Nothing is perfect, not even Sun Yat-Sen University

I have been very satisfied with my compulsory courses at the Sun Yat-Sen University, but I can’t say the same about my elective courses. I have to electives this term, Cantonese and Chinese calligraphy. The major problem on both of those courses is that there are way too many students in class.

Cantonese course

There are about 50 students at the beginner Cantonese course and most of the students seem not to be that interested in learning to speak Cantonese. Or they still haven’t figured out how to close their mouths. Many students are talking casually through out the whole lesson and teacher doesn’t seem to know how to make the group silent. She tries, but in my opinion, not hard enough.

Teacher simply doesn’t have enough time to correct our pronunciation or even here all of us speaking. How are we going to learn this language without help when the pronunciation is quite difficult?

Also the textbook isn’t that good. It used Guangdong romanization, not the more widely used Jyutping. The first things I would like to learn in Cantonese are the numbers and how to go out and buy things. This would be the vocabulary I could use from day one. But instead we are learning how to greet people, ask how they have been doing and if they work or study. This is also common topic, but it could wait until later.

Chinese calligraphy course

My other elective course, Chinese calligraphy, is difficult, but interesting. There are also about 50 students at class and due to the timetable changes made by the teacher (and because he always finishes early) the class lasts about 60 minutes, not 90 minutes as it should be according the the original plan printed on our schedules.

The calligraphy teacher doesn’t seem to care much. I agree that as we are all adults studying there we can decide if we come to class or not. But when I do come to class (which is always, but not today because I’m going to a MRI with my knee) I would hope to get more guidance. The teacher usually doesn’t help you if you don’t ask him to help. We had a substitute teacher one week and I have to say he was better than our regular teacher.


But even with the not-so-great elective courses, Sun Yat-Sen University is still much better than the Guangzhou University where I used to study before.


Studying Chinese at Sun Yat-Sen University: Intensive Course

The comprehensive course (综合) or intensive course (精读) in other words is the most information packed course we have at the Sun Yat-Sen University. We have intensive classes three times a week which makes up 27% of our total class time. The course includes new vocabulary, new grammar, reading, exercises and occasionally writing short essays.

Our teacher Zhang always comes to class prepared and is an excellent teacher. We first go over the new words, but not all of them at the same time. We usually first cover the words mentioned in the first paragraph of the text, then read the text aloud with our teacher and after that she will explain the tricky parts and grammar for us. With this method it takes us one week to finish one lesson.

Every chapter also have eight to ten exercises that we do partly during class, partly by our selves at home. Every now and then our teacher wants us to write a small essay related to the lesson. Sometimes we also do our homework to our special notebooks and hand them over to teacher Zhang to correct. Homework and essays are graded with letters, A+ being the best one.  (Homework grades are 10% of our final grade.)

After every five lessons we have a small exam which makes up 5% of our final grade. The aim is to make sure we study hard during the semester and not only cram before the final exams. (Final exam is 60% of our final grade.) I think I did a good job with our first exam and got 89 points (100 being the best score).

Studying during class is of course not enough. Besides homework there are lots of new words to learn. Every lesson includes about 50 word’s vocabulary and usually most of them are new to me. It’s not only learning the meaning of the words, but also how to write the characters by hand.

First I write every new character (and old ones that I still don’t remember) 10 times by hand. Then I put all the words to Skritter (affiliate link) and review the words there. I bought the writing tablet and a pen just to study with Skritter.

For memorizing characters and words it’s also good to read the chapter at home at least once. Besides reading the textbook it’s also advisable to read other material. I’m reading my first Chinese novel at the moment (for our reading course) and every time notice words that I have just learned at intensive course.

Intensive course might be the best course I have at the moment. The textbook is good, teacher is great and I learn a lot every week. The level suits me well, keeps me busy, but doesn’t feel impossible to handle.

Besides final exam (40%), small exams (10% in total, two exams) and homework (10%) are final grade also includes attendance (10%) and being active at class (10%). It’s not enough to just show up, but it’s also not enough to be good if you skip classes regurarly. You’re also not allowed to take the exam if you skip too many classes.

If you have any questions about our intensive course or studying at Sun Yat-Sen University in general, please leave a comment!