Sun Yat-Sen University

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.


  • Stanley

    Hi Sara,
    these are the numbers 1 to 10 in Cantonese spoken by a native speaker.

    Sara Reply:

    We just learned the numbers today at class. Thank you for this link, now I can pratice with this!

  • Stanley

    this site’s pretty good for learning cantonese.

    Do the professors have office hours when they can work with individual students if there is a problem?

    Sara Reply:

    I guess not because no one have told us about office hours for regular teachers who doesn’t work at the office.

  • C.

    When I bring up the talking issue at department meetings, I’m told to accept it because “it’s just the culture.” It drives the Western teachers nuts, but we’re told not to do much about it because it’ll anger the students — and if they complain, we’ll get fired.

    At least that’s the way it is at my school. I don’t work at Sun Yat-Sen University, so I don’t know how it works there.

  • Alexandra

    Sorry to hear about your electives! Also is your knee okay? I just did an MRI scan on my knee so I can check up on a knee surgery I did last year. Crazy how they are only 350 yuan, and only 2-3 day wait times! I shipped mine back to Canada to get my dad to go talk to the surgeon about it, Canada it is impossible to get an MRI this cheap and fast. Hope everything is well Sara!

    Sara Reply:

    I have some pain in my right knee and it’s also bigger than my left knee. Unfortunately the first MRI scans weren’t clear enough (that’s what my doctor said this morning) and I have to go to the MRI scan again. Here it was about 800RMB, but luckily I have an insurance that should cover everything. In Finland it could be 800EUR!

  • Peckish Laowai

    I hate it when paying students don’t get the education they need. You are a paying student. Consider speaking to your teacher about your frustrations. If you feel they are unapproachable, take it up with someone else higher up in the department.

    Be diplomatic though else do it anonymously. This at least is my advice. I feel your frustration though.

    Sara Reply:

    I counted that I havet 16,5 hours classes per week, this semester we have 16 weeks of classes. In total it means 264 hours. I paid 9800RMB for these 264 hours which means about 37RMB per hours. Did I count correctly? Could it really be that much?

    I haven’t talked with my teachers yet and I feel like that if I do, people would just see me as a terrible person who likes to complain. Even though I should think it like you do, I’m a paying student.

    Peckish Laowai Reply:

    If talking about it feels too personal – try email instead. Perhaps your teacher is not entirely aware of how you feel and how the disruption is affecting you. It’s a lot of money. If you think about it you could spend that same amount on a private tutor and perhaps get more value out of the time. I say go for it you really don’t have anything to lose. If they think you’re a trouble maker – too bad for them. I suggest though you tell them you’re asking for improvement because you’re serious about your studies. Go for it and good luck.

    Sara Reply:

    Luckily after posting about this we had a meeting with the teacher where they asked few students from every class to come and talk with our studies. They asked as a lot of questions and we had a great opportunity to give feedback. I’m very happy that the university is doing their best to find out if the students are satisfied with the courses and with the teachers. I hope improvements will be made during the new semester next years.

  • Brandi

    Hello Sara! So sorry to hear about the issues with your courses. It’s interesting to hear the different ways that students in different places disrespect their educations: here in America they skip classes, drink/party too much, and barely study (though during class, when they show up, they give the impression they’re paying attention). Over there I guess students show their apathy in the ways you’re seeing, and in some cases it must be rubbing off on the professors.

    Really, though, it sounds like you could use a Cantonese tutor and a calligraphy teacher who knows how to teach! Can your bf help you supplement your Cantonese and/or calligraphy studies? It would be a shame if you weren’t able to get the most out of your education especially since you treasure it so much.

    I hope all is well with you aside from this, and fingers crossed for your knee =)

    Sara Reply:

    My boyfriend can help me with Cantonese and could do that even more if I just would be more active in learning it. But every now and then I try to use my few words of Cantonese with him. He haven’t studied calligraphy much and even though I like his calligraphy, it’s not really good help for me. Tutors for both courses would be great, but unfortunately I think I don’t have the time at the moment.

  • Stanley

    The thing is those kids thought the courses are easy courses and some take the courses as fillers to pull up their grades. I hope the professor get serious on grading then they’ll learn a lesson.

    Sara Reply:

    I think some of them think that a Cantonese beginner course is an easy way to get two study credits.

  • Sean

    As a native Cantonese speaker, I have no idea how anyone can learn Cantonese in a formal manner. It must be really difficult. I’ve tried to teach my fiance a few words here and there when she’s interested, but that’s really tough. She has a much better understanding of Mandarin than Cantonese simply because Cantonese sounds so different. I have to say you are a brave soul! Best of luck with it!

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you Sean! Cantonese would need much more effort than I’m putting into it at the moment in order to learn it well. But at the moment I’m just happy to learn some basics.

  • Jono

    It is interesting that you are learning Mandarin and Cantonese at the same time. Don’t you find it confusing?

    It is a pity that your classes are so large. It must be hard to get help. Can you seek help from a tutor?

    I have enrolled in a Chinese Calligraphy course with my Uni. in 2012 semester II. It is a distance education course too! I am wondering how it works. There are two compulsory weekend residential schools, looking forward to those.

    Cheers Jono

    Sara Reply:

    Atleast it haven’t felt confusing at the beginning. It feels little bit easier to start Cantonese after knowing Mandarin, than starting Cantonese without any knowledge of other Chinese language. I have studied other languages at the same time before, for example the most languages I had in middle school where I studied English, Swedish and German. Always mixed up some Swedish with German! Lets see if it gets more confusing later on with Mandarin and Cantonese, right now my Cantonese is limited to few sentences.

    Distance education in calligraphy sounds interesting and challenging!

  • Eileen

    I am learning Taiwanese and Mandarin so in a way, I am in the same boat. Dialect has more tones, and such. It’s harder in that aspect?

    I will be going to a University eventually and it’s inspiring that you’re doing so well. :) It was hard for me to even speak English and that’s supposed to be my mother tongue. I was born almost competely deaf. :)

    Sara Reply:

    Yes, more tones and in some cases the pronunciation is also very different. Our teacher always makes us to speak louder, like the local people do :)

    I can only imagine the challenges you’ve had and that is truly inspriring that you still are learning Chinese that is supposed to be one of the hardest languages.


    If you really want to learn Cantonese, I wouldn’t suggest relying on this course. Get the credits, but what you do outside of the classroom is what will matter most. Not even speaking with your boyfriend will matter that much. The real test is input. When I first came to Canton, I wanted to learn Cantonese (and only Cantonese…I really dislike Mandarin), but I had no idea how to do it. I asked my friends to help me, but no matter how much they tried it wouldn’t sink into my brain. I had books and CDs and everything, but nothing worked. Then I found and and changed the way I learn languages. I learned more in the first month of using those methods than in the first year of living here. Input! That’s the key.

    I’m glad you’re learning Cantonese though! 加油靚女!

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for your advice! I’ve read, but wasn’t aware of the other link you gave me. Have to check it!

    Unfortunately my main interest and goal is to learn Mandarin and I only have limited time for my Cantonese. I recently started Pimsleur’s Cantonese course and it seem to be a good way for me to learn some basic things. What you think about Pimsleur’s cd courses? I also made some flashcards about my exam material so I’m ready for Monday’s exam. I think I need the course to remind me to learn Cantonese aswell, otherwise I would only work with my Mandarin.

  • Jono

    Hello Sara

    I am using Pimsleur’s Mandarin to prepare for three weeks in Xian. I have found the it is good for me as there is no new vocabulary and I can focus on speaking and listening.


    Sara Reply:

    Hi Jono, I have never tried Pimspleur’s Mandarin, but nice to hear that it’s as good as the Cantonese edition. That kind of approach works for me in Cantonese, because I have no need to learn to write Cantonese.

  • lin2012

    To learn Chinese characters is a very useful way to really get to know Chinese culture.

    I appreciate your determination to learn Chinese calligraphy. I learnt it when I was a kid but couldn’t do it well.

    It is a common case that a class has lots of students from elementary schools to colleges in China. A huge class means students will lose many chances to fully communicate with their professors. From another perspective, you get more chances to make friends.

  • mins

    Hi! I’ve been looking for some information about Cantonese course in China and I found your post! I’m so glad to find out some information about sun yat-sen university!
    I’m currently a student from University of Hong Kong and I thought I need to learn Cantonese before I graduate so I took an year off from university to actually learn Cantonese in China rather than in Hong Kon! Do you think they still offer this cantonese course at the universiy? I am not sure because their website doesn’t say anything about cantonese, it just says ‘Chinese Language Course’.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:


    They do have basic Cantonese courses here, but that’s nothing special you shoud come here for. The Cantonese courses offered for us are just one per semester.

    I think what you are looking for is a year long Cantonese program that only teaches Cantonese, unfortunately I don’t know about these kind of programs.