International students in Taiwan


Two articles recently published on contain some useful information and advice for foreign students studying in Taiwanese universities.

Jeana Jack, a student at NCCU, has written a survival guide for international students that is full of good advice. She discusses choosing a university, learning Mandarin, finding a place to live and other important things.

I had lived in Taiwan for several years before I became a full-time student here so this made adjusting to university life quite easy. I imagine it must be more difficult for people who have just arrived in Taiwan and have to simultaneously deal with adjusting to life in a foreign country and starting a university course.

The second article was written by me. I interviewed three students from different backgrounds about their experiences studying Mandarin in Taiwan. They talk about the positives and negatives of language learning in Taiwan as well as giving some advice about learning Mandarin. The most common advice for successfully learning Mandarin is that you need a lot of patience.

*photo from used under Creative Commons licence.

Anecdote from APEC

I have mentioned on this blog a few times before that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaks Mandarin and once studied in Taiwan. This interesting little anecdote comes from a Taiwan News article reporting on Lien Chan’s trip to the APEC Conference in Peru.

On a side note, Lien mentioned that he noticed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd being asked by Chinese President Hu Jintao why he chose Taiwan rather than China to study Chinese.

Rudd replied that China did not offer scholarships to foreigners to study the language while Taiwan did.

I am very curious to know whether Kevin Rudd also chatted with Lien Chan at the meeting and what was said.

ChinesePod goes to Taipei

ChinesePod has just published an intermediate lesson about Taipei. 

The conversation talks about Taipei 101, the National Palace Museum and night markets. John and Jenny then discuss some key points of the conversation and also point out some differences in usage between Taiwan and China.

I don’t subscribe to ChinesePod but occasionally listen to their upper intermediate and advanced lessons. I think their content is quite good especially for providing comprehensible listening input. The podcast mentions that they have many listeners in Taiwan.

If you are observant you may also have noticed a link to the Mandarin Chinese iPod phrasebook at the bottom of the posts. This is free content published by World Nomads Travel Insurance which is one of the affiliate programs I have on this blog. The files are configured for iPod. I don’t own an iPod but if you have one and have downloaded the phrasebook let me know what you think.

End of semester at Shi-Da

I had my last class of the semester at Shi-Da yesterday. The time seems to have passed so quickly. While I did learn some new things during the semester, I don't feel that I achieved my goals. 

I think part of the problem was that the curriculum and teaching style didn't really match my goals or my way of learning. Although the course was very much focused on reading and writing and I don't feel that I made much improvement in either field. Also perhaps my goals are ambitious beyond what can be achieved in a single semester of study. 

I found the teaching style very teacher-centered. Although there were only five people in the class there was very little opportunity to interact with the other students. It would have been interesting to have some discussions and perhaps give some short presentations on the topics.  Perhaps there is an assumption that students that have reached this level don't really need to work on developing their speaking skills. However, I feel that this is a very important skill that can always be improved.

I think the intensive reading approach has some merit, but to really improve reading skills extensive reading is essential. Total comprehension of a text is not always necessary. Also learning to skim texts for important or relevant information is also very useful. Rather than just analysing every text in detail, a variety of approaches to reading should be used in class.

Writing is, I think, the greatest pain of learning Chinese. I really haven't spent much time practicing writing before I started the course at Shi-Da, so I was kind of playing catch up. All the tests were based on writing. I had to spend a lot of time just practicing the new characters in order to be able to write something on the test. As a result I couldn't put more effort into focusing on the process of writing (i.e. sentence structure and organisation of ideas). Also there wasn't much instruction or feedback given on this anyway. No writing was assigned for homework.

The tests were all based on writing. There was dictation (聽寫) and also writing short essays based on the text or explaining vocabulary. Although it is not difficult for a teacher to prepare a test of reading comprehension, the tests never included any reading component. 

All that said, I would still like to study at Shi-Da again in the future. Although I would probably take a little more time to ensure I was placed in a class that better suited my needs. The easiest way to do this would be to sit in on several classes during the first week of semester and choose the one that seems best.  

Also I think that for students who have spent at least a few semesters studying at the Mandarin Training Center (MTC), the results speak for themselves. One of my classmates had reached the Newspaper Readings class after two years of full-time study at the MTC. Wandering the corridors I always heard students from many different countries communicating to each other in Mandarin. I think for any student starting out at a lower level who is prepared to put in the time and effort then Shi-Da is a good place to study. 

Shi-Da class outing to Yingge

EMU train at Yingge StationOn a hot sunny Taipei morning our class from Shi-Da met at Taipei Station. From there we caught the train to Yingge (鶯歌). We joined a number of other classes so there were about forty students and five teachers. 

It was a great chance to meet some other students at Shi-Da. Most of the students were from Japan, Korea and various other countries. There was another blogger in the midst, but I was unaware of her presence. Mandarin was the lingua franca. I quite enjoy speaking to other foreigners in Mandarin. All the students on the excursion were in the more advanced classes. As most were not native English speakers then speaking Mandarin was quite a natural way to communicate. 

Pottery in a model kiln at the Yingge Ceramics Museum

We spent some time looking around the Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum (臺北縣立鶯歌陶瓷博物館). I visited it last year and I think it is one of the best museums in Taiwan.  

Students doing pottery at Yingge Museum

Next we went to the basement of the museum to try our hands at doing some pottery.  

David's pottery at Yingge

This is a cup that I made and carved my Chinese name into. Some of the other students were a lot more creative than me.  

David and classmates in Yingge

The photo above shows me with my Korean and Japanese classmates. Our Czech classmate had to leave early so she is missing from the photo.  

Yingge Old Street after a shower of rain

After lunch we went to Yingge's Old Street to eat lunch and walk around. There was a big thundershower in the afternoon and we had to walk back to the train station in the downpour. We all got a bit wet, but it was still a fun day. 

One week at Shi-Da

I've already been studying at Shi-Da for a week now. My class has had a few students come and go. There are now five students: two Koreans, one Japanese, one Czech and an Australian.

During the first few days of class I thought about changing to a different level. However, I came to the conclusion that I should stay in the class as I was still learning a lot of new vocabulary and grammar.

I have already read the textbook (Newspaper Readings II; 新聞選讀第二本) before. In my one-on-one class I read about three or four articles from the book per lesson. In the class at Shi-Da it takes about two lessons or more to go through just one article. Before I just read for general understanding, but at Shi-Da the teacher goes through all the vocabulary and the important sentence patterns. He also gives a lot of supplementary vocabulary and associated characters. While it is probably not so good for practicing reading per se, I can still learn a lot of new language. 

Yesterday we had the first dictation test (聽寫). This was the part of the course I was least looking forward to. I haven't really spent much time practicing writing although I put in a few extra hours in the days prior to the test. I didn't do it perfectly but my result was much better than I expected. I will practice writing more although I often feel it is not really so important in this era of computers. Also the amount of time you need to spend to be able to write well could be much better invested in other forms of study, particularly more extensive reading. 

Starting classes at Shi-Da

I had my first class at Shi-Da (NTNU; 國立台灣師範大學) today. There are two Koreans, a Vietnamese and a Taiwanese American in my class. The class I am studying in is Newspaper Readings II (新聞選讀第二本). I have studied this book before in my one-on-one class and written about it on my blog. 

I found the pace of the class a little slow, but still interesting. The style of teaching and the dynamic of being in a group class was something that I wasn't really used to. I was able to learn some new vocab and also the teacher introduced a number of interesting anecdotes about Taiwanese culture. I think the real challenge will be the first test. I am really not confident about my writing ability, although I am sure with the need and incentive to practice it will improve fairly quickly. 

I met Todd during the break. I hope to meet another Taiwan blogger there soon. I would like to meet some Thai students so I can practice my much neglected Thai.  I also hope to get to know students from many other countries.

Next update on the class will be after my first test. I must go and do my homework.

Reading Chinese newspapers

cover of Newspaper Readings II

Recently in my Chinese classes I have been using Newspaper Readings I & II (新聞選讀) as a textbook. These books are published by the Mandarin Training Center at Shi-Da (NTNU; 國立台灣師範大學). 

I had previously been reading articles from the Guoyu Ribao (國語日報) which are mostly about education, so I have become very familiar with vocabulary specific to education. However, important vocabulary from other topic areas such as economics, science and the arts is less frequent. In contrast, articles in Newspaper Readings I & II cover a very wide range of topics. 

Another major difference between Newspaper Readings and the Guoyu Ribao is the lack of Zhuyin Fuhao (注音符號). I was a little worried at first that it would be difficult to make the transition to reading without the assistance of Zhuyin, but it didn't seem to pose any major difficulties. I still come across some characters I don't know how to pronounce though. The frequency of idioms (成語) in the Newspaper Readings is also a lot lower than in the Guoyu Ribao

sample text from Newspaper Readings IAfter each reading there is an extensive list of vocabulary. It includes the words in Chinese characters annotated with Zhuyin Fuhao, followed by Hanyu Pinyin and a definition in English (click on the thumbnail to see a larger picture). There is also an additional vocabulary section for proper names. I find this especially useful as most of these words can't be found in a dictionary and transliterations of foreign names into Chinese are often very difficult to decipher. 

Following each reading there are questions and exercises. Important grammar points are also pointed out. The articles in book II seem a little more difficult than those in book I.

All the articles come from Taiwan's major newspapers and were published in 1999 and 2000. It is kind of interesting to read articles from that time and see what has changed in Taiwan and what hasn't. Although it would be nice to have a new edition including some articles from the Apple Daily (蘋果日報).

I highly recommend these books as a reader for anybody that wants to begin reading authentic Chinese texts.

*I have also posted this article at Taiwanderful in the new Chinese language learning materials section.