Learning Mandarin – The Ultimate Tool?

20 May

Learning Mandarin in China is becoming more and more popular with every passing year. What is the best way to learn/teach the language?

If you are interested in studying Mandarin you more or less need to be in China. The reason for this is threefold. The first reason is that it is much easier to learn a language when you can practice it everyday in the natural setting in which it is spoken. The second reason is that Mandarin language studies take time – if you are just trying to learn the language by reading a book your eyes are likely to fall out of their sockets before you complete it. Studying Mandarin in China, as opposed to trying to pick it up from a book, is an adventure. Really a grand undertaking that is part academics and part experience; a view into a very different and exotic culture. The third reason is linked to the second reason. Learning Mandarin is not something most people do randomly, it usually is linked to a very clear aim, or at least a general purpose. “I want to learn Mandarin in order to work with x, y or z”. To use Mandarin in China, in essence to work in China while relating to Chinese culture by engaging China on its own terms, you need a broader skill base that is not confined to only the language. For this purpose you don’t only more or less need to be in the country, you literally are unable to grasp it anywhere else.

A good school should therefore be formed a little bit like this: it should allow a student to really capitalize on the fact that they have come to China, it should show them China through their studies and encourage and support any foray into a deeper understanding of Chinese culture which will prove to be as useful as any list of vocabulary the school is ever able to conjure up. How to go about creating this? What does a school need to sort it out and what can you as a prospective student look out for?

The key to really being able to take advantage on the fact that you are in China is very closely linked to how the curriculum enables you to explore China independently. I strongly believe that 1 hour of actual speaking, in a setting that feels natural, is worth multiple hours of pure memorization during a study session. There is therefore very little sense in burning the midnight oil. For a person that has come to China What do I mean by a natural setting and why have I singled it out? Well. A natural setting is a social situation in which you hope to use the language in the future. If you are really interested in the elaborate and mystical Chinese tea ceremonies this might be a good place to start. You will probably really exited to take a course in Chinese regarding this topic – this excitement is too important to ignore and not take advantage of.

For this to happen you need access to content that will not interest other people. You can therefore not teach this type of material to a large class. The class size needs to be tiny or de facto private. I call this stuff personal content and it really is the key to unlocking the advantages, the necessary benefits, of being in China. It will enable a tea lover or a car fanatic to explore China, and thus learning much more than just the Mandarin language, and it will allow a person to learn the language faster than if they were sitting at home, buried in books. The comparative rates of these two methods are difficult to prove without pouring your ears full of statistics but suffice it to say that most people would call it common sense: to learn something by doing it is always going to be better than reading about it in a book. You don’t give an aspiring mechanic a technical drawing of a complicated engine and expect them to learn about it that way, you give them a wrench. Personal content is the tool you need to learn Mandarin, and it is the best vehicle for learning more than just a language.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin Language School in China that is a great option for those that want to study mandarin in China . See the program overview page for more information about learning Mandarin in Beijing.


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