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Study Chinese in Diqiucun, Beijing?

I once recommended in this blog Diqiucun (Global Village) Language Institute in Beijing as the choice of language school for studying Chinese in China. A primary reason is that its tuition fee is low. Given that its teaching doesn’t seem to be worse than, if not same as, that of the famous BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University), the school looks like a fair choice.

The school’s students are predominately Korean and that explains why its website is in Korean only.

Two forum discussions here and here will give you more information about studying in Diqiucun, including the price, the teaching, the schedule, etc. You will find it very helpful.

But I have explained earlier that, don’t expect too much of a western approach to teaching in China. The teaching method in China is simply far from ideal, be it in BLCU or Diqiucun, or any other Chinese language school.

If you want to go to China to study Chinese, what matters most is not what you learn in the school or university, but how you can make use of the language environment to speak more and learn more. The school/university course will force you to learn a bit every day in a formal way, but what you can learn outside the classroom, such as conversation practice on the street, is ultimately what can get you somewhere in your endeavor to master Chinese language.

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Wuhu Chinese language school: Accommodation

The school housing provided by the Wuhu Chinese language school is unbelievably cheap, costing RMB280 per week only – you have your own room, and share a common room, kitchen, toilet with other people. The school has apartments onsite in the school in the city, and those away from the school in the suburbs. My friend stayed in the apartments in the suburbs, about 10-minute taxi ride from the city, costing RMB7. The apartment is very new and spacious, my friend added.

The School offers free lunch to its teachers. If you are students, you pay RMB3 for the lunch. The School hires a cook to prepare lunch for students and teachers.

If you look for some night life in Wuhu, that will be hard. The whole city probably has only one KTV, one bar and one club. And if you want to experience some cultural things, that is even harder.

Recently the city has built a very modern shopping mall featuring some national famous brands. My friend said he was shocked that the whole shopping mall was almost empty throughout the day. The possible explanation is that the local residents still can’t afford the high price that comes with famous brands and up-scale products. On the other hand, the WalMart nearby draws many of the residents for its wide choice of low price groceries and produce.

Wuhu is not a colorful and rich China city like Shanghai or Beijing, but if you want to have a taste of the life in an average China city that is friendly and has a well-run Chinese language school, then this is it.

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The Chinese language school in Wuhu

Wuhu has a Chinese language school called “Aston Language Center”. It has a very familial atmosphere. Most of the students there are English teachers employed by the school to teach in schools in the surrounding area, or Chery Automobile, a fast growing domestic auto company. They are given free Chinese lessons as part of their work package.

There are foreign students going there just to Mandarin, but they are in the minority. When a friend of mine was there, only three such students were there, including one Polish and one American. So there was just one group class for beginners. If you are not at the beginner level and want to join a group class, this school may not suit you.

The teachers are “very nice, clever and ambitious but lack experience”, my friend said. Most of the teachers are very young, 18 or 19, still studying in the university. Some of them come from the countryside, who make a living as a teacher for 1000RMB per month only.

Generally speaking, my friend said, the teaching method and material is far from satisfactory. But he said he was quite happy with the school. He was taking one-on-one lessons and could have say in what and how he wanted to learn. Therefore, teachers’ experience did not matter that much. Since different teachers took turn to give him lessons, some of the teachers were actually quite good, he said. He was unhappy with the first teacher the School assigned, and he made a complaint. The School assigned other teachers to him afterward.

My friend planned to enroll in the school for a week and he ended up studying there for two weeks. He paid 60RMB per hour for one-on-one lessons. The School was wonderful and offered him opportunity to join the beginner group class for free.

The School was run by a female director who speaks excellent English.  It occupies a whole floor on 5/F in a building without an elevator (yeah, can see that Wuhu is not a modern and rich city). You have to climb 100 steps to reach the school. On the same floor, there are classrooms, facilities and reception area at one end, and student apartments at the other.

Near the school, there is a lake and a park. When my friend was there, some teachers lived in the student apartment with students. They went out together for Tai Chi in the park before class.

I will talk more about accommodation and living in Wuhu soon.

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Odd Requirement for Mandarin Teachers

I’ve highlighted one issue in my previous discussions about learning Mandarin in China: quality of teaching, and would like to dwell on this topic a little more in this post.

If you have ever read recruitment advertisements of mandarin teachers posted by language schools or institutions in China, you may find one thing quite weird or absurd. You don’t need to be a graduate in Chinese language or teaching Chinese to foreigners to be qualified for the post. All you need is possession of a degree in English or being fluent in English. The rationale: the foreign students have to have an English-speaking teacher for them to understand the lessons.

It is an obvious sign of ignorance on the part of school/university management and poor standard of teaching. Given this, how much hope will you have of good teaching in store for you? Their logic goes something like this: teaching Chinese is not a professional job. Every educated Chinese can teach Chinese, as long as you can speak good English.

I was once involved in the Chinese language school business in China and was asked numerous times questions like “Can your teachers speak English?” “Can your teachers speak Japanese?” Then I would start my rantings and ask them to ask themselves a simple question: If you go overseas to study English, would you expect the teacher to be able to speak Chinese to teach you English?!

The fact is, Chinese schools in China simply ask English teachers to teach Chinese to international students. And they will hide the fact from you, telling you that they are experienced teachers.  I know cases likes this personally.

So one pointer to good Chinese language schools/institutions: their teacher ads don’t require the potential candidates to speak good excellent English. If you don’t get the chance to see their ads, which you most likely don’t, ask them who their teachers are. If they say they are university graduates of English majors, forget them!

But please be warned that there are many lies around, and be smart enough to do more research and ask for the former students’ contact for information before you jump into the boat!

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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.