I get a lot of questions about studying Chinese full-time at Shanghai Jiaotong University. I’m currently there in my second semester, but last year before starting the program, I remember how extremely difficult it was to find any kind of information about it online. The university’s website is not very helpful, and forget about finding real reviews or experiences. So this post is to all of you guys who are contemplating whether or not to invest your time and money in really improving your Chinese at Jiaotong. Hope it helps!
How good will I be after one semester?
Honestly, considering that I’ve been studying full-time for about 6-7 months now, I would have expected to be at a much higher level. But at the same time, I think I actually know more than I realize. Every now and then I have these amazing Chinese-breakthrough moments when I become of aware of how far I’ve actually come. I had a moment like that just the other day when Robert and I were watching the movie Lion (which by the way is like the most beautiful movie EVER!). The movie only had Chinese subtitles, which was a bit tricky since the first half hour is in Hindi. But turns out I was able to read most of the Chinese subtitles, instant-translate to Swenglish (Swedish-English) for Robert, and fully enjoy the movie topped with an awesome sense of Chinese-accomplishment!
Anyway, back to the question, I’d say one semester probably equals 1-1,5 HSK levels. I started at an HSK level 2 (or a bad 3 tops), and after this semester I should be able to do the HSK 5 according to my teachers.
Where do you see the most improvement?
The biggest improvement is definitely in reading and writing characters. It’s so difficult and time consuming in the beginning, and although I doubt it will ever become easy, it does get better the further you get. And it’s so rewarding too, because it’s almost instant gratification when you suddenly start to understand the writing all around you. So the more you learn, the more motivated and hungry you become to learn more. According to my Pleco statistics, I know 1409 characters at this point, and I think I was at around 300 characters a year ago. For you fellow statistics lovers, that’s a 369% increase!
And the least improvement?
That would unfortunately be with speaking. This seems to be a common problem for many students (phew, it’s not just me), and I think there’s a couple of reasons for it.
1) Of course we practice speaking in class, but it’s usually about a specific structure or vocabulary that we’re going through at that moment. It’s a class of 25 students where the pace is fast, so we move on to the next thing before becoming fully confident with what we just learned. Then when we’re out having conversations in the real world, we hesitate using the new stuff, and easily revert back to the well-established and comfortable vocabulary.
2) I’m also not pushing myself as much as I should when spontaneously speaking in daily life. If I encounter a challenging situation that I have to handle in Chinese, I often go into slight panic mode and try to get out of it as fast and easy as possible. I should in fact welcome these moments when I’m completely outside my Mandarin-comfort zone, because that’s the only way to improve.
3) For this one, I’m also gonna put part of the blame on Shanghai. Everyone here speaks English (except when you get a call from Didi or Kuaidi), and most locals immediately switch to English even when you initiate a conversation in Chinese. Many say Beijing and other Chinese cities are much better learning environments for Mandarin, as you’ll never have the option to use anything else.
How much time do you put into studying?
I have class Monday through Friday, 4 hours per day. On top of that, I probably use another 4 hours a day on homework, review and practice. So if you’re committed and serious about learning, you’re easily looking at a 40 hour week in total. Now, of course there are many students that use far less time than that, but it usually shows further into the semester when keeping up becomes a real struggle.
I recently started working a bit on the side, and therefore I’m not putting as much time on studying as before. And I can already tell a big difference. I’m still doing all my homework and getting full scores in my weekly dictations (nerdy humble brag, haha), but I’m not using as much time on reviewing as before. And it shows, as reviewing is so incredibly important. I’m sure I’ll find a good balance between work and school eventually… But my point here is, that working and studying at the same time is obviously hard, so keep that in mind if you’re considering signing up for a semester.
Would you recommend Shanghai Jiaotong University?
There are many universities in Shanghai offering similar language programs, but I originally picked Jiaotong because it’s a world class university (global top 100 if I’m not mistaken), and because of their extremely convenient location in central Shanghai (Xuhui District, right on metro line 10). As I mentioned, it was super difficult to find good information about the program (or any other school’s program for that matter), so I didn’t have much else to base my decision on. And for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy with my decision. The only thing that has bothered me is the occasional inconsistency in the quality of teaching. Most of my teachers so far have been great, but some of them have also been either very inexperienced, or just not engaging or motivating. I also had one that actually had a great method of teaching, but she treated the class like a bunch of badly behaving children. I can tell you it’s not fun as an adult, and obviously not appropriate. In my experience, the calibre of teachers gets better and more consistent the higher your level.
So all in all, I’m happy with Jiaotong and do recommend the program for someone who wants to study Chinese in Shanghai. The program I’m in is The Long-Term Chinese Language Course (Xuhui Campus), General Track. You can find the website here.
On a completely unrelated note, yesterday finally felt like summer with beautiful sunshine and temperatures well over 20 degrees! Below are some pictures from our stroll on the West Bund waterfront area – the perfect place for a walk or run on a lovely day like this!
Happy Monday folks! Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @shanghaistablog for more pics! x