Today I’m going to introduce you to one part of my life here in Dalian – all the classes I’m taking here at DUT. I am in Elementary 3, class A (初三A班) of the Chinese language programme, which has about 20 students in it. The composition of the class is mainly a mix of Thai, South Korean and Japanese students, but also has one student each from Russia, Venezuela, Turkmenistan and Britain (me!). This means that the common language between many of us is actually Chinese which, while it might have made things a bit awkward and difficult to begin with, is actually proving to be an added bonus dimension to studying Chinese.
I start class at 8am every day, so anyone that has ever complained about having 9ams (including me last year) can keep it to themselves. I have two classes before lunch lasting an hour and a half each, with a five minute rest halfway through and a 30 minute break between the two, meaning we finish for lunch at 11.40. One day a week I have one more class after lunch as well. My two elective classes, HSK 4 and calligraphy, are in the afternoons on a Wednesday and Thursday respectively. The other elective options were HSK 5, business Chinese or martial arts.
Comprehension (综合 – zonghe)
Comprehension is my main class as we have it every day and the teacher kind of acts as our form teacher too. The teacher is very friendly, very supportive and has a good sense of humour, which is good because it means she’s able to laugh at our mistakes! Our textbook is based around a text, with accompanying vocabulary and grammar. An exciting aspect of not just this class but also the others is homework due in the next day! Everyone’s favourite kind! And also regular vocab tests two or three times a week! Sarcasm aside, the homework assignments keep us on our toes and the regular tests makes sure we actually have to learn the new vocab we’re studying.
Speaking (口语 – kouyu)
I have speaking three times a week where we use a textbook with new vocab and two short texts in each chapter. We work through them and then use what we have studied in our homework tasks. Our teacher puts us in groups, trying to mix up the different nationalities all the time, and gives us a topic to write a dialogue or short scene about that we then present to the class in the next lesson. To start with I was not a fan but changing up the groups has been a great way to get to know my classmates and also helped me realise that we are all more or less on the same ability level and I actually quite enjoy it now. I really like my speaking teacher, she’s very no nonsense but good fun as well. She’ll get the job done but we still have a good time doing it.
Listening (听力 – tingli)
Happening twice a week, each textbook chapter has a broad topic, we listen to several dialogues based around this topic and have various activities to follow. We often have to try and remember as much of what we listen to as we can and repeat it back. Our teacher is lovely, very soft and gentle and encouraging but most importantly speaks very clearly!
Reading and Writing (读写 – duxie)
Reading and writing only happens once a week and I won’t lie to you, I’m glad. I find the class very confusing, it has random topics, no apparent flow to it and not even a new vocab list. It’s more about reading skills but still, not my favourite. The silver lining is the teacher, she’s quite young and likes to play music and chat to us before class and during our break.
HSK stands for hanyu shuiping kaoshi (汉语水平考试) and is the official Chinese proficiency exam. The levels run from 1-6 and I am taking level 4, mostly as a way to learn some extra vocab and just be exposed to even more Chinese rather than because I actually want to take the exam. That’s not to say I won’t though! The class was a little different to what I was expecting as it seems to focus more on exam skills rather than content but once I adjusted to that I have actually found it really good for my oral comprehension as well as reading because all of our notes are completely in Chinese.
Calligraphy (书法 – shufa)
This was my fun choice when picking my electives, I wanted to balance out the ‘sensible’ choice of the HSK class. It was between martial arts and calligraphy but martial arts clashed with the HSK 4 class that I knew I wanted to pick so my decision was made for me. We’ve only had three classes so far but we’ve made good progress I think! We have learnt how to correctly draw a number of strokes and so far put them together into simple characters like 上 (shang, above) and 下 (xia, below). I really enjoy it as it somehow serves as both extra Chinese practise and a break from actual Chinese learning.
French (法语 – fayu)
Amongst all of this, while it’s not technically a class, I’m also trying to keep up with my French. Edinburgh has an online course for all French students to do while they are on their year abroad, whether the majority of that is being spent in France or elsewhere. As well as the online course, I’m trying to do other little things that might be able to help, like listening to some French music and reading French books in my spare time. One of my Chinese friends has also just started learning French too so I’m helping her and I also have a some Moroccan friends who I make speak French with me too!
All in all, two months in, things are going well! It’s a bit non-stop with constant homework and tests but I like my timetable, having all my classes in the morning. Midterms have crept up on me and are next week but I’m feeling ok for them. Hopefully things keep going well!