Teacher 老師 Lǎo shī
Student 學生 Xué shēng
Go to Class 上課 Shàng kè
End of class 下課 Xià kè
Semester 學期 Xué qí
Mini test 小考 Xiǎo kǎo
End of semester test (final exam) 期末考 Qí mò kǎo
Vocabulary 生詞 Shēng cí
Grammar 文法 ／ 語法 Wén fǎ/ yǔ fǎ
Spelling test/character test 聽寫 Tīng xiě
This is a summary of my time spent at the Mandarin Training Centre (MTC) on the Shida師大/NTNU campus in Taipei. I have just finished two intensive semesters (6 months) and am taking a break to follow other pursuits.
If feel there are a lot of people on forums that like to bemoan their time spent at MTC, but the silent majority of graduates and current students probably feel much like I do, that their time spent there was worthwhile and fun.
Most of the comments I saw whilst researching which university I should go to said that the teachers were all terrible and that they didn’t learn much. I feel this is unfair, and I believe there is no such thing as a bad teacher, only a bad student.
I arrived in an awkward position of being able to speak and get my point across but with no knowledge of grammar, how to write, and very limited reading ability, however, because of my speaking, I was placed into a higher class which was fine in terms of comprehension, but without knowing a single character, I had too hard a time catching up, so the next day I moved into a lower group at the end of Book 1 of the Practical Audio Visual Chinese series (the brown one).
This class was a bit too easy, but I learnt some fundamental grammar points that I didn’t previously know. It also gave me a chance to focus on learning how to write all the characters from book one. 8 hours of frantic writing later and I had the majority of book 1 under my belt. I don’t think I ever managed a feat as impressive at the one on my second day, and towards the end, even learning 20 new characters felt like a Herculean task.
The majority of students will have a placement interview where the teacher selects the best class for you. Sometimes they will misjudge it and place you in the wrong class, but you have a week or so to change groups and can listen in on other classes, but you’re only able to change class once, so once you’ve decided, there’s no going back.
Most students will use the Practical Audio Visual Chinese books which I personally rather like and are better than most language textbooks I’ve ever used. Sometimes they are a little dated, but they give you great foundations and scaffolding, using only words you have previously learnt, such that by the end you can read full texts without much difficulty.
There is little divergence from the textbooks, although the teacher may use some different materials, but in general, you go through the book, chapter by chapter, especially in the beginner and intermediate stages.
Depending on the group and teacher, you can pretty much chat about what you like during class as long as it’s in chinese, and we would often steer the topic of conversation onto more interesting and funny aspects of life in Taiwan rather that sticking to the rather dry textbook material.
I worked though the end of book 1, book 2 and book 3 during my 6 months. In general, for the intensive course, you complete a PAVC book each semester, with each chapter taking around 3/4 days to complete.
- The first day is spent going though the new vocabulary and talking about the new words. There is also usually a character test 聽寫 (tīng xiě) for the first half of the new vocabulary (around 20 characters).
- The 2nd day finishes off the new vocabulary, and you do the second 聽寫, then you work through the grammar and practice it in class, talking to you classmates then relaying it back to the class.
- The 3rd day is usually spent reviewing the grammar, using it in free-form ways such as making up dialogues and incorporating all the patterns and then some sort of flashcard game,
- and the 4th day is a test 小考 （xiǎo kǎo） of the chapter in either the first or last hour, and moving onto the next class’ vocabulary 生詞 （shēng cí).
After a few weeks this pattern can get a bit monotonous, and feel like you are learning a whole new set of words before fully knowing the last ones, and if you’re not careful, it can get out of hand quickly and you go two chapters not fully knowing the last 80 new characters!
Also, many of the grammar patterns seem very pointless or difficult to remember and if you don’t regularly review, you can sometimes look at previously learnt material and forget you even learnt it.
The mini tests after each chapter only test your ability to gap fill, listen a bit and write, so there is no oral component, and it’s easy to revise the night before, earn good marks, then forget how to use all your recently acquired chinese.
The Final Exam 期末考 (qí mò kǎo):
The final exam is held at an odd time during the semester 學期 （xué qí), a few weeks before the actual end of class, so you actually only get tested on say chapters 1-11 of 14. What this means is that assuming you pass (>60%) you then continue lessons as normal.
What I found is that everyone lost focus after the stress of the exam, and the 聽寫 (tīng xiě) and class tests 小考 （xiǎo kǎo） suddenly didn’t feel as important, so I for one definitely need to go back and review the later chapters in particular.
Regular Vs Intensive:
Regular is 2 hours a day, Intensive is 3h. The latter is more expensive, obviously, because you get more class time. I’m not sure if you learn better chinese, but you definitely learn a greater scope of chinese because you cover a lot more ground.
Intensive courses are guaranteed to get through a textbook a term, whereas regular might stop at chapters 10 or 11 of 14. I think as you get into the higher levels, regular might be better because it gives you a chance to use the stuff you’ve learnt in class, consolidate, and look at a wider ranger of resources as you have to take mandatory outside courses to make up the 5 hour deficit.
If you’re a beginner, intensive is probably best, as long as you’re not a slacker. keep on top of the new characters and it’s pretty easy-going, although there are people who are regarded as intermediate or even upper-intermediate who have terrible pronunciation because they haven’t had time to fine-tune their skills and so they know loads of words and grammar, but sound terrible. Be careful and get the foundations right first. Check out this website for help on pronunciation.
Would I recommend it?
For sure. The teachers I had were great and the classmates were even better. If you find a good set of students, stick with them, and you will all probably be in the same class next term. We would often go for lunch afterwards and on nights out together, and they are all still my best friends here in Taipei.
Try and stay focused, even after the exam, because your time spent there is not about passing the test, it’s about learning chinese, and particularly if you are continuing onto the next term, if you start the next book without knowing the previous material you’re gonna have a tough time keeping your head above the water.
Reviewing outside of class is essential. You do a bit of review in class, but if you’re not constantly doing maintenance on the 100’s of characters learnt before, I guarantee you’ll forget >50% of them. You need to constantly go though your vocab and find the ones you only ever wrote that one time for that one test which you got 90% on, or find tricky leeches such as my personal nemesis, 警察 (jǐng chá) Police Officer.
I used Skritter and Anki to do this intelligently for me because it uses special algorithms that calculates when you might possibly forget them. When you’re just starting out, just going back and checking the vocabulary lists and writing them out should be enough.
Use Skritter for single character learning, and use Anki to input the example sentences from the textbook, and just spend 20 mins a day looking over your cards, or else in the long term you’ll forget it all, guaranteed.
If you use Skritter, you can automatically load each new chapters vocabulary into the app without any effort, or you can do a google search for the PAVC word lists and import them yourself into Anki or Pleco. I would recommend adding the example sentences into Anki manually after each class, so that when the exam comes around you’re not spending a frantic weekend looking at stuff you’ve only ever seen once.
Good luck 加油。