Frequently Asked Questions

Is Chinese difficult to learn?

Chinese was traditionally one of the most difficult foreign languages for an American student to learn. According to the U.S. State Department, a true beginner will spend about five times more time and effort to reach the advanced level of Chinese than to reach the same level of Spanish.

You may find Chinese pronunciation a little difficult in the beginning, but you will get used to it very quickly. Chinese grammar is actually very logical and quite simple. The Chinese writing system is the most difficult aspect of the language. Instead of the alphabet system, Chinese people, for more than 4,000 years, have used a pictographic system that consists of thousands of Chinese characters. Learning to write these characters by hand can take a very long time.

Learning Chinese is now much easier because the language can be learned on computers. By inputting Chinese characters, you can practice speaking, listening, reading and writing at the same time.

Our first-year Chinese course is designed to make your Chinese learning experience unprecedentedly efficient. Computers are used for class exercises, assignments, quizzes and exams. In a few weeks, you will be able to write your first Chinese email, and by the end of the year, you will be able to write and speak confidently with a native Chinese speaker.

What Chinese level can I reach if I start to learn Chinese at Brandeis?

If you are a true beginner, you will reach advanced Chinese in three years (six semesters). You will be able to speak and write in a graceful way with idiomatic phrases and understand Chinese news broadcasts and Chinese newspapers. If you take Chinese for four years at Brandeis, you can reach the high advanced level so that Chinese is a true working language for you (closer to a well-educated native speaker). This process can be shortened if you choose to study abroad.

What textbooks are we using?

For the first-year course, we use Integrated Chinese Level One, the most popular beginning textbook in the United States. For all the other courses, we use Harvard textbooks, many of which were written or edited by our faculty members.

Are we learning Mandarin or Cantonese?

You are learning Mandarin or Putonghua, the standard Chinese language spoken by one billion people. Cantonese, by contrast, is one of the major dialects, spoken by the people of South China, Hong Kong and some overseas Chinese communities.

Are we using traditional Chinese characters or simplified characters?

Simplified-the new writing system-is used by people in mainland China and Singapore while the traditional or old writing system is used by people in Taiwan, Hong Kong and some overseas Chinese communities. In the first-year course, you will learn only simplified Chinese. For intermediate courses and above, you may choose to study either system or both systems. With advances in computer technology, the two writing systems are just a click away.

How can I read and write Chinese on a computer?

Generally speaking, a computer (PC or Mac) is Chinese ready if it is less than four years old. You don't need additional software. Just go to the control panel and add the Chinese input method. Your instructor will guide you through this process. There are also a lot of useful and free tools online, including English-Chinese and Chinese-English dictionaries.