Getting your MA in Chinese

August 18, 2009, 08:48 AM posted in General Discussion

This discussion started in a Qing Wen episode, but I want to hear some input from other people or hear about experiences related to getting your MA in Chinese Studies or Linguistics with a concentration in Chinese. 

I am interested in knowing about any program or any name of a school to look up to get my MA in Chinese language or Linguistics with a focus on Chinese. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

If you want to give me more detailed information exactly to my situation, you can read below :)

I have just moved back to the west (currently I am in Istanbul, but will be returning to the States sometime September) after living in Sichuan for 2 years. I was working as a Peace Corps volunteer in 攀枝花. I have studied Chinese informally with a tutor for about 16 hours a week for 2 years. I think I have some solid foundations in Chinese (HSK level 3). My strength are in Oral Chinese and my eagerness to learn Chinese and my obsession with Chinesepod.

I am trying to figure out the next step in my life, but one thing is for sure, in 2010/2011 I want to get my MA and preferably in Chinese language. Since I am a native German speaker, I would optimally be interested in actually doing Chinese-German translations.

Anyways, that aside, I want to know how I can start an MA in Chinese, when I have only studied Education for my undergrad. Before my 2 years in China I had no idea about the language, so I am relatively new, and though I think my level isn't the lowest in practice, on paper I don't have anything but the past 2 years to show for Chinese. I don't even have my HSK certificate (different story, but it involved having to leave China with only 4 days notice).

I am looking for programs that would be willing to take me in preferably the Sates or Europe ( I am a dual citizen, so I would actually prefer Europe, cause it'd be cheaper, but am open to anything). I am not even necessarily looking for an MA program, I am just looking for something, even a job, in which I can use my Chinese and am encouraged to continue learning it.

Why not study in China?--- Down the road, yes, but after living sooo sooo far away from everything near and dear, I just want to spend some time with laoweis and family. Also, if I could actually get an MA from an American or European school, I think it'd be better applicable to finding a job in either the US or Europe.

Thank you!

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August 18, 2009, 01:18 PM

Hi, I teach ESL at private Yuan Ze Univ in Taiwan. It is not the best school or in the best area beauty wise. But they give support to intl students to earn degrees. They have a Chinese department but the focus seems more on tradition rather than Chinese programs for foreigners. If I were in your shoes I'd look into the Taiwan Public Universities. They are higher quality. Sites I would look at include: Taiwan Ministry of Education and  Hope this helps.

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August 25, 2009, 07:03 AM

"lizixuan says link to this comment
3 days ago

I am a chinese and dreaming of living in usa.

I think usa is better than chinese."

i don't think so!

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August 19, 2009, 06:21 AM

The points timslsm has made would apply in Australia as well, although I note that it is not your intention to travel to the Antipodes.  Linguistics is its own field and a long way from the typical 'language' study which would most likely be in a culture studies department or an Asian studies department.  In Australia your Chinese level is of no consequence in gaining admission to an MA - all levels are catered for, even native speakers.  (At my old university you would then enter a 'heritage' program.)  You would probably study another language as well, and undertake a research project to complement your language studies. 

I made a point on the other post that is worth making again - if your goal is competence in Chinese language you would probably be better off studying in China. You can develop your reading and writing this way.

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August 19, 2009, 01:59 PM

If you are interested in Chinese and interested in California, SF State has a long-standing Chinese MA program.  It's not a top-tier university but, at the Masters' level, you often find that the expertise of the institution matters much more than the reputation, at least from a learning perspective.  It is interesting that, as Timslin pointed out, many of the selective universities in the US focus on the GRE, money, and who your parents were; SF State requires, among other things, basic competency in reading classical Chinese.

That said, I would be wary of California universities.  They are undergoing budget cuts that, for government hacks anyway, are severe.  Berkeley now excludes non-Chinese majors (including linguistic majors) from studying Chinese due to a combination of budget pressures and the program's popularity.  (It's Berkeley, so I guess they haven't studied Adam Smith!)  

Also, I believe it is quite common to study linguistics in combination with a language.

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August 19, 2009, 02:04 PM

Check out the Flagship program at Ohio State University. You basically take classes in Chinese about modern topics in Chinese culture, business, linguistics, etc.

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August 19, 2009, 04:05 PM


You said top universities focus on "money, and who your parents were"???

If you mean the practice of legacy admissions (ie preference for admitting children of graduates to aid in fundraising) I think that is more of a undergraduate thing - and its a pretty minor effect even there.

But, if we are talking grad school, the top universities have a very different focus in admissions than they do in undergrad admissions.  In undergrad, they want to admit "well rounded people", in other words those who have done tons of extracurricular activities, while getting top grades and test scores.

In Graduate admissions generally (excluding specialty programs like Law, Business, Medicine) the admissions goal is to admit students who have the best potential to do research in their chosen field.  This is especially true for PhD programs, but also for the top MA programs, who often have a high proportion of graduates go on to get a PhD afterwards.  Therefore, one of the most important parts of the app. is the "statement of purpose" - the admissions essay that really shouldn't be about you, but rather about what specific research topic interests you, how the school is suited for it, and how your background has prepared you for it.  The rest of the app is judged by this standard - how does your work experience, if any, prepare you?  Previous classes and academic performance, GRE scores, letters of recomendation, are all judged to get insight into your academic potential.

Its a generally honest process, given its goal.  You might think they should focus more on previous language background - but thats not their purpose.  They are interested in whether you'll likely make a good professor, who has the ability to do interesting research (as best they can muddle through making a guess at this from your current record) - language ability they can teach you. 

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August 19, 2009, 08:20 PM

timslsm, I've only studied business, so you certainly know more about what graduate advisors for other disciplines look for than I do.  You probably don't disagree though, that often students focus too much on a school's overall reputation rather than its actual competencies.

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August 18, 2009, 03:33 PM

If you are interested in programs in the US, just type "Masters Program Chinese" into google, and start checking out the links.  Also try "Masters East Asian Studies" as many have their Chinese department under this broader heading.

First thing, Linguistics is its own special field - if your interest lies in China or learning to speak Chinese, that does not nessecarily mean you are interested in studying linguistics.  I imagine that would be something like studying physics because you are interested in football. 

Outside of linguistics programs, I doubt you'll find any good US University offering a graduate degree just in "Chinese Language" - rather, they will be area or cultural studies type degrees that involve language learning.  In your question, you said it two different ways - once as "Chinese Studies", which will mean cultural and area studies with chinese language in the program, generally.

At least for US Universities, your previous background in Chinese language isn't going to be among the most important qualifications - many of the best universities won't care much, figuring if they admit you, its your business to get the required language during the regular program, summer school, independant study, or whatever.   What will be important, instead, is your previous grades in undergraduate school, your test results (GRE), your application "personal statement" describing your specific research interests and how their department and professors fit in with those interests, and your letters of recomendation.

As a dramatic example, I have no formal chinese language classes whatsoever (having simply independatly studied, though with very good results, for about a year while living in the US) and, when I applied to M.A. programs this year, I was admitted to Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Duke, and the University of Texas (I ended up choosing Harvard, and start there in a couple of weeks).  

There are a wide range of good programs in the US, with differing degrees of selectivity - you should spend a good amount of time compiling a list of all the programs, and then eliminating the ones that don't fit your interests, and the ones that aren't good fits based on the strength of your academic record, and finally choosing 5 or so to apply to.  Meanwhile, study for the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), register and take it, while contacting some people (preferably at least a couple former professors) about writing you letters of recomendation.  Also, begin thinking about what research you might undertake as a masters students - what specific area of knowledge, given your background, could you make a contribution to.  Applying to grad school in the US is a long process - if you want to do it and start in a year next Fall, then you will need to apply this coming January.  And some aspects, such as studying for the GRE, will likely take many, many hours.  I am a native English speaker, but I still had to learn over 1000 new english words to get myself ready, not to menotion practicing for the other sections - math and writing. 

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August 19, 2009, 10:32 PM


Yep, I agree.  Especially when it comes to undergrad - State Schools generally give a fine education at a much lower price. 

And for graduate schools, its really important to have a profesor who does work in your field - for example, if you wanted to study Asian American Studies, Harvard might not be a very good place (I don't think it even has one prof. in that field, though I could be wrong).  And if you wanted to study cold physics, I think The University of Colorado at Boulder is the best place (their group picked up the nobel prize for Bose-Einstein condensation).

Yah, in admissions criteria the different graduate fields are very different.  For example law schools care more about their admissions test (the LSAT) and GPA than I think any other kind of advanced degree program...


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August 20, 2009, 12:29 AM



But the BEST way to learn Chinese is to marry a native and live and work in China.


Just my two yuan...

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August 20, 2009, 04:32 PM

The US has some of the best Chinese studies programmes, but if you are interested in Europe, check out Oxford. They have quite a good (and growing) China Centre, some very reputable China researchers and a variety of Masters programmes.  A good deal of emphasis is placed on language study as well.  Plus, it is a really fun place to study!

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August 22, 2009, 10:58 AM


Thanks so much for the great ideas and especially to timslsm and tvan for outlining what really matters in terms of finding a US university and getting in. I'm at a crossroads in my life right now and feel tossed about a bit, between readjusting to living in the west after 2 years of peace corps and between having a family spread out over 2 continents. everyones tips have given me some insight.


meyers 66,

Thanks for the tip on Taiwan. I somehow always overlook it when considering moving back East. Though I've never been myself, my mom grew up there and has told me great stories about it. I will certainly look into the programs you suggested.


You had a good point about GPA and GRE's. I am a native English speaker as well, and I know about the GRE. I've lived in the States for 8 years and went to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg Va. The idea about making a list just makes most sense. I'm just a bit overwhelmed at the moment trying to find a job and thinking of schools to go to and traveling around the globe while doing so, but I just need to sit down and research some decent programs.

As for Linguistics, I am actually interested in that. In college I studied Foreign Language Education and in my free time I hung out with mostly linguists. It certainly is something I am interested in on the side as well. I guess I need to decide in which direction I see myself going with Chinese. 



Thanks for the link! That sounds great. Certainly will go on my list of things to look at!


oxford? that's an idea, though I think i'd have a greater chance growing 6 arms than getting into there, but I guess it's worth a shot!


That i know is the best tip. I tried, but no one wanted to be with a 6 foot blonde strong laowei!



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August 22, 2009, 12:31 PM

I am a chinese and dreaming of living in usa.

I think usa is better than chinese.

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August 25, 2009, 07:02 AM

大家好,if you want tolearn chinese,you can Contact me。china very good,


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August 19, 2009, 08:43 PM

Have you considered Heidelberg? They have a sinological institute and a translation institute which I hear is pretty reputable.