The first step to take if you want to learn Chinese in China is to decide which language school would do best for you. You might feel it’s better to apply to a language program inside a university, and I agree with you. I’ve been there. I studied the intensive language program at a Chinese university, 4 hours per day, 5 days a week. The results were huge. I improved my Chinese more during 5 months in China than in years of language study in my home country. Choosing a language program at a Chinese university in China might confuse you. Which one would be best? I’ll help with that.
STUDY CHINESE IN CHINA: THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO LEARN CHINESE
Studies have been showing for decades that the most efficient way to learn a new language is to push yourself into situations where understanding and speaking (as well as reading and writing) are critical to your needs and well-being. The more you expose yourself to situations which require new words and phrases, the more you need to communicate, the deeper your acquisition of language skills will be. Looking for places, buying groceries, getting to know somebody, asking for help, and looking for a new apartment for instance, all are communication skills that you’d better live than learn from books. It can feel scary at the beginning, but you’ll find a way to adapt and learn. As humans, we have this innate capacity to learn a new language. We’ve already gone through this process when you were kids…
WHAT’S THE BEST PLACE TO LEARN CHINESE IN CHINA : MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER
If you think in terms of the quality of the teaching and of the reputation of the school or university, you might be sidetracked. To learn how to communicate in Chinese in the shortest time possible, all you need is an intensive language program and to be in China. This also means you should avoid to use your your native language in China. Speaking in general, the capital and the main coastal cities are home to thousands of foreign citizens who push you to communicate in English rather than Chinese. This is something to consider. The best advice I can give is to learn Chinese in a city in China that is a bit more off-the-beaten-path than others. I’ll share a list with the schools where you can learn Chinese in China. Here are the links to the univerity departments and an introduction to the cities. Fees can differ a lot from place to place!
LEARN CHINESE IN CHINA : LANGUAGE PROGRAMS IN THE COASTAL CITIES
Where to learn Chinese in the capital of China, Beijing
The capital is famous for pollution, snow, and masses of foreign students! Certainly worth a visit, but are you sure you want to live there for a few months or one year? If this is your first time in Beijing, help yourself with this guide on the best of Beijing in 3 days.
I landed a teaching job there but couldn’t bear the traffic and the extreme noise of the district the school was at. Tianjin has the same air quality issues of Beijing, plus the weather gets pretty cold in winter!
my favorite metropolis in China. Rents are high, compared to other cities, but maybe you will be lucky enough to be able to learn Chinese in there.
my second home, an island-city, famous holiday destination for Chinese thanks to long beaches, a subtropical climate, and night snacks. Xiamen is just a ferry ride from the Taiwanese island named “Jinmen”. There are many reason why many decide to move there. Unfortunately, the Chinese language Program has moved off the island, but you are still a bus ride from my favorite city in China! Learn Chinese in China in the province that keeps the flavour of Taiwanese culture. Xiamen University
LEARN CHINESE IN SMALLER METROPOLIS IN CHINA
just one hour from Shanghai by train, a historical city with a balanced atmosphere, paths in nature and the panoramic West Lake.
Learn Chinese in Changsha in Hunan Province
Learn Chinese in China in Shenzhen, a stop from Hong Kong
one of the most developed commercial ports in China and also the Chinese part of Hong Kong, which is reachable by MRT. Stay here if you want to learn Chinese in China but with a chance to get the tube to Hong Kong at your convenience.
Learn Chinese in Hainan Island
the southernmost island of China, with tropical weather, monkeys, resorts, beaches and blue waters.
LEARN CHINESE IN THE WESTERN PART OF CHINA : NATURE AND FEWER FOREIGNERS
the capital of Sichuan province, with hiking trails, bamboo forests and high mountains. This is for you if you want to learn Chinese in China while you explore the mountains.
the capital of Yunnan province, which is home to many of the 56 Chinese ethnic minorities and one of the top destinations for nature-lovers and ethnologists in China (Dali, Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge, Xishuangbanna). Learn Chinese in China in the province that is at the top of internal tourism.
YOU MADE UP YOUR MIND YET
I’m a former expat to China and student of Chinese language and culture, everything I share I have learnt through personal experience in more than ten years. If you’d like to read more about traveling to China, read this article on China highlights.
HOW TO PREPARE TO GO STUDY IN CHINA
How do you need to prepare to leave your country and go study Chinese in China? Learning Chinese to a proficiency level is a real challenge. I lived in China for six years, working as an Italian and English language teacher. I wasn’t prepared to stay there that long, but I liked it so much I couldn’t even just go back to my home country. The main reason I went to China was learning Chinese. I had studied Chinese at a public university in Italy in the city where I grew up, Rome. In fact, Chinese language and culture is my major, therefore I had been studying it for quite a long time, 6 semesters… How come I had to move to China to improve my Chinese? How long does it take? And what school should you chose?
I’ll cover any of those points below.
How long does it take to be fluent in Chinese?
When your goal is to be fluent ( I’m speaking of the HSK level 4/5 (respectively B2/C1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), I suggest you stay in China at least two years, committing 2 to 4 hours of your daily agenda to the study of the language.
Why does it take so long?…
Some features of Chinese language
Chinese grammar is simple compared to Indo-European languages like Spanish, German or French, but Chinese words mainly are made up of only one or two syllables, and you get confused easily, thinking that many of them sound too much like each other.
Word differentiation isn’t merely based on phonetic sounds, but also on the intonation of each syllable. Let’s have a look at the words which sound like “da”:
答 da (tone: high and level) means “to answer, agree.”
达 da (tone: rising) “to reach, attain.”
打 da (tone: falling and then rising again) “to beat, strike.”
大 da (tone: dropping sharply) means “big.”
I counted 31 results typing “da” in the dictionary I use with on my smartphone. 31! It’s a lot… Furthermore, when you start learning Chinese, chances are you will need to re-program the way you structure sentences. For instance, comparing Italian ( my mother-tongue ) and Chinese:
我(I) 跟朋友(with a friend) 一起(together) 去(go) 市场 (market)Io (I) vado (go) al mercato (to the market) con un amico (with a friend)
Studying Chinese at home before moving to China
I promise you that it is useful to study some Chinese in your country of origin, especially if you take the time to familiarize yourself with the writing system ( hey this is a language for which you’ll need some time only to understand how to look up words in the dictionary! ). You may feel discouraged when the initial enthusiasm wears off, but if you write with perseverance and manage to get the help of a native willing to show you a few tricks used in Chinese elementary schools to memorize characters, the study becomes an organized, rewarding, and fun activity.
How to speed up the learning process
The essential secret to accelerating the learning consists in living in a place where everybody speaks the language you want to learn plus getting some external support, like language classes.You might choose to attend a private school in China, but studying the language in a University allows you to meet with a throng of Chinese students that are beneficial to your practice and at the same time the college environment makes you feel secure. You might go further and decide to study a degree or master course in China ( many universities offer them in both Chinese and English ) to save time and, maybe, money ( if the university fees are cheaper compared to the ones in your home-country! ) You might want to choose to study Chinese in China for one or two semesters, to begin with.
What to do after you choose the city
Once you are clear about where you want to study, look at the websites of the Universities hosted in that province and look for the application procedure. Colleges usually offer to students enrolled in the Chinese language program side courses like calligraphy, Chinese folklore, martial arts, and more for free. After you have sent the application form and paid the application fee, you receive an invitation letter containing a list of the necessary documents for requesting a study Visa at the Chinese embassy/consulate in your country. The invitation letter takes from two to four weeks to get to your mailbox. I bet you will be much concerned with packing for your imminent trip, but rest assured that you’ll be able to find all the amenities you need in China. Such a thing as Amazon China exists, and even better commercial platforms. The best thing that you can do at this stage is to know what the best apps for China are and how you can use them to improve your experience.
When you arrive at the University
You’ll be asked to pick a place to stay so that the government has an address and is able to emit a short-term residence permit. The easiest way is to get a shared room at the University’s dorms. By doing that, you won’t need to commute to go to class in the morning. If you don’t want to live on campus, unless you provide the name of a hostel or pension, you need to rent an apartment and bring the original copy of the contract to the police office for registration.
When I first arrived at Xiamen University, I stayed in the dorms for a couple of months and later moved off-campus.
Opening a Chinese bank account couldn’t be easier
You’ll also need to open a bank account connected to the University and pay the rest of your course fee. You can use your Uni ID card to pay public transportation and meals at the campus canteens. It’s very convenient to move around, and if you’re eager to try authentic Chinese food… well, the canteen of a university in China is usually huge with so many different regional varieties to try. Opening a bank account in China is quick, it only costs a few dollars. Bank officers only speak Chinese, or may refuse to speak English, so good luck with one of the first real-life situations in Chinese 🙂
Universities also require you to purchase health insurance from them, usually, it costs around 400 RMB.
And now, finally, you’re done with the bureaucratic stuff, and ready to dive into this new, life-changing adventure!
In order to make the most out of your study trip to China, have a look at these tips on how to learn Chinese fast once you are in China. Doing so, will allow you to speed up your language learning process.
HOW TO LEARN CHINESE FAST IN CHINA
After lots of preparation, packing and saying goodbye to friends and family, you finally made it to China! You’re now ready to learn the Chinese language at a fast and steady pace, way better than how you would do it in your home country.
First, congratulations! That was brave!
You’ll be probably busy getting used to the new environment and the hustle and bustle of an overpopulated Chinese city. You’re forgetting the main reason for this long trip: improving your Chinese.
This information by a veteran student of the Chinese language gives you hints that will help you speed up the learning process and make the best of the time spent in China. The good news is, becoming proficient in Chinese is possible, and you don’t need to spend years reading books. You can achieve it in two years, if you stay firm in your intentions. The only thing you can’t do without is… China! You need to move to China, and stay there, two years at least. AT LEAST!
Let’s see these tips that help you be a more efficient student of Chinese as a second language.
IN THE BEGINNING, LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
When I arrived at Xiamen University for the purpose of improving my Chinese, I had to take a language test to determine my real level. I was disappointed by the results because I ended up in the pre-intermediate class. In my mind, I was like, “Sorry?!… After getting a University degree in Chinese language and culture, I finally come to China and I am still at the pre-intermediate level? No way, maybe they’re mistaken…”
But during the first day of class, I realized that the level they assigned me to was just right for me, except for one tiny factor: I simply couldn’t understand a word of what the teachers at the Chinese language school in Xiamen University were saying!
I felt ashamed and miserable, but forced myself to stay. I couldn’t participate in the communication that was going on, and I wasn’t the only one in that position.
When the teachers asked me to speak, I was afraid of what would come out of my mouth.
Performance anxiety went on for three weeks until the miracle happened: I started getting 70% of what was said during class. Here comes the sun! I began to relax and enjoy the class. For the first weeks you need to be patient with yourself, and trust that you are accelerating step by step.
Once I was feeling more confident, I also started going out a lot with my English-speaking classmates.
And here’s another tip, more easily said than done:
AVOID ENGLISH SPEAKERS
Stick with Chinese friends or with classmates who don’t like to speak English all the time. It’s quite normal that you feel attracted to the classmates who have a cultural background similar to yours, but remember – your goal is to immerse yourself in Chinese, not English.
If you can’t avoid English speakers, at least go out with the ones whose Chinese is better than yours or who are strongly committed to learning Chinese.
HANG OUT WITH CHINESE LANGUAGE TEACHERS
Some of the teachers will be happy to spend some of their free time with you. You can benefit from them in many ways. When you eat out with them, you can observe how they order at the restaurant and get to know about local food.
If you see them just as teachers, you might feel uncomfortable in their presence, but also consider that, not long ago, they were students just like you. They can share a lot of information with you about the city, and offer help when needed. A good connection with them can make your experience in China easier. They might also be able to find you a language partner, or a job.
FIND ONE OR MORE LANGUAGE PARTNERS
A “language partner” is someone who is studying your native language, and who can help you out with Chinese homework and conversation. If your native language isn’t as popular as English, you can still have a chance, just ask around and don’t give up.
Do not stick with the first student you meet if you are not happy with him/her. Some students tend to focus too much on the English part of the exchange. Choose somebody able to focus on your pronunciation and who can support your study as you support theirs.
REPEAT AND IMITATE CHINESE WORDS AND SENTENCES
During your very first months in China, you might worry too much about how others perceive your spoken Chinese. You ask simple questions of locals and they don’t understand you; you utter sentences and you can’t pronounce words in the right pitch.
When you are communicating with native speakers, breathe slowly and repeat, repeat, repeat.
That’s the mantra for learning Chinese. Say sentences many times, until people understand you. Do mimics if necessary. And if you are lucky, they will help you correct your pronunciation, slowly repeating what you just said and using the right intonation. Let people correct you. They’re doing you a huge favor!
When you speak, copy the locals’ pronunciation exactly. Dump your pride and parrot them, repeat things like a baby would do.
As you know, babies are the quickest learners.
Feeling ashamed to speak in public, even during classes, is perfectly normal, but you need to overcome this limitation. The foreigners who have the best Chinese pronunciation are the ones brave enough to pronounce sentences the wrong way many times!
Relax in being a beginner
You’ll come to realize that sometimes locals pretend they don’t understand what you are saying. Other times, they really don’t have a clue about what you want from them. If you don’t get upset and give up, you’ll learn a lot of useful expressions in the spoken language.
If it happens that the locals make fun of the way you speak, be open to that and think instead that you are a long distance traveler, while most of the Chinese you meet in China never get the chance to go abroad. They might treat you below your expectation, but you’ll endure that because it’s a part getting to know the language and the culture.Laugh with them when they laugh at you, and learn.
In the end, you’ll find a majority of positive reactions to your questions, especially if you make them understand that their help is important to you. It rarely happened that I met a Chinese who wasn’t willing to communicate, help and be kind to me.
THE WORDS YOU DON’T KNOW ARE NOT A REAL PROBLEM
The more you listen and speak, the more you succeed in communicating. Focus on the success of communication. It is okay that you come across words and meanings you haven’t studied before. It will always be like this, even after years in China.
The good news is, it’s enough that you get the general meaning of a conversation, a text, or a video. The process of learning a language goes naturally from general to particular. Take note of the situation and the sentences you’ve heard, when you don’t understand. Later, check the books, review the words you already know and look up the new ones.
GO PLACES ALONE
Push yourself into situations where you need to speak and listen to others. It’s easy now that you are surrounded by Chinese all the time. Go shopping without a Chinese friend assisting you. Walk through the city, get lost and ask for information. Visit the street market and listen to Chinese ladies bargaining. Sit at a café by yourself and wait for somebody interested in having a chat with you in Chinese.
Go to the gym, so you learn the vocabulary connected with sports. Speak to taxi drivers: most of them come from different places in China, so you gain a bit of geographical lexicon. Chat with hairdressers and foot masseurs. When you need to rent an apartment, ask a real estate agent to take you around and you’ll review the vocabulary connected with a house.
READ EVERYTHING AROUND YOU
This tips comes from a Chinese friend. She said it’s what they used to learn characters when they were kids. Look at the big signs of the shops on the streets while walking around or sitting on the bus. Reading a Chinese book can be tiring, especially for the eyes. The things you read in the streets are huge and have lights 🙂
Read leaflets and receipts. They are more interesting than reading language manuals because they belong to real life, have real context, and will stick in your memory longer.
PUT TECHNOLOGY TO GOOD USE
Life is much easier if you download the rigth, free dictionaries. I like Hanping for Android and KTdict for iphone/ipad. When I’m with my laptop, I also look up words on LINEdict and use my favoritetool for Chinese, Wenlin, which allows me to copy and paste long texts and scan words quickly without having to write down each single word that I don’t know.
FIND CHINESE MUSIC AND SERIES THAT YOU LIKE
Listen to Chinese songs until you find something you would be happy to translate. Download the app QQ yinyue (QQ音乐) on your phone and listen to Chinese music for free. You’ll find everything on QQ yinyue, including international music. Most songs have text, so you can listen and read at the same time.
Ask a friend to help you install software on your notebook for streaming Chinese series and movies, like all the locals are doing.
Have you heard of these famous series:
Aiqing Gongyu (爱情公寓) It’s the Chinese Friends. Language is quick but conversation is simple.
Liang ge Baba (两个爸爸) “Two Fathers”. A Taiwanese series about a girl with two fathers.
Wenzhou yi Jia Ren (温州一家人) “A Family from Wenzhou”. A Chinese family from the countriside is forced to split up, and the young daughter moves to Italy to work. It’s contemporary and shot in China and Italy.
REMEMBER AND ACCEPT THE FACT THAT REAL LANGUAGE MIGHT BE DIFFERENT FROM THE LANGUAGE USED IN BOOKS
But do not be discouraged. Language is like a living organism, ever-changing. You’ll have the chance to use what you study in books, but you’ll learn much more from the place you visit and people you meet, so choose them carefully, and never stop studying a little everyday. Learning Chinese takes a huge effort, but it rewards you greatly; you’ll be proud of the improvement you’ll see after just a few months in China.
SET REALISTIC GOALS
After you obtain a good working knowledge of Chinese, you should keep setting further language goals, otherwise you’ll start losing your vocabulary. When you have a job and your life in China is stable, or if you’ve decided to go back home, do not relax too much, or you’ll stop learning alltogether. If you are inspired to study a bit of Chinese everyday, like setting the goal of passing the HSK exam or reading Chinese novels and magazines, your Chinese vocabulary will never stop growing.
BE PROUD OF YOURSELF
Hey, you are studying Chinese! The language that uses those cute misterious graphics instead of an alphabet. They call it “the language of the future” because Chinese economic growth is skyrocketing! Definitely you should give yourself a pat on the shoulder!
Did you find this article about where to learn Chinese in China, the Chinese universities with language schools, and how to learn Chinese fast useful? Then share it with your pals, or leave me a comment…