Learning Chinese is a fun but a somewhat crazy experience —I studied for 5 weeks in Beijing China and then headed off to Shanghai to experience this skyscraper city and then headed out to the country to see the ‘real China’ for myself which was an amazing experience.
I started Chinese lessons as a beginner, not a complete beginner as I’d listened to Chinese CD’s, I’d learnt the alphabet (essential and takes about 2-3 weeks of intense concentration!) and had a few Chinese lessons back in the UK (3 months at night school) but it was only when I got to China that my Chinese really started to accelerate at a pace that surprised me as I didn’t realise just how much you pick up when studying in a country where Chinese is spoken as you really do practice each day outside of the classroom.
Even if my confidence wasn’t that high to start with, by the end of week 3 I felt I’d almost reached lower elementary level of Chinese as I’d been immersed in the language, I’d read road signs, ordered tea with the locals, even taken a Tai Chi lesson and heard nothing but Chinese for the whole week and something was starting to click – the feeling was fantastic and a great confidence booster. I no longer cared about looking silly when I got things wrong, I just had a go at speaking Chinese and you know what – most of the time I was understood even if I did get a few funny looks to start with but the people appreciate you trying to speak Chinese so it didn’t matter!
If you learn Chinese you have a chance to get a more intimate look at China. Taking a Chinese course in China opens up a world of opportunities and promises to get you off the tourist trail where you can immerse yourself in the culture in a way that’s just not possible if you don’t speak Chinese.
I lived with a Chinese host family which was great, I didn’t feel ‘mothered’ at all and was free to come & go as I pleased and my Chinese vocabulary improved no end as you are forced to speak daily and ask for even just the basics like towels and ‘pass the salt’ – practical Chinese all the way not to mention the amazing insight you have into life and culture living as a local – the food and cooking was also an experience not to be missed.
Accents change as does dialect but you don’t have to worry about where you learn Chinese in China although it can be fun to split your Chinese courses across different locations such as Beijing and Shanghai to experience life and different accents which will really help improve your Chinese.
Rest assured, Chinese courses are suitable for beginners to advanced Chinese learners. Everyone is tested (don’t worry, there’s no gold stars or dunce hats here) on the first day before Chinese lessons start so they can be placed in the right group for their level and will then progress rapidly but safe in the knowledge that their fellow classmates are at a similar Chinese level to them.
Levels are generally as follows:
• Complete beginner Chinese courses (spend the first week learning the basic characters)
• Beginner Chinese courses
• Elementary Chinese lessons (split into lower & upper)
• Intermediate Chinese lessons (split into lower & upper)
• Advanced Chinese courses (suitable for advanced levels of Chinese up to fluency level)
In 5 weeks, I felt like I’d progressed my Chinese from a beginner to elementary and was raring to go on my travels, confident I would be able to get by in day to day situations as well as being able to read and write Chinese at a reasonable level if I ever needed to.
My confidence soared, I fell in love with learning the Chinese language and soaked up new words and phrases every day without trying as my brain was now switched into ‘learn Chinese’ mode. Learning Chinese is liberating, I felt like I was invited into the culture and countries I visited and no longer did I feel like ‘just a tourist’ and that can’t be bad.