Kunming, the capital of China’s province of Yunnan, is a great destination for those interested in learning Mandarin. With a rich cultural heritage and stunning natural scenery, Kunming offers a unique and immersive environment for students looking to improve their language skills. Here we explore the various opportunities and resources available for studying Chinese in Kunming, and why it’s a fantastic choice for language learners of all levels.
For a more general overview of studying Chinese in China, be sure to check out our article, which covers some essential tips and the various resources available to language learners.
The pros of studying Mandarin in Kunming
- Mandarin is quite widespread: A large portion of the population of Kunming is from northeastern China (Dongbei) and immigrated to the city during the last war with Japan. In northeastern China, dialects very similar to Mandarin are spoken, which means that the local dialect in Kunming is very close to standard Mandarin. Despite the existence of many dialects in the Yunnan region, Mandarin tends to be the lingua franca, as opposed to in other regions, such as Guangdong or Shanghai.
- The cost of living is low: Despite being a relatively large city, the cost of living in Kunming is quite a bit lower than in large coastal cities, at around 20-50% less.
- A pleasant climate all year round: Coastal cities in China tend to have a harsh climate with frozen winters and/or suffocating summers. Kunming has a mountainous subtropical climate and pleasant weather all year round, as temperatures don’t tend to go over 30° or below 5°. It’s no coincidence that they call it the city of eternal spring.
- Relatively low pollution: Kunming is a Chinese city with more than four million inhabitants, so don’t expect it to have clean air. However, the pollution in Kunming is much more tolerable than in the majority of large Chinese cities.
- A relatively international city: The foreign community in Kunming is relatively large compared to other similar-sized Chinese cities, which also makes it suitable for people who don’t want to adjust their habits excessively when studying in China.
The cons of studying Mandarin in Kunming
- Far from economic centers: Yunnan is a relatively poor province located quite far from the country’s economic hubs. Because of this, job and business opportunities in Kunming are quite rare compared to in coastal cities (except for in the tourism industry).
- Touristy city: Kunming is the starting point for many of the tourists who decide to visit the Yunnan province, which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. This means that during tourist season, the city fills up with tourists that affect its normal operation.
Private schools in Kunming
Note: Although we only accept schools that have a good reputation, this list of private schools is a sponsored listing:
Keats Chinese School
Keats Chinese School opened its doors in 2004 and is without a doubt one of the best schools for learning Mandarin in the city. It currently offers two types of courses: individual Mandarin classes and Chinese classes in small groups. Keats provides personalized exercises and materials for students who choose individual classes so that they can attain their goals and fulfill their learning needs. One of its main advantages is its flexible schedule for students. Classes in small groups only cost 650 USD for a 16-week course, including a student visa. Keats School is proud to say that around 40% of its students decide to return to its school after completing their program.
Keats Chinese School also offers online Chinese courses, HSK exam preparation courses, Chinese courses + volunteer work in China, Chinese courses + tour in China, a Chinese program for children, and customized Mandarin courses for organizations and companies.
Universities for studying Chinese in Kunming
Yunnan University, 云南大学
Yunnan University is one of the oldest universities in China and is considered to be among the 50 most prestigious Chinese universities. Without a doubt, Yunnan University is the best university in the Yunnan province. In addition, it receives support from the central government for teaching Chinese as a foreign language. The university has almost 20,000 students, more than 900 of whom are foreigners.
Yunnan University offers study programs for foreigners that are 50% less expensive than in Beijing and Shanghai. For example, a one-year program for studying Chinese costs less than 12,000 Yuan (programs start in September and March).
The main campus is located in the central district of Wuhua, which makes it easy for students to enjoy everything that the city of Kunming has to offer.
Yunnan Normal University, 云南师范大学
Yunnan Normal University is probably the best university for studying Chinese in Kunming, as it is the university where future Chinese professors are trained. It’s considered a key university for educating the teachers that will teach Chinese in the surrounding countries in Southeast Asia and is among the top 18 universities for training Chinese as a foreign language teachers.
Another advantage of this university is the quality of its dormitories for foreign students and the relatively high English level both among staff and students at the university.
The main campus of Yunnan Normal University is also found in the Wuhua district, very close to Yunnan University, and therefore is in an excellent area for enjoying the city as much as possible.
Yunnan University of Finance and Economics, 云南财经大学
Yunnan University of Finance and Economics is the best business university in Yunnan and has a Chinese language study program at a very affordable price. The university has more than 32,000 students, more than 700 of whom are foreigners.
The prices for Chinese courses consisting of 18 hours weekly are 3,000 – 4,800 Yuan for one month, 8,000 – 10,000 Yuan for three months and 11,600 Yuan for one year.
The main campus is located in the Chenggong district 40 km from downtown, making it somewhat isolated, which can be a problem for students who want to enjoy city life after classes.
Get a free quote to study Chinese in Kunming
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Photo Credits: 昆明 Kunming by JiKang Lee
Martin Bow says
Nice overview stumbled upon this after studying already for one month in Huayang Academy. You should add it in here. Very good school and the staff are like a family they helped me when I arrived with no cash even though they didn’t know me they lent me money til I could get in touch with my bank! Thank Lori hopefully back soon
Nadia Welbabi says
I am just finishing up at Huayang which I found because of all the great comments on this blog! Thanks you guys :) honestly fantastic place with lovely teachers and a family feel to it.
I started mountain biking, hiking and getting back in shape after 6 years of office work because of the love and happiness of Huayang Academy! I hope Lori and the people there have a great future and I will be back any time i can make it!
I have seen so many great things here. staff have helped find jobs for 2 students one in a University and one in Beijing even though it mean they would make less from tuition! Everyone is included in our nature hikes its not a race its the fit helping to older guys and the people with money bringing food and people without making their own contributions
Loved it wish I didnt need to go home
Sborto Zhou says
Thanks for sharing your opinon
Hadj Hammou Cherifi says
I am 28 years old from Algeria
I am interested to study Chinese for one year in Kunming starting from spring, with a scholarship or low tuition fees.
Please would you help me.
Furio Fu says
I suggest you to contact schools etc. We can’t really help you.
Betty Richards says
You don’t want to go for extra low fees or scholarships. At least not at the beginning of your studies because you get what you pay for. The only cheap course I know that I have consistently ranked among students in Kunming is at Huayang Academy and they fill classes early and always have smaller classes.
after one or two semesters you will get a better idea of the city and how to get a scholarship. I know the above mentioned school has gotten students into Msc and Bsc courses at YunDa with good scholarships
Andrew Bu says
Chuxiong Normal University, right between Kunming and Dali, is pretty great. I mean it’s quite rubbish as a school, but it’s free housing and tuition (at least it was for me), and you really feel like your deep in China here.
Most students come from super humble circumstances, and the city itself isn’t exactly first-world. It’s really uncomfortable and the only courses they can offer are super beginner classes, but man, you can’t find many better raw cultural experiences than you can by living in Chuxiong! You do get what you pay for (it was free, mind you): the dorms suck and the school doesn’t care much about you except for when they ask you to perform American culture routines.
In all, I really loved my time here, just not because for the academic aspect.
Sborto Zhou says
Thank you Andrew for sharing your experience
STAY CLEAR OF KUNMING COLLEGE OF EASTERN LANGUAGES (KCEL)
I enrolled in one-no-one lessons at KCEL in Kunming for 6 months. In total I have been to 5 Chinese language schools in China, and KCEL was by far the worst (and I say this with the authority of being a qualified second language teacher at the master’s level). Reasons are set out below. In summary, if you want value for money, no drama and a relatively high degree of professionalism, enrol at Keats instead.
1. THEY MISLEAD
Before I signed up with KCEL, I had a verbal agreement with the boss of the school that he would offer me a special rate of 75 yuan per hour. After I flew from Australia to Kunming, the boss sprung on me that the special price was conditional upon buying a minimum of 6 months worth of hours upfront.
2. THEY LIE
Before I signed up with KCEL, I had a verbal agreement with the manager that every 4 weeks I could take 1 week off for rest. After I flew from Australia to Kunming, the manager claimed she never agreed to rest periods and I would have to study for 6 months straight without rest weeks. Another significant lie the manager told me was that, before I leave China, I would have to pay a 160 yuan cancellation fee of my visa. I found out later from the Chinese Embassy in Australia that there was no such fee.
3. THEY TEACH INCORRECT GRAMMAR OR NO GRAMMAR AT ALL
The first teacher I was given taught me incorrect grammar nearly 100% of the time. Fortunately I’m very good at pattern recognition and would be able to work out the grammar for myself. After 4 weeks of crappy teaching, I finally confronted my teacher about the situation, to which she went on the offensive, claiming I had made no progress all month so I must stop studying the grammar in my textbook. The boss of the school also told me I couldn’t study grammar in classes any more because he knows what is best.
4. THEY DON’T LET YOU ASK QUESTIONS
One day the boss of the school pulled me aside to talk with me privately. He said that my teachers had made a complaint about me – they had said I ask too many questions in my one-on-one classes. He directed me not to ask questions anymore in class.
5. THEY GASLIGHT YOU
When I first approached the school, I had a textbook I wanted to study from, I wanted to study topics that interested me, and I wanted to play language games. The manager and my indoor teachers rejected my requests, and imposed the typical Chinese teaching methodology on me (i.e. rote learning). Despite the fact that I didn’t resist their imposed methodology, the boss, the manager and my indoor teachers would regularly say to me that I had made no progress in my Chinese because I always reject their methodology.
6. THEY WON’T LET YOU TRAVEL
I had checked with the manager months in advance if I could spend one week travelling in Dali and Lijiang at the end of my 6 month contract before returning to Australia. I had informed the manager that I had two friends flying from Australia and one friend flying from Japan to meet me for the trip. The manager said this was fine. Three weeks before the trip, the manager sprung on me that I’m not allowed to travel in China on a study visa and she was going to cancel my visa while I was travelling.
7. THEY COME TO YOUR HOME TO TAKE YOU TO THE POLICE STATION
In order to try to protect my visa while travelling, I walked away from the last 3 weeks of my tuition at KCEL and bought 4 weeks of tuition at the Keats language school. This was done with the clearance of the Chinese Embassy in Australia. For some reason this infuriated the boss and manager of KCEL, despite the fact that they got three weeks of my money for nothing. They sent me half a dozen threatening text messages, claiming I could not transfer schools without them cancelling my visa. They finally turned up at my house demanding that I must go with them to the police station to cancel my visa. Fortunately I wasn’t home, but my dad was who is professionally trained in negotiation tactics. He spoke with them for one and a half hours (standing in the hallway the whole time). By the end, my dad managed to get the manager to concede that she had lied about many things, including that she had no authority to cancel my visa, and that I indeed had the right to transfer schools.
8. THEY STEAL YOUR MONEY AND TIME
Many times during my lessons, my teachers would be on WeChat, take phone calls, do administrative work, turn up late, and take extra long breaks. They also would not turn up at all to some of my classes. I was never refunded for those lost hours.
These points are just the tip of the iceberg. I had to endure much more.
Andy Fisher says
I’ve been studying Chinese the past few months at Kunming New Target Training School in Wuhua District. It’s a small school, and very new, but I have been impressed with the quality of instruction thus far. Their study plans are extremely flexible and they also provide a student visa and housing assistance.
Sborto Zhou says
Thank you Andy, could you share the name of the school?
Erin White says
Kunming is a great place to learn Chinese. There is Keats downtown, Huayang in the west and KCEL is also here. Fresh air is a little over rated as the new Metro is causing some pollution in the city. Anyone who is sensitive might want to check Dali or Lijiang as there are good schools there too!
Sborto Zhou says
Thank you for your feedback. Yes the air might not be optimal but still better that the coastal cities : )
Paddy Roche says
Thanks! I’m just finishing my semester at Jilin University and it is too cold for me to do another semester here.
Glad to get all of this info about Kunming! Are there many outdoor enthusiasts there? I know its a great place with mountains etc. but I feel the Chinese level of outdoor activity is quite low compared to western standards
Sborto Zhou says
Yunnan is a great place for outdoor activities. About the standards, it all depends on what you want to do
Cat Doherty says
Check out Huayang Academy and their blog. It only covers a little of what the actual school does but when I was there, there was a lot of mountain bikers and a group of climbers aswell. There is a climbing gym close if your into that and I know they organise hikes etc.
Especially check out Jiaozi mountain in the North its less over developed like the rest of the hikes in China.
Audrey O'Reilly says
Thanks for your report, I am choosing between Keats and Huayang Academy.
I know a few students who’ve studied at both and Huayang seems to be getting better than Keats. Also it is in a good location for me.
Do you know anything about Huayang?
Sborto Zhou says
Sorry, at the moment we have no information about Huayang Academy. We may review it for the next update
Having studied in both I know people who prefer each one Audrey,
I am currently at Huayang Academy to learn Chinese and think you are right about it overtaking in certain respects
Maybe we are in the same FB group?
Anyway welcome to Kunming either school you choose you will have a great time.
Also a good tip get some Chinese friends quickly to practice! Too many people get stuck in Western circles and don’t improve their spoken Chinese quickly
Sborto Zhou says
Thank you Patrick for sharing your experience.