How to Choose Where to Study Mandarin in China

I was very much involved in Chinese language school business in China so am in good position to offer a few tips for those thinking of going to China to study Chinese.

Generally speaking, there are two main choices, either going to universities or private language schools. Universities such as BCLU (Beijing Culture and Language University) are among the earliest universities in China to run Chinese language courses for foreign students. The university (BCLU) is famous but does not guarantee that its course suits every one’s needs. For one thing, the course is run on a semester basis, to peg with the university timetable. So is the course design. So if you want to join a short-term course, say for two weeks or two months, the course is just not right for you. You can of course still join it, but since the course is designed for longer term, your study result cannot be too promising.

Also this type of university course is more focused on comprehensive training in speaking, listening, reading and writing. That means if you are for short-term study, how can you achieve anything given that Mandarin Chinese is such a difficult language to learn and to master all these capabilities is an impossible task in a short period of time. Many foreign students just want to train their speaking and listening abilities when they stay a while in China. This kind of university course cannot satisfy their needs.

So if you look to study mandarin Chinese in China for a few weeks or months, consider going to private language schools, which are springing up in China, especially in Beijing and Shanghai. It is a new business so the government is yet to issue license to these schools which are not officially certified. They cannot give you government-approved certificate when you finish study with them.

There are many such schools in Beijing and Shanghai, and some in Xiamen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, kunming, Qingdao, etc. When choosing the schools, it is advisable to ask two questions : are they run by local Chinese or foreigners? If it is local chinese, who are they? This is important because if they do not know much about Westen style of education, the teaching method will be very oriental style and you will be just drilled in the classroom. You will be taught a lot in the classroom, but at the end of the day, you are not getting anywhere. I know of a couple of schools in China that are run by foreingers and are very successful, welcome by foreign students.

With centuries of communist and authoritarian rule, China’s education system stifles free spirit and creativity. The Chinese language teachers, despite their professional knowledge, come from the same education system. Can you expect them to be creative and dynamic in meeting foreign students learning needs? Very hard. I don’t deny there is exception, but that is exception.

The quality of teaching is something that there is still much room to improve in China, especially in the field of teaching Chinese to foreigners. Teaching Chinese to foreigners has become a new profession in China and universities across the country are offering the course. Guess what the students have to study majoring in teaching Chinese to foreigners? Theory of Communism!

So if you want to sign up for a language school, do ask for the former students for their comments about quality of teaching.

Another question you need to ask is, how many classes do they have? This is yet another very important question to ask. The private language schools are usually run on a weekly basis, or bi-weekly basis, meaning that students can enrol in the class every week or every two weeks. If there are not enough classes catering for a whole range of levels, how can you be sure that you can find the class that is right for your level? Some schools jus want to make money so they don’t care if you fit into the right class. They put you into the class that is operating regardless of your level and you end up with people of different levels in the class. How can you learn?

In a word, when choosing a Chinese language school, ask who is running behind, ask for former students for comments on quality of teaching, and ask how many classes/levels they have at the moment.

When choosing a university for studying Mandarin, the quality of teaching is important. Do check out this. On the other hand, it is usually more established and there are more classes to choose from.

Author: Anna

With a wanderlust and lusts of other sorts, I look to sth new, sth different, sth fulfilling, and find myself on a journey...

37 thoughts on “How to Choose Where to Study Mandarin in China”

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  2. Hi everyone!
    Can someone recommend me mandarin courses and school for just a semester with an affordable tuition which can provide student visa, please.
    Thanks

  3. Hello.m a Nigerian hoping to come study madarine in China for 6 months please do u know of any cheap intuition..thanks

  4. Hi everyone!
    Can someone recommend me mandarin courses and school which can provide student or business visa, please.
    Thanks

  5. Hi How are you?

    I want find course in 6 month for studding Chinese via American native teacher not Chinese people.
    Which university in China you suggest? When it will be started?

    Thanks
    Samira

  6. Hi, I am Nita from Indonesia. This year I wanna try to apply Chinese scholarship to study in China. and I prefer to study in Beijing Normal University. I’ve heard from my friend who ever studied there, that for Chinese Language & Literature Department has a small class.. about 15-20 student per class. and for her, this university is very good. what do you think ? any suggestions?

  7. Dalian Nationalities University in Dalian Kaifaqu. They will put in a class at your selected level. 13000 or 14000 RMB for the year. You get a student residence pass. There are local malls w/Starbucks/KFC, if you need that – 300 USD per month for a decent flat – that amount will cover water and internet in a decent local hi-rise. You do not need a car, local hospital with VIP office (for native english speakers). And the location is very close to the QingGui – the fast rail that gets you to downtown Dalian in 35 mins. Overnight sleeper train gets you to Beijing in about 8 hours. Otherwise you can fly.
    They said you do not have to write. But you definitely will need to accept the fact that you will need to read. There is no escape.

    Finally – the air. http://aqicn.org/map/liaoning/ If you go to that link and drag around you will how Dalian stacks up on any given day. The sky is usually blue.

  8. Hi, I don’t have time to surf through all the comments, so if a similar question has already been posted, please, bear with me.

    I intent to go to China for a long period (1 year). So I want to srudy in a university in a language course. The probem is that I can’t decide not on the school, but on the place where to go studying (province, sity).
    The main points I am looking for are:

    – bearable ecology (I am not looking for the best ecology, but I wanted to go to Bejing, but than I’ve heard about its smog issues and it put me off – is it really that bad there? I’ve heard that spending a day in Beijing equals to smoking 21 cigarettes, and they practically don’t see any sun because of constant smog. I’ve been to Shanghai for a day and didn’r see anything like it. Is it this bad only more to the north, where Beijing is located?)

    – local speakers must speak understandable chinese (I understand that finding those who speak pure Mandarin is nearly impossible, but I want them at least to speak clearly and don’t choke any sounds. I’ve been to Jinhua, Shanghai and Nanjing and usually understood people there. In Jinhua they said “s” instead of “sh” and “z” instead of “zh”, but I got used to it very fast. So the main point is that their oral speach must be comprehendable and clear, and not use many archaich words and many local words that are usually not used in Mandarin)

    – I want a place where there are foreigners, not a lot of, but it would be good if they’d have some (i want to immerse myself in Chinese culture, but not to the point where I don’t see any foreigners at all. I want an opportunity to find some foreigners that can speak English or Russian and communicate with them, go somewhere with them on weekends – it’s good to my phychic, or else I’ll quickly lose my mind seeing only Chinese people around me, I need a short reprieve at least once a week)

    – I want a place (or a place not far from such a place, maybe 2-4 hours on a train or bus) where there are a lot of cultural and historical tourist resorts to explore.

    – I want a place where they could actually EXPLAIN Chinese language grammar in grammar terms, and not just say “it’s the way we say it, just learn and remember it”.

  9. As long as you can manage not to hang out with english speaking ppl while learning mandarin in China, you are on the way to success. That may mean you choose a place that is not very popular with foreigners.

  10. Hi,
    I am considering going to China to study mandarin for a semester which is approximately 6 months if I am not mistaken. So far based on my research, if i were to go to Beijing, BLCLU or Peking would be the best options. However, I am not limiting my options to just Beijing and cost is not an issue. I would just like so recommendations of which are the top places anywhere around China that is most suited for me to pick Mandarin the fastest. Moreover, I am more interested in the speaking and conversing in Mandarin especially business related conversations. I am an absolute beginner and I have no background in any Chinese dialect but am very interested in picking up Mandarin as a second-language for work and conversation purposes. Thank you! Any input or advice would be much appreciated!

  11. Hello,

    I’m planning to go Beijing for 6 mos starting June 2012. There I will attend Peking University , an exchange program . Also I’m looking for a Mandarin program that is fast paced, more conversation than reading nor writing, with he focus of business conversation and negotiation.What other activities would you recommend to accelerate learning experience. and what program would you suggest. I speak and write English and Vietnamese.many Thanks

  12. hi my name is ayham i live in jordan(Middle East ) my age is 19 years old and a im interested in studying Chinese language.as a second language.
    i know no thing about Chinese language but i belief that with your support and your directing i can to be able to spread of Chinese language and culture in my country and worldwide.
    so will you kindly give me your recommendation how can i make it by the easyest ‘ cheapyest and shortest way
    best regard.

  13. I have chosen xiamen to study mandarin, come across one privately run school, anybody knows a good one in xiamen ?

  14. Hi,
    I want to travel to Beijing, China (for a up to a year) to study Mandarin. I need help on deciding what the best schools in Beijing that teach Mandarin to foreigners. A small class size is very important to me, being able to communicate in Mandarin (speaking, reading, listening, writing) as well as being able to mingle with the locals. I was looking at Beijing Gateway Academy, is it any good? Has anyone heard anything about this school? Does any one have any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

  15. Hi!

    My name is Derek Capo, founder of a study abroad in China program called Next Step China. I wanted to give a little more input about the programs in Beijing as the writer only mentioned one school, Beijing Language and Culture University. Beijing has many universities to choose from, the most famous being BLCU. However, if you are already an intermediate or advanced mandarin speaker we highly recommend going to Peking University or Tsinghua University as the specialize in more advanced programming. We also recommend going to a language school or choosing an Intensive Tutoring program like the one our company offers.
    Sincerely,

    Derek Capo

  16. Hi there,

    I plan to study Chinese in Xiamen, around 6 weeks or so starting in early November. But since I will be moving from one city to another (Xiamen, Shanghai, Beijing, to name a few) for my job, i was wondering if any of you guys know if there is any good chain language school around?

    thanks,
    Mark

  17. Hi!
    I’m a swedish student thinking about going to China to study Mandarin this autumn. I’ve planned to study for about 20 weeks+ (a term). After a little research, I’ve heard that Qingdao in the south of China is a nice city with a mild climate.

    What do you think? Anyone with another opinion?
    I’d be very greatful if someone could give me some tips of a good university/languageschool in Qingdao.

    Cheers
    Gabriella

  18. Re: Beijing Gateway Academy, I have heard good things from ex-expats and it seem to be good value for money, but the people that I have spoken to has only attended this one institution, is there someone out there with experience from Gateway and another one or few that can compare BGA to another one? Preferably in Beijing, but my heart is not set on stone in being in the capital.

    Xie Xie Ni Men,

    Andew Ekdahl

  19. Hi –

    I’m a US citizen seriously considering studying Mandarin and Chinese culture in China beginning this June. Since I do not know Mandarin and want to become as fluent as possible (conversing and writing), I plan on spending approximately 1+ year in China.

    There are so many schools in China to select. I would greatly welcome recommendations from westerners who have participated in an intensive language program in China.

    I’ve been researching several areas and would prefer finding a school/city with the following criteria:

    • Well known and established teaching programs operating for more than 10 years.
    • The city “has not” been greatly influenced by western culture and society.
    • Located in an area that pollution/air quality is good.
    • Temperate climate. I do not mind cold winters, but, I would very much prefer an area with mild summers and little humidity.

    I am interested in programs in Kunming. However, I am concerned with the HIV/AIDs epidemic as well as the rampant drug problem.

    Thank you

  20. Hi,
    I am considering attending the Beijing Mandarin Academy, which as I understand it, is a partner of the Beijing Language and Cultural Centre, their prices seem quite reasonable compared with other schools. I am going for 3 to 4 weeks, If anyone has any feedback on this academy, I would really appreciate your thoughts and or experiences.

    Xie Xie

    David Lewis.

  21. BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University) DOES offer short courses in Mandarin. I completed a four-week course there in January- February 2009. It runs 4, 5 and 6 week courses at different times throughout the year, including between semesters. The next four-week course is due to start on 1 March 2010. I note, however, that BLCU has bumped up its fees over last year’s prices. There are cheaper, reputable courses at other universities, such as Dalian.

  22. Hi,

    Was considering studying Mandarin at either Jiao Tong or Fudan Uni in Shanghai for 18 months…does anyone know how good their programmes are? Private schools seem to be very expensive.

    Thanks,
    Natali

  23. Hi,

    It’s so nice to find this blog here, I run a private mandarin school in Xiamen, Fujian, would like to help you whenever you need any help here in Xiamen.

    Anne

  24. Anna, Good Evening!

    I study mandarin in Taiwan since last september. But now I had to leave Taiwan for 1 year (or probably for 6 months), because my visa has had expired. So I want to continue to learn Mandarin in China. Please, help me and suggest me some good Universities. For me, it is pleasure to study in Beijing or Shanghai. On the other hand, You better know where is best place.

    Best regards,
    Arkadiy

  25. Anna, Thank you for the insight. I am a profesional looking for the top intensive Mandarin schools for professionals in China. While not limited by location, perfer Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou. A little research reveals many schools as you say…very difficult to differentiate…imandarin seems to be established but ?? Any updates on schools that emerging as the best?

  26. Thank you so much Anna. I just don’t know how to go about everything. Now im being forced to study in Xiamen instead of Beijing since you can learn both Mandarin and Fookien. Is Xiamen a really good alternative?

  27. Marie,

    Learning Mandarin is hard enough, not to mention both Mandarin and Fookien. Not much use learning Fookien for a foreigner, as it is a local dialect, spoken by the people in Fujian Province.

    Xiamen is not bad a place to learn Mandarin in terms of not many foreigners learning Mandarin there so you are forced to speak Mandarin.

  28. Marie, there is no need to make the booking through an agency. do some online research and go to some forums and you will find plenty of information. many chinese language schools/universities are offering chinese language courses and they welcome you eagerly. China is pretty safe. so safety shouldn’t be an issue. as for insurance, just taking out travel insurance is good enough.

  29. Hi,

    Is it really necessary to pass through a booking agency? They include everything in their package like tuition, accommodation, insurance and etc. but they are kind of expensive. Do any of you have a cheaper and safe alternative?

    Thank you.

  30. Dear Anthony,

    Thank you for your info.

    Btw, I’m still doing comparison for my mandarin study plan.
    Does anyone can give idea of comparison between Taiwan Fu Jen Catholic Uni VS Shanghai Fudan Uni VS Shanghai East China Normal Uni? Which one is better and effective for short term course like my plan {6 months}

    Thank you

  31. I am from Taiwan staying in Qingdao for about one year. There are several institutes offering Chinese courses. I personally recommend the institutes near the downtown area, because it’s close to the beach, also the living utilities are more convenient. Since Qingdao is an coast city, the downtown is right next to couple of beautiful beaches where you can jog, walk , skating, bicycling, along the roads. The following websites provide more information.

    http://www.esl-languages.com/en/adults/chinese-mandarin/language-school/china/qingdao/international-house/index.htm

    http://insina.com/en/insina-program.html

    welcome to contact me if you have more qs.

  32. I also plan to study mandarin in Qingdao and shanghai for 6 months only. Could anyone give suggestion for those places? which one better and has more welcome and friendly society that can support my practise? I like to join class which have small group {5-10 students/class}

    thank you

  33. Im planning to move to Qingdao, does any one know any good language school or institute that would teach chinesse to foreigners.
    thanks.

  34. Hi Mark. I heard about Bridge and was quite happy with its website. I recalled I did some research about Chinese language schools in China and Bridge seemed to be the only one that makes an impression on me. I don’t know if it is run by a foreigner, but the school seems to know what foreign learners need.

    The school is quite serious about teacher training and that is among the pluses.

    I had a posting about Diqiucun in this blog. Low tuition fees and a big pool of teachers to choose from. You can also check it out.

  35. Hi Thanks so much for your info! It’s hard to find much out there. I was thinking of going to BLCU, but you’re right. I only want to learn how to communicate in Chinese for practical reasons, I don’t need to learn how to write (however I would like to learn how to read a little more).

    Do you have any suggestions about a good quality Private School? I’ve heard a lot about the Bridge School here in Beijing, but I don’t know if it’s run by a foreigner or not.

    Thanks again!
    Mark

  36. 哈哈,我是一个中国人。偶然路过。我觉得从外国人的视角看中国,很有意思。

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