This article is a general overview of the different options that you have for studying Mandarin Chinese in China. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of every option and suggest the one that best suits you according to your level, expectations, occupation and budget.
There are four main options to study Chinese in China:
- Private schools.
- Internships (exchange programs, fellowships, masters or similar).
- Private tutors.
In this article I’m not going to talk about how to learn Chinese as we already published several articles on the topic such as:
Study Chinese at the University
Generally speaking, the universities are the place where you can get the courses with the best quality. The reason is simple: most universities have a more experience on teaching Chinese than any private school. Also, the most experienced teachers prefer to work there. These are also the people that wrote most of Chinese textbooks (if not all).
The other big advantage of signing up for a university is that you won’t have any trouble on getting your student visa and a cheap accommodation at the foreign student’s dormitory (normally a private room with bathroom).
But studying Chinese at the university have some problems:
- No flexibility: You can’t start a course at the University whenever you want and the scheduling of the lessons is fixed (and you can’t negotiate it).
- Full-time commitment: Universities only offer full-time courses, with a minimum of compulsory lessons four hours per day, Monday to Friday. So forget to study at the university if you have a full-time job.
- Price: The best universities are more expensive than private schools.
- “Traditional” teaching methods: Universities’ teaching methods work on the longterms but are extremely boring and during the first months you’ll perceive little to no progresses as they’ll focus on characters and phonetics. Also, it doesn’t matter if you are English, Japanese or Iranian: they’ll teach you the same way.
- Best and worst teachers: As I told at the beginning universities have the most experienced teachers but also a bunch of awful teachers that were able to get a position because of they personal connections. Also, you may end up with a master student teaching to you (they need the experience and they pay for it). This actually has a pro and con: the lesson may be quite interesting because master Chinese students are extremely motivated. However they have no teaching experience whatsoever.
Having say that, who should study Chinese at the university? I think this method is ideal for beginners.
When you start studying Chinese it’s important to establish a strong basis so that you can improve much faster later on. Universities are the only ones that provide you with a strong basis.
Study Chinese in a private school
Private schools represent the most flexible and economic way to study Chinese in China.
- If you wish, you can show up at the school and start the lessons the same day. Also, if you are at least two people they will start a course for you in one or two days (the time to find a teacher). You can get one to one classes, small groups and sometimes big groups classes (more than 8-10 people).
- Another advantage of private academies is that you have the option to pay only when you attend the lesson. Thus, if one day you are sick or tired you don’t need to pay.
But there are also some drawbacks:
- Business philosophy: Private schools work the same way than other business in China. There’s much more offer than demand and the faster way to get more customers (AKA students) is to lowering the price, of course at expense of the quality. If they succeed to beat the competitors they will start to increase their profit margins by reducing the cost and increasing the price. So we suggest you to avoid the cheapest schools and settle for quality instead.
- Flexibility leads to no commitment: Because of the flexibility there is a huge turn over of students that join and leave the courses at any time. It may happen that, if most of your classmates decide to leave because they haven’t time anymore or whatever other reason, the course will be cancelled. It’s often no profitable for the school to have only few student and wait for others to join.
- Some schools can’t provide you with student VISA: If you come to China and you want to get a student VISA by joining a course in a private school, make sure that the school you chose can provide you the VISA. Also, make sure to ask how many hours per week you’ll need to attend in order to get the VISA.
I suggest these schools to people that already have some basis and are looking for a commitment to keep on studying Chinese and taking their language skills to the next level.
The flexibility and the fact that there is no strict rules and method make the lessons easier to follow and funnier than the lessons you can get at the university.
What Private Schools do you recommend?
That’s Mandarin, with its 12 years of activity, is one of the oldest private schools in China. The school was founded in Beijing in 2005 and nowadays has schools in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengde. That’s Mandarin offers both small group classes and one-to-one lessons. The latter is certainly more suitable for people that need a flexible scheduling.
Beside this, they offer : Intensive Chinese, Part-time Chinese, Online Chinese Lessons, Summer Programs, Chinese Visa Programs and HSK Preparation Courses.
Keats Chinese School
Founded in 2004, Keats Chinese School is one of the top Mandarin Chinese language schools in Kunming and offers both one-on-one immersion Mandarin courses and small group Chinese classes. Located in Kunming, Keats welcomes around 40% of returning students each year due to its teaching quality. Keats develops personalized exercises and materials exclusively for one-on-one students to meet their learning goals and requirements. Students can come to study anytime, according to their own schedule. The small group classes cost only USD 650 for 16 weeks with the student visa provided.
Keats School also offers online Chinese lessons, HSK Test Preparation, Chinese Language Course + Volunteer in China, Chinese Language Course + Tour in China, Children Chinese Program, and customized Mandarin course for organizations and companies.
LTL Mandarin School
LTL Mandarin School is a Chinese school for foreigners, with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengde. It was created to ensure students a complete immersion into the Chinese language and culture. With a wide range of study programs, the school offers each student the opportunity to achieve their goals through lessons in small groups, individual, Business Chinese lessons, interships, preparation courses for HSK and more. LTL is also one of the centers authorized by HSK and monthly offers the possibility to take the exams from the 1st to the 6th level.
MandarinSpring has been educating learners since 2014 and has experience teaching learners of all level and nationalities. At MandarinSpring, they believe in a balanced approach that offers you both the best in language training and cultural immersion. This creates a community in which your skills are practical, useful, and thorough. Their tailor-made courses are aimed at achieving your goals, and their curriculum constantly revolves around your progress and goals.
Do an internship
If you pay for an internship you’ll get or the help you need to get a VISA, organize your trip, find an accommodation and build a social life. However there several problems you should be aware of:
- Price: Internships represent the most expensive way to come to China to study Chinese (unless you get a scholarship).
- Your classmates: You’ll probably end up in a class packed with the fellows of the program that will come from your country or at least have a reasonable English level. In my experience you guys will end up speaking English – or whatever common language you have – most of time. People are lazy and why in the hell should you discuss in broken Mandarin when you can both speak a fairly good English? Conversely, when you attend a Chinese university most of the students are Japanese, Korean or Russian people that speak little to no English. This would force you to communicate in Chinese as it’s the only common language in the classroom.
- Tailor made courses: Internships and equivalents will often sell you a tailor-made course designed especially for your program (for example “Chinese for business people”). My experience is that tailor made courses mean “not-at-all-tested-home-made-methods” and normally end up with a failure.
- You can’t choose where to study Chinese: So make sure your program will send you to a good school or university.
This option is ideal for the people who prefer to pay a bit more money to avoid complications or people that are moving abroad for the very first time.
Get a private Chinese tutor
Private tutors are cheap and easy to find. You’ll find plenty of advertisements in the classified section of expats’ websites such as The Beijinger or Enjoy Shanghai.
Private tutors are a bit more expensive than private schools (after all it’s a one-to-one lesson) and their teaching experience is equivalent or even higher than the teachers in those schools. They are supposed to act as a complement for your regular classes so normally they aren’t willing to prepare so many contents for your lessons. Apart from that I don’t see any problems on hiring a tutors.
Tutors are quite useful for beginners as a complement to the regular classes or for those beginners that are working full-time and don’t have the time to attend a regular course at the university.
I would actually say that tutors are always good at any stage as they can help you to reinforce your weakest points.
The other option is the language exchange. In my opinion this option is overrated as in China there are plenty of native people to speak with; just go outside and get some Chinese friends! Maybe this option it may be useful to people that work in a completely foreign environment and are too shy to go outside and meet new people. But in this case you probably have enough money to pay for a professional teacher so don’t lose your time teaching English in exchange of free Chinese lessons!
What do you think? Do you have a different opinion?