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naui87

Universities for learning Chinese = waste of money?

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naui87

Hey...from most people I've talked to, they have all said that learning Chinese via a University is a waste of money and is inefficient and slow, when you could just learn the language for free and more intensely via living in China. Is this pretty much the truth?

If so, is it practical for a foreigner to get a job in a country where he knows no one, and speaks very little Chinese? From what I've read on here, almost everyone thinks that trying to work fulltime (ie teaching) and trying to learn the language as well is a very poor decision. But if you don't work...how are you supposed to pay bills, food, etc...?

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Xiao Kui

I learned Chinese on my own, with the aid of textbooks and friends for my 1st 2 years of study. (One year in China and 1 in the US)

After 2 yrs I finally enrolled in courses at a Chinese uni. Although the teaching style was dry, I still found the classes helpful in understanding grammatical concepts, correct usage, and proper pronunciation. I think my pronunciation would have come along a lot more quickly if i'd enrolled in formal classes at the beginning, instead of having to unlearn bad habits. So I think taking classes is a good idea, at least 2 years for getting a good foundation, then you can learn more on your own, in your own learning style.

I think a good example of this is a Chinese doc I recently saw abt an American girl who married a Chinese guy. She could speak pretty well just from being with her Chinese husband, but she made some glaring usage mistakes, the most obvious being using the word zhidao instead of renshi for knowing people - to me it made her sound kind of ignorant. (unless of course there is some dialect where that is correct, in that case the ignorance is mine :) )

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naui87

Thanks for replying :).

Hmmm, do you think, or have you heard, if there is a huge difference between Chinese classes at an American University and at a Chinese University? In terms of intensity and efficiency that is...

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Lu

It depends on your style of study. Chinese is not a language you just pick up from living there, you have to actively study it, read, listen, practice, etc. If you are very self-disciplined and have a good learning method, you can make great progress. (Ask renzhe.) You can even do this at home, but the advantage of being in China is that the language you're learning is all around you.

But it's very easy for a foreigner to move to China, get an English-teaching job, speak English to your co-workers, make foreigner friends and the odd Chinese with good English, hang out in expat bars, and return home after five years with no more Chinese than Knee How and Pee-jow.

It's much like sports: some people buy a pair of running shoes and a year later they run a marathon, some people get gym membership after home trainer and never use them, and five years later they're still couch potatoes. And some people join a sports team and show up every week because their teammates are expecting them, and so they get some exercise.

What I'd recommend is to at least start by taking classes, so that you have a good base that you can build on. If the classes work for you, keep taking them, if you think you can learn better on your own, do that.

Whichever you pick, good luck!

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anonymoose

I wouldn't say it's a waste of money, but if you are disciplined enough to teach yourself, there isn't a lot more that a university can do for you that you couldn't do yourself. This is how I feel from my own experience, though I only started attending classes after already reaching an advanced level. You might find classes more useful as a beginner.

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naui87

Hmm, you guys make all good points. I guess I just kind of feel that if it's possible to learn it myself, then why would I pay someone else to teach me how to do it. And if I can't learn it myself and need that someone to help me, then where is my true motivation. That's probably an extreme way to see it, but I guess I just see self teaching myself Chinese an awesome challenge with even more self appreciation/rewards etc etc.

I'll probably continue what I'm doing (learning all the radicals atm) and if I hit a roadblock and start severely struggling, I'll probably opt for help.

Again, thanks for the responses guys. :)

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jbradfor

Before going to Taiwan, I took two years of Chinese at a University in the USA. For me, it was absolutely the right way to go. Now I should note that when it comes to learning foreign languages, I'm about as stupid as they come. So while each person is different, I think in general it's the right approach.

from most people I've talked to, they have all said that learning Chinese via a University is a waste of money and is inefficient and slow, when you could just learn the language for free and more intensely via living in China. Is this pretty much the truth?

IMHO, bullshit, pure and simple. How can you expect to learn a language as an adult just by going to a country if you don't speak any?

Say you just arrive in China and speak next to no Chinese. Who would want to talk to you? [in Chinese I mean, lots of people will want to talk to you in English, either to practice their English or to scam you.] Even if they wanted to talk to you, how could they if you don't speak any? [That was a rhetorical question.]

This is not to say that I think learning Chinese in China is bad. At a certain point of fluency (say after 1, 2, or 3 years of a good University course), there is nothing better. But you need to reach a level in which you can communicate only in Chinese to expect the mere fact that you are in China to help your Chinese.

You could also go to China and take classes (or self-study). But even in that case, I would question how much benefit you actually get from being in China for the first 6-12 months, until you get basic fluency.

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naui87
If you want to be hardcore about something, start weightlifting or something.

You may not like the idea of taking the "hard" route with Chinese but I can almost guarantee that I don't fit in your shoes. There is so much information available to the average person that I honestly don't see how it is not possible to self-teach yourself Chinese and save some $$. And I already weightlift, but I appreciate the suggestion.

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Shadowdh

The thing is with weightlifting and Chinese both, you need to establish a good foundation and this is best achieved with a teacher... you pick uni or not... but without good instruction as to the basics then you will do yourself an injury... well in the case of language thats slightly metaphorical... however, learning at a uni is not a waste of time or money however it is also not the full meal deal...

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imron

The other thing to consider though is that the quality of teaching at many universities in China is below what many westerners would expect. If you're going to study at a university then it's a good idea to make sure you pick a decent course. Language instruction through a private school is also an option. It might seem pricier at first, but if it means that you make faster progress it may be a better investment.

Most of my Chinese language learning has been self-study, with the exception of a year full-time at Beijing University during my second year of learning Chinese. I found that year to very helpful to help consolidate my reading and writing skills, and I think that some formal study, at least in the beginning, gives you a good base to start from.

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anonymoose

Different methods suite different people, and whilst it is extreme to say university classes are a waste of money, it is also one-sided to say that classes are an indispensable part of learning Chinese.

Self-learning does not mean sitting in an ivory tower, "just finding a book and getting the information from the pages to your head". In China there are plenty of opportunities to learn and get feedback from Chinese friends, colleagues, or language exchange partners. Sure, people don't tend to correct your mistakes of their own accord, but many will if you explain you are trying to learn Chinese, and request them to do so. The internet is also a valuable resource - just take this site for example.

So I wouldn't discourage anyone from attending a university course, if that's what they wish to do, but at the same time, if you have the will and the way, it is absolutely possible to self-teach Chinese.

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Jason G

I'm of the opinion that the overwhelming majority of people do better--long term--with at least a couple years of formal training when it comes to things like learning languages. Yes, there are some really motivated and gifted people that might not need that, but for most of us, I recommend classes.

Hmmm, do you think, or have you heard, if there is a huge difference between Chinese classes at an American University and at a Chinese University? In terms of intensity and efficiency that is...

The difference between taking Chinese at an American University and a Chinese University are huge.

Before coming to China, I did two years of Chinese at college (I was a history major/Asian studies minor). My first year of Chinese was 4 credit hours a week, while my second was 3. 3 or 4 hours a week is simply not enough in-class time to have adequate practice and instruction. Unless you are well-rooted in the Chinese-American community, you simply won't have enough opportunity to practice speaking and listening. Even then, a lot of American born Chinese speak really poor Chinese with very non-standard accents.

My two years of classes helped my reading level a decent bit, and I learned some basic grammar. But still, my ability to communicate was severely limited when I was fresh off the boat here. It took me a good six months before I could really understand what people were saying to me even in simple situations. I simply didn't have enough class time to practice or Chinese friends to practice with (and many of the Chinese friends I had to practice with taught me bad habits). My four semesters of As didn't really do me much other than give me a base and some familiarity.

Here though, I have 20 hours of Chinese class a week. It's taught nearly entirely in Chinese. And of course you have much more opportunity to practice Chinese out of class. It's really apples and oranges as far as I'm concerned. There are definitely some programs in America that you can get a decent level of Chinese proficiency with, but there is no substitute for living here.

Living here has been anything but a waste of money.

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peekay

A dedicated, disciplined self-learner can absolutely excel studying independently, perhaps with the occasional help from a tutor, or supplemented by some formal classes in the beginning. But generally speaking, trying to completely "self-study" Chinese without a good foundation is a recipe for failure.

As Jason points out, enrolling in a Chinese university course means attending 20 or 30 hours of classes plus doing another 10+ hours of homework, each and every week. That's a full-time job learning the language, and can hardly be a waste of time or money if you put in the required effort.

Having said that, a structured university environment isn't for everyone. If you're the type who just can't stand attending classes regularly, then independent study & tutoring is the way to go.

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moderntime

I have done both paths: when I first started working in China, I came with what would be considered an intermediate level in the US (in other words, an eight-year-old's level for Chinese standards) and studying on the side, and I am currently studying at a university now. While my spoken Chinese is decent because of my work experience and general time in China, I'd be the first one to say that my classmates who have been studying regularly right from the beginning completely blow me away when it comes to grammar and the written language. The idea that Chinese has very simple grammar is a complete joke and yes, I agree with what a previous poster said about the intricacies of Chinese being much more complicated than a beginner would know, and I wish I had studied formally right from the beginning.

That said, I do know people who have never studied formally and picked up their Chinese through dedicated self-study, but I think the best thing about being in the university environment, besides the dedicated time to studying and picking up new concepts, vocabulary and grammar, is that my teachers constantly tell me what I'm doing wrong, which out of politeness, many people - friends and strangers alike - aren't going to do in real life.

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antoine

from my own experience, i first stayed in china three month without previous knowledge, i was in a context of full immersion since no one could speak english where i was doing my training period. those three month were very useful for me, to get my hear used to this language sounds and spoken habits.

then i went back to the university and realized i also had acquired a basic knowledge of reading. but the time i spent in the university listening to classes has definitely been useful for me.

then i found a teaching position un china, and i was motivated to study on my own after my job, the fact is i never stayed more than 10 minutes studying at my desk, i spent most of the time with chinese friends, this helped me improve my level a lot, but i still realize that something is still missing. especially about vocabulary and colloquial idioms.

after thinking about the question, i would say that depends what is your goal, you can very well study a little on your own, live in china and get the ability to speak correctly within a rather short period of time, however if you really want to get a high level of chinese, universities are definitely useful.

the time and money you spend in a university can get you an official diploma, and a higher level, so when you will be looking for job you this can pay back.

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Baggerking

I first came to China and tried to study Chinese while teaching 25 hours a week. I had no success, and then thought that living with a Chinese person who spoke no English and was not interested in English would help. It did, slightly. After a year, I finally put myself into a Chinese class in a Chinese University. In one month I learned more than I had in the entire year. My vote is, go to a university in China. It's cheaper and more useful than in America. The cost of living in China is very cheap too, especially if you live in a smaller city. I live in Jinan, and my tuition for about one semester is almost $1000, my rent for my OWN place off campus is about $150 a month, and my living expenses a month while living really well and getting really fat is around $400 a month. I do some part time work on the side which really does not help my studies but it's about 2 hours a day six days a week to even the costs, so the damage is minimal as long as I stay on top of preparation. I'm busy, but it's really nice.

You kind of have to really like Chinese food though... and like riding bicycles...

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cui ruide

I think people are being awfully cavalier about the ease of self-teaching a category IV language, i.e. the hardest kind of language for an English-speaker to learn. I've yet to meet anyone in Real Life (not the internet) that has made any great achievement in teaching themselves Chinese. They might exist, but I've yet to meet them.

The quality of my programs rate in descending order:

Expensive American study abroad programs ($10,000/sem)

Chinese university ($1600/sem)

Private school ($1000/sem)

The teaching and class size at a Chinese university was not nearly as attentive to the individual as the American study abroad program, and it was often stale...but 1600 dollars (not including housing) is chump change. Save some money and make the investment. You can find tutoring jobs in your spare time to cover some living expenses. Like a lot of people have said--just one year of Chinese university, and you'll be lightyears ahead anyone teaching themselves.

Private school, in my experience, is more like a tutoring, or group tutoring service. I'd only advise it to the cash-strapped or working. It's not nearly intensive enough to gain fluency in the language. Moderate functionality, maybe. It might really depend on the school/program.

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