Peking University (Beida)
If you are planning to study Mandarin Chinese in China, you probably thought about coming to Beijing. The goal of this article is to help you to understand whether Beijing is the right destination for you or not. You’ll find out:
- The pros and cons of studying Chinese in Beijing.
- The best universities for studying Chinese in Beijing.
- A short list of well-known agencies and private schools for studying Chinese in Beijing (under construction).
If you’re interested in a more general overview, you can read Studying Chinese in China: What’s the best choice for you?
The pros of studying Mandarin Chinese in Beijing
- Beijing is the capital of China: Even though China isn’t a centralized country, after living in Beijing for many years, I’ve realized that the Chinese government is investing a huge amount of resources in order to develop the capital’s education system and cultural scene. In Beijing, you can find hundreds of universities, including the two top Chinese universities, Beida and Tsinghua. This is probably the main reason why most foreign students choose Beijing as their destination.
- Mandarin is based on the dialect of Beijing: The Mandarin language (also known as putonghua and the official spoken language in China) is heavily based on the dialects of northeastern China and, in particular, the dialect of the capital. If you go to Shanghai, Guangzhou or other southern cities, you’ll realize that local people speak, among themselves, a dialect that is completely different from standard Chinese Mandarin. On the other hand, in Beijing, you’ll live in an environment where everybody speaks a language pretty similar to the one you’re studying.Let’s put it this way: do you think it’s a wise decision to study English in Scotland where, even though everybody is a native English speaker, people talk with an accent and slang that is very different from the “standard” English that you find in movies and textbooks? If you head to the South of China (Guangzhou or Shenzhen, for instance), things get even worse, because over there, the main language is Cantonese. This is a bit like heading to Quebec to study English or to Barcelona (where local people speak Catalan) to study Spanish.
- In Beijing, you’ll feel the history of China: Beijing is a vibrant city where history and tradition still compete with modern China. In Beijing, every day you’ll stumble upon a monument, temple or gate that was build hundreds (or thousands) of years ago. The only place you can find something similar to this, albeit with different features, is in Rome, Italy. In my opinion, Beijing is a unique place to learn about Chinese culture while you study the language.
The cons of studying Mandarin Chinese in Beijing
- Full immersion is hard to achieve: If you want to improve your Chinese level fast, then full immersion is definitely the best way. The problem is that nowadays, Beijing is home to a huge expat community, especially in the Chaoyang and Haidian districts. This means that many Chinese people are able to speak fluent English (although not as much as in Shanghai or Shenzhen). Therefore, you won’t be forced to speak Chinese all the time (in fact, you can survive without knowing a word of Chinese if you stay in an international neighborhood such as San Li Tun).
- The climate situation: Even though the weather isn’t directly related to your studies, I think it’s a variable that you should take into account. Beijing’s weather can be a nightmare: you’ll have to face freezing and ultra-dry winters, stuffy and terribly hot summers and sand storms in the spring. If that’s not enough, you’ll also have to deal with one of the most polluted areas of China.
- The size of the city: Beijing is huge and crowded. Even though the public transportation system is modern and efficient, you’ll spend a lot of time traveling around (with several other millions of Beijingers). One way to minimize this problem is to live near your school, which is definitely possible.
The best universities for studying Chinese in Beijing
Beijing Language and Culture University, 北京语言大学
Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) is a multidisciplinary university that focuses on language studies. Its main purpose is to teach Chinese language and culture to foreigners. For this reason, BLCU is the most popular University for studying Chinese in Beijing. BLCU likes to define itself as the “Little United Nations,” as it attracts students from all over the world.
Given its privileged location in the Wudaokou area (one of the most active areas in Beijing, especially when it comes down to cultural events and night life), you should consider BLCU if you’re thinking about attending a university.
Beijing Foreign Studies University, 北京外国语大学
With its tiny campus located in the heart of the student district of Haidian, Beijing Foreign Studies University (Beiwai) is considered the most prestigious university to study foreign languages in China. Beiwai also has a Mandarin language department whose goal is to train Chinese students who are going to teach Mandarin all over the world. Even though it isn’t as popular as BLCU, Beiwai also attracts a large number of foreign students whose goal is to master the Chinese language.
Besides its high quality of teaching (I studied there for six months), in my opinion, the strongest point in this university’s favor is its students. Beiwai is the perfect place to meet Chinese people with a strong background in Chinese language teaching who, at the same time, are interested in your language and culture, whatever it is. The reason behind this interest is that many of Beiwai’s Chinese students study both Mandarin (in order to teach it) and other two foreign languages.
Peking University, 北京大学
Peking University (Beida) is considered one of the two best universities in China, and is definitely the best university for social science programs. Its beautiful campus, which is located near Wudaokou, is the home of some of the brightest Chinese students, who come to study from all over the country.
Although Beida isn’t particularly known for its Chinese language courses, it’s one of the most prestigious Universities in China and features joint study programs with several universities around the world (especially American universities), including Chinese learning programs. Given its reputation, you should at least consider this option.
Tsinghua University, 清华大学
Tsinghua University, which is located close to Beida, is especially strong in science programs and competes with Beida for the title of the “best Chinese university.” Historically, Tsinghua has been the university where the state recruits the most brilliant Chinese students for their Masters and Ph.D programs. Furthermore, it attracts enormous investments from the Chinese government, private Chinese companies and foreign partners and is probably the place where most of the future leaders of China are studying (both the current Chinese president, Xi Jingping, and the former president, Hu Jintao, hold engineering degrees from Tsinghua University).
Tsinghua brings together many foreign masters students, especially in technology and hard science-related majors. Even though the courses are in English, the university has established high-quality Chinese language courses for exchange students. You should consider this option!
Beijing Film Academy, 北京电影学院
The Beijing Film Academy, which is also located in Haidian just like all the previous mentioned universities, is rather unknown among the expat community. However, I decided to include it in the list because it offers something quite unique, in particular, courses for intermediate and advanced foreign students that make use of Chinese movies as their main teaching material.
Even though the course is still in its experimental stage, in my opinion, it represents an interesting alternative to studying Chinese language and culture, as it offers a way to learn everyday spoken Mandarin instead of the literary language that you may find in a textbook written twenty years ago.
If you find this interesting, you can also read our interview with Luna, who studied at Beiwai and now teaches Chinese at the Beijing Film Academy.
Private Schools in Beijing
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.
Beijing International Chinese College (BICC)
Beijing International Chinese College (BICC) is one of the biggest private Chinese institute in Beijing, with 2 campuses located in Sanlitun and Maquanying. Since 2005, BICC offers Chinese Mandarin Language Courses and Chinese Culture Courses, as well as HSK test preparation and Business Chinese to people from all over the world. Besides the Chinese classes, several services are provided to the students, such as Accommodation, Visa, Free access to the gym and free monthly activities.
Find a school and move to Beijing with the help of an agency
Coming to China by yourself may seem an overwhelming task: you’ll have to deal with a complicated VISA process, the nightmare of the housing hunt, the rather obscure regulations for enrolling at university, the choice of medical insurance and so on.
If this is the first time you’re moving abroad or you simply want to avoid the complications I just listed, we can certainly suggest a reliable agency that specializes in helping people who are planning to move to China for study purposes.