Analyze, Not Memorize? Chinese Student Struggles in U.S. Chinese Language Class

Analyze, Not Memorize? Chinese Student Struggles in U.S. Chinese Language Class
Jun 17, 2015 Translated by

Editor's Note: Have you ever had a Chinese student take one of your Chinese classes just to get an easy A? I have, back in the day, and I still can't believe it was allowed. This article from the Chinese media, however, shows that taking Chinese classes doesn't always end well for Chinese students in the U.S. One Chinese student accidentally took a class that was not just Chinese, but literature in Chinese. It seems that the class read works in Chinese and English and students were asked the analyze the essays. This was too much for the Chinese student, even in her native language; analyzing works in Chinese was too much of a challenge for her.

What happens when Chinese international students enroll in Chinese classes at U.S. universities for an easy A? Not exactly what you'd expect...

Ruby, a Chinese international student, studies computational mathematics in the United States. She and her Chinese friends decided to take a Chinese class one semester. They all thought that it would be easy.

“We thought that because we are Chinese, and we speak Chinese, then getting an A would be especially easy. We studied a lot of Chinese essays in primary school, so we thought we could handle it.”

In a small survey, 73.8% of Chinese international students would see a Chinese class as an opportunity for an easy A. Only 6% would be worried about the class difficulty.

A Class of Chinese Majors

“Originally I thought that the class would be simple Chinese lessons. When I got to the classroom I found out this was not the case.” said Ruby. “The teacher was Chinese, the class had about thirty people in it, mostly foreigners. Most of them were Chinese majors.”

Ruby said that the class read Chinese literature in order to learn Chinese. “Some of them were well known works of literature like Journey to the West, and Three Kingdoms. However, most of them were written after the 20th century. So we didn't study the classics that we already knew. We did read Li Bai's poem “Drinking Alone by Moonlight,” but in English.”

The class also watched Chinese movies regularly including Lan Yu, Journey to the West, and Lost in Thailand. The students were not required about write about the movies, but the professor recorded attendance at the screenings. The movie screenings were laid-back, but still took up a lot of time. Ruby said that if she skipped the movie classes to do her other work, she did not understand what was happening in class when the movies were discussed.

“We read literature and discussed it with the professor. For our examination, the professor said we would be required to analyze the works we read in an essay.”

Analyzing in America

Chinese students often do not realize what American university classes are actually like. In literature classes, the professor assigns reading material before class. The professor then leads a discussion with the students. To Chinese students like Ruby, the class seems unfocused and chatty. She stressed that she did not know what to review for the final exam.

“I think the exam would focus on our textbooks because it was a language class. I did not expect a test like this,” said Ruby. She had no clue what to write on the mid-term exam. After the test, Ruby said that she realized that Chinese students can't always do better than foreigners on tests.

“Many of the other students had a strong Chinese base, and some of them even seemed to understand the authors more than we did. In class, they were always really excited. Sometimes I couldn't keep up and understand the point they were so excited about.”

After her first awful test, Ruby began to realize that a Chinese class in an American class is much different than she imagined. She also realized that her foreign classmates were not as “weak,” as she originally believed them to be.

Ruby stopped just talking about her own opinions and beliefs on the Chinese essays and tried to adapt to the rhythm of her more analytical American peers. “Chinese people have to use American words and logic when learning Chinese in the United States. We have no face at all.”

A Late Drop

In addition to the exams, Ruby's class also had a reading quiz every two weeks. The quizzes were short and specific, with questions like, “Where did Lin Daiyu (from Dream of the Red Chamber) bury flowers?” and “What is the Dao in Dao De Jing?” The quizzes were very specific, and had a lot of questions that most Chinese people would not know.

In the end, Ruby had to apply for a late drop for the Chinese literature class in order to protect her GPA. The class had surprised her. “It seems that we really had to think out of the box,” she said.

Chinese students often enroll in Chinese language classes in the United States for an easy grade. However, the classes are often more difficult than expected. Chinese classes are not just about teaching Chinese, and students learn how to analyze Chinese literary classics in higher levels. Chinese classes in the United States are often taught in English and Chinese making it difficult for Chinese students.

Chinese classes are more difficult than they appear for Chinese international students!

Source: Wenxue City

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Keywords: Chinese Students in Chinese Class Chinese Students in U.S.


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  (3)(0) exploitation of desperation

Jul 12, 2015 03:23 Report Abuse



I teach AP Economics to high school students which is basically using logic to analyze data... I struggle with this black and white mindset every day... -_-

Jun 21, 2015 12:08 Report Abuse



I think analyzing rather than "regurgitating" is a skill that all students coming into university struggle with, let alone students coming in who are speaking English as a second language. Most of the essays I graded as a TA in graduate school were just copied and pasted from lecture notes.

Jun 18, 2015 17:33 Report Abuse



Perhaps it says more about your inappropriate teaching style than the quality of the students? Westerners who come here to teach Chinese need to understand and adapt to the local culture, otherwise you will always get crappy results.

Jun 18, 2015 19:54 Report Abuse



I bet they couldnt cheat either

Jun 18, 2015 10:50 Report Abuse



The girl in the photo has just realised she sharted herself

Jun 17, 2015 12:19 Report Abuse



Haha, my soup came out my nose, too funny

Jun 22, 2015 00:05 Report Abuse



Translation: Chinese-class required student to think for her self, Chinese student left puzzled.

Jun 17, 2015 11:26 Report Abuse



“Chinese people have to use American words and logic when learning Chinese in the United States. We have no face at all.” "American logic", like advancement predominantly through merits and not guanxi/backdoors/hongbais/fakes? No face? Show Americans your superior PRC logic, skip classes, circle the campus in your BMW three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening. You'll get all the face you want. LOL

Jun 17, 2015 10:34 Report Abuse



This is what happens to a lot of Chinese students when they are required to think and analyze a subject rather then just remember what the teacher tells them.

Jun 17, 2015 08:45 Report Abuse



inability to think wrought of "indoctrination"

Jun 17, 2015 07:23 Report Abuse



American students in American schools are not foreigners. The Chinese are the foreigners here, but can't seem to wrap their heads around the fact that they aren't always the center of the world. Seriously, the way the Chinese keep referring to non-Chinese as "foreigners", regardless of where they, or the non-Chinese, are, is pretty telling of the Chinese mindset.

Jun 17, 2015 05:26 Report Abuse



This always bothered me. I have since concluded after discussing it with a number of people that the word 'foreigner' in Chinese does not in fact mean, "person from another country", but instead just means, "not Chinese". It's confusing, but that's just what the word means here.

Jun 17, 2015 13:13 Report Abuse



If we break the word down... the literal translation is. Wai - outside, not with-in Guo - country, nation Ren - person So to call Americans studying in America, people that are outside their own nation is extremely stupid. The way they use the word, they should just say something like "bu shi zhong guo de" but they don't... cause that would require actually THINKING about the words they use... and questioning their own language.

Jun 18, 2015 18:59 Report Abuse



The whole article is about how they are bad at analysis so it's not surprizing that they just call all non chincese foreigners instead of non chinese

Jun 21, 2015 04:59 Report Abuse



It's not about logic as usual. It's about the "us versus them" mentality that Chinese nationalism is constantly blathering about. It doesn't matter who you are, where you are from, or where you are now, as long as you aren't Chinese you are a "foreigner".

Jun 24, 2015 09:15 Report Abuse



"In class, they were always really excited. Sometimes I couldn't keep up and understand the point they were so excited about.” Haha, Chinese students can't even get excited about their own literature. Absolutely pathetic.

Jun 17, 2015 02:32 Report Abuse



Not that surprizing

Jun 17, 2015 00:23 Report Abuse