Mandarin Language Schools – Picking The Peach and Not a Lemon

20 May

The three key characteristics of a great Mandarin Language Schools are following (in order): small class sizes, a highly personalized curriculum and a fun set of extra-curricular activities. Here is why.

I will preface this by saying that I actually work with sales for a Chinese Language School in Beijing. Furthermore this description will in many ways fit Beijing Gateway Academy. That said, this article will be a general guide aimed at conveying three key points that I consider constitute a peach, as opposed to a lemon, when it comes to Chinese language schools. Lastly before I do this, I will also say this: there are many schools in China and just because I work Beijing Gateway Academy doesn’t necessarily make it the best for your purposes, the school you will want to find will however most likely match most of these criteria.

The number one characteristic of great classroom environment is without a doubt the class size. A large class size, like those of a university, should not even exist in a private language academy. If you desire a large class size, you should go for a university course. The tuition is higher at private language schools because there are fewer students per teacher, this will naturally drive up prices. What you are paying that extra fee for is, in essence, a lot more face to face time with a teacher.

When I say large class size, in the context of domestic mainland Chinese language schools I mean anything above 10 students. Even 10 is too large for a optimal learning experience. Personally I would seek something more in line with 3 to 6 students. With for example 3 students, a typical one-hour class will involve about 30 minutes of general instruction and 10 minutes of teacher to student interaction. With 10 students this 10-minute scope for pronunciation improvement, for instance, will shrink to 3 minutes. The reason that I mention this pronunciation with regards to this crucial face-to-face time is that it is a major source of initial frustration with Mandarin studies. Chinese pronunciation could almost not be anymore different to Latin and Germanic languages and still be a language as defined by linguistics. It is both tonal and involves other sounds than for instance English does. This makes personal attention essential for rapid and sustainable Mandarin language studies.

The second defining characteristic of a peach is the quality of the curriculum. When I speak of quality regarding Mandarin studies I mean the extent to which the curriculum is customized for each student. This quality is directly derived from a small class size and it is very rare that a school offers a real program to personalize the content of classes. The reason: it is very expensive to tailor make class material to student. Beijing Gateway Academy spends roughly 60% of its academic budget only on preparation for each class as each class is tailored to each student in it. That is not say that Beijing Gateway Academy is the only school that does this. I know of at least two other schools that have, at least to an extent, similar programs.

The third characteristic, the social environment is also very important. Though it is hard to assess this in the “picking process” from abroad. What I advice in order to asses a school for this criteria is looking for a way to contact past students. Some of the better language schools in China have a directory on their homepage of students that have attended, for alumni purposes. Firing of an email to one or a few of these will give you a very good idea of what social life is like at the school. I name this characteristic in the top 3 because you cannot overestimate the extent which ones spare time influence the success of a student’s academic performance. If you enjoy your time in China, you will enjoy your studies and you will do well in them. If you don’t, you will not.

These three characteristics: small class sizes, a personalized curriculum and a good social environment define a peach, as opposed to a lemon. Be sure you find a school that suit you, these point will be helpful as a general guide which you can use in your selection process, but you should add your own points to this list in order to make a informed choice.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin language Academy in Beijing that is a great option for those that want to learn Chinese Mandarin. If you are interested in more information about learning Mandarin in China, please consult the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.

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