So I’ve finished my third term and moved on to my fourth at MTC.

As I’ve mentioned recently, my third term didn’t go so well. For one, I didn’t have the greatest teacher ever. She’s a wonderful person, just not a very good teacher. My classmates thought she was great because she was energetic and entertaining, but I’m not there to be entertained. We spent way too much time analyzing the plots of the radio plays, and not enough time practicing the new language we were learning. So my speaking ability didn’t improve much. I will say that my listening ability improved a lot, and that’s a big part of why I chose the class in the first place, so it wasn’t a total loss.

However, I can’t blame my disappointing progress on her. I let the class get me down to the point that I didn’t do much studying on the side either, or at least not as much as I wanted to. And that’s where the bulk of my improvement has come from.

So here’s kind of where I am now. My listening is pretty good right now, to the point that I can understand pretty much everything I hear in daily life or on TV (aside from some news). I can listen to university lectures on a range of topics and follow along fairly well unless they get into more specialized topics (survey courses are my friends right now). My reading and writing are both decent (of course I still have a long way to go). But my speaking still needs a lot of work, and right now is my most glaring weakness. Daily things are no problem at all, even taking care of important things at the immigration office or the bank. But ask me to discuss more serious issues (debt crisis in Greece, anyone?), and I stutter and stumble all over myself. Even in my own areas of academic interest, I can’t handle myself at all.

This summer I’m talking a class called 臨時新聞:口語訓練. It’s two hours per day (no more intensive classes at this level). The first hour is spent discussing yesterday’s news with each other. The topics are up to the students to decide. Two to three people each day are assigned to bring in a topic, then we all discuss it. If there’s time left in the first hour, other students can bring up other news stories. The second hour is spent reading through a recent (within the past 2 days) newspaper article of the teacher’s choice. So far, it has taken two days per article, because she explains a bit and then we discuss a bit, and so on.

I have to say, I’m very impressed with the class so far. The teacher is fantastic. She actually speaks like a Taiwanese person (no exaggerated retroflex initials or 兒化), which is a breath of fresh air at MTC. She wants to talk as little as possible during the first hour, so we (the students) actually have to talk. It’s great. It’s what I need more than anything else right now.

The class moves quickly. Compare it to Newspaper I, which is also a Level 6 class. Even if they finish the book, which would only happen in an intensive course (and there isn’t one this summer), that’s 24 newspaper articles (2 per chapter). At the rate we’re going, we’ll read 30 articles this term as a class. However, since our only homework is to watch or read the news every day (and I personally take that to mean “read at least one full newspaper article in the morning before class”), the real number might end up being something like 90 articles. We’ve been learning around 50 new words per day, which if you’ve studied at MTC, you’ll know that’s a serious departure from the norm.

Since my only homework is to read and/or watch the news, my load is pretty light. And since my class is in the afternoon, I have several hours before class to study other things. Every morning this week I’ve studied from TOCC and Shadick, in addition to reading the newspaper. So by the time I get out of class at 2:10, I’ve already accomplished the meat of what I need to do each day. The afternoon is spent doing SRS reviews, reading whatever I feel like, etc.

This term, I’m also thinking about taking the 台語 class offered at MTC. It’s only 2 hours per week, but the teacher is the same teacher I have in class, and she apparently wrote the textbook that Taiwanese school kids use for their mandatory 台語 classes. So it should be good.

Oh, and Japanese. I have to do this. It will help me tremendously when applying for PhD programs if I can say I already read Japanese. So I’m starting (again) with Assimil Japanese. That’s for another post though, because the method I’m using for that is kind of an experiment for me. If it’s successful I’ll talk about it more here, but that will be a few months away.

As an aside: please, please, please go read Cal Newport’s blog Study Hacks. I read some of his stuff several months back, and the following term I was able to skip two levels at MTC because I had been so productive in my studying after using some of his ideas. I’ve come back to it recently, and again it has been a tremendous help. I have nothing to do with his site whatsoever other than the fact that I think it’s some of the most clear, usable advice I’ve ever seen when it comes to organizing my study time.

Thanks for reading, as always.