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The Harbin Mandarin School, Harbin

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Mannng

HI people.

I posted the earlier comment about going to Harbin Mandarin School in May 2019. I have now attended for a week's trial and I have decided am going to come back for a longer stay. Basically this is an excellent school. I will be flying back to Australia tomorrow, and I will write a longer review once I am home. 

The one thing this school needs to do is improve its website LOL. The school is actually much better than the website might lead you to believe.

Also - Hello to hanekawa100 above, I know who she is in real life (she is still here studying at THMS). 

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Mannng

OK, hi folks, I am back in Sydney now and I have the time to write a proper review of The Harbin Mandarin School.

I actually tried three different private language schools in China over the past month. One was in Beijing, one was in "another smaller city" and the final one was in Harbin. Each school was a private school, offering flexible study periods (I did one week at each). My goal was to "audition" schools before committing to a longer study program early next year. Going to a university is not going to be feasible for me, so I have not examined them. Hence, whether a university program is best for you is something you will have to decide for yourself.

For private schools though, I can recommend Harbin as the best option to learn Chinese for several reasons:

1 - QUALITY OF THE SCHOOL: The school has experienced teachers who can assess your needs and tailor a program to you directly. I came to China with a lot of "book study" and a fairly decent vocabulary, but I SEVERELY lacked in listening and speaking ability. My teacher assessed my weaknesses extremely quickly and tailored a unique program accordingly. The other two programs I attended had less experienced and (to be honest) "inferior" teachers who attempted to make me adhere to a book-based program (one of which was with the dreaded NCPR, which I really dislike). I have suspicions that one of the other schools I attended used unpaid interns rather than professional teachers (this was based on some comments that were made by one of my teachers). 

2 - QUALITY OF THE CITY: Harbin speaks "standard Mandarin". Spoken Chinese in China varies WAY more than you probably think. WAY WAY more. It is much more varied than the English in the UK, and there is nothing in the USA or Australia to compare it to. So the fact that Harbin locals basically speak "Television Mandarin" is incredibly valuable during the learning phase. I briefly visited Shenyang before coming home, and despite it only being 4 hours from Harbin I had absolutely no idea what was being said because the dialect varied so much. Fortunately the dialect in Beijing is closer to "standard" then Shenyang, but the further you move away, the harder it becomes to understand anything.The dialect in Shanghai is different enough to almost be considered a different language. Harbin is also a very cool city, and quite a pretty one. I have never seen the Ice Festival, but it sounds amazing. In climate terms it basically matches Chicago - cold winters and warm summers. May was short-sleeve weather.

While my school in Beijing was better than "the other school" (I have decided to not name this 3rd school), I don't think Beijing is as ideal an environment to learn Chinese as Harbin. Firstly, it is WAY more expensive than Harbin. Secondly. I did not benefit from the sheer volume of English speakers that can be found in Beijing. Beijing is a tourist city, and hence almost every shopkeeper speaks enough English to make a sale. (Also if you speak ANY Chinese, they will praise you like you are a god. While this flatters the ego, do stay humble and remember that they are targeting tourists). There are also loads of foreigners, and an enormous number of locals keen to practice their English. So while I was in Beijing I did not have many opportunities to speak Mandarin outside of my classes.

Meanwhile NO-ONE speaks English in Harbin. Seriously. So you MUST speak Mandarin to get by. Wile this was certainly tough, it was immensely rewarding (and educational). You might find this intimidating, but if you want to learn Mandarin, then this is absolutely the best way to do it.

So in conclusion, if you really want to learn Mandarin in an immersive environment, where the school is good and where the locals speak a form of Mandarin that is easiest to understand, then Harbin Mandarin School can be safely recommended.

The disadvantage is that it is a small school, so I recommend booking well in advance. I got very lucky with my one week booking, because a long-term student had just decided to take a week off from study. But I would not rely on that kind of luck.

As I said, I'll be putting my money where my mouth is, and I will be going back for an extended period early next year.

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edelweis

 

@Mannng thanks for the review.

 

4 hours ago, Mannng said:

tailored a unique program accordingly

Can I ask you what was this program exactly? What materials did you use, what did you do in class and outside of class etc.

I think a lot of people who study outside of China have the same issue :mrgreen:

 

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Mannng

I only had five days (it was a trial). My teacher (Ma Chao) spent the first hour surveying what I knew, and then he began to just force me to listen and speak.

He would ask a question at normal speed about something, repeat the question slower if I misunderstood (which I usually did) and then force me to reply entirely in Chinese. I was permitted to ask for the words I could not recall, and to note down new words I did not know, but I had to (eventually) respond entirely in Mandarin. He would regularly repeat questions from earlier in the session, effectively revising what I had learned earlier. At the end of the session I was given a topic for the next day (visiting China, travelling, ordering food, life in Australia, etc) which I had to prepare for beforehand.

In short he was able to run an entirely unstructured program tailored directly to my needs, and I felt it was very high value. Meanwhile I learned from conversation with beginning students that they were on highly structured programs of vocab and pronunciation drills. So they definitely do not have a "one size fits all" approach.

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Flickserve

Sounds great!

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feihong

@Mannng

As a former native of Shenyang who now lives in Chicago, I take issue with two of your assertions. First, the dialect spoken by urban denizens of Shenyang is not that far from “television” Mandarin, and in fact appears almost constantly on Chinese TV. Yes, there are people on the street in Shenyang that I can’t understand, but they probably aren’t from the city. Second, you compared the Harbin winter to Chicago’s, but it is actually much more brutal. Yes, we had a polar vortex, but that was for only a week. For most of the Chicago winter, I do not bother wearing long underwear, but I would not even consider foregoing them during Harbin’s winter. I cannot speak about the school, which might indeed be excellent, but I think you are somewhat overselling the environs. 

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Mannng

Fair enough.

My comment comparing Harbin to Chicago was based on the comments of an American who had studied in Harbin for the past winter, and who was also from Chicago. I felt their opinion was worth repeating, but no, I have no personal experience.

Shenyang - my experience was that I had absolutely no idea what was being said to me by cab drivers or people in the airport, and I noticed that words like “我们 became "wurr-murrr". So I'll definitely stand by what I said - as a person with limited language ability arriving in Shenyang was a shock, particularly after being in Harbin where I had been doing OK. I don't mean to offend you or anyone from Shenyang, but to my ears, the difference was quite substantial. I was obviously unable to conduct a survey as to where people came from, I can only go by the people that I met.

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js6426

Thank you for leaving a review of the school. 

 

I have to say I think the 'best place to study Chinese in China' is a fairly subjective question.  It seems a huge amount of emphasis is often placed on this question, when actually, if you are serious about learning Chinese, you can do it anywhere.  I also think a month in China is a very limited time to be making some of these assertions.  In my experience the locals in Harbin definitely don't use TV Mandarin, they speak a heavily accented dongbei hua.  I understand a lot more in a TV program then when I'm chatting with someone at the market. 

 

One of the reasons I chose Harbin to study Chinese was because I had been told how they use 'the most standard Chinese in China'.  Maybe so, but personally I find the Southern accent a fair bit easier to understand!  All that to say, while I can't really compare to anywhere else in China, nor do I think after a month here you are in any position to objectively judge the spoken Chinese in China, I absolutely love Harbin.

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Mannng

Well, at the risk of sounding facetious, no-one is in ANY position to "objectively" judge the best of anything. My opinion is obviously subjective.

I went to China and tried three different schools in three different locations, specifically to determine what I thought was the best future option. If you think dedicating a month was not enough to permit me to be in "any" position... well, I am not able to muster a polite response, so I will say nothing.

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js6426

My apologies.  Perhaps my comment didn't come across the way I intended it.  My intention wasn't to belittle your experience or opinion.  Best of luck in your upcoming studies!

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Mannng

Fair enough. I should also not have posted before I had any coffee! That's always a bad idea LOL

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