Chinese: FAQ

How hard is Chinese?

Well, it’s not a language that is known for being ‘easy’. But if you think it will be too hard to learn, think about the following: (a) Chinese does not have tense; nor does it have gender or other morphological inflections, making its grammar ‘straightforward’; (b) Chinese has the same basic word order like English--subject, verb, object; (c) there are only a couple of Chinese vowels and consonants that are completely new to an English speaker (roughly speaking); (d) we use the romanization system (pinyin) at first to learn speaking and listening; (e) many Chinese characters are pictographs or phonograms (characters with parts indicating sound and meaning), and characters share a limited number of radicals, so learning becomes increasingly easier and can get fun.

I am interested in taking Chinese language classes. I have learned Chinese earlier at Pitt/elsewhere. How do I know which class is right for me?

You should take a placement evaluation BEFORE registering for a Chinese language class. See the section below on Placement Evaluations.

Language Classes

How large is language class?

The First Year Chinese class may contain 40-50 students in each lecture class but most of the class time is in Act (practice) classes which have about 12 or fewer students and are taught by native speakers of Chinese. Second Year and Third Year Chinese classes are structured in the same way with fewer students.

What is expected of students during lecture class?

You must come to class having read and understood the assigned section in the textbooks. The teacher will give important grammatical and sociolinguistic information, draw to your attention key facts about the language, clarify understanding, and answer questions about the texts, grammar, language usage, as well as culture.

What is expected of students during practice (recitation) class?

This gives you a chance to put what you learned in lecture class into practice. These classes are conducted strictly in Chinese and you will be asked to use the learned patterns/grammar in situations where such usages are appropriate.

How much time would I need to dedicate to the study of Chinese?

As much as you can. Usually, you should plan on spending 10 to 14 hours on Chinese every week in addition to class time.

Placement Evaluations

When should I take the placement test? And where can I take it?

You should take the placement test as soon as you decide to enroll in the program. The earlier you take the test and register for the appropriate course, the greater the possibility that you can enroll in the right class for you. Please e-mail Yi Xu to schedule placement test.

What is the format of the placement test and how long does it take?

The evaluation will typically be an interview which consists of an oral part as well as a reading/writing part, and will take 15 to 40 minutes, depending on your Chinese competence.

How should I prepare for the placement test?

Unless otherwise told, you do not need to prepare. The purpose of the test is to identify your Chinese proficiency so that we can direct you to the appropriate course. You do, however, need to schedule such a test in advance.

Do you offer Chinese courses in the summer?

Yes. Feel free to ask about such information from Yi Xu.

Study Abroad

Can you recommend some overseas Chinese programs?

In addition to Pitt-sponsored programs in China (below), depending on your proficiency and goal, we may recommend different overseas programs to you. We encourage you to go to good study-abroad programs with a standard curriculum, strict classroom and teacher contact time, and clear course goals. If you are considering transferring earned credits in language courses back to Pitt, we encourage you to consider the following programs:  

IUP (Inter-University Program)
ACC (Associated Colleges in China)
CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange) 
The Alliance for Global Education in Shanghai


Where can I go to find more information about the Chinese Language Program?

We are on the 27th floor of the Cathedral of Learning; you could also e-mail the Coordinator of the Chinese Language Program Yi Xu.

Where can I go to find more information about getting a Chinese major/minor?

Please contact Noriko Higashitani for questions about a major or a minor, as well as information about courses in literature, culture, and film.