The First-Year Language Experience
Preparing for college, I knew I wanted to take a language sequence. I think having the ability to speak another language is amazing and provides access to so many incredible opportunities, and I was excited to see Dartmouth's take on language learning since I never felt like I got much out of my high school language classes. Now that we are nearing the end of the term (it sounds so crazy to say), I want to look back on my experience with my first-term language course and give you some insight into what it's like starting a new language at Dartmouth!
Despite having taken French throughout high school, I decided I wanted to take the opportunity to learn Chinese while at Dartmouth! I was very nervous about this at first since Chinese is notoriously difficult for native English speakers, and Dartmouth starts by teaching traditional writing, which is extra challenging, but speaking with faculty members in the Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages Department (ASCL for short) made me feel much more confident in my decision. I also had the added benefit of meeting several people during orientation week who were also interested, so I went in with a great group of friends to study with and help support me through the class. Despite a lot of other people in the class having previous experience with Chinese, the course is laid out to be completely beginner-friendly and does a great job of laying the foundations before we get into the really challenging content. The first week was a crash course in pronunciation before we jumped into self-study of characters and in-class grammar in week two, and by week three, I was constructing full sentences and reading simple texts in traditional Chinese!
Obviously, reading and writing are great, but arguably, much more important is being able to speak the language. That's where "drill" comes in. Three times a week, all students taking an intro-sequence language go to a drill session, basically a small class of around 5-8 people run by a current undergraduate student. The focus of drill is on spoken language, and in a session, we alternate speaking and listening using a variety of different exercises. Being in a small group of people with a shared interest in language makes drill a great place to make friends, and the more casual environment means everyone feels comfortable making mistakes and gaining a better understanding of the language as a team.
Outside of the classroom, there are lots of great opportunities to engage with the ASCL department and Chinese as a language. During parent weekend, I attended the Mid-Autumn Festival Celebration hosted by the department, where all of the different Chinese classes performed poems, songs, and other artistic works in Chinese. The department also hosts afternoon tea and conversation sessions at the Chinese Language House, where students have an opportunity to meet with professors and native speakers and practice casual Chinese. This summer, the department is also hosting a language study abroad program in Beijing!
Despite being one of my sources of both excitement and anxiety at the beginning of the year, I can say that my Chinese class has become one of the things I look forward to doing the most every day. I feel like I've learned so much in such a short time, and I can't wait to see how far I've progressed by the time I finish the introductory language sequence at the end of the spring term!
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Read on to learn about the courses I'm taking this term.