A day in my life at NTNU’s Mandarin Training Center 2019
The Mandarin Training Center (MTC) is a great place to be and a very good place to study Chinese. MTC is located at Taipei’s National Taiwan Normal University NTNU we call “Shida” (師大). So far, I enjoy the ten months I have been in Taiwan so far very much and a a big part is due to to the MTC.
Here you can read my personal impressions about Shida, I hope to help you to figure out if the MTC might be the right place for you to be as well.
Why I chose Taiwan (and not China)
As a sinology student in the third year, it was time to go abroad to improve my Chinese.
I applied for a scholarship in China but got refused twice. First, I was very sad about that. The good thing is that during the time I had to wait for the reply, I got to know and fell in love with a Taiwanese girl who lived in Germany.
She told me a lot about Taiwan, for example that she thinks the people in Taiwan are the nicest in the world, the fact that Taiwan is full of nature and very beautiful as well as that there is really good food. So I saw in my refusal a great chance to go to a country which has got freedom of speech, less air pollution and is known to be more friendly.
We broke up during my stay in Taiwan, but I am definitely happy that I still have decided to to the island.
Why I have decided to study at Shida’s MTC
My ex-girlfriend’s father advised me to go to the National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU), or as he said in Chinese：Go to the „師大“ – everyone calls it the „Shida“.
The Shida has got the “Mandarin Training Center“ or in short the „MTC“ – he told me it’s the best place to learn Mandarin at Taiwan.
The MTC is known for some high-ranking Alumni, among them the former Premier of Australia Kevin Rudd, business leaders and a lot of sinologists. On my German university there are at least two teachers who went there as well.
I trusted their advice and applied at Shida. This was easy, because my parents fortunately pay for my studies. Among my friends at Shida, however there are many who have received a scholarship. The Taiwanese government generously sponsors scholarships to students. If you would like to study at MTC and decide for it on time, I highly recommend to apply for a scholarship, the chances to get accepted seem very high.
I intended to be here for six months. I am now here since ten months and I have got two more to go from the time I post this. I really don’t want to go home and the MTC is definitely a big part why. (Don’t worry Mama, I will really come home.)
What does the Mandarin Training Center have to offer?
The MTC is located at a side campus of the NTNU, and takes five floors within the big 博愛(bo ai, = “universal love” ) building. This means that the infrastructure is set up for international students to learn Chinese: The teaching material is related to live in Taipei: If you learn in the books how to ask for the way, you get examples how to find the Shida. You learn how to talk, read and write about Taiwanese foods, good locations to travel, and later on the topics which Taiwanese people really discuss about at their every day, such as the legalization of homosexual marriage, new technology, art and history .
Most students come from Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. There are lots of students from some South American countries which have got official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, such as Guatemala. There are also American, European and possibly African students you will often share your courses with.
The teaching materials are modern, and everything is structured very clear. You will know in advance what you will do this week, and probably the whole month, but that somehow doesn’t take away the opportunity for something spontaneous, for example when students ask questions.
Shida published many textbooks themselves, for example a series of textbooks called “A course in contemporary Chinese”, which starts from beginner level and is theoretically supposed to go up to the language proficiency level “TOECFL” C2. Last year the book number six has been published. Most beginners start with those books. From level four on, the textbooks focus more and more on the formal language instead of the spoken one.
Students who finished book five can choose the next book based on their needs, such as improving in the formal language, business Chinese or more of the spoken language.
More advanced students can learn to read Chinese newspapers or classical Chinese. Sometimes there aren’t enough pupils to fill one course at the higher levels, which limits the choice.
Some students do classical Chinese or have special wishes at one on one sessions such as Feng Shui or classical Chinese fiction.
The methods are divers, most teachers use PowerPoint in every single lesson. They use it to introduce new words and sentences, play audio files of the textbooks, watch funny pictures and with increasing Chinese level, classes watch videos.
When I first arrived at Shida, I wasn’t aware about the big number of extra features there are.
For example, there is an auditorium for movies, big classes for conversational Chinese, or a lecture about a topic Taiwanese people like to discuss about. There was once even a lecture about swear words!
There are computer rooms with more useful material than I could ever learn, as well as internet access and ear plugs.
In your free time, you can participate in activities from Shida, like taking part in Taiwanese tea drinking culture or Chinese games.
There are a lot of student groups for example about classical Chinese, and students can also join groups from local students of the NTNU.
There is a whole building just for that purpose.
I joined the mountaineering club in the first term. It was awesome and I would recommend anyone to try. In the third term, I was part of the dragon boat team until I had to quit due to two injuries. If you are interested, take a look at Nnedis review of the competition.
A fictional but very real day at MTC
“This time I am gonna start five minutes earlier from home” is something I often say and would wish to really do, but I doesn’t happen too often. I barely make it on time, but I am punctual because I don’t take the the elevator.
If I am a bit too early, I often meet friends waiting a few minutes for the elevator.
My Japanese, Indonesian, American schoolmates are already there, my Belgian and another Indonesian student come a bit too late. My teacher doesn’t seem to mind that they are late, she greets them friendly.
We are starting with a card game, where we repeat the new words from our current lesson with vocabulary cards from my teacher. My Indonesian fellow student draws a vocabulary card and describes the meaning of the word and I have to guess vocabulary itself.
Not to mention, everything at class is in Mandarin, except of the translation of a single word sometimes.
Afterwards we have a little competition, we nine students are divided into two teams and must pick up the vocabulary cards the teacher says as fast as possible. The team who picks up most cards first wins.
Unfortunately, there is a Japanese student in the other team, and he doesn’t only know everything, but his eyes are also incredibly fast. So, we lose the game.
Our topic is the debate about nuclear power in Taiwan. Should there be a fourth nuclear power plant in Taiwan? The teacher asks us about our opinion.
I am the first rising my hand to say that the risk is too high and Taiwan therefore shouldn’t build another one. My teacher corrects a few Chinese mistakes which I write down, but I never look on the paper again.
Two other students say something similar afterwards.
We continue reading our text at the book, the teacher lets us listen to the dialogue with some loudspeakers and her laptop.
We shouldn’t look at the book to really train our listening skills. I understand almost every single word, but in my mind, those words don’t make any sense together.
The teacher can sense that really well, and it is absolutely okay not to know things. We are here to learn. We just try to listen to the dialog a few more times if it’s unclear for too many people. Sometimes, everything is a bit too fast for me and I just need more time to think. After the third time listening, I have at least understood a bit more.
Afterwards we read the last part of a text which argues against nuclear power together with a partner.
The teacher now introduces to us a new grammar and we must find some example sentences on our own, and we have to fill out some blank spaces with a partner. In the meanwhile, the teacher walks around from table to table and answers our questions. She is really friendly like all teachers I had so far.
Okay, it’s time for the the first break!
Unlike my Chinese course at my German university, every class is only 50 minutes long. There is a ten minutes break between classes where you can get snacks and drinks, hang out with friends, ask you teacher more questions or go to the toilet.
I buy a cold green tea from a machine and sit down on a couch with a friend from Israel.
It is fun to chat with her. The bells ring, it is time for class again. If I hear the bells outside of my class room, it inevitably means that I am too late for class. I am one minute too late but the teacher just welcomes me warmly. Another student is almost ten minutes too late, he often walks out of the class for a few minutes.
Now we watch a video about Fukushima after the nuclear disaster. Just like last lesson’s audio file from the textbook, it is hard to understand for me. and we need to watch it a second time in 0.75x speed.
Then our teacher says we are going to have a “聽寫” “ting xie” now. That’s the horror for some students. The 聼 “ting” means to listen and 寫 “xie” means writing, and this is exactly what we are about to do: The teacher says two sentences from the textbook and we have to write them down, into a pink booklet she gave to us at the beginning of the term.
Most students feel a bit pressured about this because we get marks for it.
My Indonesian schoolmate protests: “不要” -„bu yao“: “Don’t want!” She does this at every “ting xie”. As always, her little protest doesn’t matter at all.
The teacher calms her down and says the ting xie will be very easy this time. She also says this every time, this is kind of their ritual.
I was writing relatively slowly, but I thought I would know all words. The next day I found out about some mistakes I did. I scored something in the 90’s from a maximum of 100 possible points. We never compare our scores, but I think we all score something like that. The Japanese and Korean students have fewer problems because they learn Chinese Characters in their home country.
Since we just finished the last text which argues against nuclear power, it is time for a text that promotes nuclear power in Taiwan. The teacher introduces this perspective with a video where a journalist asked out scientists about the advantages of nuclear power. The person interviewing the scientists pretends to be surprised about all the advantages that nuclear power delivers, especially how cheap the production costs are (In case it doesn’t blow up!).
Then the teacher introduces us to the 生詞, (sheng ci), those are the new words of the text, but before diving too deep into that, it’s finally time for the second break!
My teacher stays in the room, keeps chatting with some students, my American schoolmates have friends from America who often come into our classroom. There are too many people at the classroom for me, therefore I just go outside. As an introvert, I can relax better when I am alone. I do my ritual as in almost every break: I go to the toilet.
Despite the break, I have already lost some concentration in the 3rd lesson. We continue to study new words with the PowerPoint presentation and some examples. We still discuss something about nuclear power in our own country with a partner. I keep about going home and the food I will eat later. And the class is finally over!
After class I meet with friends and we are going to eat together at my favorite vegetarian place.
Bad things at Shida
I think, that many people rely a lot on the Shida classes themselves to get better at Chinese and don’t seek enough opportunities to speak Chinese with Taiwanese friends. Many western students have international friends, go partying with international friends and like to speak their native language or English in their groups.
That’s not the best way if one wants to progress really fast and would like to pick up the spoken language. (I have heard that some students even write their own blog in English )
I think this isn’t particular about Shida though. And it is not very hard to find people to talk Chinese to. It is not really hard to meet Taiwanese people as friends or language exchange partners – if one actively looks for them. And most classmates from east Asian countries also don’t speak English.
What bothers me a bit is that in the area around Shida the English level is relatively high.
And you can call me over sensitive – but I am sad and frustrated that even so many Taiwanese people try talking English to me.
Once in the evening, I was kicked out of the Computer room from MTC by a supervisor. She used English to tell me to leave.
The reason I hate this very much is that I spend so much time learning Chinese.
When Taiwanese people talk in English to me, it makes me think that they don’t recognize my efforts to learn their language. Of course do I like to make exceptions and sometimes like to speak English with Taiwanese friends, but if people I don’t know start talking English with me, it suggests to me the assumption that foreigners can’t speak Chinese.
But I know, that Taiwanese people don’t mean it in a bad way. I think that Taiwanese people are extremely helpful, and English might be the best language to help western foreigners, especially to the ones who don’t speak Mandarin at all. Some would like to practise English and maybe some people don’t want me to lose face when I can’t speak Chinese, I don’t really know.
Another point some people don’t like about Shida is that we have to learn writing Chinese characters. I had problems at my German university with them but I personally started to enjoy learning the writing at the MTC, but I think it’s understandable that some people aren’t willing to learn writing Chinese characters at all. If you really can’t accept learning how to write, you shouldn’t go to Shida. I can’t guarantee you this if you decide to, but a friend from Taida
(臺大，Taiwan National University) told me that he chose a course where he didn’t have to learn Chinese characters.
Here are a few FAQ：
I chose the intensive course “A”, which means that my class only has got 8-12 students. Every day, we had got class from 10:20 – 13:10.
I have learned two years of Chinese at Leipzig University and I was put into book three, lesson 5.
In intensive course, you will finish a one book within the each term. A term is three months long.
In my 4th term, I do a regular course, because there aren’t enough students for an intensive course. At the regular class I have two hours of class daily and have to take supplementary courses or exercises for 5 hours a week.
I haven’t decided what’s better, but since I consider myself as a proactive but slow learner, the regular course is a very nice choice.
Check out this guide from Shida.
Additionally, there are the Facebook groups which might help you:
Be aware that pictures often look fancier than the real rooms, I got this advise from my teacher and can confirm this from my own experience. She advised me not to sign a contract from without seeing the rooms.
Many arriving students first stay in an AirBnB or Hostel, for example, my friend Martin has been at First Hostel. At Shida’s guide there are lots of possible short term stays.
I stayed at Banana Hostel in Dongmen. I lived together with 16 people in one little room for 9 months. I really enjoyed staying there, the experience would deserve an article on its own. Let me know if you are interested to know about Co-Living experience.
I my opinion, at Shida there is a very good combination of stress and voluntariness. In the long term, I have neither been really overwhelmed nor too bored.
You need an average score from 60 of 100 points to be accepted in the following course the next term. Everybody who regularly attends classes and practices some gets that score.
If somebody doesn’t score that high, the person would just have to repeat a bid from the last term. Teachers don’t kill you if you have bad marks, in contrary they are friendly and respectful and might explain you something again.
However, just as any educational institution, it can be really stressful to some people. When I wasn’t familiar with the system in the beginning, I was nervous. But I got used to it fast.
Scholarship students need to score a bit higher to keep the scholarship, I think it’s 80 or 85 points.
In my first term, I had the most amount of homework. It might have been something like four hours a day, but I had to catch up some stuff others already knew because they have been at Shida for a longer time.
In intensive class, we are supposed to do four hours of homework every day. However, I would say that the homework itself doesn’t occupy that much time, which is good because I can learn better when I am not forced to learn something.
From there on it everything felt easier. I wouldn’t say that I did less work afterwards, but learned more Chinese voluntarily and on my own.
My classmate Pieter spends a lot of time at his job as magazine editor, reads over one hour of books a every day, meditates and has a girlfriend. He still gets along at class.
He recently works on more articles on his blog which lets you explore Asia and the occident from an intellectual perspective.
Olli, did you work alone on this article?
No, I didn’t.
Thank you very much to my good friend and classmate Martin Banka for corrections, advice and feedback on several articles on this website!
I have got most of the Shida pictures from Lyndon Clazie, former MTC student and owner from https://www.illrememberthat.com/,
Check out his Website for unique animation and photography. Thank you so much for your help!
Finally, would I like to thank Kathrin who is my life coach, she helped me a lot to focus and stick to the process of writing and studying. She has coached me for about a month and has helped me a lot to find clarity about what I want to do in my life and how to get there.
They’be all been at Shida some time, even my coach.
What else would you like to know about Shida?
Or if you are a (former) student or teacher, is there anything you would like to add, or would you like to disagree?
Please leave a comment！ 🙂
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