People go to China for a variety of reasons—to travel, to adopt children, to visit family, to find work or internships, or to advance their understanding of Chinese culture and language. For those individuals serious about studying Mandarin Chinese, finding a respectable and intense language instruction center may pose a challenge. Associated Colleges in China, a hidden gem among all of the study-in-China programs, may be an ideal option.
Founded in 1996 as a result of collaboration between Lawrence University, Hamilton College, and Williams College, Associated Colleges in China (ACC) is an intensive language study center located at the Capital University of Business and Economics in Beijing. The program stands out for its excellent teaching, fast-paced academics, small class sizes, close relationships between students and instructors, and strictly enforced language pledge.
ACC requires a minimum of one to two years of previous college-level Mandarin instruction or the equivalent. The program offers spring, summer, and fall semesters, and it strongly encourages students to sign up for two terms as teachers have found it takes a minimum of five to six months for students to reach a level of considerable fluency in the language. A semester at ACC is equivalent to a college year of language instruction, and a day of the program covers the same amount of material an average Mandarin course does in a week.
Students attend four hours of class daily from Monday through Thursday. They prepare for classes by reading, listening to, and understanding the lesson, memorizing vocabulary, and completing homework. They can also ask teachers questions during office hours, held from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday nights. On the day of class, teachers arrive early and write important vocabulary and grammar sentence patterns on the board. The large-group classes of up to ten students begin at 8 a.m. with a dictation consisting of short phrases and sentences from the prepared texts. The teacher then calls on students to use sentence patterns written on the board to describe the content of the lesson. As the class moves through the story, the instructor clarifies usage of words, phrases, and sentence patterns, and then asks students to create examples with them to ensure their understanding.
At 9 a.m. students attend drills classes with about three other students. Instructors write six to eight important sentence patterns on the board along with a “bank” of previously studied phrases, idioms, and sentence patterns. He or she then asks students guided questions meant to encourage them to use the new structures in different environments. In this manner, students deepen and expand their understanding while reviewing previously studied material.
After drills, students have a twenty-minute break and then proceed to a dialogue class in which two students hold a discussion about a prepared topic. This opportunity allows students to use previously studied material in a different context and practice holding discussions of relative depth in Chinese. The instructor actively corrects students’ grammar and tones, points out chances to use new sentence structures, and provides new or forgotten vocabulary the students need to convey their ideas to one another. At the fourth-year level and beyond a Classical Chinese course may take the place of the dialogue class twice a week.
Finally, students attend a one-on-one course with an instructor in which they may ask questions and practice using new grammatical and idiomatic constructions. The content of the class may include the studied text but often branches off to other topics of the student’s interest. The nature of this course allows students to grow closer to the ACC instructors, and many participants cite it as one of their favorite parts of the program. Moreover, the course gives instructors the opportunity to identify and correct students’ individual problems with grammar and pronunciation. Such individualized teaching helps students progress at a fast pace and gain confidence in their speaking abilities.
After class, students may go to restaurants, small supermarkets, or the school cafeteria for lunch. Many ACC participants enjoy the local baoziguanr that serves up small steamed buns filled with vegetables and/or meat, and students and instructors alike also frequent the nearby jianbing place that specializes in crepe-omelet sandwiches with sauces, green scallions, lettuce, fried wafers and other desired fillings. Students spend afternoons exploring Beijing, going to the local gym, participating in extracurricular activities and completing homework. Evenings are spent studying for the following day’s lesson.
Extracurricular activities are held once a week and are taught by ACC instructors. Participants may choose from Chinese Cooking, Ping Pong, Chinese Chess, Chinese Painting, Calligraphy, and individual 15- to 30-minute pronunciation tutorials. ACC also arranges for local scholars to provide lectures for students and faculty. All extracurricular classes and most lectures are given in Mandarin Chinese. Examples of visiting scholars from 2008 included a traditional Chinese musical quintet, a well-known Beijing photographer, an expert on tea, and a scholar specializing in famous Chinese essayists.
ACC goes to extensive lengths to ensure that students make the most of their time in China. On weekends, students may visit their Chinese host families or get together with their Chinese language partners. In addition, ACC organizes an activity every weekend to further introduce students to the local culture. All transportation costs and entrance fees are covered by tuition, and instructors also participate in them. Activities in 2008 included going to the famous Beijing acrobatics show, visiting the Great Wall, Jingshan Park, the Peking Opera, a well-known teahouse, and attending a contemporary play. ACC also organizes weekend trips for students. One Friday night last year, ACC participants stayed in a countryside area and chatted with locals about changes in their lifestyles in recent years. Another weekend they took a day trip to Longqing Gorges, rode a riverboat, hiked and bungee jumped.
In addition to weekend adventures, summer semester students go on one multi-day trip to a different location in China, and academic semester students go on two trips. Past destinations include Xi’an, Luoyang, Datong, Shanghai, Huangshan, and Chengdu. ACC buys hard-sleeper train tickets, books high-end hotel rooms, and arranges for a tour bus and tour guide to take students to locations of interest. All ACC-arranged travel, hotel, and ticket costs and some of the meals are included in ACC’s comprehensive tuition, so no students are excluded from the travels due to finances. During the four day trip to Xi-an, ACC took students to see Huaqing Hot Springs, Famen Temple, the Terracotta Army Museum, and the mausoleum of Western Han Emperor Liu Qi, and then also gave them two days to explore other places of interest in Xi’an on their own. ACC’s excursions reflect the program’s general philosophy of cultivating work hard, play hard attitudes and personal understanding of China.
These trips and weekend travels pale in comparison to the intensity of ACC’s language courses. At ACC, the top priority is Mandarin studies, and students looking for more travel- or culture-oriented programs or who are hoping for a relaxing time in China would be best to choose a different study center. But for students willing to devote six months to speaking nothing but Mandarin and studying Chinese at an intensive pace, ACC offers the opportunity for them to do so.