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Foreign Languages
and Literature

Chinese Language and Culture

Great Wall

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world today. The Chinese Program at Skidmore offers language classes from beginning to advanced levels, as well as courses in Chinese literature and culture. Many other departments and programs offer other courses about China. Our curriculum can lead to a minor in Chinese or provide the basis for a major in Asian Studies.

How difficult is it to learn Chinese?

Chinese grammar is remarkably simple. There are no inflections, cases, genders, declension, numbers,or tenses. Many people who begin to study Chinese quickly become fascinated with the unique system of the language, and are able to communicate in Chinese after two semesters. According to the U.S. State Department language training experts, Chinese ranks with Japanese on the level of difficulty. Three major things distinguish Chinese from European languages. First, the writing system is very complex; consequently perhaps half of the time spent in beginning Chinese concerns learning the writing system. Second, unlike European languages, Chinese shares no cognates with English. Third, Chinese is a tonal language, and for this reason, a major task in learning Chines is development of habit of listening for tonal distinctions and producing them in speech.

What kind of Chinese will I learn?

We teach Modern Standard Chinese, the official language of the People's Republic of China. This is the native dialect of the people of the northern part of China, and the Chinese government is making an effort to teach it to all school children and public employees all over China. This dialect is also known as putonghua (in the PRC), guoyu (in Taiwan), Beijing dialect or Mandarin. It is different from Cantonese, Shanghai dialect, and many other regional dialects, which are mutually unintelligible, although the written language is virtually the same for all.

What are the objectives of Chinese courses?

The Chinese courses offered in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Skidmore are designed to provide students with the basic language skills that are needed to function verbally and read contemporary Chinese publications in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other parts of East Asia. In the first-year classes we give equal emphasis to speaking, listening, writing and reading. Students are able to use approximately 350 characters by the end of the first year. In the second year, the emphasis shifts slightly toward reading and speaking, and by the third year we offer advanced courses in reading, speaking and composition. We see language as apart of a culture and try to integrate both from the very beginning.

Is there any way I can study Chinese in China?

Yes! Skidmore is affiliated with the Associated Colleges in China Program (ACC), the CET Shanghai Program, and the IES Beijing Program. Through these programs, students can obtain internships in such fields as business, economics, education, environmental studies and journalism with many American and international organizations inside China. In addition, there are several other programs available in the PRC, Taiwan and Hong Kong for students who have had one year of Chinese.

Besides courses in the Chinese language, what else can I learn about China at Skidmore?

Many courses on Chinese literature, film and culture are offered through Skidmore's Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. These courses fulfill both the non-western requirement and also count towards fulfilling Asian Studies, Gender Studies, or International Affairs requirements. In addition, many other departments and programs on campus offer courses about China; see the Asian Studies Program for a complete list.

Course Listings:

For a listing of available courses, visit our Courses page.