Mastering Mandarin in China: Some Tips and Tricks

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To master the Mandarin language, Astrid went to China. Here, she shares some tips and tricks of how you should prepare your language study and how you can excel the language.

Fluency in a foreign language has increasingly become the expected standard in this globalization age. While English remains to be the world’s lingua franca, other languages have steadily gained more popularity over the past few years, especially languages from the Orient. Now China, being the largest country in East Asia, boasts more than 1.3 billion people, which makes it the most populous country on earth. The number does not even include the vast population of Chinese descent dispersed all around the world. With booming economic and infrastructure developments and a huge number of human resources, China is fast becoming the world’s superpowers.

This understanding led me to pursue Mandarin studies in Beijing, China. Who knows? Perhaps mastery in Mandarin might be a stepping stone to something greater, be it opening more doors for business opportunities or at the very least, leading to new, exciting friendships.

Unlike English however, opportunities to study Mandarin, unfortunately, are still limited in Indonesia. Sure, the number of Mandarin courses is growing but they still remain concentrated in few areas and scarce in many others. Of course, this does not mean that one must go overseas to be able to master Mandarin (at least one friend of mine is able to speak Mandarin fluently by regularly watching movies and listening to Chinese music). Nevertheless, for those who wish to go to China for language studies, here are some tips and tricks that might come in handy:

1. Know your purpose
IMG_3222First, ask yourself: what am I studying Mandarin for? Is it for academic purposes, say to study literature-style Mandarin? Or is it for a specific career goal? For example, do I go to China to study its medical-related, law-related or business related language?

By firstly understanding your purpose of studying Mandarin overseas, you will be able to determine the approach and strategies in mastering the language, which in turn will reduce the time (and money!) spent abroad.

2. Research, research, research
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. This adage has never been more true, especially in the context of studying abroad.

Never ever forget to conduct research on the area and school most suitable for your Mandarin studies. I myself was assisted by a Mandarin studying agency for my school and visa applications, although this does not necessarily strike out the need for any independent research on my part. When going the agency route, I recommend consulting with a number of Mandarin studying agencies and compare the information provided. This way, you can pick the school most fitting to your needs (which in some instances, might not be the one recommended by the agencies). If on the other hand, you opt for an independent route, that is to apply independently to the schools in China, an in-depth, comprehensive research is a definite must. You can start by conducting research on the region (do I go to China, with its simplified writing style of Mandarin, or Taiwan, with its traditional Mandarin writing style?) then followed with research on the choice of cities, schools, school fees, and other qualifications you might think relevant.

Remember also to do some research on the environment of your school. Is the area considered relatively safe? How is the climate of the area weather-wise? China is a massive country, and the security and weather in one area might be significantly different from other parts of the country.

3. Make friendsIMG_3223
At this stage, you have conducted your research, completed all the application requirements and lo and behold, you have arrived in China! Now, one of the challenges of staying abroad is combating loneliness. You are in a new, unknown territory and forming new friendships is one way to combat the sense of loneliness and additionally, to practice your Mandarin and get information that might be beneficial for your Mandarin studies. Befriend fellow students in your class, but most of all do not be shy to make friends with the locals, including your teachers. Who knows, your teachers and new friends might be able to recommend some places for better and faster improvement of your Mandarin (which leads to point 4 below).

4. Language programs in addition to school
During my studies in China, I was fortunate enough to get recommended by my new friends to a Mandarin course in addition to the language school I went to. Joining the course turned out to be one of the best decisions during my studies. By taking language programs in addition to the school lessons, I was able to gain more opportunities to practice my Mandarin and even formed new friendships with my Mandarin course teachers. This, in turn, resulted in a rapid development of my Mandarin skills in such a short period of time. Further, having concentrated in business law major during my university years, the Mandarin course enabled me to get more law and business-related materials for my language studies.

Finally, when even the native Chinese themselves admit that their language is difficult, you know that studying Mandarin for foreigners is no walk in the park. There’s no sugarcoating it, Mandarin is hard. The language does not recognize a vocabulary system, has countless characters, and each character must be pronounced with an accurate tone. So how is mastering it possible? At the end of the day, no matter how many tips and tricks or strategies shared and accumulated, difficulties can only be overcome through discipline and persistence. Sure, there were times when I got frustrated, but do not keep wallowing in your discontentment. Try reminding yourself of why you are studying Mandarin in the first place and constantly motivate yourself in pressing forward in your studies. When feeling bored from studying Mandarin lessons, you can watch Chinese movies or listen to music instead. Language studying is a fluid process and with diligence and persistence, without even knowing it, you might have already spoken like a true Chinese speaker!

Photos are provided by the author and Wikipedia