To help you find the best ways to learn Mandarin Chinese in China, we are pleased to invite Joann from Outside-In, who lived in China for more than 20 years, to give us some tips and advice.
Joann is a consultant, trainer, and also the author of the book “Survival Chinese Lessons”.
Right, Joann, in view of your great experience can you please tell us:
1. I want to learn Mandarin in China, but I don’t know where to start; what do you suggest?
Most people don’t realize this, but speaking a language well is built on the foundation of listening. In order for the sounds to come out of your mouth properly, they have to get into your brain through your ears (not your eyes). Spend a lot of time listening in order to master the sounds of Chinese. If possible, find a language helper to work with. He/she can help you master the sounds and begin to build vocabulary around the sounds. Listen! Listen! Listen!
2. I want learn Mandarin in a place where people speak with a fairly standard, uniform accent?Where should I go? In your opinion, which is the best city for study in China?
My suggestion would be to study in Changchun, Jilin Province, or Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. What you hear on the street is pretty much what you get in the classroom.
3. What are the best things about studying or living in China?
Wow! That’s a big question. The best thing about studying Chinese in China (as opposed to the USA) is that you can immerse yourself in the language. Every time you step out your door you can practice. Living in China (or any country and culture not your own) exposes you to new ideas and ways of looking a the world that are great for expanding your horizons. Besides that, Chinese people are great!
4. Eventually I want to get a job in China. How much is a typical salary for teaching English in China? Can you suggest websites or give me some other ideas where I could also find non-teaching jobs in China?
It’s been a long time since I have actually taught in China, so I’m not sure what the going salary for English teachers is. I think that in most cities it is probably 5000-8000 RMB per month, plus housing and transportation. Schools in larger cities like Beijing or Shanghai may pay more, and schools in more remote areas like Ningxia or Guangxi may pay less. I would recommend looking at the following sites:
5. In your view, how long should it normally take to be fluent in Mandarin if you study in China?
That’s a hard question because it depends on how you define “fluent.” Based on my experience, it normally takes a person with average language aptitude 4 semesters of study to High-Intermediate, as defined by the Proficiency Guidelines of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The American Foreign Service Institute divides language proficiency into a range of numbers. I posted some charts they use on my website that gives an indication of how long it takes a native English speaker to reach achieve the various levels of proficiency. You can see those charts here.
6. I know you published a book called “Survival Chinese Lessons”. Can you talk a little bit about how your book helps people learn Chinese compared with other Chinese learning materials available?
One of my complaints about may beginning level textbooks or books for those wanting to get started is that they try to teach too much. The learner often gets over-loaded and discouraged; then quits. My goal in putting this book together was to make each lesson simple and manageable. For example, lesson one is 2 ways to say hello and 2 ways to say goodbye. I figure anyone can learn that. I also tried to choose the most practical functions someone would need to begin their life in China.
7. It seems most Chinese people only want to practice their English with me. What are some good ways for me to practice spoken Chinese in China?
Step outside of the expat bubble and make friends with people who don’t speak any English (and have little desire to learn). Establish relationships in Chinese, not English. I found my non-English speaking friends at a local church. A neighborhood health club is also a good place to meet people without English skills.
8. I want to study Chinese full-time in China, are there any schools or programmes you
I studied at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, so of course I am partial to that program. Most universities in China have programs for teaching Chinese to international students, so you can really go anywhere. There are also private language schools. One good one that I am familiar with is New Century in Tianjin. Another one is the TLI Yansha Language Center in Beijing.
9. I have never travelled or lived in China previously. Any key things I should know before I go?
Try to learn something about the country and culture before you go. There are lots of good books and resources, but here are some that I like: China Road, by Rob Gifford;Encountering the Chinese: A Modern Nation, Ancient Culture, by Hu Wenzhong and Cornelius Groove.
10. If so some reason, you suddenly forgot how to speak Chinese and had to learn from scratch, how would you go about it?
I would do what I did the first time. Even though it was mind-numbingly boring, I would listen to the pinyin sound chart over and over to get the sounds of the language down. I would also spend an hour or 2 per day listening to Chinese; to sounds; to words; to sentences; to conversations; to movies; to radio programs. I would immerse myself in the sounds of the language.
Thanks Joann for taking the time to answer our questions and share your tips about the best ways to learn Mandarin Chinese.
We hope that our students and followers at Learn Mandarin Now will find it all that much easier to study and become fluent speakers of Mandarin Chinese after reading this!