Published July 07, 2017

Where to Study Chinese: China

By Dan Entwistle


So after months of deliberation you’ve finally decided to study Chinese. Great! Now you’ve got to figure out where exactly you’re going to study. To help you answer that question, over the next few weeks Shanghai Expat will be breaking down the pros and cons of studying Chinese in China, Taiwan and in your home country to help you better decide where best suits you. This week, we’re focussing on China.


Pro: Cost of Studying in China:



Chances are, if you’re thinking about studying Chinese you’re probably thinking about doing a degree back in your home country. Why not? Places like SOAS and Oxford in England, or Yale in the US offer widely respected Chinese language degrees that usually have an exchange where you have to spend a year studying in China. We’d advise against it.


If you come to study in China, you can do a degree here for a fraction of what it would cost you back home. The courses are cheaper, as is the cost of living. You’ll also get far more bang for your buck by having to speak, read and hear Chinese almost every minute of every day. Also, we hear many students here teach English during their downtime as a way to generate a bit of extra cash...not that we would condone anything illegal like working on a student visa.


Also, if you’re really concerned about getting a degree from a prestigious university, you can always study at Beijing’s Tsinghua University or Shanghai’s Fudan University, both of which will elicit an awestruck look from Chinese people when you tell them where you study.



Pro: A Wide Range of Study Options:

Fudan Gate.jpg


With China being as large as it is, the range of options for studying Chinese here are huge. As well as having dozens of different cities to choose from, there are also a number of study options within those cities.


While many universities across China offer three/four year degree programs, most people are unable or unwilling to commit to spending so much time to studying here. To accommodate for this, a number of universities in China offer short, semester-long language courses where you can get a taste for studying in China. Similarly there are a number of private schools, like Mandarin House, which can provide student visas that’ll let you get a taste for living in China without the long-term commitment. While we’ll admit the private schools are usually more expensive than the university courses, the class sizes are also a lot smaller.


If even small classes of five-six people sound like too much of a pain, another option is one-to-one classes with private tutors. While there are a huge number in China, we recommend that you spend time looking for a tutor that has professional teaching qualifications. Many “tutors” here are just Chinese students just looking to make a quick buck, and as a result they won’t really be invested in your progress.


Pro: Accents:


China is a huge country with a plethora of different ethnic groups, accents and cultures. If you’re looking to truly master Mandarin Chinese to the point where you’ll feel comfortable speaking it with almost everyone, China is the place to do it.


All too often we’ve found that people who study outside of China, in Taiwan or at a university back home struggle when they’re confronted with a person with a strong regional accent. By studying here you’ll be constantly presented with these challenges throughout your language learning experience, better preparing you to deal with them during business meetings/nights out in future.


But What About Traditional Characters?!



Yes, traditional Chinese characters are important. Anything written in China before the 1950s will be in traditional script, as is practically every sign in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and most overseas Chinese communities. Many traditional characters are also comprised of components that help explain the character's true meaning.


Having said that, there are over 1.4 billion people living in Mainland China today. The vast majority of them were taught simplified Chinese and write in simplified Chinese. It’s also a lot easier to memorise and write out simplified characters than it is their traditional counterparts. Sure some of the characters’ meanings are lost by writing them in a simplified form, but at the end of the day we’d argue it’s more important to be able to easily read what so many Mainland Chinese people are writing about than to truly understand “the meaning behind the characters.”


Similarly, while many online advocates try to argue that it’s “easier” to learn simplified characters once you’ve learnt traditional, we’d argue it’s just as easy the other way round. A few years ago during a trip to Taiwan we realised we were struggling to read traditional characters. To remedy this, we changed the Chinese keyboard on our computers and phones from simplified to traditional and within a month we were reading Taiwanese subtitles with no problem.


Pro: Experience:



While being able to speak Chinese will no doubt impress future employers, saying you have experience in country, living, working and studying with other Chinese people will give you the upper hand over someone who studied elsewhere. It also shows employers you’re adventurous, open to new experiences, and not afraid of challenges.


Pro: Travel:



One of the big factors that made us study in China was the chance to travel here. Once you’ve got a bit of the language under your belt you’ll be able to escape the expat traps of Shanghai and Beijing and begin to explore the China less travelled.  While we love travelling in Taiwan, there’s so much more variety in China namely due to the country’s vast size. If you do decide to study here, make sure to check out Xinjiang, Yunnan, and Yanbian for completely different China experience to those you’ll get along the country's east coast.


Con: China Bullsh*t



We could easily go into all the things we dislike about living in China; the political crap, the lack of food safety, spitting in public, the constant need to use a VPN to access blocked websites etc... but to be honest, the pros far outweigh the cons. Sure we've had "bad China days" but there's a reason we've lived here as long as we have.