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Seeking Advice

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Oct. 29th, 2007 | 08:39 pm
posted by: sanguinetalons in chinese_majors

This is gonna be a bit long, but...

Now that I'm in my last year of my undergrad career (hopefully), I'm getting into more advanced Chinese classes. I was kind of excited about it, but kind of scared...now I'm kind of depressed about it.

We have a new 老师 (laoshi for those of you without fonts installed) this quarter and they're pretty cool in that they are energetic and into the subject. However, my class is probably about 2/3 native speakers, 1/3 of us second language learners who've learned from the beginning up. The second language learners (like me) are feeling a little unfairly treated.

Here are some examples:
1. The instructor uses Chinese a lot in the classroom, very fast, which isn't much of a problem for me except that A) I never really have time to stop and ask them about words I don't know (which they seems to assume we should do, but in reality I personally just try to get the best understanding out of what they're saying by parsing what I _do_ know) and B) they use Chinese to tell us what the homework is at the end of the class and it's usually spewed out really quickly because class is almost over...also, assignment explanations are also in Chinese so I kind of missed out on 2/10 points on an assignment today just because I didn't catch one part of it and didn't know that part existed.
2. The biggest thing is that our tests have a "listening comprehension" part in which the teacher reads a piece of prose out loud to us (an article, paragraph, etc.) and we're supposed to answer questions based on that. That'd be all well and good, except that the article on our test consisted of at least 1/4 words I didn't know (integral keywords like nouns, vocab stuff), that I had never been taught. They apparently they say they've been using those words in class, but see point 1 and how am I supposed to memorize a bunch of words that I don't know will randomly show up on a test that aren't part of the vocab or grammar we've been learning? I haven't gotten my test back yet, but I'm super worried because all of my other friends from previous classes have failed the test...and I didn't even try to answer the listening comprehension part because I didn't know what to say since I didn't know most of the important content words.
3. I get marked down points on homework assignments for using things I know were correct, or things will get marked wrong and then the corrections will change the meaning completely or consist of things I was never taught...
4. It's just extra frustrating that the class is full of native speakers in it for an easy "A". (Some of these kids don't seem to have any respect for us second language learners at all...I don't know what's up with that.)

I'm not a stupid kid. I study hard, and since I went to China this summer I feel like I've improved because I can actually understand a lot more...I worry extra about my classmates who didn't have that chance, because they're struggling a _lot_, way more than me. I'm really upset. On the one hand, I really want to like this teacher because they're really enthusiastic and cool, but on the other hand they seem to have an extremely large amount of trouble negotiating the (at least two) extremes in our class (thanks to the fact that our school doesn't have dual track programs). If I get an A- in this class, I might be eligible for honors in my major (which sort of means a lot to me), but it's looking like that's not going to happen even though I'm working really hard.

The advice I'm seeking is...how would you approach the instructor about this? They already apparently knows that this divide exists, but don't seem to be doing anything about it. I'm afraid they'll get really defensive...

(谢谢你看过这个很长的问题, 也谢谢你的忠告。)

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Comments {8}

Nat

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from: dailyunderhill
date: Oct. 30th, 2007 05:49 am (UTC)
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I started 3rd year Chinese at my college this semester and it was really difficult at first, but it got better after about 10 classes.

What really helped me was approaching my professor about the problems I was having. Have you tried to do that? Also, it is more difficult for them to get annoyed with you if you explain the situation in Chinese. ;)

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invisible person

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from: dreamingcanyon
date: Oct. 30th, 2007 06:09 am (UTC)
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I'm afraid I have no advice for you, having had experiences with some screaming psycho Chinese teachers who were impossible to approach. But your problem with the class being mostly native speakers is a big reason why I decided to not major in Chinese. I found that even when the teachers would try their best to teach for us two or three non-native speakers in classes of about 30 native speakers, just the whole environment of a classroom full of bored unmotivated people was discouraging enough for me. The sad thing is that there were so few non-native speakers interested in learning Chinese that without all the people taking the class for an easy A, there wouldn't have been any classes at all. Anyway, it's good at least that you've come this far despite that issue.

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Nat

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from: dailyunderhill
date: Oct. 30th, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC)
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That is really strange to me, because while I had that experience in lower division Chinese classes my first two years, there are no native speakers in the upper division language classes here that I've been in.

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(no subject)

from: sanguinetalons
date: Nov. 2nd, 2007 04:54 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I think they do a good job of weeding them out in the beginning. Our beginning Chinese teacher is really astute and strict about it being only for absolute beginners.

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Ali

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from: alirose
date: Oct. 30th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)
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My 3rd year Chinese course felt a lot like that. Although only about 1/4 of the students were native or heritage speakers. The listening comprehension stuff *hurts* but it is really good for you. I would suggest, however, that you ask the teacher to write the homework assignments on the board or hand them out written on paper, because I think a good teacher will *always* do that, no matter the type or language of the class. Then at least you have some time to look it over, even if you have to look up a character or two.

My other trick, if you can manage it, is to sit in between one person whose Chinese is better than yours and one person whose Chinese is worse than yours. Then you can get help and give help, and save your ego all at the same time. ^_^ Good luck!

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(no subject)

from: sanguinetalons
date: Nov. 2nd, 2007 04:55 am (UTC)
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Yeah, I'd like to do that, but I feel like the people whose Chinese is better than mine might not want to help me. XD

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Carolyn

Agreed!

from: feignedbreath
date: Oct. 31st, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)
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I agree with you that it is hard to learn in a class that consists of mainly native speakers. My third year class is about half-and-half. What makes it increasingly difficult is that the half that are NOT native speakers studied abroad last semester or this summer and have a comprehension level above mine. I did study abroad two summers ago, but we all know how hard it is to retain aural comprehension skills when surrounded by the English language.

After experiencing much of the same frustration, I found that there were a few options for me. First, because it is a college course, you can take advantage of the fact that you are paying for the course. Go visit the professor during office hours. If you are afraid of bringing up your disagreement with his/her instruction, then you also have the option of just going for help. Ask the professor if you can meet before the exam to go over confusing vocabulary and to clarify the terms of the homework/test. Hopefully in a one-on-one setting, your professor will speak either in English or in a slower form of Chinese once he or she realizes that you are not comprehending.

Also, if your professor seems unable to give you the help you require, I think the best resource are your classmates. Because most of them are native speakers, they have the ability to converse in a modern dialect that can be very helpful to understand classroom instructions. Sometimes it's difficult to make friends in a class-setting, this I know; but even just asking someone you know gets good grades to help you review can be helpful. Choose someone who is likely to have free time and the patience to help you. It's difficult to learn from someone who is constantly watching the clock and hoping to leave.

Next, if that doesn't seem to work well for you, there are plenty of things you can do on your own time that might help you understand a little bit better. A plethora of tapes exist that will help you master basic conversation, and these are always available online or in B&N. But what I think is most helpful is to watch children's movies and soap operas. You might think it is a weird recommendation but you would be surprised what you can pick up from them. If you rent/buy children's movies, you can opt for subtitles and use the rewind feature as much as you want. Soap operas provide an awesome conversational tool to listen to slang and emphasis. ::shyly:: And it's always funny to watch.

Hopefully this help! Let me know how it turns out! Best of luck!!!!
您的学生,
卡罗琳

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Re: Agreed!

from: sanguinetalons
date: Nov. 2nd, 2007 05:01 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the advice! I'm actually one of those kids who studied abroad over the summer too, but what really makes me worry about the situation is seeing the kids who didn't and how even though they're trying hard they're getting Fs on tests...

The tapes advice is a really good one. Maybe if I can reason it as an educational expense my parents might not mind, I just happen to be going through fairly difficult financial times right now (too! whoo life!). I wish I could go to office hours, but I work 2 jobs so most of the time I'm not in class, I'm at work. :-/

On the up side, I did email the teacher today explaining some of the issues I'm having and how frustrated I was getting, and it was actually well-received. :) They actually thanked me for speaking up and are going to help us prepare for tests. I figured when I sent out the email that this would be a good way to judge whether they were a good teacher or a bad teacher...when a student sends out an email explaining how they're frustrated but want to do better and says why they're frustrated and they respond patiently and kindly and actually consider what the student has to say (and aren't afraid of changing their teaching technique), then they're a good teacher. So yay! :) We'll see how it goes from here, though...I don't expect all the problems to magically disappear.

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