My Experience Studying Chinese at Salem State
Marc Dallaire, student in Chinese 201
I enrolled in the Chinese program at Salem State University over the summer as a continuing education student with the intention of broadening my horizons as a young professional. Given the current economic climate in the US and China’s rapid ascendency over the last three decades, learning Mandarin was a logical choice to open doors and to distinguish myself from peers in my field. Going into that first Chinese 101 class in May, I certainly had some reservations. Should I have chosen a school with a more established Chinese program? Would meeting just once per week really be enough to grasp such new concepts? What would I learn about modern China itself? How would I be able to remember all of those characters? Do I really have the time to balance a career and learn a completely alien language?
Now I can look back and laugh at my naïveté. Thanks to the fact that the Chinese program is in its infancy, the class sizes have been small; much smaller in comparison to what I was accustomed back when I was an undergrad at Bowdoin College. My classes have been more like 4-on-1 seminars as opposed to your standard collegiate discourse in a packed lecture hall. Of course this promotes a more productive and agreeable learning environment. And the lone professor in the concentration, Jie Li, has been nothing short of amazing. She is a consummate professional who dedicates as much time as necessary to ensuring her students are comfortable with the material and have mastered concepts before moving on. She has an incredible knack for finding and teaching mnemonics to aide with character recognition – something I thought would never happen. Outside of class, I have been provided with a tutor and a language exchange partner – both from the university’s 1-2-1 exchange program with Chinese universities. Practicing an additional two days per week with these native speakers for a few hours has really allowed my language skills to develop. On top of that, as a class we’ve made several trips into Boston’s Chinatown for cultural experiences. It’s a great way to practice what I’ve learned in a real-world setting, and enjoy some delicious dim sum and hotpot.
While I won’t disagree with anyone who claims Mandarin Chinese to be a difficult language, I can confidently say that I have absolutely no regrets about enrolling in this program at Salem. I’m sure all the hard work I’ve put in will pay substantial dividends in the future.