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Tips for learning and studying at Chinese-language universities

2016/09/04 16:38:30

CNA file photo

By Shennica David
CNA intern

Living and studying abroad, experiencing a new culture, developing lifelong friendships and relationships, learning a new language, all while obtaining a degree in one's chosen field sounds like an exciting experience.

Each year, many people travel thousands of miles, leaving behind their family, friends, cultures, and customs and to study in Taiwan. People choose to study in Taiwan for various reasons that include a search for an affordable education, a desire to gain an international experience, and a chance to explore a new culture.

Even with very little exposure to Mandarin Chinese, some students opt for the additional challenge of taking a degree program taught fully or partly in that language.

While this may seem like a daunting task, many foreign students have tackled it successfully.

Not everyone may take the same approach to studying in a foreign language but there are some strategies that can be adopted across the board to help smooth the process and acquire a well-rounded experience:

●Conduct thorough research

This is possibly the single most important part of the process. Research is important first of all to select a suitable Chinese learning center in terms of cost, location, course content, teaching methods, among other factors.

Taiwan has over 30 language centers, stretching from Taipei in the north to Kaohsiung in the south. It pays to read as much as possible about them, talk with past and present students, communicate with faculty members, make a shortlist of schools, and visit those on the shortlist if possible.

This same approach can be applied when seeking a university for degree studies.

●Draft a plan

For some students, one year of Chinese language learning might be enough to prepare for transition to a university where the language of instruction is Chinese. Others might require two years or more of Chinese classes before they could feel confident enough to enter such an environment.

It is important to have a plan based on one's strengths, weaknesses, and overall goals.

Heritage speakers and students from Asian countries such as Japan and Korea, which have many Chinese characters or cognates in their languages, tend to fit easily into the one-year language study category. People with no prior exposure to Sino-Tibetan languages, however, may require more time to achieve spoken fluency and to gain some competency in Chinese reading and writing.

Whatever the decision, it is always a good idea to having a backup plan -- a plan B -- with regard to the preparation time for entry to a university program taught entirely in Chinese.

●Be clear about academic expectations

In some cases, the decision to enter a degree program that is taught in a second language comes at the risk of missing certain details and foregoing in-depth analyses of some topics.

Even with a relatively high level of proficiency in Mandarin as a second language, it could be difficult to grasp technical terms and follow lectures in certain disciplines.

It is best, therefore, for each person to be clear about what they wish to gain from the university experience and put in the necessary measures to help meet those expectations.

●Aim for full immersion into the language and culture

Many foreign students prefer to hang out mostly with their compatriots and other speakers of their native languages. While this has its advantages, it could stifle progress in learning Chinese and adapting to the school culture in Taiwan.

In order to gain full immersion into the language and culture, it would be best to look for Taiwanese roommates or stay with a Taiwanese host family, make friends with local people, set up language exchanges, watch Taiwanese movies and television shows, listen to Chinese music, and make a pledge to speak only Mandarin on certain days.

●Come with an open mind

Foreigners coming to Taiwan to study, especially those from non-Asian countries/territories, may quickly find that methods of instruction as well as interactions between lecturers and students are often different than in their home countries. It pays, therefore, to keep an open mind about Taiwanese methods of teaching and learning.

●Be prepared to work hard

This is a given for any area of study in any language. However, given the special challenges involved in studying for a degree when the language of instruction is Chinese, it requires extra work and sacrifices in order to succeed.

This might mean spending more time at school, seeking out professors and students at higher levels to ask for help, making an effort to find relevant instructional material in one's native language, and building a personal database of technical terms in Mandarin.

There is a lot to consider when trying to decide whether to study at a Chinese-language university, but with good preparation, an open mind and a determination to work extra hard, foreign students could gain an extraordinary experience in Taiwan.

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