese. The one-on-two courses are unique to the first and second level students, with only one-on-one classes being spread twice throughout the week for third level students or higher.
In the first class of the day at 8:40am, all the students meet in their respective sections for a grammar lecture based on the preview content and reading assignments given for that day. At the beginning of this class is a vocabulary quiz in which the words tested are selected from each lesson, and each lesson has roughly 60 or more characters. These are called 听写, roughly “listen-write”, and require memorizing about 30 characters a day since the lessons are usually split in half for each day of classes. This isn’t easy but students will get better as it as the semester progresses.
This first class is roughly fifty minutes, then a ten-minute break. The second class of the morning is the same length but takes place in a different room and in smaller class sizes. In this class the teacher drills students on their tones and fluency with the grammar and texts assigned. The third class is also the same length and will either be the same style as the second class, a discussion class, or a supplemental class in which any topic could be selected for study by the teachers including idioms or practical topics like dining out and hailing a cab. Then students go on lunch break, some will return for 1pm elective classes and some will return for their scheduled one-on-one or one-on-two classes. Every Monday an essay is due that is assigned over the weekend, and roughly every Friday or every week students have both a test and an oral test.
The cafeteria is about a five-minute walk back in the direction of the dorm and has three floors. It is open very early in the morning until about 8:30am-9am, then opens for lunch from 11:00am to 12:30pm. Dinner is served from 5:00pm to 6:45pm. The later one shows up during these times the less food will be available, if any, so go early!
The elective courses are both interesting and challenging but take time to transfer into value in the world outside the classroom. I can only speak to the business class I have taken. This class is not meant to educate students on business but rather give students the right vocabulary and background on business in China to discuss these matters with Chinese people or Chinese speakers.
Most of time after class is spent studying, so one would be apt to plan his or her time carefully for adventures on the weekend as to make the most of this experience. This program is not four months of travel; it is four months of studying. CET will do a great job of providing plenty of interesting travel experiences throughout the semester to get out, but the program is called intensive for a reason. That said, the learning is really fun and I can already see how it is carrying into my day-to-day experiences in China conversing with native speakers. Good luck to anyone who attends, and you will certainly make great progress with your Chinese if you do.