Department of Asian Languages and Cultures

College of Letters & Science
HomeUndergraduate StudiesUndergraduate Major in ChineseChinese Language Program Overview

Chinese Language Program Overview

Introduction to the Chinese Language Courses

Welcome to the Chinese Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison!

We are proud to tell you that our program is considered one of the most comprehensive Chinese language programs in the US. That is because our introductory courses meet more frequently than comparable courses offered at other institutions and require more time for self-study. Although these courses may seem very challenging, if you keep up with the daily preview and review required for the courses, by the end of the semester, you will have attained considerable improvement in your Chinese language proficiency.

If you have never taken Chinese before, but have always been interested in learning the language, you can start with EA 101 First Semester Chinese in the fall. If you have some schedule conflicts for this class, you can take EA 121 Elementary Chinese I in the spring or summer, or EA 101 in the following fall. But if you are considering majoring in Chinese, we advise that you start taking the introductory course as soon as possible because our requirements include 8 semesters of Chinese language courses.

* The department offers a major in Chinese as well as a certificate in Chinese Professional Communication.  The certificate requirements consist of 12 credits beyond EA 202 Fourth Semester Chinese, which are not as extensive as those for Chinese major.

If you have studied Chinese before, you need to determine which course would be most appropriate for your current level of proficiency. Please carefully review the following information, and contact the department to make an appointment (if necessary) after reading this document.


Q: Which track of Chinese should I be on?

The Chinese program has two tracks in the first two years: the heritage Chinese track and the non-heritage Chinese track.

The heritage Chinese track is designed for heritage Chinese students who possess speaking/listening skills but little or no reading/writing skills in Chinese. These students include those who were born in a non-Chinese-speaking country, but were raised in a home where Mandarin or another Chinese dialect was spoken, and those who were born in a Chinese-speaking country but received zero or limited formal education in that country. Heritage Chinese courses (EA213 and EA214) introduce functional vocabulary, a systemic review of grammar, various cultural related topics and writing skills.

For other students, they should select the non-heritage Chinese track.

Q: What kinds of materials are covered in each course?

The following chart provides an overview of basic Chinese language courses:

Course No.

Course Title



Class Hrs /week

Textbooks (Lessons)


Elementary Chinese I *

Spring or Summer



Integrated Chinese, 3rd Edition (Level 1, Part 1) (L 1-5)


Elementary Chinese II *




Integrated Chinese, 3rd Edition (Level 1, Part 1) (L 6-10)


First Semester Chinese *



8 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 5)

Integrated Chinese, 3rd Edition (Level 1, Part 1) (L 1-10)


Second Semester Chinese *



8 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 5)

Integrated Chinese, 3rd Edition (Level 1, Part 2) (L 11-20)


Third Semester Chinese



8 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 5)

Integrated Chinese, 3rd Edition (Level 2, Part 1) (L 1-10)


Fourth Semester Chinese



8 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 5)

Integrated Chinese, 3rd Edition (Level 2, Part 2) (L 11-20)


First Semester Heritage Chinese



8 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 5)

A Primer for Advanced Beginners of Chinese (Volume 1)


Second Semester Heritage Chinese



8 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 5)

A Primer for Advanced Beginners of Chinese (Volume 2)


Fifth Semester Chinese



5 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 2)

Reading into a New China(Volume 1)


Sixth Semester Chinese



5 (Lecture: 3, Discussion: 2)

Reading into a New China(Volume 2)


Seventh Semester Chinese




Anything Goes (Revised Edition)


Eighth Semester Chinese




Anything Goes (Revised Edition)

*NOTE on the first year Chinese sequences:

There are two ways to complete the first year Chinese sequence:

  • Take First Semester Chinese in the fall and Second Semester Chinese in the spring (it takes 2 semesters).
  • Take Elementary Chinese I in the spring or summer, Elementary Chinese II in the fall, and Second Semester Chinese in the following spring (it takes 3 semesters).

All the textbooks are available at the University Bookstore.

Q: How can I determine which course to take in the fall?

For students who select the non-heritage Chinese track, please review the checklist below and conduct a self-evaluation of your own skills before contacting Rachel Weiss to schedule a placement test.

Language skills checklist

  • To enter EA 122

           ◦  Can you read and write Pinyin 拼音 and about 200 basic Chinese characters?
           ◦  Can you carry on a conversation about your daily life? (e.g., what time you get up, go to bed, and go to school, what you can and cannot do in class, weekend activities, hobbies, days & dates, self-introduction and introduction of family)
           ◦  Can you describe your town/room (where things are)?
           ◦  Can you make requests, invitations and apologies in various situations?

  • To enter EA 201

In addition to what have been mentioned above for EA 122, you are required to be able to do these, shown as below:

           ◦  Can you read and write Pinyin 拼音 and about 800 basic Chinese characters?
           ◦  Can you compare and contrast things?
           ◦  Can you express gratitude, regret, disagreement or else appropriately?
           ◦  Can you use the dynamic particle 了in different situations correctly?
           ◦  Can you use the ba 把 and bei 被 constructions correctly?
           ◦  Can you use existential structures correctly?
           ◦  Can you conduct everyday conversations around these topics: dorm life, dining, shopping, apartment hunting, dating, sports, travel, holidays, family life or choosing a field of study?
           ◦  If you think you should take EA 101 to review the materials from the beginning, you do not have to take the placement test. Just register for EA 101, selecting one of the discussion sections that you can attend Monday through Friday. In addition, you need to attend the lectures on Tuesday and Thursday.

Q: How many years of high school Chinese are equivalent to one year of Chinese at the UW-Madison?

There is no simple answer to this question because each program has a different style and pace of instruction. It also depends on how much material each individual has absorbed from the instruction provided at a high school program. It is not rare for students who studied Chinese for a few years at a high school to take EA 122 Elementary Chinese II, or even EA 101 First Semester Chinese, to solidify their foundations. This is partly because of the intensive nature of our first year curriculum, which meets 8 hours a week and covers 50% or 100% more materials than what is covered in the first year curriculum at college-level Chinese programs elsewhere, which usually meet 5 hours a week.

In many cases, the knowledge and skills a student has gained in a few years in a high school program are evaluated as less than one year of our curriculum. Some students may be assessed as having proficiency comparable to students taking Second Semester Chinese. Unfortunately, however, the Second Semester Chinese is offered only in the Spring Semester. While waiting until the spring semester for the Second Semester Chinese is an option for such a student, we think you may lose the proficiency that you gained during this time. Thus, we tend to recommend EA 122 or EA 101 for students who may be ready to take the Second Semester Chinese.

Every year, there are some students who are placed in Second Year Chinese or beyond. They tend to include those who have had experience living in China for an extended period of time along with the regular study of Chinese, or those who have taken college-level courses as a high school student.

Q: When and how can I take the placement test? What kind of test is it?

The Department of Asian Languages and Cultures requires that students with any prior knowledge of Chinese who are new to the Chinese program take a placement test before enrolling in a language course. The placement test, which includes speaking, listening, grammar, reading, writing and dictation sections, takes about two hours. You can take the test in our computer lab in January, April, June, July, August, September or November. Specific dates may vary according to the availability of the computer lab. Because this is a proficiency test, you do not have to do any special preparation. Please bring your student ID and a pen when you come to take the test. Click here for the test time and place. 

Q: What are the pros and cons of taking EA 101 versus EA 122 after studying some Chinese at a high school?

As mentioned above, the majority of students who have a few years of high school Chinese will be recommended to take EA 122 or EA 101 in their first semester here.

Differences between the two courses include the followings:

  • EA 101 First Semester Chinese

           ◦  6 credit course that meets 8 hours a week (3 hours of lectures on TR, and 5 hours of discussions on MTWRF)
           ◦  Team-taught by a faculty member (lectures) and teaching assistants (discussions)
           ◦  Covers Lessons 1 through 10 of Integrated Chinese Level 1.

  • EA 122 Elementary Chinese

           ◦  3 credit course that meets 3 hours a week on MWF (successful completion of this course may provide you with 3 retroactive credits).
           ◦  Taught by a graduate teaching assistant
           ◦  Covers Lessons 6 through 10 of Integrated Chinese Level 1.

In the Spring Semester, students from both of these courses will get together in EA 102 Second Semester Chinese (6 credit course that meets 8 hours a week).

The benefits of taking EA 101 in the fall is that you can practice Chinese everyday and get used to the pace of 8 hours a week instruction. The information provided in lectures would solidify your knowledge of the language. Your past experience will help you feel comfortable in the course. But please keep in mind that you must establish good study habits during the first semester, or by the end of the semester, you may end up falling behind students who struggle at the beginning but nonetheless adapt to the pace of instruction. So, it is important to keep reminding yourself that you should approach the course with fresh attitude.

EA 122, on the other hand, meets only three hours a week. This means that you will have less time for in-class practice, but it might be easier to fit this course into your schedule. The elements of lectures and discussions in EA 101 are combined in one class period. In the Spring Semester, however, you will not have this option of 3-hour slow track course. So, at the beginning of the Spring Semester, you have to get used to a different structure and pace of the course. As mentioned earlier, in order to register for EA 122, you need to take the placement test.

Q: What are retroactive credits and how can I receive them?

If you start taking EA 122 or higher, at the completion of the course, you may receive retroactive credits equivalent to the number of credits that can be earned in the courses that are prerequisites for the course you completed. For example, if you take EA 122 in the fall and complete it with B or higher, you may receive 3 retroactive credits for EA 121, which is the prerequisite for EA 122. If you take EA 201 in the fall and complete it with B or higher, you can receive 12 retroactive credits for EA 101 and 102, which are the prerequisites for EA 201. If you take EA 213 in the fall and complete it with B or higher, you can receive 12 retroactive credits for EA 101 and 102.This is a general principle, and depending on the nature of programs where you studied Chinese, there might be some exceptions. Please refer to the following page for more information regarding retroactive credits:

Q: What are the differences between lectures and discussions? Do I have to attend both of them?

Yes, you need to attend both lectures and discussions. Lectures (a combined group of all students taking the course) are taught by a professor in charge of the course while discussions (small groups of around 20 students) are taught by graduate teaching assistants (TA), who are native or near-native speakers of Chinese. Lecture sessions introduce new grammatical structures, expressions, orthography, cultural notes, etc. and aim to have students understand key concepts. On the other hand, discussion sessions are devoted for practice using the language through drills, role-plays, topic conversations, etc. rather than talking about the language. Discussion sessions also have you practice reading and writing as well. The use of English in discussion sessions will be at a minimum from the beginning because we want to have you learn the language in a semi-immersion environment. Even in the lecture sessions, the use of English will decrease gradually with your proficiency improving.

Q: When and how can I declare a major in Chinese?

Students may declare the major at any time during their undergraduate career and their study of Chinese. You are urged to meet with the undergraduate advisor in advance of declaring the major to discuss the requirements.

Majors are urged to begin coursework early, ideally in the freshman or sophomore year. If, however, this is not possible, summer courses at UW-Madison or elsewhere are available which speed the student's progress. Those who have Chinese credits from high school or summer sessions may enter advanced courses on the basis of placement tests.

Q: Do we have to participate in a study abroad if we decide to major in Chinese?

The participation in a study abroad program is not a requirement for the Chinese major, but we strongly encourage you to take an advantage of our study abroad programs. Please check for information. There will be a study abroad fair and information sessions in the fall semester, where you can obtain more detailed information about the programs.

Q: Can I receive a minor in Chinese?

The University of Wisconsin-Madison does not offer any minor, but what we call a certificate is something similar to a minor in other schools. For students who are interested in combining the study of Chinese language with another major, the certificate is a good option. You are urged to meet with the certificate advisor in advance of declaring the certificate to discuss the requirements.

Q: Are there many people who double major in Chinese and something else?

Yes. We have had students who double majored in Chinese and Anthropology, Business, Chemistry, Computer Science, East Asian Studies, English, Japanese, Spanish, International Relations, Linguistics, Physics, Political Science, among others. It is challenging to satisfy requirements for more than one major in a timely fashion, but it is doable. And it is advantageous for your future career to have some areas of specialty along with your Chinese language skills. In order to consider the possibility of double majors, you need to consult with advisors in both departments.