Frank discussion about language university graduates and their fluency. Watch

Stumpy1001
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Basically I'm looking for some genuine/honest feedback from graduates/ post graduates who can share their opinion after graduating the extent of their language ability.

I study Mandarin and am due to start University this September, any former uni Chinese student would be great but any language student will suffice.

I am concerned with the level of tuition that you receive within universities at present, even with the year abroad taken in to account, can fluency be really achieved?

I been reading and talking to a few people and the general point that keeps popping up especially within the study of Chinese is that there is a chasm between those that study in the UK and those that do solely in China.

I can already here some people saying well go the China and study then. Simply put I cannot, as to why I cannot we can discuss this later if necessary but now it’s not relevant to what I am asking.

Like I said this is where the honesty part comes in

Any thoughts , Are universities basically selling a pipe dream?
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sophia5892
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Personally I've found the biggest challenge is maintaining fluency post-graduation. Particularly oral-fluency!

Background
I studied French, German, and Japanese. French and German were post-A Level, Japanese was ab-initio. My uni provided 3 hours per week contact time for French & German, 6 hours for Japanese (reflects F&G being 20 credits, and J being 40). For my Year Abroad I spent 10 months studying in Japan (special programme for international students delivered in English alongside Japanese language study). I also spent 4 weeks at a language school in Germany, and 3 weeks at one in Canada.

Results
First class degree with First class results in all 3 languages.
I'd self-assess fluency on graduation as being CEFR C1 for French and German and B2 for Japanese.
In terms of external assessments...I sat and narrowly failed JLPT2 at the end of my Year Abroad (I hadn't prepared to take JLPT as it was a last minute decision so this shows my ability without dedicated study). I was assessed at C1 for the French and German language courses I took as part of my year abroad.

However, points to bear in mind:
In Japan I socialised mainly with foreign students speaking English and did not fully take advantage of opportunities to practice.
I'm rather lazy and never really studied that much or revised properly. For example, I hate kanji and that's my big weakness in Japanese... I never really did anything to address this beyond meeting the minimum homework requirements.
In final year I skipped a lot of my Japanese classes and regularly didn't do the prep work expected of us.
I took only 2 cultural modules per year due to taking 80 credits of core language... so I wasn't as exposed to my languages in other classes as single/dual linguists would be and I didn't write any essays or read any books/research in my languages for my cultural modules - I studied 2 classes of Dutch and selected other modules that required assessment in English.

Essentially, there's a lot more I could have done to improve my level of fluency, particularly in Japanese!
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tomf27
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Learning a language, especially a language as difficult as Chinese, takes hundreds of hours (thousands in the case of Chinese). While the university can offer a few hours a week of tuition a majority of the work is going to have to be done by yourself. From what I've heard, the language ability of final year language students can be anywhere from B1 to high C1. The university can only help you so much, the main amountaof progress you make will depend on how much time and effort you yourself actually put into learning the language in your own time.
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umbrellala
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When I went to my open days, I ended up choosing the university I did because they were very open and honest about how much work I needed to put in outside of lectures and beyond my homework if I wanted to have a good level of fluency by the end of my degree. Other universities I'd visited spoke about the course like it was just as time-demanding as any other university course, which I knew wouldn't be true (and it certainly hasn't turned out to be true). Ultimately, whilst the university will give you what's absolutely essential, you have to use that as a springboard for your own learning because it's the effort that you put in which will give you the fluency you want.
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Stumpy1001
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(Original post by umbrellala)
When I went to my open days, I ended up choosing the university I did because they were very open and honest about how much work I needed to put in outside of lectures and beyond my homework if I wanted to have a good level of fluency by the end of my degree. Other universities I'd visited spoke about the course like it was just as time-demanding as any other university course, which I knew wouldn't be true (and it certainly hasn't turned out to be true). Ultimately, whilst the university will give you what's absolutely essential, you have to use that as a springboard for your own learning because it's the effort that you put in which will give you the fluency you want.
So the story I keep hearing about language degrees having more contact hours than other uni courses, in your opinion is not true?
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umbrellala
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(Original post by Stumpy1001)
So the story I keep hearing about language degrees having more contact hours than other uni courses, in your opinion is not true?
Depends which courses you're comparing it to, but it is true for the most part. I have 10hrs a week for my language classes alone (I'm a first year). With other modules added in, it adds up to 15hrs total a week which is similar to my friends doing sciences but a lot more than my friends doing English Lit or other humanities. I was just saying that although you might have a lot of contact hours, you also need to put in a lot of extra time outside of that. My friend doing biochemistry has 18hrs a week but doesn't spend the same amount of time working outside of contact hours as I do. When I said that my course wasn't 'just as time-demanding as any other university course' I meant that it is significantly more time-demanding in my experience, not less.
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MichaMicha
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Hi,

I would say that European languages are taught very poorly where I am. They say we have achieved C1 by the end of our course but I’d put it more at B2. These are of course very subjective, but although people test out at a C1 level their fluency is often quite poor with speaking or writing. On the other hand, the people that I have met that did Chinese generally seem to have gone on to study Chinese at masters, and my friend is sometimes mistaken for being from an autonomous community in China, but she was VERY proactive about her Chinese studies and has a lot of friends from China. Chinese is a good option as it is often in part funded by a Confucius institute or the Chinese government and they tend to have good teachers.

On the negative side, languages are being cut like crazy. I only have 3 hours of language classes a week in my final year which isn’t enough. You have to do a huge amount of work by yourself and you absolutely cannot fall behind. We had strikes for 6 weeks and we missed a huge chunk of grammar that I am still teaching myself (I’m finishing final year) which is horrible. I have a first so far (my culture modules made up for it) and I test out to just B2 :/
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tomf27
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Out of interest, what university do you study at?
(Original post by MichaMicha)
Hi,

I would say that European languages are taught very poorly where I am. They say we have achieved C1 by the end of our course but I’d put it more at B2. These are of course very subjective, but although people test out at a C1 level their fluency is often quite poor with speaking or writing. On the other hand, the people that I have met that did Chinese generally seem to have gone on to study Chinese at masters, and my friend is sometimes mistaken for being from an autonomous community in China, but she was VERY proactive about her Chinese studies and has a lot of friends from China. Chinese is a good option as it is often in part funded by a Confucius institute or the Chinese government and they tend to have good teachers.

On the negative side, languages are being cut like crazy. I only have 3 hours of language classes a week in my final year which isn’t enough. You have to do a huge amount of work by yourself and you absolutely cannot fall behind. We had strikes for 6 weeks and we missed a huge chunk of grammar that I am still teaching myself (I’m finishing final year) which is horrible. I have a first so far (my culture modules made up for it) and I test out to just B2 :/
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Stumpy1001
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(Original post by tomf27)
Out of interest, what university do you study at?
id like to know that as well. Final year three hours a week is a joke . How do they justify that I mean seriously ?
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MichaMicha
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(Original post by Stumpy1001)
id like to know that as well. Final year three hours a week is a joke . How do they justify that I mean seriously ?
Yeah it’s awful. I don’t know how we are supposed to be even half-decent. I don’t know if it’s as bad as in a lot of other universities but it’s heading that way from what I hear from other students. I’d rather not say outright which uni I’m at since they watch social media a lot and have tried to silence people before about negative comments on social media / block students from talking, but it’s a Russel Group university famous for engineering and starting with ‘S’ ....

Waste of a degree and depressed about it. Was a lot better in first year as we had 11+ hours of language alone. The funding crisis really hit us hard, they just give it all to engineering now :/

But Chinese is actually in a different department so it’s worth checking with any prospective universities, as if Chinese is in an East-Asian studies situation and not part of languages (sounds odd but they do it a lot) then they will have different funding sources.
Last edited by MichaMicha; 1 month ago
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tomf27
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I'm guessing Sheffield? It was my first choice, until i heard a lot of bad things from others about the funding and the number of modules being dropped and lack of staff and so on... The more I hear, the more i'm glad I decided against it being my first choice haha. It sucks that you got hit hard by the funding crisis though, especially since it's something so totally out of your control.
(Original post by MichaMicha)
Yeah it’s awful. I don’t know how we are supposed to be even half-decent. I don’t know if it’s as bad as in a lot of other universities but it’s heading that way from what I hear from other students. I’d rather not say outright which uni I’m at since they watch social media a lot and have tried to silence people before about negative comments on social media / block students from talking, but it’s a Russel Group university famous for engineering and starting with ‘S’ ....

Waste of a degree and depressed about it. Was a lot better in first year as we had 11+ hours of language alone. The funding crisis really hit us hard, they just give it all to engineering now :/

But Chinese is actually in a different department so it’s worth checking with any prospective universities, as if Chinese is in an East-Asian studies situation and not part of languages (sounds odd but they do it a lot) then they will have different funding sources.
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MichaMicha
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(Original post by tomf27)
I'm guessing Sheffield? It was my first choice, until i heard a lot of bad things from others about the funding and the number of modules being dropped and lack of staff and so on... The more I hear, the more i'm glad I decided against it being my first choice haha. It sucks that you got hit hard by the funding crisis though, especially since it's something so totally out of your control.
It’s a shame because it really is a nice city and the lecturers are lovely, they have no control on this though it’s all the admin honestly would recommend it otherwise. Best of luck on your languages journey, it’s really hard to sift through what is true and what is just marketing. Chinese is a really good choice, I hope you enjoy it wherever you end up going . Most of all, even at a ‘bad’ uni, it’s what you make of it and managing your time to get the most out of your language.
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Blank13
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(Original post by Stumpy1001)
Basically I'm looking for some genuine/honest feedback from graduates/ post graduates who can share their opinion after graduating the extent of their language ability.

I study Mandarin and am due to start University this September, any former uni Chinese student would be great but any language student will suffice.

I am concerned with the level of tuition that you receive within universities at present, even with the year abroad taken in to account, can fluency be really achieved?

I been reading and talking to a few people and the general point that keeps popping up especially within the study of Chinese is that there is a chasm between those that study in the UK and those that do solely in China.

I can already here some people saying well go the China and study then. Simply put I cannot, as to why I cannot we can discuss this later if necessary but now it’s not relevant to what I am asking.

Like I said this is where the honesty part comes in

Any thoughts , Are universities basically selling a pipe dream?
I wouldn't say they're selling a pipe dream as long as they include the option for a year abroad. My Spanish is pretty good now (I'm going on my year abroad this September) but I'd say unless you have a group of Spanish speaking friends and work your backside off it's probably impossible to go much beyond B2/C1 without living in the country for a year or more.

I think you may be confusing fluency with being on par with a native speaker. Fluency means you have knowledge of a wide range of vocabulary all the grammar and use it largely without mistakes. (Let's face it, how many English people could be considered fluent if perfect grammar and an extensive vocabulary were the key criteria?) Even if you achieve fluency that doesn't put you on par with a native speaker, one of my professors has lived in England 20 years and she still gets tripped up by idioms, slang and her pronunciation is still very recognisably Spanish. To achieve 'Native level' fluency you need to live in a country for years, adopt the local accent, learn the idioms and the nuances of the words, things you cannot teach in 3 years with roughly 12 hours of workshops and seminars per week.

If you are good at languages and take full advantage of the year abroad you will become fluent in that you use the grammar, vocabulary and a reasonable range of idioms well and could happily live and work in that country. To become Native level fluent requires probably 10 years or so but at least if you study the language at Uni you'll have the opportunity to work in that country and achieve Native fluency.
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