Studying at one of the most prestigious universities in Taiwan, NTNU aka National Taiwan Normal University helped me level my Chinese up to a higher degree. I had the opportunity to learn Chinese from well-taught and talented Chinese teachers from September 2018 till May 2019 and in turn, truly improved and understood the true meaning of struggle as an adult living abroad in a foreign country where English isn’t commonly spoken. I have shared my first impressions of the school itself here, but now that I have fully finished and exhausted what the program has to offer, I share with you today more details. Let’s just get right into it.
This semester was a great starting point in getting back into learning Chinese. Because I have studied it before, getting back into it was a bit of a hurdle. For one, I have never learned traditional characters, so I had to pretty much retrain my brain to read and WRITE (omg WRITE) traditional characters. Compared to simplified characters, traditional characters have many more strokes. Even though simplified derives from traditional, many characters look completely different from each other. I even went out of the way of buying the $5 add on on Pleco for looking at the character stroke order. Also, my grammar usage was pretty jumbled up (no thanks to my Chinglish speaking days back in Shanghai) so I had to relearn a lot of grammar as well. On top of that, I am in Taiwan so a lot of words that are used in China are not used in Taiwan. Pleco isn’t always helpful in making that distinction, so learning which words used where can be confusing. For example, in China for the word, subway, they use 地鐵 dìtiě, but in Taiwan, they use 捷運 jiéyùn. Funny thing is many Taiwanese people know both words so they know what you’re saying, but may have some prejudice or bias against anything from the Mainland ??.
My teacher itself was super upbeat, fun and has a very cute teaching style. When learning the vocabulary, she always found fun ways to teach it to us. She even took the time to expand on vocab by giving us more useful words apart from what was in the book. We even were given lots of pictures to explain the meaning, matching games, songs, and even writing character races between my classmates. Her class forced all of us to speak more helping us improve our spoken ability overtime. I started in the A Course of Contemporary Chinese Book 1 Chapter 11 just because I have forgotten so much of what I have learned from 3 years back. Also, I just began learning Traditional Characters so I think starting at that point was good for me. The books have way more vocabulary than the ones I used in China so I think this helped me understand, relearn and grow from my last Chinese learning experience. Her class was awesome. I took it from 12:20 till 2:10 and my classmates were from all over – Thailand, Japan, Portugal, etc.
This semester, my teacher also took time in having some cultural excursions outside the classroom. The first month, we went to a pottery street in Yingge where we learned how to spin a bowl and toured the culture street to indulge on snacks and even looked at various pieces at a pottery museum.
The second month, we went to Dihua Street where we selected our a bag and printed a design to take home and sipped on natural Taiwanese Tea. Yum!
My second semester was probably my least favorite semester of the three. My teacher was very strict from the get-go, did not tolerate any bs, was much older than my last and had a very traditional teaching style. Even her thought process was different too.
I took the regular Chinese course, but she taught the class as if we were in the Advanced course. A lot of worksheets were given to do in class everyday, she taught and spoke super fast, and I just could not keep up. We got to a part of the book where the material got very difficult and probably some of the most important things to know when speaking Chinese, so I had a rough time. While answering in class, she would yell if we did not answer the questions correctly or in the way she wanted us to, which frustrated many of my classmates, and in turn, made everyone scared of her.
Out of my three teachers, she stressed the importance of pronunciation, tones, and sounds. We collectively as a class was pretty bad at it and she made sure to always correct us while we spoke. I cannot count the one too many embarrassing moments of when she called us out in class for it.
Once we got to know our teacher, I came to realize that she was very nice and understanding if we had to miss class or for any other reason, but I also come to see after learning from her, that she is probably better off teaching a higher level class and not our book 2 regular basic ass Chinese class.
At this time of the year, it was Winter semester which falls between December and February and it seems like not as many students attend NTNU during this time of the year. I took my class this semester between 2 pm and 4 pm which was the best and worst time to take this class. Great because I get to sleep in and do stuff in the morning, but also bad because it killed my productivity. Nothing got done. I can’t do too much or go too far before the class start time. Also, I went out way too much, woke up hungover at noon and then head to class. Mess.
In this semester, we went on just one excursion and that was learning how to make Taiwan’s delicacy, pineapple cake from scratch. That was a super fun trip and the pineapple cake was even better. Highly recommend doing this if even if you come to Taiwan just to visit for its fun, easy, and you also get to learn some history about Taiwan.
I also noticed by this semester, that you see different types of people depending on the time of the day you take the course. People who take the AM courses are more of the studious students, working individuals or people with families, children, etc. These people take the AM courses for obvious reasons: have work in the afternoon, take care of children, get it out the way, etc. While people taking Chinese in the afternoons are more of people around my age or straight out from high school. Most of these people probably only come to Taiwan to study Chinese and nothing more so they don’t have much going on beyond the classes meaning a ton of free time to chill.
I will say though, this semester was the class that was probably the most close-knit of the three. We only had 6 people in our class and we got close to each other relatively quick. We also spent tons of time outside of class together grabbing linner (lunch + dinner) or drinking a beer at Zhangmen’s.
This time was hands down, the ultimate, the greatest, the 最高, the best semester of them all. I swear the best people always show up at the end. Why is that? The reason: Once I got to this point, I am pretty familiar with the school, the courses, the activities they have to offer, the different teaching styles, the facilities, etc. Also, I have met all types of people, seen many come and go, but also those who have stayed I have started sealing close relations with.
To start it off, my teacher was the absolute best. I loved her so much for she was super fantastic, very chill, taught at a steady pace, and most importantly, patient. If she noticed that students were confused, she would stop, go back and find other ways to explain the material. She was in no rush for us to complete the chapter in a timely fashioned, which I did not mind too much. In my class, I also had some classmates whose learning abilities were much slower than others, but she persisted in ensuring that everyone was caught up to speed and never hesitated in slowing some parts down if there was some confusion.
On top of that, this was the same semester that I joined the Dragon Boat Team which was one of my highlights of Taiwan thus far, and through it, I met some of my favorite people in Taiwan so far. Those people know who they are. Bless them.
In this semester, I would also say I took class around the best time (also the most favorable time by students) of the day which was from 10 am to 12 pm. I feel it is the best time to take the class for it is not too early, and not too late. You go in, get your Chinese learning out the way and go off and do whatever. During this semester, I was super busy and tired all day every day. I would train for Dragon Boat early in the morning, shower, eat, class, and then tutor. Your girl was tired, but killing it. All my hobbies stopped during this time. I was biking less, drinking less, and I wasn’t even writing. But that work all eventually paid off. When the semester ended, my Chinese has noticeably improved, my body is physically stronger, and on a dragon boat high (a week after the competition ended).
For my last semester, I also chose to go back and repeat 5 chapters just for the fact that Book 2, in my opinion, is quite difficult. We went through the lessons so quick in the last semester that I really did not pick up many of grammar or material from it. I was just learning to take the exam and then forget it all.
This is the only semester where my class did not go on any excursions. I am not sure if it was because of the huge age range between my classmates or that our teacher did not have any interest in partaking on additional extracurriculars…either way, I was too preoccupied in many other activities that I did not even notice.
I also had classmates who were much older than myself and lived very different lives than most of us outside of class. We had a student who was Japanese and married to a Taiwanese guy working online for a Travel Agency, another who came to study his PhD and teaches at the local university in Taipei, and also a Korean guy married to a Taiwanese woman who was a businessman and traveled back and forth between Taiwan and South Korea. Vs everyone else straight out of High School and College. A huge contrast in terms of age and the stage we are at in our lives, but in the end we all come together to learn Chinese.
I will say one major thing I dislike about the language school system is their big focus on testing. Honestly, I can care two shits about test-taking. What’s that????,
(despite knowing that there is a certain grade point average needed to maintain the Huayu scholarship) even so, does it matter? I would say as long as you can speak well, who cares how well you test? A lot of people like myself cannot focus properly in testing environments. And I can tell you right now, I had a lot of classmates that would get an A+ 100% on their exams, but could not speak Chinese for their life. No shade, but shade. Whereas myself, I would test poorly, but spoke just fine, even better than others, but just some, definitely not all. Many scholarship recipients would scress, Yes, I said it right, not stress, but scress over them possibly not meeting the requirements at the end of each month. I came to realize that as long as you attend class, they will give you your ca$h money regardless. Why stress? It’s not that serious. Unless you are studying for more than 9 months and don’t meet the TOCFL requirement for the scholarship like I did, but that’s ok.
Studying Chinese in Taiwan at the end of the day is what you make out of it. Going to class every day for two hours gets old, real quick. Teachers and classmates will vary, the people you meet, the activities you decide to be a part of will all factor into your time studying in Taiwan. But don’t let those factors deter how your time is spent in Taiwan. After my 9 months, I don’t regret choosing Taiwan to come and study Chinese here. It has honestly been a wonderful time. The program isn’t perfect, but my time learning Chinese here has been much more enriching and beneficial for me in Taiwan.
I also think it is great to find other cool things to take part outside of school. If you decide to come and learn Chinese, don’t let the language program overrun your life. There’s so much more to do outside of school. A lot of people start and try and joining clubs that they have at school. Apart from that, you can take trips outside of Taipei to hike, swim, surf, drink some tea in the mountain, you can join a community like myself who enjoys biking, church, dancing, doing YouTube (Yes, I have met those individuals), even model. So many opportunities out there for us. Just have to put some effort into finding what’s best for you.