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 级” 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:
- 2012 jí 级 = 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)
- 2012 jiè 届 = “Class of 2012.” Starting as a freshman whenever, but graduating in 2012.
One further complication is that “class” in English really has 3 Chinese translations:
- jiè 届 = graduating class (all students in a “year” of college).
- bān 班 = the actual class of students that stay together in a classroom for a lesson.
- jié 节 = 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.”
“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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