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Foreign Languages
and Literature

Chinese Language and Culture

Great Wall

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 (a term used in the PRC), guoya (a term used 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 contemporary 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 t 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.

What materials do you use?

The textbook for the first two years is Integrated Chinese (2 vols.), published by Cheng & Tsui Company. Supplementary textbook is Elementary Chinese Courses (2 vols.) and Intermediate Chinese Courses (2 vols.), published by Beijing University Press. Pinyin romanization is provided for the phonetic part. We are also introducing certain softwares for student's homework. From the second year on, short stories and tales, TV, plays, as well as some newspaper articles are introduced.

Is there any way I can study Chinese in China?

YES. Skidmore has affiliation with the Council for International Educational Exchange (CIEE) for study-in-China programs. Students are encouraged to spend a semester at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing University, Fudan University, Nanjing University, or Chengchi University in Taiwan, where courses in Chinese art, music, language, business, social sciences, and various independent studies are offered. In these programs, students may obtain internships in such fields as business, economics, education, environmental studies, journalism with many American and international organizations inside China. Besides, there are several other programs in the PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong for students who have had one year of Chinese.

I am interested not only in the Chinese language but also in literature and culture. Can I take any course at Skidmore?

Many Chinese literature and culture courses are offered at Skidmore through the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.  The Chinese literary and cultural tradition is introduced through readings of myth and legend, classical poetry, music, painting, modern prose, novels and films.  The values of individual works are examined in the light of both the Chinese and Western critical traditions.

Skidmore’s Foreign Languages and Literatures Curriculum offers the following courses on Modern China: FL 244 Viewing China: Visual Culture and Transnational Cinema, FL 245 China & the West: The Myth of the Other, FL 246 Fictional and Factual: History and the Novel in China, FL 257 Modern Chinese Literature in Translation, FL 258 and FL 259 Chinese Civilization, FL 269 Cultural China, GW 227 Holding up the Sky, and FL 263 Special Topics in Chinese Language and Culture.  These courses fulfill both the non-western requirement and also count towards fulfilling Asian Studies, Women’s Studies, or International Affairs requirements.

Course Listings:

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