Paul has been learning Chinese since 1967. He studied Mandarin and Taiwanese in the United States and Taiwan.
Learning Chinese Since 1967
I have been learning Chinese since 1967. While in the Navy, I began learning Chinese by taking a 37-week Mandarin aural comprehension course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, from October 1967 until July 1968.
Next, I studied spoken Mandarin Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University for three months in 1971.
After returning to the United States, I learned vernacular Mandarin and written Chinese at the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1972–1973.
I did not stop learning Chinese after I left the University of Wisconsin. While working with the federal government as a Chinese linguist, I attended Chinese Mandarin and Taiwanese courses in Maryland and Taiwan from 1980–2007.
In this article, I recall my Chinese classes, teachers, classmates, lodging, and extracurricular activities while studying at the University of Wisconsin.
Why I Learned Chinese at the University of Wisconsin
After I graduated from high school in 1962, learning Chinese was unthought of. I had wanted to become a doctor, so I enrolled in a pre-med curriculum at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
When I didn't get into medical school, I eventually received my draft notice. Instead of subjecting myself to conscription into the U.S. Army, I enlisted in the Navy.
While taking occupational aptitude tests, the Navy found out that I had an aptitude for learning languages. Consequently, my first duty assignment after basic training was to learn Chinese at the Defense Institute Language in Monterey, California. From October 1967 until July 1968 I completed a 37-week Chinese Mandarin aural comprehension course.
I used my listening and speaking skills in Mandarin while stationed in Taiwan from November 1968-March 1970. During my last 10 months in the Navy, I wasn't able to use my Chinese Mandarin skills.
In January 1971, I separated from the Navy and returned to Tawan to learn more Mandarin at the Mandarin Training Center of National Taiwan Normal University. I attended spoken Mandarin classes for three months before returning home to Wisconsin in June 1971.
The period from June-September 1971 was a very confusing time in my life. I was unsure about my future life plans. On one hand, I didn't want to throw away my knowledge of chemistry earned while getting a B.S. degree. A possibility for me would be to return to the university and get certified as a high school chemistry teacher.
Another more appealing option was to learn more Chinese at the University of Wisconsin. I wasn't sure how I would use my Chinese for future employment but I was anxious to get back to Taiwan again.
After talking with two close former college friends, I decided to follow my heart in making a decision. A few days later, I met with Chinese professors in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature in Madison. They were impressed by my performance at DLI and my experience using Chinese Mandarin in Taiwan. A few weeks later, I was accepted into a Master's degree program in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature.
My First Semester in Madison -- February-May 1972
I approached my first semester of graduate work in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature with joy and excitement. Finally, I was continuing my study of Chinese with the hope of earning a Master's Degree in Chinese. In the following sections, I detail my classes, instructors, lodging, and extracurricular activities from February through May 1972.
My First Semester Classes and Instructors
After meeting with an academic advisor, I decided to audit Second-Semester Chinese and enroll in three courses. The three courses included Chinese Pronunciation Exercises, Intellectual History of China 1911-1949, and Social and Intellectual History of China up to 1911. Each course is now briefly described.
I audited this course because I had already taken a 37-week Chinese Mandarin aural-comprehension course at DLI a few years earlier. The second-semester class was primarily a review of Chinese characters and grammar that I already knew. I remember using a textbook written by John DeFrancis and Professor Chen's handouts.
Arthur Gwang-Tsai Chen was a young professor from Taiwan who lectured three or four times a week. Two young graduate teaching assistants, a male surnamed Wang and a female surnamed Ma, practiced spoken Chinese with students in small discussion sections. Chen was an energetic instructor who used the direct method of teaching vocabulary.
Chinese Pronunciation Exercises
The purpose of this course was to improve my Chinese pronunciation. An elderly Chinese woman met with my small class of eight students twice a week. We practiced reading passages from a Chinese reader.
Intellectual History of China -- 1911-1949
This course dealt with intellectual trends and changes in China from the time of the overthrow of the Ching Dynasty up to the establishment of the Communist Peoples Republic of China.
Maurice Meisner was a young Marxist professor who frowned on the subject of my research paper. It was about Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People. This course had an extensive reading list.
Social and Intellectual History of China up to 1911
This history course examined social and intellectual trends and changes in China from the Han dynasty up until the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911.
My professor was Mr. Lin from Taiwan. Although no research paper was required, we had two difficult written exams. This course also required a lot of reading.
My First Semester Lodging
I stayed at the Alpha Chi Sigma fraternity on Lake Street from February through May 1972. It was an easy decision to live in the fraternity because I was a life-long member. I still knew a few brothers who lived in the fraternity and that made it a comfortable place to stay. My lodging was very reasonable and I was only a few blocks from my classes.
First Semester Extracurricular Activities
When not attending classes and studying, Professor Chen arranged extracurricular activities for his students. I also participated in activities through my fraternity and the U.S. Navy Reserve facility in Madison where I had monthly drills.
During the spring months of April and May, Mr. Chen expected all of his students to plant and weed a vegetable garden on campus. In May, he also held a picnic in his backyard that was a few blocks off-campus
Alpha Chi Sigma had two parties while I lived there. There also was an initiation for new members that all brothers attended.
Since I was still a member of the Navy Reserve, I was expected to attend training drills on the last weekend of every month. Navy Reservists had to also have two weeks of active duty training each year. During the last week in March and the first week in April, the Navy sent me to Pensacola, Florida for training. Fortunately, this training coincided with the University's spring break.
Summer Session Second–Year Chinese Study — June–August 1972
After I had finished my first semester at U.W., I had reviewed all of the Chinese I had learned at DLI and increased my character recognition from 300 to 600. I understood basic grammar rules, good pronunciation, and tones, and had good listening and speaking proficiency at the intermediate level.
My next step was getting to an advanced or third-year Chinese level. This was immediately possible because an intensive course in second-year Chinese was beginning in June. The course would run for nine weeks from the second week in June through the middle of August.
Professor Chen was again my chief instructor. He was assisted by Mr. Wang and Miss Ma.
My second-year intensive course met six hours per day Monday through Friday. Mr. Chen introduced new Chinese characters and compounds as well as topics in Chinese culture and society. Long-form characters were taught and the use of Wade-Giles Romanization was discouraged.
Our basic textbook was Twenty Lectures in Chinese Culture. Professor Chen also had many handouts for use in introducing new characters and compounds.
I practiced these in small discussion sections with Wang and Ma. The emphasis was on aural comprehension and speaking. By the end of the summer session, I could recognize 1,000-1,200 characters or about 3,000 words and phrases.
Summer Session Lodging
Before the start of the summer session, I had moved out of the fraternity house. I was now living in the Badger Photographic Society just off of campus. I moved there because a fraternity brother was running the Society's house. My room was much bigger and the rent was reasonable.
Summer Session Extracurricular Activities
My extra-curricular activities were organized by Professor Chen and the Navy Reserve.
During the summer session, Mr. Chen taught Chinese shadow boxing or taijiquan in front of our campus building twice a week during breaks. Toward the end of class in August, Chen also organized a trip for our class to Chicago on a Saturday. While in the Windy City, we visited the Sears Tower and the Museum of Science and Industry. We also had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the Chinatown District.
Immediately after my class finished, the Navy Reserve organized two weeks of Chinese training for me at DLI in Monterey. My training there included reading revised Chinese military documents that were at an intermediate to advanced level.
Third-Year Chinese Study — September 72–May 73
At the beginning of September, I began third-year Chinese study. I was finally starting to make progress toward a Master's in Chinese. In the following sections, I recall my classes and instructors, lodging, and extracurricular activities.
Third-Year Classes and Instructors
During the 1972-1973 school year from September through May, I completed fifth and sixth-semester Chinese, Introduction to Chinese Linguistics, and two semesters each of First-Year Classical Chinese, and Independent Reading.
My fifth and sixth-semester Chinese classes were Readings in Contemporary Chinese Literature. Meeting one hour per day four days a week, we read short stories by Chinese writers who lived during the early 20th century. These included revolutionary authors such as Lu Xun, Ba Jin, Mao Tun, and Guo Morou, I still remember Lu Xun's deeply moving Diary of a Madman and True Story of A-Q
The contemporary Chinese literature instructor was Clara Sun. Ms. Sun was a middle-aged Chinese who grew up in Beijing. She was an excellent teacher who conducted our classes entirely in Chinese Mandarin. We had periodic unannounced vocabulary quizzes and monthly exams.
My First-Year Classical Chinese course was held during two semesters. The purpose of this course was to give a foundation in understanding the grammar and vocabulary of the literary Chinese used up until the 1920s. This literary Chinese is used in newspaper and scholarly works. The textbook used in this course was First Course in Literary Chinese by Harold Shadick.
My Classical Chinese course was taught by Professor Cheng who was from Taiwan. Meeting an hour a day four times per week, we read, translated, and discussed classical texts written by Confucius and Mencius. We also read poetry from the Tang and Song dynasties as well as other classical works.
In Independent reading, I read and discussed the novel Luoto Xiangzi or Rickshaw Boy written by Lao She. My instructor was an elderly woman from Beijing.
During the second semester of the school year, I also completed an Introduction to Chinese Linguistics course. Professor Cheng also taught this course. For this class, I had to complete a research paper. My topic was on the correct use of "hui," "neng," and "keyi" which can all be translated as can in English.
During the 1972-73 school year, I rented a room in a house near Camp Randall Stadium. My landlady was a 50-year-old widow.
Although I was six to eight blocks from my classes on campus, my room was quieter and I had more privacy. My room rent was also less than half of what I paid during the summer session. The only drawback was that I could do no cooking in my room.
Third-Year Extracurricular Activities
My extracurricular activities were with the Navy Reserve and classmates that I grew close to during the school year.
I still attended monthly drills on the last weekend of every month. On March 15, 1973, my six-year enlistment in the U.S. Navy Reserve ended. I got out of the Navy because I had decided to return to Taiwan at the end of May after the end of the school year.
At the beginning of the second semester, I started to persuade four of my classmates to travel to Taiwan with me during the summer of 1973 for Chinese study. John, Todd, Bill, and Jan were all in my contemporary Chinese literature and classical Chinese classes. Based on my previous Taiwan experience 1968-71, I convinced my classmates that Taiwan would be an ideal place for Chinese immersion study.
In preparation for our trip, I strongly suggested that we learn a little of the Taiwanese dialect. We did this by paying a Chinese Department teaching assistant Miss Bai to teach us spoken Taiwanese three hours a week for one or two months.
On one evening in March, I invited my classmates to my landlady's house to view some color slides that I had taken while in Taiwan 1970-71. We had an enjoyable discussion about Taiwan that evening.
Finally, in April, we all traveled to the Republic of China (Taiwan) Consulate in Chicago to apply for visas. Our purpose was to study Chinese in Taiwan for three months.
Before leaving for Taiwan at the end of May, Todd arranged our travel from Chicago to Salt Lake City. We would be saving money by taking a drive-away car on the journey. The second leg of our trip would be by rental car from Salt Lake City to San Francisco where we caught our charter flight to Taiwan.
My Chinese study at the University of Wisconsin ended after the completion of the 1972-73 school year. I got married in Taiwan in June and lived there until 1979.
© 2021 Paul Richard Kuehn
Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 16, 2021:
Liz, learning Chinese is a continuous lifelong challenging adventure. Thanks for your comments!
Liz Westwood from UK on July 16, 2021:
This is an interesting account of your language studies. I have a lot of respect for people who can master languages which are written in a totally different way to their native language.