Sun Yat-Sen University

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!


  • Confused Laowai

    What a diligent student! :) You’ve got a good regiment going there.

    I’m jealous. I miss my Chinese classes!

    Sara Reply:

    Maybe I should do a post about everything I should do and still don’t do, then you wouldn’t think of me as a diligent student :)

  • Jono

    You certainly have a good study routine. I am impressed. How many in the course? Where are all the other students from? How long have you been studying Chinese?

    Cheers Jonathan

    Sara Reply:

    There are 17 students in my class, including me. We have students from Korea, Cambodia, France, Vietnam, Guinea, Indonesia, Russia, Japan and USA.

    In total I’ve been studying Chinese for about three years now. First 1,5 years in Finland, then over a year as an exchange student at Guangzhou University and now for few months at Sun Yat-Sen University.

  • Stanley

    the cantonese class should be more intensive than that because cantonese is more difficult than mandarin.

    Jono Reply:

    Stanley Why is Cantonese more difficult than Mandarin?

    Sara do you agree?

    Sara Reply:

    I totally agree! There are more tones (6 tones) and the pronunciation is more difficult.

    Ivy Reply:

    Did Sara write that she is taking Cantonese classes at her university?
    Anyway, Mandarin is closely related to Cantonese so the fact that she is studying Mandarin simultaneously helps. Also, if she is taking cantonese it would be more like an elective course since Mandarin is the main focus of education of the Mainland. Specific classes in Cantonese are kind of rare and it is even hard to find textbooks anywhere.

    Sara Reply:

    Yes I’m taking a Cantonese class and it’s an elective coure.

  • Stanley

    there are more tones in cantonese than mandarin. also the grammar is slightly more complicated. There are more distinct syllable sounds in cantonese than mandarin but that one actually helps the listener.

    C Reply:

    i assume cantonese is just a dialect/variant branched off from mandarin that exists verbally but not in writing.?

    Sara Reply:

    Cantonese isn’t a a branch of Mandarin and Cantonese uses different characters in many cases. Those characters can exist in Mandarin, but the meaning is different. For example 是 is written 系 in Cantonese. 马马虎虎 becomes 麻麻哋啦. Sometimes the grammar is also different from Mandarin.

    Also note that in Guangdong they use simplified characters because it’s on the mainland, but in Hong Kong they also speak Cantonese, but write traditional characters.

  • the zhen master

    Is it an ipad in the second photo?

    Sara Reply:

    It’s an electronica drawing tablet you can connect to your computer and then you can draw with a pen.

    David Reply:

    Where do I get one of these drawing tablets, what do they cost and are there other programs and websites that support them like (Skritter)?

    Sara Reply:

    You can buy it online or from electronic stores. The cheapest ones are about 300RMB, but be sure to buy a tablet that can draw so it works with Skritter. I don’t use my tablet for anything else than Skritter so unfortunately I don’t know about other programs or websites.

  • Jack

    I just discovered this great blog calle Sinosplice(okay, I have seen it around for awhile, but this is probably the first time I actually read it) – and they have a great article on “The 5 Stages to Learning Chinese”. Check it out, fun read.

    Sara Reply:

    Sinoplice is a great blog!

  • Nick


    I have just moved to Nanhai.

    Do you know of any language schools you could recommend in Foshan? I really want to supplement my self study and weekly lesson.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Nick,

    Unfortunately I don’t know any language schools at Foshan. But when you find a good one please let me know!

  • Felix

    Hi ,

    My Mandarin level is limited and i would like to study for the intensive course that focus on 4 skills: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening . Is there any Mandarin course open on april and i would like to study for only 6 months

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Felix. In my university a new semester starts in September and in March. I believe it isn’t possible to start in April in my university, but there must be many other possibilities for you in Guangzhou or somewhere else in China.