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.