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IUP's Veteran Teacher Shares Tips on Picking the Right School

The Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies (IUP, ieas.berkeley.edu/iup/) has a rich history as the school for those wishing to advance their Chinese language skills. It used to be known as the 'Stanford Center,' which was initially set up in Taipei in 1963 before moving to Beijing’s Tsinghua University in 1997. This year it enjoys its 20-year anniversary in the city.

IUP currently offers a number of programs to students, including a 32-week academic year program, a 16-week semester option, and an eight-week summer intensive program. All of the programs are located on the prestigious Tsinghua University campus in northern Beijing.

Last year, we featured an IUP student who shared his experience of learning Chinese at the school. This year, we talk to one of their longest serving teachers, Kuoman Hua (better known as Hua laoshi among his students), about his impressions of the school.

Hua laoshi


The 39-year-old Beijing-born Hua laoshi epitomizes the center’s strongest attributes of hiring instructors with the long term in mind. "This provides a consistently high-quality language program for serious students," Hua states. He has been with the school for 16 years, teaching IUP’s “Comprehensive Course 主幹課 zhǔgàn kè,” ”Classical Chinese 古文課 gǔwén kè,” ”Chinese Literature 中國文學課 zhōngguó wénxué kè,” and “Student-Selected Materials Seminar 自選材料課 zìxuǎn cáiliào kè.”

Hua graduated from Beijing Normal University, majoring in Chinese language and literature, and despite not initially envisioning himself as a teacher at the beginning of his career, he soon changed his mind. That change came when Hua was recommended to the school by a previous senior colleague, who mentioned how attractive IUP was, saying that it's a “place for romantics and the perfectionists.” That mix would prove the perfect match for Hua.

Hua laoshi and a student hold up their Chinese calligraphy manuscripts


“It’s because of my major. At the beginning, I didn't think teaching was my career, but instead just a job. But when I started to teach Chinese at IUP, I found my calling because the students in our program whose spirit and desire to learn Chinese encouraged me. After communicating with so many smart and thoughtful students, I began to accept that teaching Chinese at IUP was in fact my career.”

The IUP program is a super intensive course that features four hours of class time followed by four-six hours of preparation per day. Students who pick this program are part of a growing alumni network that comes with an abundance of opportunities given that the average caliber of their student’s Chinese is so high.

Hua laoshi assists a student practice writing Chinese characters


The program's uniqueness lies in its instruction; highly individualized classes with a teacher to student ratio of 1:2 make for lessons that are tailored specifically to the students' needs. The student will also be taught and tested in all aspects of Chinese language comprehension. The success of this approach is apparent through the consistently positive results over the program's nearly 55-year history.

"As students improve and reach higher levels in the course of the program, they will have more flexibility to choose more specialized materials to help them achieve their personal language learning objectives. The course is structured so that all students need a high level of competence in speaking, listening, and reading to meet their academic and professional goals," said Hua laoshi.

Hua laoshi leads the class in discussions


The program has a totally immersive Chinese environment to help students maximize and cultivate a habit of using Mandarin in their day to day lives. There's an expectation for the students to only speak Chinese within the program's premises in order to get the most out of the course and experience different situation-based conversations. In the student's progress report, a commitment to this policy will be recorded as the program insists on maintaining this Chinese-only environment.

"Every teacher in our program has a high degree of experience, and most have experienced teaching Chinese at top American universities for at least one year. A highly professional team of teachers, rigorous placement testing and course arrangement, non-commercial teaching purposes, and customized course teaching are the four main areas that set IUP's program apart from all the rest," explained Hua laoshi.

Hua laoshi and a group of students tackle Chinese painting


Hua Lasohi's tips for picking a school/program/center include:

  1. Choose a school where a language pledge is necessary.

  2. Teachers that will correct your mistakes clearly and concisely.

  3. Teachers that have a good measure of experience in teaching Chinese as a second language.

  4. Find out about the program's alumni network, which should provide opportunities after completing a course.

  5. The program should have rich educational resources and supporting facilities such as access to libraries etc.

  6. Based on the characteristics of language teaching, the lower the proportion of teachers to students, the better. A small class size is very important, as they allow for more opportunities to speak Chinese. For example, at IUP the teacher to student ratio is currently 1:2 and course schedules include at least one daily private tutorial and several small group classes per student.


Mandarin Monday is sponsored by Sanfine International Hospital. This post is paid for by IUP.


Images courtesy of IUP


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