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Student and tutor module reviews

Beginners' Chinese

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  • Points: 30
  • Code: L197
  • Level: 1
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Student reviews

I have always wanted to learn Chinese, so started this course with a positive outlook and it didn't change! My tutor supplied very detailed feedback for all 4 TMAs (which were all very short and simple)despite my nervousness at doing the 2 speaking ones. There was also a lot of active participation from the moderator in the course forum, which meant issues and queries were quickly solved with detailed explanations - an important aspect when you are learning a foreign language long-distance.

There are a number of online exercises covering listening, speaking, reading and grammar available for each session, on the course website. I fully recommend taking the time to use them. You can complete each exercise as many times as you like, throughout the course, so they can act as a reminder or as a progress indicator. They also provide further opportunities to see the same vocabulary used in different sentences. There are 4 interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs). They don't get counted towards your overall score, although they are compulsory. You can complete them as often as you like, and you get the answers as soon as you finish them, so again they can be used as a progress indicator or to pinpoint weak spots.

There is a lot of vocabulary to learn. The 2 books are split into several units comprised of several sessions. Each session should be studied within 1 week and each session provides an average of 40 words/phrases - about 15-20 of which are considered key vocabulary. This is a lot, maybe too much. The course material provides an electronic copy of the key vocabulary, which you can use to add study notes to, or grammar points or anything else that will help you remember the words. The listening texts are also available as separate files, so you can listen to them on a mobile device when you're on your way to work or doing your housework etc.

I tried using flash cards at first, to try to learn the Mandarin characters, but soon found I didn't have the time to continue. It didn't matter, as I realised that very quickly I could recognise a great many more characters than I could write. For some, I could recognise how to say them, while others, I could recognise the meaning. When we moved on to book 2, it didn't seem so bad that there was less pinyin provided as I could then concentrate on learning the new words and surprised myself by how many of the previous words I could remember.

Make time to use the practice books. Even if you don't spend much time writing out the characters, do try to do the exercises as they help you remember the words and grammar. There's not too much grammar given and it's pretty clearly explained in the books. I didn't get much use out of the set grammar book though and wouldn't have bought it at all if I'd known it wasn't going to be specifically used (certain grammar sections in the course book direct you to the grammar book, but you don't have to read it and there are no exercises associated with it).

The online tutorials were great for me as they were the only opportunity I had to speak Mandarin to someone other than myself. There are several held throughout the course, so try to attend as many as possible.

If you want to learn a foreign language, then I'd recommend this course for you. Also, there is no residential school, which can be a good thing if you don't have much free time (or you live outside the UK). There are a few study break weeks in the program as well, so you do get a bit of time to catch up if you get behind.

Helen Grace Agiantritis

Course starting: October 2013

Review posted: December 2014

I really enjoyed learning Mandarin, even though I had some reservations about learning a foreign language through distance-learning at the beginning. Having a fab and supportive tutor, along with a wonderful tutor group and classmates, and learning more about Chinese culture alongside the language has made learning this course worthwhile.

I found the workload heavy going most of the time, and felt like it was a 60-credit course rather than a 30-credit one. Went to most of the face-to-face tutorials as I found the classroom environment and interaction more helpful than the online tutorials.

Particularly struggled when we started book 2, which was a huge jump from learning everyday words and basic grammar to material that I felt belonged to a Level 2 course. Maybe it would have been a bit easier if I did not do this alongside three other science courses. The large jump from book 1 to book 2 reflected in both my written and speaking EMA results. Overall, I am happy with my pass result and the quality of the course.

Anna Maria Prince

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: December 2012

I had long wanted to learn Chinese and, after the disappointment of local college Chinese conversation classes, I discovered L197 was starting in September 2009. The course was of the familiar very high OU standard, giving the disciplined and proper, structured language learning I needed. But it is a modern course in style and character, with much learning by doing / speaking, where the grammar and syntax are the choreographers of language learning that enable the depth of understanding that lets you actually speak the language.

It is always harder to learn languages from books and CDs but the OU brings in the tutorials and online speaking practices at the appropriate moments in the course and my personal tutor could not have been more willing to help. I found a Chinese friend to help with speaking practice and I would advise anyone to do this. The assignments were fair and manageable.

Above all, the course was just so very interesting. Indeed, 18 months after finishing the course I have recently started teaching business English at a university in central China as an active retirement; L197 was the catalyst for this fantastic experience.

Peter Brokenshire

Review posted: February 2012

Faculty response

Response to post by Peter Brokenshire:
The lack of speaking opportunities, is the challenge of learning language at a distance. We have revised our online speaking practice exercises and have provided mp3 files for useful sentences.

A very good well structured course and a great introduction to Mandarin. It is a pity that the studying cannot be extended to another level. The reading and writing parts are all very well explained and although the sudden drop in the amount of Pinyin in the second half comes as quite a shock the pain is well worth it as an over reliance on pinyin does lead to a laziness in regard to Character reading and writing.

I only wish that we had been given more opportunities to practise with native mandarin speakers. All the chinese where I live are Cantonese speakers and even when I go to Shanghai on business the local accent is a bit strong for easy conversation.

I look forward in hope for a Level 2 or 3 course along the same lines and only hope that it does not materialise when I have forgotten all I learned this last year.

Timothy Francis Simmons

Course starting: November 2010

Review posted: February 2012

Before starting to review the course I should mention that I have completed two complete Honours Degrees with the OU, (a First and a 2(i)), and that my CV includes our Latin and Ancient Greek modules as well as lots of IT and maths. I have been married for nearly half a century to a Chinese though as she does not speak much Mandarin I did not have an unfair advantage.

I found L197 quite unlike anything else I had ever tried and I mean that in the very best sense. While life changing experiences are something the OU was set up to provide, I found starting to learn Mandarin really was that. I would even say it was one of the most intense learning experiences of my life. And I am still involved, as arising out of the course I was able to join a language exchange which certainly has not ended just because the formal project with which it began is complete. I have to admit that I found the course hard and although I did reasonably well with the TMAs I struggled a bit with the EMAs, especially the spoken one. My wife still says my Mandarin pronunciation needs to improve!

Do not sign up for L197 without realising that there is a great deal of very enjoyable hard work to be done and that, although it is a Level 1 module, it demands determination and self discipline to a greater extent than traditional Foundation Courses ever did. I took T100 and A101 long ago, both of which I enjoyed and benefitted from enormously, but I did not find either of them particularly demanding by comparison. If you want a serious challenge and to get a good grounding in Chinese culture as well as to acquire language skills, then L197 is the module for you. I do wish I had had a similar opportunity back in the 1960s!

The course provides various online tools to help with listening and speaking. The module itself provides a set of speaking, listening and reading exercises with the set work each week. I found them very helpful indeed, more so than New Pepper. I did my best to complete everything set at first but towards the end of the course I found myself short of time and fell off the pace. The module provides more opportunities to practice listening and speaking than I had the time and energy to use fully. So I did my best to manage my time with a view to passing the EMAs. My two particular difficulties are listening and remembering vocabulary well enough to use it in live conversation. I am still working away at both.

My big regret is that there simply is not time to do more calligraphy but I found the handwriting exercises provided in the Practice Books week by week were both fascinating in themselves and a help to learning vocabulary. Even though all the TMAs and the written EMA can be typed on the computer, handwriting really does help. I still have not had time to make as much use of my brushes and ink-stone as I would like!

Course starting: November 2010

Review posted: February 2012

This course was a highly enjoyable discovery of the language and its writing. It is well paced and I achieved a high standard of writing/reading skills. However I failed the speaking exam because of lack of practice. This is the one aspect of the course that lets it down. I wish I could have had more conversational speaking practice with someone, somehow. I don't understand how students are supposed to get it! As an introduction to Mandarin Chinese, it is excellent; shame there is no course to continue with.

Geraldine Commowick

Course starting: November 2009

Review posted: November 2011

Please note

Each of the views expressed above is an individual's very particular response, largely unedited, and should be viewed with that in mind. Since modules are subject to regular updating, some of the issues identified may have already been addressed. In some instances the faculty may have provided a response to a comment. If you have a query about a particular module, please contact your Regional Centre.

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