(Original post by SEHughes)
My gripe is with the language modules.
The language course is mis-sold as a beginner's course; they allow non-beginners in contrary to what's stated on the website, and then set first year tests to push the better students, who are with a couple of outliers all from this non-beginner group. The result is that everyone else suffers without putting in massive amounts of extra work.
The advice given on getting past language issues is pitiful. "Keep writing the characters" or if that fails, lots of shouting seems to be the primary tactic for some staff members.
In 2008 (the year I started), time was taken out of first year Mandarin class hours for some dusty old Austrian to tell us mildly interesting but generally useless facts about how difficult the language is to learn, different romanisations etc, and then subject us to the ludicrous task of learning all 214 Kangxi radicals with numbers - understanding the way characters break down into their semantic parts is useful but this approach just distracts from the more important task of developing some useful proficiency in the spoken language.
The first year is taught in traditional characters, and then you're expected to switch effortlessly to simplified after a twenty minute explanation near the end of the second term. This is done on the baseless assumption that it's easier to learn it that way rather than simplified first.
Some staff members are insistent that Chinese cannot be learned to near-native fluency by Westerners, and yet seem qualified to teach interpreting-type classes in the third year.
The approach to going through the first-year textbook in some cases was to get students to memorise the example passages in order to recite them.
Not much to complain about - the teaching at BNU is generally good, although the textbooks are pretty cheesy. My main gripe is the generally useless Classical Chinese class that's taken in this year, which consists of a jolly toothless Beijinger translating passages from classical Chinese into Mandarin - and then the test given at the end of year is classical to English.
There are two different third-year language classes. Getting to grips with some real Chinese literature was enjoyable, but the grammar lessons in this same class were just awful. It was literally like someone reciting a reference grammar for an hour at a time, e.g. the proper choice of interjections when the preceding word ends with a certain consonant. Is it 啊/哪/呢/哦/啦... who cares?!
Mercifully, not taking any Chinese language classes this year.
Ultimately, I think the department's MO is a sink or swim approach - those that swim do so despite the teaching method, whether it's their prior knowledge or the huge sacrifice of time they put in to catch up. The department then takes all the credit for it. I would gladly grin and bear it if I thought it was all about putting in a reasonable effort, as it seems to be with other language classes in SOAS. Sadly this is not the case in their department, hence my massive cynicism.