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Is this totally crazy? Studying Chinese in Urumqi...


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This might turn out to be a bit of a long post, just wondering if anyone has a second opinion about this plan.

Myself and a friend are currently studying in an accelerated Chinese Programme in Scotland and plan to spend 6 months studying in China from next June/July. We've been looking into the usual options of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai etc. but we've both been drawn a little to Xinjiang and to research a university in Urumqi.

We were both planning to travel a bit in Xinjiang anyway, because our interests are in international politics/development work. My friend spent a couple of years in Mongolia and Xinjiang would enable him to refresh this, and I would also like to pick up some conversational Arabic (don't need an answer to if studying Arabic and Chinese at the same time is crazy).

What I'm wondering is if you think we will get a lot of practice with Mandarin in Urumqi? It's 55% Han Chinese so a majority of these must communicate with each other using putonghua.

A related idea is to spend a month or so in Beijing before we go so we don't get too messed up an accent, any thoughts about that?



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It's true they might learn Arabic to read the Qur'aan, and Muslim scholars and religious leaders there probably speak Arabic. But I doubt it is used in everyday conversation. Malaysia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, but as far as I know, people there don't use Arabic in casual conversation.

laysh tit9allam il-arabi?

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Pravit is right. Arabic is not spoken in China at all. Uighur is a Turkic language, closely related to other Central Asian languages like Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Azeri, and, more distantly, Turkish.

The reason why some people might be misled into thinking that Uighurs use Arabic is because the language is written in a modified form of the Arabic script (just like Farsi or Pashto), so it looks very much like Arabic if you're not familiar with the alphabet.

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I've been living in Urumqi for a couple of years now, so let me give you an idea what to expect.

First, Uighur is a Turkish language, most closely related to Uzbek of all the Central Asian languages (the two languages are often mutually intelligible). The Uighurs are, interesting enough, the only Turkish speaking group that still uses a modified Arabic script - the rest all switched to the Latin or Cyrillic scripts. I'll warn you, though, it shares just about nothing in common grammatically with Arabic. For example, Uighur, like Japanese and other Altaic languages, uses a Subject - Object - Verb arrangement, unlike English (and I believe Arabic as well) which are Subject - Verb - Object. So their sentences go something like "I kebab eat". Also, the script is modified to accomodate the sounds of Uighur, which in many cases are totally alien to Arabic - my knowledge of Uighur script let me successfully read the name of Iraq on a map in Arabic, but that's about it. Anything else sounds like gibberish (and has some letters Uighur doesn't). And as far as I know, very few Uighurs read the Qu'ran in Arabic or know any Arabic at all. All imams are trained in Arabic in Chinese government academies - I'm sure they learn Arabic, but doubt they use it very often.

Second, good luck finding Mongolians to practice Mongolian with in Urumqi. They are here, but your chances of getting to practice it will be very, very slim, since most in the city will have been Chinese-educated as kids, or they just won't use it because, well, they don't use it. Besides the Uighurs and the Russians, don't expect to find clear ethnic communities in the city for Kazakhs, Mongolians or anybody else. Mongolians here are quite separated from Mongolians anywhere else in the world.

Finally, expect to only get to use putonghua unless you enroll in a Uighur course (like at Xinjiang University). The Uighurs will usually respond to you in Chinese (grudgingly) or English (fawningly). And the accent out here isn't that messed up - it's pretty similiar to a Beijing accent.

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Is it really worth it wasting a month in Beijing if you're going to be studying elsewhere? The entire point of putting yourself in a language environment is that it teaches you passsively and over time.

I live in Beijing and non-Beijing accents are pretty obvious. So if its true that Bejiing is the "gold standard" then maybe you want to avoid learning the basics elsewhere (like those goddam tones). But if you don't like Beijing how about Haerbin? Flawless accent and a cool city. I got off the Beijing superiority train after one of them offered to sell me a bottle of "矿泉水儿".

Do what you want. Inner Mongolia has great hotpot and lamb.

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When I was in Xinjiang I've met a guy who could speak Turkish, he told me many people in Xinjiang can speak Turkish too, and this is the only place in China that I have ever found some cheap and tasty Turkish chocolates... perhaps not that good, but nothing can be worse than the Chinese choco...

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  • 5 months later...


I've been living in Urumqi for a couple of years now' date=' so let me give you an idea what to expect.


shit.. i can't get over how small the internet has made the world :shock: I mean, in Western terms, Urumqi might as well be in the middle of nowhere. Pretty cool :mrgreen:

So even the Uighurs are obessed with English/western culture??

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  • 2 years later...

No reason you can't go and study there - friend of mine is there just now. However, from the sounds of things it's not that great - administration is somewhat slack and the classes are made up in large part of young central Asian kids who basically could have done with repeating a few years in high school rather than coming to China. That's in a university - not sure if there are enough foreigners in Urumqi to support any private schools.

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Hello, You CAN study Chinese here in Urumqi, and I'm presently doing it now at Xinjiang Shifan Daxue. The teaching is not bad standard Chinese stuff, but the administration doesn't know what they are doing - it took 13 weeks to get a student card in first semester, and we weren't allowed to join the library as "we might leave with some books and not come back", depending on who's on at the time you can or can't get a meal card to eat in the dining card, and the dorms are so sub standard, well, think electricity off a 12, no running water, walking across campus in minus 24 to get to the shower, noisy kids etc. Your classmates if you are begginer or intermediate will be "disco kazaks" 16 year olds there cos their parents don't know what to do with them, talking on their phones in class and barely legal (age limit that is), coming in late, bamming you up etc.

As far as student support goes, the administration will do nothing to help you, so forget any helpful trips to the police station to sort out your visa or registration, you are on your own to do that. You're more likely to get smoke blown in your face by the head of the international office puffing on his cigar in the office while he shouts at his staff and seems to do nothing.

That said, if you are ready to be independent and be resourceful, its a great place to live and study. Sure it's maybe a bit more tense that other places recently (rumours of bus bombs went around a few weeks ago and after that we were personally visited by the police in our home), but if you're prepared to kick up some shit if things are substandard the benefits are there to enjoy: bi-lingual environments, great locals, interesting and engaging environment. Plus the chance to meet with Uighurs, Kazaks, Tajiks, Mongolians and more. Urumqi is a polluted city with great waffs of sulphur at nights but despite all my critisms, its a great place to be.

There are many places to study in Urumqi I've heard pros and cons about them all:

Xinjiang Normal: comparatively good teaching; poor conditions

Xinjiang Uni: Good Conditions, poor teaching

Art Uni: Good class provision, a bit out of the way to the south

Nong Da (Agriculture Univesity) Good Chinese and good Uighur programme, few students at the mo - so if many students attend they may feel the strain.

Finance and Economics University: reasonable Chinese programme- arranges HSK tests but out to the north of the city

Another benefit is cost; living here is reasonably cheap - my decent 2 bed apartment costs 700 RMB, for a new place be prepared to pay up tp 1700.

Generally putonghua is used around as plenty of Han migrants from all over and many bingtuan 2nd generation and 3rd generation settlers.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

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