Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
This course is primarily designed to teach new vocabulary and grammatical structures to enhance one’s fluency in reading, writing, and speaking Chinese. Each typical week involves two readings, each with their own set of grammatical structures, new words, and homework exercises, as well as an essay responding to one of a set of questions typically related to the topics of that week’s readings. Every week also has a test, held on Fridays, which assesses knowledge of that week’s new words and grammatical structures (words and structures to be tested listed on provided study guides), and a quiz, held on Wednesday, which assesses knowledge of a few of the first lesson’s new words/structures, as well as content understanding. Some weeks have oral presentations or debates. Those weeks will typically only have one lesson taught in them but preparing for the presentation or debate is a fairly time-intensive activity.
The book used for the semester is typically organized around a theme, but ultimately the focus in the course is more on the words and structures contained within the lessons than the topical content. The content is usually interesting, though, and helps to motivate the new language elements.
A written and oral midterm are taken (written takes the place of the weekly test during midterm week), as well as a written and oral final (written final is a full, 3-hour final during finals period).
Learning From Classroom Instruction
Class attendance is mandatory, and the primary instructional method. During class, instructors will ask questions to help you exercise oral Chinese, and they will go over new words and structures and how to use them. They will also drill them with students during this time, which is useful for practicing the new content correctly, as instructor feedback is immediate.
Preparing for class is best done by reading the text to understand the content of the upcoming lesson, and by studying the new words in particular. Making and then studying flashcards for the new words while, during, or after reading (Quizlet, Memrise, and Anki are all good software for this) is a very effective way to study the new words for the upcoming lesson and the flashcards can then be used again for studying for the weekly test. Class time is very difficult if the text hasn’t been read or the new words studied, as one will (quite literally) not understand what is being said or talked about, which makes it a fairly unproductive class session for the student. Having the book open to the current lesson during class is an effective way to refresh and have a reference available if you forget something, regardless of your preparation level, though.
There is also an individual session once every two weeks. This is an excellent time to ask specific questions of the teachers on language (teasing apart two words with similar meanings, a complicated grammatical structure you don’t understand the use of) as well as content. Individual sessions are also an excellent time to focus on pronunciation issues, as the one-on-one attention and ability to focus on issues specific to you makes it the most efficient and effective way to resolve issues in pronunciation.
Learning For and From Assignments
- The assignments in the class are the homework accompanying the lessons, as well as the weekly essay.
- The main function of the homework is to test whether you know the meanings of important new words and grammatical structures enough to effectively use them in sentences and other contexts. Because homework is graded for completion and not accuracy, it’s best to think of the homework in two parts: your primary effort, where you use the lesson and class time knowledge to answer each question to the best of your ability, and then a revision portion in which you look at your teacher’s corrections to the homework and correct your understanding of those words and structures that you didn’t fully understand the first time. An effective way to retain this knowledge is adding it to your flashcards.
- The weekly essay is intended to work on one’s ability to write long-form content and to reason and argue in Chinese, as opposed to the more contained work found in the homework. The best way to write papers is to recognize that they are short, topic-constrained essays and to focus on a simple structure and clear argument. Otherwise, you risk losing both the point of your essay and your control of the language. The department publishes a guide (as of 2018) called “Features of a Good Essay.” This document directly outlines what the form of your essay should be (simple, concise, intro/body/conclusion format) and emphasizes how important concrete examples are (note: concrete examples have been emphasized in every Princeton Chinese course I’ve taken thus far – include them!) Afterwards, your Chinese teacher will edit your essay. A good way to understand your mistakes in the essays is either by replying to your teacher’s comments on Google Docs (where all essays are written), or talking to them in person during your individual session.
- Weekly tests will tell you whether you’re studying a sufficient amount to recall and use the words and structures. Tests can also clear up errors for you in vocab words and structures if you used them incorrectly. The best way to study for these exams is to drill flashcards, preferably over the days leading up to the test, and then drill all of them the day of for maximum retention and freshness. While it is possible to study for the entire test on the day of, it is easier to retain the content and generally less stressful to do it over the course of a few days.
There are many websites dedicated to Chinese learning, but two of the best are the Chinese Grammar Wiki (which has many articles explaining specifics of grammatical structures, as well as examples) and Hacking Chinese (which has many articles explaining more general study skills specific to Chinese). Chinese tables are also useful to practice your oral Chinese.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
Chinese is a time-demanding course. It is fairly constant in the amount of time it demands, which in addition to the 4 hours of class + 1 hour of testing is probably around 6 hours outside of class including test studying, assignments, essay writing, and preparing for class. It does, however, effectively improve your Chinese (though fluency of speaking is harder to improve due to class not being one-on-one – use Chinese tables for this), which is useful for anyone looking to live or work in China. Entering a 3rd-year language course, it is expected you know what format Chinese classes take – if you’ve tested in directly, you’ll acclimate quickly but may want to ask your Chinese teacher to explain the general structure of the course to you and their expectations, as they likely won’t go over them in detail with you.