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The Harbin Mandarin School, Harbin

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themtc

Hello, and thank you for the wealth own of info in this thread. New member here and I have a few questions.

 

Let me give you a quick run down of my situation as it seems a bit different than most posting here. 

 

I already live and work 20 hours a week teaching english in Harbin. However, most of these 20 hours is on the weekend. I only teach about 6-8 hours monday-friday. I have my accommodation and can find my way around the city pretty well. Speaking on the other hand is an issue. I am pretty much a complete beginner at Mandarin. I know how the pinyin should be pronounced (I say should be because actually getting it right is a whole other issue for me). I know the numbers pretty well 1-999 and can say the most basic of phrases such as standard hello/goodbye, what is your name/surname, and i am from the usa. I make transactions by asking how much and by limiting myself to places where i can say I want and point at something or a picture of something. Like a said, very much a beginner. 

 

My questions are:

 

Will I be able to handle something this intense even though I have a job? I will have the time to attend the morning classes everyday and still some time to study outside of class during the week, but will i struggle if I cannot dedicate most of my free time to outside study? Most people posting seem to have come to Harbin specifically to study at this school and nothing else. I suppose I could take vacation time to do a week or two of classes but I would like to get started as soon as possible and not wait. Is something this intense even suitable for someone who is a complete beginner as myself? Would I get much out of it if I could only commit to 1-2 weeks at a time at first? For now I am just looking for a basic foundation to be able to do basic things like eat at small local places even if they dont have a pinyin/picture menu. And basically just do my everyday things around town without seeming like a complete tourist as well as providing a nice foundation for further learning in the future. 

 

And assuming there are positive answers to the above, does this school offer lower prices if I do not need the accommodation? The website seemed unclear to me. They mentioned a 50 rmb per hour rate for people who did not need accommodation or textbook, but it was just a small bullet point at the bottom of the price page so any further information you could offer would be appreciated. Obviously, at my level, I would still like to use some sort of textbook. I would prefer the full experience just without the apartment. 

 

Thanks!

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Chester22

Hey themtc

 

For a while I was working as a teacher on the weekend and studying during the week so I should be able to answer most of your questions. I'm also currently studying at 1to1Mandarin, though only for 1 hr a week right now.

 

Firstly, your administrative questions-

 

Yes it is possible to study at the school but not stay at the accommodation they provide, in which case the tuition fee will be proportionately less. Best contact them to get the exact figures. 

 

It is also possible to not study their standard 4 hrs a day program. If you still want one-to-one tutoring, the fee is 100RMB an hour, or you can do it in small groups as per the small bullet point on their website you mentioned. You can use a text book for these sessions if you want, but you'll have to buy it yourself, i.e. the 50RMB does not cover the cost of the textbook.

 

As for your other questions-

 

If you are concerned about not having sufficient time to study outside of class, then 1to1 tutoring is really the best option since it allows you to set your own pace. It will also mean you can learn exactly what you want and get started straight away on studying those useful day to day phrases you want to learn

 

I guess everyone's study endurance is different but I think 4 hrs a day should still be manageable while working on the weekends as well. I was doing that myself for a while (though only up to 8hrs of work) and know other people that have done it. You'll adapt to it pretty quickly I think, but you can always try it for a week and see.

 

Hope that answers most of your questions. If you have anymore, feel free to ask.

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edelweis

Thank you for the write up Grawrt.

Could you please tell us which textbooks you are using? and perhaps how long you intend to stay in Harbin? (well it's probably none of my business but I am curious.)

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grawrt

Sure no problem. I'm currently using 汉语教程 Hanyu Jiaocheng  第二册 by BLCU press. Though I think if you're not totally satisfied with the book the teachers would be willing to change. I know on the first class they asked me to look through it to make sure I felt comfortable with it or if i thought it was too easy or hard. But I think its just about my level.
 

I planned on staying here for 6 months, so about five more months to go :)

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edelweis

ah thank you Grawrt and good luck with your studies :)

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JimmyJones

Hi there, I have been considering studying at the 1to1 Mandarin Workshop and this thread has been very helpful for me so thanks to all the posters.

 

Would someone be able to answer for me what kind of visa I would need to apply for to study at the school? I am from the UK and would be looking at studying for somewhere between 2-3 months. Would I be able to simply apply for a 30 day tourist visa that I would then get extended once in Harbin?

 

Or does the school provide documentation for you to get a student visa?

 

Many thanks in advance,

Jimmy

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Zander

Hey Jimmy,

 

I'm from the UK also studying for around the same time as you (2 months) and the Visa I am on is a student Visa. The Chinese embassy in London told me they don't really give out student visas for privately run schools so the student visa is what you should apply for. I did have to provide them with evidence of how long I planned to stay in China (I gave them a receipt of my flights back to England) but after they got this I had no problems at all getting the visa. I applied for a 60 day student one, so I didn't need to extend it at all.

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JimmyJones

Hi Zanders many thanks for your reply. I'm a bit confused when you say "The Chinese embassy in London told me they don't really give out student visas for privately run schools so the student visa is what you should apply for" - I'm guessing you meant the tourist visa is what you should apply for?

 

Do you mind if I ask you a couple more questions seeing as you studying there? I have a basic level of Mandarin as I have only studied part time at home through evening classes but I am hopeful that given the intensive study it should help me make some decent improvement. Do you think you can are seeing a noticeable difference after being there?

 

I know that accomodation is provided but would like to try and work out a rough budget. How much on average do you need a day to live on? I'm not very extravagant and happy to eat at local places.

 

Thanks again in advance!

Jimmy

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Zander

Hey yeah sorry, I meant to say apply for the tourist visa!

 

My Chinese has improved significantly while I've been here, definitely noticably so. I can definitely notice the difference in my Chinese conversation skills, particuarly in listening which I used to be absolutely terrible at.

 

In regards to your budget questions, Harbin is pretty cheap. I end up spending around 500rmb per week, and I eat out for every meal. You could definitely spend less than this if you wanted to by going to big supermarkets and buying stuff in bulk, but I'm really not bothered and prefer to buy water and snacks and stuff individually in the convienent store in the apartment building. Conversely you could definitely spend a lot more, particularly if you were planning on going out drinking a lot. Harbin is much much cheaper than the UK for alcohol, but as always it's relatively expensive. Similarly, Western restaurants are much more expensive than the Chinese ones.

 

If you have any other questions please let me know! Happy to help.

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JimmyJones

Many thanks again the info is really a great help!

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MarsBlackman

I'll add my experience with 1to1 Mandarin Workshop in Harbin because my situation varies slightly from the majority of posters. Unlike many people who come to Harbin to study at this school exclusively, I was already posted in Harbin for work and attended class at night. I was already aware of the school because of this forum from when I studied abroad in China a few years ago (I chose Dalian for various reasons). So when I began working in Harbin, this school was flexible enough and willing to meet with me in the evening once I was done with work. Instead of the standard 8-12 or 12-4 schedule like many schools in China teaching Chinese, I would meet for 1-2 hours in the evening a couple days a week. 

 

Class structure is your decision. Study material is your decision. The pace of class and learning is your decision. It is what you make of it. If you want to casually study words and phrases and pick up some Chinese for fun, you'll benefit from this school. If you want a rigorous course of study to maximize your time in China studying Chinese, you'll also benefit from this school. Just explain your goals and the teachers will then hold you accountable. I've had the pleasure of studying at this school on and off for the past 2 years.

 

From the beginning, I've used my own textbooks and learning materials. Although the HSK is important for many people, I believe studying HSK material exclusively can actually hinder your progress in Chinese. There are plenty of words, phrases, and topics used in everybody settings, from formal to casual, that are outside of the HSK curriculum (In the end you have to know it all right?). The school is plenty willing to recommend textbooks and course material. The teachers have lots of quality experience and are more than capable of designing a curriculum for you. However, it really is up to you. I simply go to the bookstore, pick out textbooks I like, and bring them to class. Anybody who has experienced the rigidity of Chinese university curricula can appreciate the flexibility and willingness to work with students that you'll find at 1to1 Mandarin Workshop.

 

The teachers do a good job of correcting your Chinese. If they were to correct every error in grammar, usage, and pronunciation, you wouldn't make any progress. There is a delicate balance when it comes to correction that only comes from experience. Unlike, Chinese university classes with 20+ students, the teachers at this school learn intimately the roots and causes of mistakes made by foreigners speaking Chinese because it is 1 to 1. This helps when correcting errors because it can get to the systemic root of a error, rather than its simply right or its wrong. Depending upon your native language, the errors you make when speaking Chinese vary. I had an interesting conversation with my teacher about the errors made by students from various countries. They realize those subtleties and it really helps in the long run. Like I said before, it really is what you make of it. 

 

Finding a teacher/tutor that your really "click" with and enjoy meeting with is tough, especially one on one because it is so intimate and intense. Although I'm not currently in Harbin, I continue to attend class via Skype. Because the school does not have all of the textbooks I'm studying, I scan the pages and email them ahead of time. This method seems to work pretty well. Despite a teacher in the flesh being more advantageous, I prefer quality over availability. Many other students continue to attend class via Skype after their time in China is completed. 

 

The quality of instruction suited to my own goals and the flexibility to attend class remotely have really helped my Chinese despite me working full time. I really can't say enough good things about the school and its teachers. They're more than willing to help you with anything outside of class as well.

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Chester22

I studied here during my stay in Harbin, though unlike most other students posting here I didn't do it full time but only an hour or two a week to supplement my study at Bincai. My teacher was Ma Chao and he obviously knows his stuff as a teacher and was great at picking up my conversational slack and keeping things going when I floundered. He was also one of the more knowledgeable Chinese that I met and very suitable for those wanting to practice discussing more advanced topics etc, though unfortunately my chinese only began to reach that level towards the end of my studies there.

 

Anyway, I'd definitely recommend checking out their services for anyone studying in Harbin that wants to improve specific aspects of their chinese that group instruction is of limited help with.

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James W.

I thought I would add my $0.02 to the conversation about Harbin Mandarin School.  I’ve been studying for two years – mainly through Skype classes every morning at 8am – with Ma Chao at the school.  I certainly agree with Chester22 – he knows his stuff, and is always learning, in particular about history of the language and of China.   I spend 3-4 months of summer in various cities in China, but typically interrupt my Skype lessons during that period because I can practice with my colleagues.  

 

My only other experience with language schools was at BLCU for a 3-month introductory course.  I wasn’t particularly happy with the BLCU experience.  I liked my teacher, but didn’t much care for BLCU’s materials or pedagogy, which seemed spotty and perhaps a bit random to me.  I’ve found better materials at Amazon.   Most importantly, the classroom environment is not all that conducive to language learning.   You are always competing for time and attention with the other students in the class, and since they are learning as well, they aren’t the best partners to practice with.  I’d rather go to the Zoo Market and haggle or chat with the vendors – they are happy to instruct as long as they think they might make a sale.

 

So what was the alternative?  It took me a few years after my BLCU experience to decide how to approach Chinese language pedagogy.   I am a believer in the ‘flipped classroom’ approach, where you spend time on study materials, watching Chinese TV and movies (I have a 小米盒子 and a Chinese VPN at home in the US) and trying to read things on the Internet.  Then I practice speaking, new words, new topics, new sentence structures – essentially any place that I can make a lot of mistakes and learn – when I am with Ma Chao in the Skype sessions.   Initially when we were studying, Ma Chao would come prepared with a particular set of lessons for the Skype class.  Now, I’m sure he has something ‘in his back pocket’ for whenever conversation lags.  But I try to drive the sessions with whatever I am interested in, reading about, or trying to figure out in any particular day.  He has a depth of knowledge that works very well for me.   But I need to add that most of the teachers you find in China simply don’t have the depth of knowledge (or perhaps motivation either) to be able to accommodate my style.  This is what I especially like about Ma Chao and Harbin Mandarin School – they are flexible.  That flexibility really only comes with a high degree of competence.

 

One other thing to mention about Harbin based programs – Harbin is the center for Standard Mandarin.  The character set is simplified (vs. Taiwan and Hong Kong), the dialect is what you hear in movies and TV (well, unless you are watching Hong Kong movies, where the Mandarin is fast and somewhat accented).  You can deal with these problems if you choose to study in other places, like Taipai, or (worse) Chengdu which has a heavy accent and mixes up ‘n’ and ‘l’ and probably other sounds as well.  But why the additional effort and frustration?  :wall  Learning Chinese is challenging enough to begin with. 

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rsej

G'day all, just going to chime in with my own experience as well.

 

Had the pleasure of studying at this school for 1 month during August to escape the Shanghai heat (Harbin is absolutely pleasant during summer).

 

From the moment I arrived, Ma Chao picked me up from the airport and made me feel very welcome. He showed me to my apartment during my stay, and a local place to get quick food. During my stay, I found the bed to be quite hard even by Chinese standards, and Ayi (the principal) gave me some extra quilts. Also when I had issues with internet, how to use the washing machine, or even when I lost my key during a drunk night out with some other students, they were ready to help me immediately. They are certainly attentive and caring, without a doubt.

 

The apartment I stayed in was decent - TV, bed, washing machine, internet, a desk, and a cool view of Harbin.

 

Lesson format is 4 hours per day, 5 days a week. Some other students opted to split into 2 hours in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. I preferred to do all 4 in one hit, which can be tiresome after a while. Flexibility is the key word here - if you ask Ma Chao or Ayi to change it up a bit, they will usually accommodate. Also, as far as I know, you can have a rotation of teachers if you wish. I had 王老师 during my entire stay, and was happy with her.

 

BYO books or they can also provide you with books. If you wish to sit there and talk with the teachers for 4 hours, they'll do that. If you want to study grammar out of a textbook, they can do that too. The choice is ultimately yours and the pace at which you want to learn. I learnt a lot more in 1 month in Harbin than I did studying 1 year back home.

 

Also, do yourself a favour and stay for the lunch at midday. Ayi's cooking is fantastic.

Harbin grew on me and also the warmth of the group at the 1to1 school. Without a doubt I will return in the future for more lessons.

 

Rod

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MilesM

Well, after reading all of these thoughtful reviews, I'm definitely sold on going to MW to study next year! I really appreciate that you guys took the time to talk about your experiences at the school!

 

Just one quick question: Is there a nice bar within walking distance of the school? I used to live at a university in Shanghai, and my favorite thing to do in the evening after class was walk over to a popular bar called Ellen's. It was always lively with both Chinese and international college-age people. If there's something like that close to MW in Harbin then I would be sooo happy!

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James W.

Miles, just following up on your question about college/expat bars around the MW school area.  Ellen's in Shanghai as I understand is sort of your average college dive bar.   There are any number of counterparts in the Harbin area you would be living in (though in general Harbin is not as Westernized as Shanghai, nor is anyplace else in China).  Close to MW are Cosmo Disco & Club, which is not truly a disco (fhewh!) and gets a mixed crowd, Love Angel Pub, LINX Bar, U&Bar, JV, 德澳酒吧 (German-Austrian?) bar, etc.  Crowds are mixed expat, students, Russian, Korean.  I've seen some get pretty wild (say compared even to college dives) so it depends on what you want.   The main area for college bars is around HIT across town (10-15 minute taxi ride, or the metro should be open this year between your area and HIT).  There are tons of college beer bars and coffee shops in that area.

 

Which brings me to coffee shops -- this is where Harbin really distinguishes itself.   Maple leaves, Soul Cafe, Zoo Cafe all have big coffee shops in the MW area (Zoo is really interesting with life sized stuffed animals on two floors).  The HIT area must have 50 coffee shops.  I tend to visit Mellow on HIT campus.   Harbin is the only place I've found in China with Western style espresso shops, serving good beans and strong expresso.  Even Shanghai's Starbucks want to dollop sugar into your $4 cappuccino.  Hong Kong, Chengdu and the West have a coffee culture, with many shops serving $5-$10 coffee drinks (usually instant coffee with Redi-Whip on top) like Goodwood and Pokka Coffee.  But Western and Southern Chinese coffee is simply awful, watery and bitter.   This is important to me, and one of the reasons I like Harbin (I tend to spend a lot of time in coffee shops).  The coffee shops are social centers as well, and you can meet a lot of students and expats when you sit around and study in a coffee shop. 

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