Moving to China, learning Chinese? Listen up
You are ready, or at least seriously thinking about coming to China to learn Chinese. Great! I was in that situation myself over five years ago now. I don’t regret my decision one bit. In fact, it was one of the best decisions I ever made! That said, here are a few things in China I’d class as my top tips to make sure you get the most out of your experience in China.
What should I know?
Start learning right now
Well, you can finish reading this blog first! But still, it doesn’t matter if you already have made the decision to travel to China and have a date set, or if you’re still thinking about, start studying! The more you manage to learn before you arrive in China the easier it will be for you to learn even more. Listen to sounds and tones, get a feel for the language, look at characters. Then when you arrive you won’t have to start completely from scratch. Remember 1 is infinitely better than 0.
Try to learn the characters
Most beginner courses are laid out so that you start learning speaking and listening. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. I would, however, suggest if you are to start learning Chinese, (especially studying full time) learn the characters as well. Yes, they appear complex and some of them incredibly similar?
I mean seriously how can 矢, 失, and 先 all be different characters?
But don’t worry, don’t be phased. Getting base patterns down and recognizing the most common characters doesn’t take too long. Besides, knowing even basic characters makes life in China so much easier, especially if you’re hungry and don’t feel like ordering “zhege” (这个) again.
I chat, you chat, WeChat!
WeChat is by far the most popular communication app in China and it’s growing at a rate of knots. You can even pay in shops and taxis with WeChat. I was quite late to the WeChat party, it took me several months after coming to China before I installed it, which was not only bad for my social life, but also for my Chinese. After installation, I used the “look around” function where you see who else is using the app near you and you can chat with them. I used this function to randomly chat with Chinese people, in Chinese and thus learned plenty of characters, grammar, and slang. You can do so much on WeChat and although it’s known for chatting and group chats, it’s so much more than that and takes convenience to another level!
It’s easier than you think to end up in an English bubble
As a newcomer to China it’s likely you will end up in either Beijing or Shanghai and that’s great as both cities have a lot to offer. But in those cities it is so easy to end up just using English, your roommates, colleagues, classmates and people you meet in Sanlitun or on Yongkang Road will likely be foreigners, or at the very least English speaking Chinese.
Going off the beaten path and doing full Chinese immersion is possible, but it’s not for everyone. Also if you’re French, you’re in double jeopardy as even if you escape the English bubble, the French bubble might just find you. What I’m saying is, if you want to stay in the big cities while learning Chinese make an effort to put yourself into situations where you are forced to use Chinese. This will greatly define how quickly you learn the language.
Get to China and don’t look back!
Learning Chinese by being in China is by far the best and fastest way to do it. It is also a great experience to just live in China and take it all in from the inside. But remember, just because you’re in China it doesn’t mean you will automatically pick up the language. The hordes of German automotive engineers who have lived in China for four, five, six or more years and can barely muster a “你好 nĭ hăo” are proof of this. Come prepared and you will get much more out of your stay. You will leave China having not only had an amazing cultural experience but an incredible language learning experience too.
Jan Skarstein packed his suitcase and went to study in Shanghai in 2012. After falling in love with the country and the language, he now helps other people learn Chinese in China through his position as marketing manager at LTL Mandarin School.
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