So you wanna be literate? Expand your vocabulary beyond that of a two-year-old? Not sure where to start? Use our cross-comparison guide to find out!
Costs* per semester Tuition: RMB6,000 to 11,000 depending on the university. Books: RMB200; student visa: RMB400
Class hours per week: 15 to 25
Instructors: Usually experienced and qualified, other than graduate-students assigned to teach electives
Setting Some students thrive in a classroom environment; on the other hand, instruction is based on group interests rather than the individual's. Classes can be up to 40 students at the large programs
Should be defined, although sometimes goals are focused on boosting test scores rather than improving communication ability
Curriculum: Should be defined, although sometimes goals are focused on boosting test scores rather than improving communication ability
Course content General Chinese; listening; reading; writing; some programs offer electives such as calligraphy, dialect, newspaper reading, history
Flexibility: The most rigid of all the options in terms of class times, locations, subjects, and teachers, which keeps some students motivated
How to proceed: The most difficult part of studying at the universities is making initial contact: These departments are notorious for not picking up the phone or answering e-mails. Your best bet is to find the address of the international office, show up in person, and request further information.
Advice Tuition at universities is the most expensive of all the options presented here, so if you're not looking for course credits or a degree, you might want to consider other options. On the other hand, the teachers are often far more experienced teaching Chinese and teaching to foreigners than other instructors, and the rigid setting and relatively high cost pushes most students to attend class regularly.
Costs* RMB30 to 70 per hour in general
Class hours per week: Flexible
Instructors: Usually experienced and qualified
Setting Usually small classes or one-to-one on-site or elsewhere
Curriculum: Depends on the center and individual teacher
Course content General language; etiquette and culture
Flexibility: Flexible class times, locations, textbooks, etc.
How to proceed: Call to set up an appointment (find contact information for centers in our listings)
Advice This can be a good choice for those who need the structure of a classroom environment but can't commit to a full-time class schedule.
Costs* RMB20-50 per hour (some ask for up to RMB100 per hour). Language exchanges should be free.
Class hours per week: Flexible
Instructors: Ranges from students with no experience whatsoever to professional, full-time freelance tutors with CSL certifications
Setting Highly personalized instruction; 100 percent of class time is devoted to your learning unless you end up chatting with your tutor in languages other than Chinese
Curriculum: High potential for lack of curriculum, structure, and defined goals
Course content General language; dialect; culture; cooking, depending on the tutor
Flexibility: Everything is flexible, which means it's easy for either party to feel lazy and cancel the day's lesson
How to proceed: Ask around for recommendations of tutors ( or find tutors in our classifieds). Ask the tutor about previous experience, curriculum, lesson plans, and materials.
Advice Screen your tutor carefully. "Language-exchange" opportunities whereby you swap a specified time period of tutoring or conversation in your native language for the equivalent time of instruction in Chinese, but these often don't work out well as one language tends to dominate both sessions.
Costs Potentially the cheapest method. A subscription to the mother of self-study tools, Chinesepod, ranges from USD9 to 199 per month.
Class hours per week: Flexible
Instructors: For beginning students, disadvantages include nobody to demonstrate pronunciation, correct mistakes, or answer your questions
Setting Peace and quiet with everything centered around you. Your only distraction, in theory, is yourself (and your phone, computer, family, housemates ...). In the end, some people just prefer studying in their pajamas
Curriculum: High potential for a lack of structure, but if you're organized, you can focus on topics and areas of your choice and go at your own pace
Course content Up to you, although it's difficult to study culture or dialect from a book
Flexibility: Highly flexible, requiring a massive amount of intrinsic motivation that very few of us have. Highest potential for leaving your studies to another day ... or lifetime
How to proceed: Inexperienced language learners might have trouble identifying viable goals and best routes to working toward them, so it's a good idea to create a fixed study schedule and plan that you can and will commit to. If possible, ask a friend with language-learning experience to look it over and give you feedback.
Advice When it comes down to it, learning is an independent act. Teachers, tutors, and classmates might guide you and provide input and examples, but the only person ultimately responsible for doing the learning is you. For that reason, some language learners prefer to study on their own. As a primary or sole study method, this route tends to work best for students who have mastered the basics of pronunciation and Pinyin.
Final words of wisdom from those who have been there. Anybody who resides in China is constantly exposed to free language-learning opportunities—from simple exchanges at the market or in taxi cabs to deciphering marketing phrases on food packages to the wealth of reading material on Chinese websites. Most importantly, stay motivated with short-term goals and don't be discouraged by what seems like slow progress and an insurmountable task.
*Note: Prices are based on rates in Chengdu. Prices in other cities in China might be different.
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 26 ("how to 3.0).
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