professor
Chih-ping Sobelman

May 2009

Take Elementary Chinese, or skip to Advanced Chinese. Do anything but take this class with "Su Tai Tai"! Su Tai Tai rarely corrected people if they mixed up their "zh- ch- sh-" with "z- c- s-" or if used a wrong tone for a character. Even worse, she spoke English more than half the time when teaching. So my Chinese regressed from listening to wrong pronunciations AND my English regressed from listening to Su Tai Tai's lilting, piercing ramblings. She also spends very little time actually teaching because she's too busy being passive-aggressive, going off on tangents, making inappropriate comments, lauding her pedagogy, etc. She likes to bring up Chinese regional differences, which is fine, except it would become "China does this... Taiwan does that" and then she would say "but let's not go there!" or "but we can't comment on this!" or "but we must be neutral!" You brought this up in the first place, Su Tai Tai. Some days, she's clearly grumpy, and her annoying, high-pitched, screeching voice would be tainted with a tangible impatience. More than once has a student complained about being scared of her. When someone says something "wrong," expect some snide comment. Or if the class is a bit slow in repeating in kindergarten-fashion after her, expect a loud, obnoxious, threatening "HELLO?! HELLO?! IS ANYONE THERE?!" Su Tai Tai also spends a good deal making "some people in this class..." complaints when she's not condescendingly discussing "our situation" as Chinese-Americans learning Chinese and her useless, stupid, fail teaching philosophy. Get this: one class session, she casually remarked that "IF I WERE YOUR PARENTS I WOULD COMMIT SUICIDE." I know this might be quoting out of context, but what context would possibly make this sort of comment remotely acceptable?! She loves to use technology. There is no course intro or syllabus posted on Courseworks. Instead, everything is dumped in the Files section - documents with long, confusing, unclear names (she LOVES to use abbreviations. Expect your e-mail inbox to be spammed with brief, generally trivial and useless, and overall annoying e-mails. The texbook is "Taiwan Today." It's a very rudimentary textbook, probably easier than the one they use for Elementary Chinese. However, we only learned 2 chapters from it. In addition to wasting class time with her inane rants, she also wastes class sessions by having "guest teachers" - students would do the teaching for her about once every week or so. Both simplified and traditional characters are used, which makes this class somewhat confusing. Sometimes, she will quiz you on both, while other times, she says you don't need to know traditional. Then she'll give you a quiz and everything is in traditional. Some of the materials she'll give you has simplified and traditional mixed together. At least once a week, expect to spend time doing the fun kiddie exercise of "can you find what's different" between two lines of simplified-traditional text. You know, instead of wasting our time, she could just give us the list and we can go ahead to the memorization / learning part? She does that on seemingly random passages, so oftentimes we'll relearn the same characters while we'll only use other characters that one time. Quizzes are random and you never know how much the quiz is actually worth until the day of the quiz. Worst of all, she loves using charts and tables and giving hair-tearing confusing directions that has the entire class wondering what the hell is going on when taking the quiz. You also keep "diary entries" that are really dumb and typing Chinese on the computer does very little to reinforce your Chinese. Skip Intermediate Chinese W. The teacher will make you hate the class. There is no structure to the course. It's a waste of 5 credits.

Dec 2008

About Sobelman and making technology work against us: Sobelman prides herself on integrating technology with language learning... but the problem is she does not know how to work with computers and dabbling has only made things worse. Sobelman distributes class documents as hard copies in class, as attachments in e-mails and files on Courseworks with no particular coherent organization. This is kind of like a company paying its employees in cash, then in check, then in electronic deposit at random order. See the problem here? It's a pain to keep track of everything and vital information is easily overlooked. To exacerbate things, she also often sends the same e-mail twice, send the wrong e-mail, forget the attachment or attach a wrong file. However, what tops the cake is that for the first few weeks of class, the students had to actually help her how to access her files on the class computers. We would literally sit there and watch a student walk her through how to find a particular file in her cluttered inbox. One time, a document on a quiz on the next day was sent via e-mail on the night before the quiz instead of having been distributed in class on the previous session or posted on Courseworks in a timely manner. About Sobelman and NOT teaching Chinese in Chinese class: However, the biggest time-waster, and I estimate that at least 20% to 40% of total class hours was wasted on it, is Sobelman's rants about her pedagogy. I am NOT exaggerating at all when I say that she spent the first hour of an 1-hour-25-minutes class explaining and validating her teaching methods to the class and NOT actually teaching. How do I know? I was there, and when you're sitting in Chinese class NOT learning Chinese for this amount of time, you tend to notice. And by the way, that was one of the LAST class sessions, not at the beginning of the semester, so it was even more of a waste of time. Did I also mention that she also uses more English in Intermediate Chinese than the teachers of Beginner Chinese? I thought as a language course advanced in level (especially a HERITAGE) language course, MORE of the language would be used, not LESS. So yes, amounts of time was devoted to the speaking, listening to, reading, writing the language. And yes, that amount of time was significantly relatively less than what it should have been. About Sobelman and her "pedagogical philosophy": The one thing that Sobelman has relentlessly and ruthlessly and repeatedly rants about during class is her pedagogy. However, she gets a lot of things wrong. One of them is her total lack of understanding of who she is teaching. She is always referring to the class as students who are "foreign" when this is a HERITAGE class and a few people were even born in China. This is culturally insulting and condescending to the ABCs of the class, and even more so to the native-born speakers. Furthermore, it just turned me off from the class and undermined the whole credibility of the course. There's a distinction between N and W sections, and she fails to see it. I will reiterate that this course is called "Intermediate Chinese W" for students with HERITAGE background. In other words, students whose language level is akin to that of elementary students in China. In other words, the course should be taught in a similar fashion as elementary school classes are taught in China. In other words, it should be taught ENTIRELY in Chinese and using Chinese words to explain other Chinese words. After all, we obviously know English, and we are HERITAGE students so we obviously know Chinese, and we are COLUMBIA students so we can obviously put two and two together to make four and have the mental capacity to match up Chinese words with English words. What we lack are reading and writing skills and a broader Chinese vocabulary. However, instead of teaching vocabulary, she focuses on translating, which we can do on our own. Let me put this in perspective for you: My friend taking Beginner Chinese went through 20 lessons this semester. We went through 4 lessons. That’s because we spent all this time translating sentences. Furthermore, she likes to annoyingly reiterate translations... IN ENGLISH. It's perfectly fine to discuss the different ways of saying "This room is big" in Chinese. However, she goes off on a tangent and comes up with how to say "This room is big” in English. She’ll be like “This room is large… roomy… spacious…” This is not an English class. About Sobelman and her overbearing personality: Sobelman not only lacks the ability to competently teach the class, but also fails to make an effort. Add her horrible character and you've got an exemplary example of the exceptional education of Columbia (sarcasm). First, on a personal level, she is just insufferable. Usually, people act in certain basic ways and follow certain basic patterns in their behavior. That's why when you go over to your neighbor's place for dinner, you are pretty certain that you won't get shot. With Sobelman, you never know. She has been described as passive-aggressive and crazy / insane by more than one person for more than one time this semester. And she is. You never know if her joking or making a sarcastic swipe at you or a thinly-veiled threat. She will appear to be friendly one moment, then become clearly agitated the next if a student asks her a question she does not like. Other times, she will simply leave the question unanswered and steer away from it dismissively. She is not only difficult to deal with as a person due to her mood swings, but is also a poor teacher. Most of "class participation" is done by compulsory going around the table - and after every two or three person, she forgets whose turn it is. When someone encounters a word that he or she doesn't know, instead of quickly helping the student out so that more exercises could be fitted in, she lets the class tell the student what the word is. The concept of "encouraging" participation this way is good, but it actually does very little to help. And she also elicits response from the class in a very annoying, condescending way - by saying "Hello? Is anyone there?” It would sound like a silly thing to say except her personality makes it sound agitated and threatening. What irks me the most, and should also be of great concern to Columbia, is Sobelman's attitude to teaching. I read on CULPA that a former student of hers had asked to meet with her, and she had responded that "Well of course you can but I don't have time to talk to you because you aren't my student anymore." However, she does not even make time for her students. She is constantly saying how this or that is not her "responsibility" and always distancing herself from various basic duties. For example, she complained to the class how students e-mailed her work during Thanksgiving break and how she had the "right" to not read them and how she was very peeved by it. However, what is most alarming is how one day, she warned the class to “not come crying to her”. A lot of students are stressed out or outright scared by her. About Sobelman and her choice of textbook: I have no idea why she picked a textbook called "TAIWAN TODAY" for Chinese when any generic Chinese book would have been good. It's like using a textbook called "Jamaica Today" for teach English. It's also somewhat culturally insulting and borderline political to learn about tea and other various facets of CHINESE culture from a textbook called "Taiwan Today" because it's as if tea was exclusively Taiwan and not from mainland China or Hong Kong or something. But frankly, the biggest problem was that out of the 12 lessons in the book, we only learned 4. So not only was the choice of text not great, but we didn't even learn much from that.

Dec 2008

I read the reviews on CULPA and decided to try the class anyway because I thought, "how bad could it be?" Well, I am confident that my level of Chinese has decreased this semester. I will NOT be taking this course next semester and I will NOT the only one in class who is doing so. If there was a "0" bubble to select to denote "horrible," then I would have selected it. To be fair, my level of Chinese would have decreased even more had I not taken this course, but that is like saying I would have starved even more had I not bought that bag of chips for $50. I am disappointed in both myself for not heeding the warnings I read about Sobelman and in Columbia for offering such a poor course. Seriously, a Chinese professor from the Math Department can probably teach Chinese better, or at least less painfully.

May 2006

This lady talks a lot, and it's repetitive. Classtime is painful and feels awfully wasteful because all she does is have the class read aloud the textbook and repeat after her - at a level which "native-speaking students" should have already mastered, and the ones who haven't yet, can learn from the pin yin. Her quizzes are very easy and straight from the book and her supplement. She is a very dedicated teacher in spite of it all, and she always sends you back your composition the same day if you write it on the computer, (sometimes even at 3 AM in the morning!) She has a lot of ideas for teaching and is really into her own system of pedagogy, as you will find in her first two classes, which are NOTHING but rants about her own pedagogical philosophy - don't let her fool you in the first two classes: she may be your "Coach," your "Su Tai Tai," but in class, she is the itch below your diaphragm that makes you sputter and suffocate.

Mar 2004

i went into the class knowing sobelman had mood swings but thats not the worst part by far. she acts very nice and sometimes even cracks a joke or two, but when the grades come out...if she has a grudge against you then youre doomed. my final grade for the semester was a WHOLE LETTER GRADE short of what i had predicted (based on test/quiz results)...that is simply ridiculous. as a result i dropped out of her class the following semester. when i tried to confront her about this grave error she took a month to reply back to me, was late for our meeting (cutting it short to 10 min), and refused to change my grade. when asked if i could schedule another appointment with her she said "well of course you can. but i dont have time to talk to you because you arent my student anymore..."

Dec 2003

Su tai tai, is a disgrace to the EALAC department. I have taken many courses within EALAC and I have to say, she is by far the worse professor I have ever had within EALAC. Her classes are SUPER DISORGANIZED-- which is the worse way it can be for a language class!!!! She is moody, moody, and very moody-- SO UNPROFESSIONAL. And she plays favorites quite blatantly. I think someone said that Su was a monster. She is. You will sit in class very frustrated because her demands are ridiculous. SHE HAS NO STRUCTURE. Don't take her, take Readings with another professor, or skip her altogether. What a shame...no wonder she is still only a lecturer after 35+ years of teaching at Columbia...

May 2003

Sutaitai (as she likes to be called) is nothing short of a character. The first day of class students are giving a lecture on her Confucian teaching styles, which emphasize group learning and advancement and the friendship between teacher and students. Her teaching style is totally unstructured, and students coming into her intermediate class following a highly structured elementary Chinese class here at Columbia might be a bit overwhelmed by her total lack of any sort of teaching plan. However, although she might never learn your name, she is a very intelligent woman who knows her stuff. Expect alot of self-motivated learning and studying; there are no daily dictations as in first year Chinese, nor are there any set tests. She emphasizes sentence structure and more advanced reading, and she assumes that you already know most of your vocab from first year.

Jan 2003

Reactions to Su Tai Tai tend towards the extremes: you either love her or hate her. Her teaching style is unstructured and flexible which is uncharacteristic of a language course, especially Chinese. Much of the responsibility for learning the material rests on the student's shoulders. Su Tai Tai will not give daily homework assignments and her instructions are usually very vague forcing students to guess at what to study. This is not actually as difficult as it may sound as material comes primarily from class notes and readings on the web- the textbook is de-emphasized. You will find Su Tai Tai's class is more like entering into a partnership than enrolling in a class: the more you interact with her the more you'll get in return. Mature students who have a good idea of what they want to get out of a language education will fare better than those who merely seek to fulfill their language requirement.

Dec 2002

For starters, Sobelman is a highly disorganized teacher, if we are technically even supposed to give her that much credit. Bullying everyone to call her "Su-Tai-Tai" because she somehow feels unjustified in accepting the fact that she deserves no respectable title because she does not even own a Ph.D. and is teaching at one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, Sobelman is a egotistic freak. She loves to play favorites, mainly for those who are not native English speakers. She is highly unprofessional, in that she discusses politics when unnecessary or rude, bashes specific students to both her TA and her other "little favorites," and sticks her opinion into subjects no one cares about but herself. If she were smart, she would keep her derogative comments about certain individuals to herself, but unfortunately, she is not, and so students have a legitimate excuse to deride her in all sorts of ways. She is a shame to the EALAC department, considering that it is highly renowned and prestigious--one of the best in the nation. However, many students have lost total interest in the EALAC department because of Sobelman, because she is most certainly unrepresentative of the otherwise great department. I cannot stress enough, and I'm speaking for the majority of people who have taken her classes, that having her as a teacher is one of the worst mistakes one could make. Academically, students learn close to nothing, and it is not an exaggeration. While other students in other classes are learning great amounts of useful information and learning to use Chinese properly, Sobelman is ranting on and on (IN ENGLISH) about how learning vocabulary does not matter, how she cannot believe that her students are not doing her work, when she either refuses to acknowledge that she is a HORRIBLE "teacher" or is so stupid that she's completely oblivious to the immense amount of opposition pitted against her. Her class is completely uninteresting and boring because all we talk about is what she's interested in--the politics and all the other highly sensitive subjects not fit to discuss in classes with such various backgrounds. The best part is her constant mood swings. She will badger a student (s) when she is having a down day and will be full of cheap, artificial vivacity when she is in a slightly better mood. Just watching her moods make people twitch because you never know when she's going to blow up, or calm down, or if ever, act like a teacher. She's very childish and loves gossip. If you're lucky, you'll just walk away learning absolutely nothing. If you're unlucky, you'll despise the EALAC department and become the butt of her jokes for the next year.

Nov 2002

Chih-ping Sobelman is a monster. She seems really nice at first, but she is the devil in disguise. The first semester isn't bad, one can find the "quizzes" online and score the answers no prob, but the second semester was unbelievable. She had no structure at all. She made up these incredibly difficult "memos" that she emailed to students the night before class and expected the students to be able to read said memos fluently without any problems the next day. I showed a 3 page memo (with footnotes!!) to my friend, FOB from Canton, who said that was way too much to expect from an intermediate class. It was difficult for him to understand, and he came here after finishing high school in Canton (read: fluent). As she teaches the 4th level as well, she expects the intermediate class to be on par with the 4th year. That's fine if you're fluent and going for an easy A, but if you're anything but fluent DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. She made me cry from frustration at least 7 times over the semester. My advisor, who saw me running down the stairs in tears, told me that Sobelman has made grown men cry, that she's been ruining people's lives for years, and that hopefully she'll retire soon and stop ruining the department. Also, an amusing sidenote, she likes to pretend that she's from Beijing, but she's really from Taiwan. She uses a Taiwanese text book and Taiwanese phrases, like "libai" instead of "xingqi" for "week." Important: beware of her moods. Although mostly cheery and grandmotherly, she seems the flower, but truly is the serpent beneath.

Jan 2002

Su tai tai is a great teacher. She frequently uses email to communicate with everyone, and likes to send attachments in chinese that you later go over in class. She has a high sense of humor, is very straightforward and was always in a good mood with us. If you do the exercises on the web and know your vocab from the lessons, you're set for the tests. The class and work really aren't that bad considering you get 5 credits for it.

Jan 2002

Sobelman is becoming a stricter, more serious teacher, but of course, still very disorganized. There is a lot of busy work and the tests do not always cover information from class. Many practically fluent Mandarin speakers hide in this class, so students who have learned Mandarin at university/high school alone are at a disadvantage. I feel like I didn't learn very much in this class. Definitely geared towards native speakers.

Jan 2000

This class is an easy A as long as you do everything you are told. Some people might not like this class because Sobelman can be a little disorganized. She often adds addition material to the curicculum and does not cover much of the textbook. She is a really wonderful person though. She jokes around a lot and makes class very entertaining.

Jan 2000

You'll either love her or hate her. The first thing that you'll notice on the first day of class is that she speaks more English than she does Chinese, which is somewhat disappointing. Also be ready for an untraditional syllabus that seems to flutter and sputter at the whim of how the professor is feeling that day. Personally, I did not learn as much as I thought I could have in this class. Also be prepared for students of all calibers (from those straight off the boat from Shanghai trying to get that easy A to non-native speakers struggling to get by) and little accomodation for the non-experts. Also, be prepared for the professor's wild mood swings. Or, hey, that might be your source of entertainment for the sememster.