I am planning to spend half a year traveling through East Asia and about 3 months of that time in China. I do not want to just look at the sights, but mainly learn something about the local culture, experience how people live etc.
To help with that, I decided to spend the first month learning (the beginnings) of the language. I know I will not get fluent, but I want to get to a level where I can "survive" in Mandarin and I think learning a language is one of the best ways of learning about a culture.
Can someone recommend a school in China with:
1. a flexible schedule (I want to study for a month, not a semester)
2. good student support (visas, practical support when there etc.)
3. good social life and student community (I am on holiday after all)
4. the chance to get immersed into local culture. If something like a high quality homestay program exists in China, I would be interested in that.
5. good teachers (not some part-timer who did a two week teaching training course, but real professionals)
All help is appreciated! I promise to report back on my experience once I have been to China and help anyone in the future who might have similar questions once I have been there.
#1 Risstel has been a member since 21/12/2013. Posts: 6
I am currently studying at LTL Mandarin School in Beijing and from my experience can recommend them. To answer your questions:
1) I am studying 1-on-1, with that you can start any time you want, but I think they start beginner group classes every couple of weeks as well. All courses are booked per week, so you can decide for how long you want to stay.
2) This is my first trip to China/Asia and the support before I went to China was the main reason I picked LTL. They sorted out the visa and were helpful during the planning stages of the program.
Since I have been in Beijing the support has been outstanding. It is very easy to ask for help and you get it very quickly. The school is not that big, so it has a bit of a family atmosphere to it.
3) The social life so far has been most entertaining. We are not a huge group of students at the moment (about 20), but everyone knows each other and go out for food, drinks, trips etc. together. There are some "official" school events too, which are fun to go to, but most of it is just privately organized by the students. Beijing is quite a fun city, I do not think you would get bored here.
4) If you want to be immersed into the culture, then you should definitely do a homestay program. I am living with a family at the moment and I do not think there is any other way to get such a "first hand look" at life in China. My "parents" are both in their sixties and take me on family trips every weekend. So far we have been to the great wall, the summer palace, one wedding and countless relatives homes for dinner. It can be a bit tough at the beginning when you do not speak that much Chinese yet (in my case none at all), but after a while it works fine. For quickly improving your spoken Mandarin living with a homestay is a very good idea.
5) I study 1-on-1 classes and have two teachers, one for Mon, Wed, Fri and one Tue and Thur. Both are excellent. I didn't ask them for their resumes, but both are clearly full time and I have worked at the school at least for several years, judging from the stories they have told me about their previous students at LTL. Very good at explaining grammar and helping me with my particular weak spot, tones.
Another option you might want to look if you want to combine traveling with studying are their multi-city Chinese programs http://www.livethelanguage.cn/multi-city-mandarin-programs/.
#2 worldaroundthe has been a member since 25/5/2013. Posts: 6
You should sign up to Lang-8.com, it's a free website that allows you to write sentences/paragraphs etc. and people will correct it for you. In addition to that resource, check out livemocha.com - another free source. For me, the best way to learn a language is to write down the words you will need every day (coffee, rice, taxi, weather) etc. and say them out loud while walking around the street. You need to speak it everyday. Classes/tutors are good, but for those extra hours out of session, just speak it as much as possible.
Thanks for all the advice and sorry for the late reply. I went to LTL Mandarin School and did a combination course with the first two weeks in Beijing and then two in Chengde. Not surprisingly, I am not fluent but I had no problem traveling through China. My non-English speaking girlfriend in Chengde might have helped with that too though.
Of the three month in China I enjoyed the one I was studying the most though. I think living with a Chinese host family taught me more about China than visiting a hundred temples ever would. It also nice to be a student in the country and be part of the whole thing instead of just a tourist who looks at a few sites and then just leaves. I had the feeling people treated me very differently when I told them I was there for studying Chinese instead of just saying I was a tourist, which of course I also was at least for the second part of the trip.
It is definitely possible to travel through China without speaking Mandarin, but knowing at least a bit makes it a lot more interesting and often easier.
I found the Chinese program I did suited me very well, especially in Beijing where the school has a pretty fun student community with a lot of events in Beijing. It was very easy to meet people there and I ended up spending part of my trip through China traveling together with two of them. Chengde was more quiet and "Chinese" which was also very interesting, but two weeks were enough for me. I might go to the school next year again, but would stay only in Beijing then.
#4 Risstel has been a member since 21/12/2013. Posts: 6