Spend my gap year in China learning mandarin?

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Spend my gap year in China learning mandarin?

Avatar for TheRedFlower
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I will go on a gap year in Septembere and while lying on a beach in Thailand sounds a lot of fun, I would like to do/learn something that is also useful for the future. So I decided to go to China for a year and learn mandarin.
The problem is, I have never been and have no idea how to. A friend of mine went to a university in Shanghai, but said it was full of foreigners and he ended up speaking English all the time. I would like to:
1. Become fluent in Chinese (if that possible in a year)
2. Not only live and hang around with other foreigners, but be part of Chinese culture
3. Make friends
4. Have an adventure (a safe one though)

Anyone has any ideas or done something like this before?

     
Avatar for Freddy
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I am currently spending my gap year in Beijing learning Mandarin. I have been here for a bit more than four months and will stay until about June.
I am studying at LTL in Beijing, will do their Chengde program in February and they organised an internship for me from April to June in Beijing.
To go through your points:

1) After four and a half months I am ok with most social Chinese conversation and my aim is to be fluent after this year. Not sure if I will make it, but I met several other people at my school who did a similar program (first course in Beijing with a homestay family,then full immersion in Chengde) and they are fluent (one just got a job in a Chinese company where nobody speaks a word of English, his Chinese is amazing and he got here without knowing a word 10 months ago).

2) Two things: live with a homestay family and go to a smaller city. Living with a Chinese family can be a bit tough at the beginning (I spoke no Mandarin when I got here and it took me some time to figure out how to use the washing machine), but it is really worth it. I have so far been to two weddings with them, they took me to the great wall and the food is amazing. Mainly I speak mandarin at home all day though, which is great for practice and it really gives you an idea how normal Chinese people live, which is quite different to what you might expect.

The problem in bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai is that they are quite international with big expat communities and it can easily happen that you end up speaking a lot of English, which is whats happening to me right now when I am not at home. I will go to Chengde (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chengde), which according to other students in my program is smaller (half a million people), speaks standard mandarin (important, as in most other small cities they have horrible accents), is quite pretty (it was China’s summer capital during the Qing Dynasty) and there are no foreigners at all. For the beginning Beijing has been great, because it is just a bit easier to settle in if you have other foreigners around you(and the nightlife is fantastic), but currently I think I really need an environment where I will not be tempted to speak English anymore.

3) It found it very easy to make friends at my school, most people are new and everyone here is very interested to learn mandarin and about Chinese culture. It kind of feels a bit like a “family” among the students at the school here, we go for drinks, dinners etc. together after class a lot. I am not a paricularly social person at home, but meeting people here has not been a problem for me.

4) I find Beijing super safe and from what I heard most of China pretty much is. My Chinese girlfriend told me it is save to walk anywhere at night even as a woman (somehow she still wants me to bring her home all the time though LOL). I would not worry about safety in Beijing, be careful with the traffic though, there are some horrible drivers around.

Overall, if you want to become fluent in Mandarin, have an immersion experience, make friends and support (very important at the beginning, after a few months less so) I would say go start in a bigger city to settle in and then move somewhere smaller.
The program I am currently doing (http://www.livethelanguage.cn/chinese-immersion-program/) has been very good for me, the organisation is great (visas, accommodation, support, social events etc.), the teachers great and I really like the big city/small city combination programs they do. If you go, make sure you live with a homestay family, that’s the best part of it really.

     
Avatar for Lunny
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Freddy - 15 January 2014 06:55 AM

I am currently spending my gap year in Beijing learning Mandarin. I have been here for a bit more than four months and will stay until about June.
I am studying at LTL in Beijing, will do their Chengde program in February and they organised an internship for me from April to June in Beijing.
To go through your points:

1) After four and a half months I am ok with most social Chinese conversation and my aim is to be fluent after this year. Not sure if I will make it, but I met several other people at my school who did a similar program (first course in Beijing with a homestay family,then full immersion in Chengde) and they are fluent (one just got a job in a Chinese company where nobody speaks a word of English, his Chinese is amazing and he got here without knowing a word 10 months ago).

2) Two things: live with a homestay family and go to a smaller city. Living with a Chinese family can be a bit tough at the beginning (I spoke no Mandarin when I got here and it took me some time to figure out how to use the washing machine), but it is really worth it. I have so far been to two weddings with them, they took me to the great wall and the food is amazing. Mainly I speak mandarin at home all day though, which is great for practice and it really gives you an idea how normal Chinese people live, which is quite different to what you might expect.

The problem in bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai is that they are quite international with big expat communities and it can easily happen that you end up speaking a lot of English, which is whats happening to me right now when I am not at home. I will go to Chengde (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chengde), which according to other students in my program is smaller (half a million people), speaks standard mandarin (important, as in most other small cities they have horrible accents), is quite pretty (it was China’s summer capital during the Qing Dynasty) and there are no foreigners at all. For the beginning Beijing has been great, because it is just a bit easier to settle in if you have other foreigners around you(and the nightlife is fantastic), but currently I think I really need an environment where I will not be tempted to speak English anymore.

3) It found it very easy to make friends at my school, most people are new and everyone here is very interested to learn mandarin and about Chinese culture. It kind of feels a bit like a “family” among the students at the school here, we go for drinks, dinners etc. together after class a lot. I am not a paricularly social person at home, but meeting people here has not been a problem for me.

4) I find Beijing super safe and from what I heard most of China pretty much is. My Chinese girlfriend told me it is save to walk anywhere at night even as a woman (somehow she still wants me to bring her home all the time though LOL). I would not worry about safety in Beijing, be careful with the traffic though, there are some horrible drivers around.

Overall, if you want to become fluent in Mandarin, have an immersion experience, make friends and support (very important at the beginning, after a few months less so) I would say go start in a bigger city to settle in and then move somewhere smaller.
The program I am currently doing (http://www.livethelanguage.cn/chinese-immersion-program/) has been very good for me, the organisation is great (visas, accommodation, support, social events etc.), the teachers great and I really like the big city/small city combination programs they do. If you go, make sure you live with a homestay family, that’s the best part of it really.

This sounds awesome.

I wish I had the time to do something like this now. Do it before you get older!

My Chinese sucks even though I’ve lived here over two years angry

     
Avatar for Aaronaz
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Hey check out the youtube channel serpentza it’s a south African/English guy been living there for 7 years and some of his videos are about the best ways to learn!

     
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The website you are doing it through only prices for up to 18 weeks (which is your 4.5 month) and would cost roughly 7,000 GBP - which seems a lot of money.

Is this the standard sort of pricing?

Would it not make more sense to go over and teach (with a degree) and live away from major city centre’s??

I remember reading a book, called something like 2 years on the Yangtze, by a Hessler? Anyway he went out to teach and by the end was fluent in Chinese/Manadarin ...

At least that way you get paid?

My friend has been learning this for the last 2 years, pays for lessons over Skype and taking tests - maybe even at his A level standard. Leaves for China in 2 months (again) just to wander around and chat ...

Sounds like a great experience but would you recommend others do it this way or are there more ... affordable ways of doing it?

     
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BarrattsMini - 17 February 2014 11:03 PM

The website you are doing it through only prices for up to 18 weeks (which is your 4.5 month) and would cost roughly 7,000 GBP - which seems a lot of money.

Is this the standard sort of pricing?

Would it not make more sense to go over and teach (with a degree) and live away from major city centre’s??

I remember reading a book, called something like 2 years on the Yangtze, by a Hessler? Anyway he went out to teach and by the end was fluent in Chinese/Manadarin ...

At least that way you get paid?

My friend has been learning this for the last 2 years, pays for lessons over Skype and taking tests - maybe even at his A level standard. Leaves for China in 2 months (again) just to wander around and chat ...

Sounds like a great experience but would you recommend others do it this way or are there more ... affordable ways of doing it?

Definitely get a job in a backwater town if learning mandarin is your aim… worked for me and you get paid for it wink

Though some poeple study better with a disciplined routine and teachers…. and I have no qualification to show for it….

     
Avatar for Freddy
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@BarattMini

Depends really what you are looking for - I think I am getting very good value for my money. There are a lot of ways of going to China: teaching English for money or going to one of the State Universities to study. However I was told (and after having been in China and studied Mandarin, I can confirm this) that if your aim is to really learn Mandarin neither of which are going to get you there.

Teaching English is fun and cheap - but I do not know a single person who teaches English in China and can speak Mandarin even up to beginner intermediate level, unless they stopped teaching and actually took a real course, even though many have been there for years and pretty much all try to learn Mandarin.

For studying at a state university, I never tried, but have two friends who are doing this here right now and neither recommended it for learning Chinese. Big classes (15 people per class), not very motivated teachers (communist civil servants), rote memorization (thats how Chinese traditinally learn things) and a mainly English speaking environment, with zero immersion (foreign and Chinese students are not allowed to live or have classes in the same building). After 1.5 years they are about at the same level that we are at now (after 5 months). Overall both have spent a lot more money to get to the same Chinese level as I did - not taking into account the time lost.

So, I would say it depends on what you want. If you just want to hang around China and have a good time, teaching English is a good choice as you can actually earn money. If you want to hang around China and learn a little bit of Mandarin, but do not care about becoming fluent and are ok to live in a very non-Chinese environment, a university is a good choice.
If you have a year and really want to learn Mandarin, then a program like I am doing is what I would recommend. I get a lot of surprised looks from Chinese and foreigners here when they hear me speaking Chinese and I tell them how long I have been here (though not fluent yet :zipsmile.
My aim is to be able to be fluent enough to work in Mandarin only when I start my internship in three months (after 8 months of studying) and I think I have a chance of getting there - several of the people I met at the school who did a similar program managed to as well, so I guess I should be able to as welltongue rolleye
I did a Chengde/Beijing immersion because spending a thousand GBP more or less was not my main point. My main aim was (and is) to be fluent in Mandarin after this year (I do not have more time, as I will start uni afterwards), as I believe that knowing Mandarin at a business level will be worth more on the job market. They have cheaper courses in Beijing too (http://www.livethelanguage.cn/learn-chinese-beijing/semester-program/), but I think if you want to become fluent, after a while you need to get out of the big city and go where the “real Chinese” live (and nobody speaks English).
Also the whole thing is a lot of fun and I enjoy living in a Chinese family as opposed to a foreign student dorm where the only Chinese you ever meet are the cleaners - but that’s just my opinion.

@Garrybliss123: Completely agree. Starting out in Beijing worked well for me to settle into China - I am not sure if going straight into the country would have been much fun when I got here first. Will head to Chengde soon and I am told nobody speaks English theregrin