Moving to China can be a wonderful and thrilling experience for those who are interested in Chinese culture, the booming business opportunities of China’s economy, and the chance to learn a new language in a completely foreign environment. However, making the move to China can be very daunting. Here are our top tips for people who are considering living and learning Mandarin Chinese in China.
Choosing a city to live and learn Chinese
Deciding which city to live in China depends on many factors and personal preferences such as climate, air quality, job opportunities, city culture, food, expat community, etc. When it comes to learning Mandarin Chinese, a larger city will usually be a good choice since Mandarin will be the lingua franca. Many small cities or villages have their own regional dialect that is a bit different from Mandarin (although the written Chinese is common). Larger cities such as Guangzhou and Shanghai will also have their own regional dialects, though mainly Mandarin Chinese.
Some people suggest learning Mandarin in northern Chinese cities, such as Beijing, as the spoken accent in those areas is more “proper”. Some might suggest learning Mandarin in Shenzhen, a massive young city in the southern China and near Hong Kong. The residents there are from all over the country, and thus exposing yourself to a variety of accents.
Consider Learning Mandarin with a Tutor
Learning Chinese through flashcards or apps is effective to practice the language. However, more importantly, the feedback and guidance from a native Chinese speaker taking care of your learning as your tutor. One of the most challenging aspects for foreigners learning Mandarin Chinese is pronunciation and tones. Since most western languages do not use tonality in pronunciation, a real life tutor wouldn’t focus on providing feedback on students’ tone and pronunciation.
If you live in a big city in China it should be relatively easy to find a tutor who is well-trained and experienced in teaching Mandarin Chinese. In smaller cities, however, you will find it more difficult to find someone who is qualified to teach you Mandarin.
A virtual Chinese tutor service (such as TutorMandarin) can be a very convenient option for those looking to learn Chinese with a real qualified native Mandarin tutors. By using video chatting and conferencing, online virtual tutors are flexible and don’t require you to travel to your lessons. Virtual tutors can even allow you to continue learning Chinese when you are traveling.
Don’t be shy! Practice your language in public!
New learners of a language can often be shy about practicing their skills with locals in public. Living in China and immerse in Chinese speaking environment is one of the best opportunities to practice conversational Chinese. Don’t let shyness or self-consciousness deter you from taking full advantage of this opportunity.
As you just begin learning Chinese, you will find that some locals may not understand your novice pronunciation and you may encounter some perplexed stares. Fast spoken Chinese and regional accents will leave you mystified. That’s okay! By starting with the basics and gradually incorporating your language skill into daily activities, you’ll eventually improve your confidence in speaking Chinese. So, don’t be shy to speak in Chinese when you go shopping, calling a taxi, or going to a bank.
You can also consider finding local conversation partners through forums or meetup groups. This can be a great way to make new friends while practicing speaking Chinese.
Useful Apps for China
There are many useful apps for your smartphone that can help you in your daily life while learning Mandarin in China. Here are some of my favorites:
Baidu translate is a very useful translation app that can translate through voice/audio and image. The image-to-text translation is especially useful to Chinese beginners. Written Chinese is difficult to type into a dictionary if you don’t already know how to pronounce the character.
Chinese skill is a Chinese language learning game app that is similar to Duolingo. It starts with very basic tasks that slowly introduce grammar and vocabulary in an intuitive way.
TutorMandarin is the only Chinese language learning app that connects you to live 1-on-1 certified, Mandarin tutors. You can learn through the virtual mobile classroom or on the PC version of their software. Either way, the app is great for scheduling classes, checking class notes, getting free articles, and more.
WeChat is a messaging app that every person living in China must have on their smartphones. It also supports translation within your chat conversations, which is very useful if you cannot read Chinese.
VPN (virtual private network) apps can help you access your social media and Google apps that are not available in China. For example, Gmail, Google Translate, Youtube, and Facebook. Some of the most popular China VPN apps are reviewed here.
Air Quality apps such as Air Quality China can help you plan your outdoor activities and air pollution protection measures appropriately on those frequent smoggy days in China.
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