Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
This is an introductory Chinese course intended for students who already have some background/exposure to Chinese (the vast majority of people who take this course have parents who speak Chinese at home and therefore can already understand and speak some Chinese, but can’t write or read much of it). However, students within this category still come from a variety of backgrounds, with some people being able to understand Chinese but only being able to speak very little of the language, while others come into the course being almost fluent Chinese speakers who just can’t read or write. In spite of this, the course is very thorough and moves at an efficient pace, so almost everyone is at the same level after the first few weeks.
The course focuses on developing reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, and students are taught and expected to speak in pu tong hua, or “standard” spoken Chinese. A wide variety of topics is covered, the majority of which are very relevant to daily life, although many lessons also teach students more about Chinese history, culture, and customs. Students are taught words and phrases that they can start using immediately in conversation with others, as well as vocabulary that they can use to talk about topics ranging from politics to studying abroad.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
Class runs for 50 minutes every day Monday through Friday. Students are expected to prepare for class by reading two short lessons from the textbook each week—the Monday and Tuesday classes cover the first textbook lesson, the Wednesday and Thursday classes cover the second textbook lesson, and the Friday class reviews the whole week’s material in preparation for the weekly Friday quiz. It’s not necessary to memorize all the new vocab and grammar structures before each class, although being familiar with the vocab and having a general understanding of what the lessons are about always helps. Audio recordings for each lesson are also available, and it usually helps to listen to these before class, although it’s not required.
During class, the instructor uses a prepared PowerPoint presentation with pictures, the week’s new grammar structures and vocab, and discussion topics on it. The instructor leads the class by giving examples of how to use the new grammar/vocab and calling on students to respond to questions/discussion prompts using the new structures. While students can volunteer to answer questions, the instructors will invariably call on each student several times throughout each class to contribute so that the student can practice speaking and using the new grammar/vocab. Instructors especially like it when students can offer new perspectives to a class discussion or give responses that are a few sentences long rather than a few words long (doing these things will also boost your class participation grade). While this class format may seem weird or uncomfortable at first, don’t be afraid to speak and give your best shot at answering the questions—the instructors will always help you out in responding, and everyone makes mistakes in class so don’t be afraid of that either! The instructors will also correct your grammar or pronunciation during class, which helps you learn and improve a lot faster.
In addition to class, each student has a 15-minute-long individual session with an instructor once every two weeks. The instructor leads these sessions, and will usually ask you to give a summary of one of that week’s lessons and ask some other questions that relate to the lesson’s topic during them. The purpose of these sessions is to allow the instructor to give you individual feedback on your pronunciation and grammar, and they’ll usually give you some notes after the session about things you can improve on. All you really need to do to prepare for these is be familiar with the lessons, grammar, and vocab from that week’s classes (instructors usually prefer for you to use the new grammar and vocab during these sessions).
Learning For and From Assignments
There are two types of homework assignments for this class—the weekly exercises and the weekly essay. The exercises come straight from the workbook and give you practice using the new vocab and grammar from that week. Each Friday, you will also be assigned to write a short essay (about a paragraph long) responding to a given topic question that relates to the week’s content, to be due the following Monday. All homework assignments are written, so they also help you practice writing the week’s new characters. The homework is all only graded on completion, but instructors will give you corrections on them that you can reference to study for quizzes and dictations.
During the first 5 minutes of each Wednesday’s class, there’s also a short dictation. The instructor will say a sentence in Chinese, and you’ll have to write the sentence both in characters and in pinyin. The sentence will primarily use vocab from the first lesson of that week (the one covered in class Monday and Tuesday). The best way to prepare for these is to memorize the vocab from the week’s first lesson (aka know how to write all the characters, and know all their pinyins). Dictations are graded out of 5 points and worth a small percentage of your overall grade. Every Friday afternoon (separate from the Friday class) there will be a 50-minute quiz on the week’s lessons. The quiz usually consists of multiple sections:
- Given the pinyin of a character, write the character
- Given a written character, write the pinyin
- Fill in the blank (you’re given a word bank)
- Using the given grammar structures and/or words, write a response to this question
- Using 7 out of the given 10 phrases/words, write a short essay about a given topic
The midterm and final usually follow the same format as the weekly quizzes, just with more questions and a potentially longer essay. Points are deducted on these assessments for using incorrect grammar or incorrectly writing characters.
The best way to prepare for the weekly quizzes, midterm, and final is to memorize how to write each character, know how to pronounce each character so you can figure out its pinyin (or memorize the pinyin), reread the lessons, and review the study guides (study guides will be posted online and list all the grammar structures for each lesson and give examples of how to use them).
- Quizlet or Anki— these are great for memorizing characters
- Chinese tables— going to these is a great way to practice speaking with other Chinese students or instructors
- Asking the instructors! The instructors are always willing to help and answer questions—don’t be afraid to reach out and ask to meet with them or even just stay after class to ask any quick questions you have.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
You don’t really need any background knowledge or skills for this class besides the ability to understand some basic Chinese. After taking this course, you’ll be able to hold a basic conversation in Chinese about a variety of topics, and will also have learned a lot about Chinese culture and some Chinese history. The Chinese department at Princeton is very good and pretty fast-paced, so your Chinese will have improved significantly in every area (reading, writing, speaking, listening).
This is a great class for anyone with an interest in the Chinese language and culture, and I would recommend it for BSE and AB students alike. The only thing I will say about it, though, is that it’s pretty fast-paced and can be somewhat time-consuming since a lot of material is covered each week and it takes time to memorize the characters. However, the program and the instructors are all great and super helpful, and the work you put into the class really shows in how drastically your Chinese skills improve.