Class of 2012

When I first started teaching at a Chinese university I was immediately confused by the way they refer to students. For example, a student might introduce herself as a “2012 jí ” student. I (mistakenly) equated that to the English “Class of 2012.” But actually it doesn’t mean she’s GRADUATING in 2012 it means she’s STARTING in 2012.

So just to set the record straight once and for all, here are the two shuōfǎ 说法 in Chinese and their (American) English meanings:

  1. 2012 jí  = Starting college in 2012 as a freshmen. Graduating in either 2015 (for zhuānkē shēng 专科生) or 2016 (for běnkē shēng 本科生)
  2. 2012 jiè  = “Class of 2012.” Starting as a freshman whenever, but graduating in 2012.
By the way, student numbers are usually based on the first system (jí ) and I’m not sure exactly when they use jiè . But the other day two graduated students (native speakers of Chinese) were discussing this difference and I thought I’d share what they told me.

One further complication is that “class” in English really has 3 Chinese translations:

  1. jiè  = graduating class (all students in a “year” of college).
  2. bān  = the actual class of students that stay together in a classroom for a lesson.
  3. jié  = measure word for one teaching “period” or one “class session.”

So this sentence would be much clearer in Chinese than in English:

“I taught every class in the class of 2012 two classes.”

我给每个2012届的班上了两节课.”

“wǒ gěi měi gè 2012 jiè de bān shàng le liǎng jié kè”

Many times speaking with Chinese colleagues in English about “classes” results in confusion and I find that the most efficient way to clear it up is to just use the Chinese word.


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  1. 4 Responses to “Class of 2012”

  2. Tom AUSTRALIA said:

    Thank you very much for the descrption.

    Comment date: Jul 20, 2012

  3. Joseph Lemien SPAIN said:

    This is a pretty good explanation of a fairly confusing topic. I remember having a lot of trouble differentiating the measure words for ‘one class session’ and ‘one class (course that I am taking)’.

    Your last sentence (“我给每个2012届的班上了两节课.”) is especially good. Thanks!

    Comment date: Jul 28, 2012

  4. dna synthesizer INDIA said:

    nice experience shared ….i also faced this kind of problem sometimes when ever i go for the lecture or my presentations

    Comment date: Oct 19, 2012

  5. Chris said:

    “Class” has yet another meaning: a subdivision of same-year students of a department into a division which stays together. So you might be a student in “Class 2B” in the Economics department, who stay together and attend different classes together. This system of the same student group attending different classes together is common in elementary schools in the West, but in Taiwan (don’t know about China) it persists through high school and university.

    Comment date: Feb 17, 2013

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