Thursday, February 5, 2009

Studying in China Q&A (part 2)

I've been getting a lot of emails lately. A lot of nice emails, some strange emails, and then... a lot of emails from people that want to study Chinese in China and that are asking me about 'how to' and 'where.' I find it a bit tiresome to answer every single email so I figured it might be time for another studying Mandarin Q&A post. I have already written one of these post where I answered some questions, and you find that post by clicking here.

1. Where shall I study?

Completely up to you! I can only speak from my own experience and that comes from studying Mandarin in Shanghai and Suzhou. A lot of locals in these cities speak the infamous 'Shanghai hua' or 'Suzhou hua' which is more than hard to understand, but most locals can also speak Mandarin, so just because you are based in Shanghai and Suzhou doesn't mean you won't have any chance to speak to locals. I have heard from people who have studied in cities like Beijing, Dalian, Harbin saying that studying there has been really great too. I have been to both Dalian and Beijing and I found it easier to understand the locals over there (also I personally love the northern dialect! All those 'rrrrrr's... mmmmm, they sound like pirates!) and I think that if I could re-do my choices I probably would have gone to a 'smaller' city like Dalian or even Kunming to learn Mandarin. These cities are not so 'laowai packed' as Shanghai and Beijing are, and we all know the best way to learn Chinese: hang with locals rather than laowais.

But really -it is up to you where you 'should' go. Research the cities you are interested in and post on local expat forums if you want the opinion of some other laowai who's been studying there.

2. I have found a university but I cannot understand their web page -what should I do?

I am amazed of how many people emailing me, going 'can you check this link and translate the page for me and tell me what it means?'... I am sorry, but really... I have a life too! If you bump into problems while browsing a web page then you obviously have to solve it... yourself. Chinese universities home pages can be tricky, and trust me, I have been in your shoes. I didn't know one iota of Chinese when I decided to go to China. And I had problems with their web pages. So... I picked up the phone and called the university and asked them. And... that was it. Not harder than that. There will be some people at the university that are able to speak English, so don't worry about the language. You might not get the right person the first time you call, but just call again, be persistent and eventually you'll get to someone who can help you. I would recommend calling the university rather than emailing them because it is so easy to ignore an email but much harder to ignore a phone call.

3. What are some good study institutes in Shanghai?

There are the biggest universities: Shanghai Uni, Jiaotong, Fudan and... what am I forgetting? Hm... I am sure a google search will tell you!? I know that Jiaotong offers summer courses as well as full semesters (and I believe Fudan does too?), so there are a lot of different programs to choose from. There are also numerous 'Mandarin schools' that offer smaller classes/evening classes but these ones are normally veeeeery expensive (especially compared to the unis). Some that I know of are Miracle Mandarin, Mandarin House, Easy Mandarin, etc etc... I have personally only tried this sort of place once (Miracle Mandarin), when I was working in Shanghai, and I found it a bit so-so, but I know many people that have learned a lot from these courses so I guess the results are very personal.

OK, I think that is it... if you have any additional questions related to learning Chinese in China, please post them in the comments field and I will update this post by answering them. Although before you ask, read the other Q&A post as well!

If anyone else who has been/are currently studying Mandarin in China have any useful advices for people that are interested in learning Mandarin, please feel free to share them too in the comments field! 


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your activity in learning foreign languages and your warm heart of helping others.

m--e said...

If you have problems figuring out what to do if you can't understand a website, you should seriously consider how you would handle the everyday frustrations of life in China. This blog has a lot of great examples of how us Westerners may expect things to go - and how they can really go! That said, any study abroad would certainly give anyone a broader perspective on the world and valuable experience!

Steph said...

Google translate has a feature where it will translate an entire webpage for you. just go to and copy the webpage URL that you want translated into the box. Make sure you change the languages at the bottom to Chinese -> English. Voila!

Although, I will warn those who might attempt this, the translation is often sketchy. So if you need to know the exact translation, this isn't a good method. However, it will give you an idea of what is on the page so that you have something to work from. Hope this helps...

As far as studying Mandarin overseas, I would say it is the most difficult, yet also rewarding thing I have ever attempted. There were days when I first started out (and sometimes even now) when I would be frustrated to the point of tears because I just couldn't figure something out. So my advice would be to be prepared for this. Be prepared to be completely independent on your Chinese-speaking friends until you develop enough skills to venture out on your own. Also, realize that just because you are immersed in the language doesn't mean you will learn it automatically. Mandarin takes a LOT of studying to be able to speak it well, and this takes a lot of discipline and patience.

But like I said, once you do develop some skills, it will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever accomplished. Good luck to those considering taking this giant but wonderful step! :)

Rambler said...

You're right. There are a lot of r's in the Northern accents. When I want to go to the South Gate, I have to say it more like "Nan mer" than "Nan men".

SunJune said...

every province has their own loalism. some times they can't understand each other. Chinese is a very difficult language. do you know"wen yan wen文言文"? I don't know how to speak it in english. it's archaic chinese. so difficule, but it's the most beautiful language. you'll be love it. Tell the truth, your chinese is better than my english. come on, lady. your chinese will be perfect.

peterkobayashi said...

I recommend Taipei, Taiwan. Most people almost always speak Mandarin most of the time in Taipei City. And for those who want to learn simplified characters with Pinyin, most language schools here offer that choice too, as well as traditional and zhuyin. It makes a difference when most people around you are constantly speaking in the language you are trying to learn. People here do not have as much 兒化韻 that you like, but most young people clearly differentiate z/zh, c/ch, s/sh sounds. It's a myth that there's no 捲舌音 in Taiwan Mandarin!

Clifford Magnus Larsen said...

Don't worry about studying Chinese in Shanghai... most people have an ability to speak English... Find a young person who can speak 普通话 and you can listen to this podcast to learn Shanghainese!!!

Anonymous said...

if you want to read a chinese website, try the chinese perapera-kun add-on if you're using firefox. it is a pop-up translator and translates the characters while pointing at them.

i also thought about moving to china to study chinese, but i decided to stay in germany because i will also study economics and i think a german degree might weigh more than a chinese one.

considering universities in china, i heard that chinese people studying at famous and big universities are always in a hurry and busy learning. so if you want to meet some students and get to know them, try to go to a smaller and not that famous university. i think the learning-chinese-institutes won't differ that much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an informative post. I'm planning to study one year in a Chinese university (I'm considering Suzhou university) in order to be able to speak and write Mandarin fluently. I know it sounds ambitious regarding the short time frame but I already had 6 years of Chinese primary school education for about 17 years ago, so I need to push myself to learn as fast as possible. My question is: is it possible to achieve this in a language programme "designed" for foreigners, or is there different levels to choose from, which provide the possibility of obtaining a high degree of fluency in Mandarin?

Anonymous said...

I think one of the problems with Chinese University websites is not so much the language, but just that they are so terrible. Some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the nation seem to have main pages full of dead links.

I do like Chinese Pera-kun plugin, but trying to translate an entire page would be very difficult without an understanding of the grammar.

I just discovered your blog. I find most laowai blogs somewhat tedious, but yours is interesting, informative and well written.

simon said...

im planning to study mandarin in shanghai, but realised the registration for the semesters for most universities have already closed.
im looking at a few other schools, e.g. Tongji University International School JBC. It offers some kind of 3-mth intensive courses that starts nearly every month. Has anybody gone thru the course before or heard anything about the this particular school's curriculum and would like to share what it's like?


speedjounetsu said...

Hello , I love languages too , and I will be studying chinese in shanghai from next year . If you are still there , maybe we can meet .
I just wanted to confirm some aspects regarding Jiaotong and Mandarin Miracle .
1.Dont they have too many japanese and koreans in jiaotong ??
2.Do you sit in rows facing the whiteboard in Jiaotong ?? (I think this is important too)
3.Well jiaotong is 9000 rmb and mandarine house is 11000 rmb. Do you think that what makes Mandarine Miracle expensive is not the tuition itself but the shortness of the courses ???

If you could reply personally I would be very thankful
My name is Marcel

Bye bye