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New Post 20.08.2010 14:09
  ChineseTime
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Tips On Learning Chinese In China 

Tips On Learning Chinese In China

From: cnreviews

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NOTE: I will be using the terms “Chinese” and “Mandarin” interchangeably. However, what I just mean is the Standard Spoken Mandarin used by the People’s Republic of China.

I just came back from Shanghai studying Mandarin in Fudan University. Someone said–you can learn any language from anywhere you are. Like you do not need to go to China to study Mandarin.

True. I actually studied Mandarin in my country before I even knew there is such a place called China.

So why the need to go to China learn Chinese?!
Good question. My friend Allan said it best–

"The exposure in terms of listening and reading helps a lot. Also, the very valuable opportunity to practice your speaking skills could not be given credit enough. The setting itself allows one to blossom his Mandarin skills."

And with that, if you are planning to go to China to take up language courses, here are some tips to help you along the way.

What school should I go to? Beijing or Shanghai?
Here we are at it again. Beijing or Shanghai? First, realize that there are other places in China aside from Beijing and Shanghai. Like Harbin or Tianjin.

Purists will say that choosing a good school to enroll in is probably the most important factor to consider as the right learning environment will give you the motivation to continue learning.

Personally, I think there is no difference if you go to whichever university or school. [Unless there are people here who think otherwise, I welcome your comments below!] If you are seriously motivated, I think you can achieve your goals still.

Though I have bias to Fudan University in Shanghai as it is one of the top universities in China last 2008 and 2009. Before going to Fudan, my dream school was Beijing Language and Culture University or BLCU for short. They have the best books for Chinese learning.

One of the most important considerations I have heard was that if the place has a lot of non-Chinese. Because if the place has a lot of non-Chinese (and what’s worst, if they know how to speak English), your opportunities of interacting with the Chinese locals are not a lot.

But then, if you are studying Chinese in China after all, there is 99.99% chance that your classmates are foreigners. [The tolerance factor is because I have met Chinese who actually enrolled in the same language program as I did. But their curriculum was a bit slanted. They might have grew up abroad so that they do not know much hanzi or Chinese characters, etc.]

Another consideration is the weather. Do you like the cold? Whether you will be staying in the first semester or the second semester, you still might catch a few weeks of winter (depending on the area). Fall semester generally starts on September 1st, and ends around just before Chinese New Year. Spring semester starts on March 1st and ends in mid-June. You can check out China.org.cn for their China weather map.

And if you are paying your way to China, you might want to think about the cost of living. Different areas in China have varying costs of living. China Briefing did research on the cost of living in 9 major cities in China for 2009.

Now that we are on the subject of money…

I have heard that the Chinese government offers scholarships. How do I apply?
I actually thought of applying for this scholarship, but the requirements were just too tedious, and I had trouble coordinating with our country’s embassy on this. But as they say, no pain, no gain. So you might want to read up on the China Scholarship Council.

This scholarship is actually very competitive. A friend recommended that I ask about the local government scholarships instead. Like within Shanghai only. You have to inquire about this directly to your school of choice.

Just some random question–but where do I stay–dorm or apartment?
Tough decision. If you want a no-brainer answer, stay in the school dormitory. But if you want to have more freedom and/or save on cash, an apartment maybe the way to go. Generally, anything for the international student is more expensive. Tuition is more expensive. And dorm accommodations are more expensive too.

How expensive? I mean, come on, Fudan has a special price list for international students.

With an apartment, if you could find (safe) people who can share with you, I think it would be really fun! But dorm life is also another thing. And at least, it is within the campus vicinity.

By the way, Fudan does not have curfew on the foreign students dormitory.

I thought going to China has a setting which allows me to”blossom my Mandarin skills”? How could I do that with all those English-speaking people around me?
This is a question of discipline. In China, especially if you are learning the language for the first time, your comfort zone would be around your English-speaking peers. You should go out of your way to maximize local interactions which would not be available in your home country. How do you do that?

Look for a language partner.
I found out that it helps if you have at least one language buddy who will meet with you on a regular basis. There are a lot of Chinese who want to improve their English as well so they are eager to pair up with a foreigner.

But if you are going to China on your own, how do you pick a language partner who does not turn out to be an axe murderer? Ask your teacher for referrals. He or she can post an ad in the school’s BBS or forum. And since he/she is a teacher from that school, he/she would know how the BBS culture of that school is. Another thing is, your teacher might personally know a local student who is also looking for a language partner. That is how I met mine.

Join school organizations.
Are you musically talented? Join the school orchestra. My friend did just that. She said that she was the only non-Chinese in the group, and it really helped her speaking skills.

School organizations are excellent venues for you to meet local students. Many recruit at the start of the school year. Again, if you are hesitant, your teacher would be happy to help you.

Have internships. Volunteer your time.
I was really fortunate to have a lot of learning experiences outside class hours. As an intern with HUBS1 and working with Elliott on Expotia (which is the official hotel reservation service provider of Expo 2010), I have interacted with a number of Chinese-speaking individuals. And because I was in Shanghai during the World Expo, I decided to take advantage of the event by volunteering there as well. [In the meantime, why not check out CNReviews' coverage of the 2010 Shanghai World Expo?]

Some of my friends volunteered at a few migrant schools teaching little kids. They found out about this through a school organization.

Basically, you really need to go out of your way to look for opportunities where you can maximize your Chinese education that you cannot easily have when you are back home. Otherwise, what is the point of you going to China when you can simply learn the language from where you are at?

Now that I have decided to learn Chinese, what your top 3 tips?

Allan graciously shared his tips on learning Chinese–

1. Repetition.
Mandarin is one of the most grueling languages to learn in the world. The sheer number of characters with the limited combination of tones could make the language daunting and confusing all at the same time.

But it is possible, well, a billion people could speak it, so why couldn’t I?

So one should really invest time in writing, listening, speaking etc. until it becomes natural to you. The key here is to focus on the basics, and do not try to do too much too soon. Once you master the basics you will make a solid foundation to build upon.

2. Do not be afraid to make mistakes.
There is a common notion that we learn more through our failures rather than our successes. This is also true in Mandarin especially in spoken Chinese. Do not be afraid to make mistakes as this is probably one of the quickest ways to learn. Do not worry about being embarrassed. People will be forgiving especially when they know that you are a foreigner. They would be happy to see you exerting effort in learning the language. It is also by venturing out that you learn plenty of things that the books would not teach you such as daily expressions and more commonly used spoken terms.

3. Do not rely too much on the books.
What I mean here is, books are definitely a valuable asset in learning the language, no doubt about that. I think though you must take the extra step outside the books in learning the language. Keeping a separate notebook for new words that you hear randomly during conversations, class etc. that you feel you can directly use in daily conversations is very helpful. We all have our varying styles of speaking, and our vocabulary are all different. You are the one who knows the kind of words you usually use, hence certain words for me may not be as valuable as it is to you. Thus, whenever you hear words that you deem important, make mental notes or if possible jot them down right away. This will help you develop smoother and more natural conversations, because you are armed with the words that come out naturally from your thought process

I agree with all of them. Let me just add my own top 3 tips.

Speak Chinese to your classmates. Do not use English. Even when you are just starting to learn, force yourself to speak the language. And you will develop this habit later on. Because of how I look, some of my classmates at first do not know I can speak English. I had 2 classmates–an Italian and a German–who would converse with each other in English–then turn back to me and translate everything in Chinese. I know it is bad, but I actually let them continue (until they found out much later on that I can actually understand everything!). The lesson here is not to trick your classmates into thinking you are some ignorant person but to develop the habit of speaking to everyone in Chinese. Because we started this way, we still use Mandarin with each other even after class.
Make friends with everyone. There are 5 vital people–the ayi, the dorm security, the street food vendor, the taxi driver, and the bookstore/clothes shop guy (whichever you frequent). They love a good conversation especially when they find out you a student learning their language.
And when you done with your China stint, watch Chinese shows and movies and listen to Chinese songs. I really like watching Taiwanese soaps even before going to China. I think I have received most of my Mandarin education through here than 10+ years of Chinese schooling! Let me know if you want some recommendations.


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