Minoring in Chinese at the 5Cs

Hi Everyone!! My name is Malena, I’m currently a sophomore, and I’m minoring in Chinese. Today I’m going to talk about how I chose that path, what the process is at Scripps, and what minoring in Chinese entails! The Chinese Department is offered through Pomona College, and one of the cool things about Scripps and being a part of the college consortium is that we can take classes at any of the 5 Colleges (5Cs). This also means that if a program is not offered at Scripps (although those are few and far between) you can choose to minor or major at one of the other campuses. 

In college, you can start fresh or be placed into an appropriate language level. I took Mandarin for 3 years in high school. So, the summer before my first semester on campus, I took an online placement test through Pomona College. Things work a little different at each Claremont college, as the placement test is sometimes hosted in person during orientation week, but Pomona has a completely virtual placement test experience. Either way, the test functions as a way to see where your knowledge lands and enroll you in an appropriate college-level course. Unless you are planning to start fresh (aka take beginner Mandarin) you will need to take the placement test to enroll in a course. I highly suggest if you have a prior background in a language. This is because Scripps requires students to take 3 semesters of a foreign language course or get to level three of a language (whichever comes first). However, you are also able to test out of language requirements if you test above the intermediate level. Furthermore, college language classes are faster-paced than high school ones, so I think the placement test does a pretty accurate job of placing students in appropriate courses. 

As for how the Chinese department and classes are structured at Pomona, we have an awesome group of professors, T.A.s, as well as Language Partners. Language Partners are resources that are a part of Oldenborg Center, a language living and learning dorm on Pomona’s campus. They are typically international students doing an exchange for 1-2 years and the Mandarin language partners have been so sweet. They also put on events for their respective language program, such as mooncake making for Mid-Autumn Festival/中秋节. As for classes, I tested into Intermediate, but each level is structured similarly in that beginner, intermediate, and advanced Mandarin are split into two semesters. For beginner Mandarin, I believe you start with a study of traditional characters, and after your first class, you choose between studying simplified or traditional characters. Besides the traditional sequence of classes, there are also intermediate and higher level classes offered for heritage/bilingual learners. This includes a spring course of the two semesters of intermediate combined into one. Besides content classes, there are also conversation classes that range from Intermediate to advanced levels to help students work on functional fluency and pronunciation. These classes are run by the language partners and also don’t have tests/quizzes! 

Talking about resources for Mandarin, as I mentioned earlier, college language classes are faster-paced than the ones I took in high school; however, the professors and resources available made the classes manageable. Workload wise there are weekly homework assignments. In intermediate, there are also weekly vocal quizzes and weekly unit tests. In advanced, there are still the vocabulary quizzes but only 2 tests, aside from midterms and the final. In advanced we also work on writing skills with biweekly essays and our speaking skills with several presentations throughout the semester. In addition to work for any level of Mandarin classes, there is also a language table requirement. This means about 10 times a semester we have to eat lunch at Oldenborg (the dorm has its own dining hall) at the Mandarin table. This is a way to meet students and practice real-life scenarios to apply your language skills. Oldenborg lunches are a requirement for every level of Mandarin, and while they may seem intimidating, everyone is usually super sweet and willing to help. I suggest bringing a buddy so you always have someone to riff off of, but the experience of sitting with other language learners, native speakers, and sometimes professors is invaluable. I’ve enjoyed being able to go with friends every week and I can actually hear myself improving (in comfort and speed) in my Mandarin abilities. 

Minoring in Chinese has its own set of minor requirements. Additionally, since it is an off-campus minor, you will have to get a permission form signed by the Scripps registrar, which is very simple. For the minor, you will need to take both sequences of Advanced Mandarin (111A and 111B). You will then need to take 4 upper-level Mandarin courses, one of which can be taught in English. Overall that’s 6 total classes, and every semester there is a host of interesting and informative classes to expand your Mandarin repertoire. Some upper level classes include digital news reading, gender in China, and classical Chinese. I chose to minor in Mandarin because I want to improve my fluency (obviously) and I am also interested in Linguistics, so I hope to combine those areas. Furthermore, I want to study abroad, specifically in China, and the minor was an easy choice to meet the language requirements to study abroad and to receive credits for the classes I take abroad. Study abroad for Scripps students is run through our study abroad office, SAGE, and you would work with our advisors to make sure you have the language requirements met and that Scripps will accept the program you choose. Luckily there are numerous well-established study abroad programs that Scripps and Pomona accept, like CET, CIEE, and IES.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my experience in the Mandarin department. We are a tight-knit group, and it has been fun to pursue language and academic interests outside my native languages. To anyone considering Chinese minor/majors or ones in Japanese, I highly recommend checking out the website (https://www.pomona.edu/academics/departments/asian-languages-literatures/chinese).