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gkaa

Best place to study Chinese (nr. of foreigners, climate, dialect etc)

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putonghua73

Good discussion, people!

Agree with Tooironic [liveable places] and jkhsu [motivation - I suffer from some of the points that jkhsu brought up that weaker learners attribute to their slow progress i.e. excuses in place of dedication and focus].

Couple of points:

Firstly, the idea of being the "mystic foreign guy" in a small-town sounds appealing, but like most things in life, there is a big disconnect between the idea and reality. When I was in Kunming, me and a friend got talking to this American guy in a bar, who was in Kunming for a few days on vacation. He was contracted to teach English in a school in a small town, in a different province. Everyone knew his business; he was constantly the centre of attention (which got old, fast) and it was next to impossible to meet any women. Traditional, family values prevailed, and not everyone was open-minded to the idea of their daughter dating a foreigner.

Secondly, class-room learning vs 1-2-1 / private tutor is comparing apples with oranges. However, class-room based learning is most definitely cheaper and some students require the college credits.

Thirdly, being a native speaker is not enough. If you want to hire a private tutor, make sure that the tutor has a relevant degree i.e. language / linguistics degree. As Imron intimated, easier to find qualified private tutors in cities.

Fourthly, Kunming may get a lot of press on the forum, but the reality is there are not as many foreigners as you might think. In fact, the largest set of foreigners are Thai / Vietnamese (non-Chinese Asians). When I lived in Kunming during 2010, there were times when I was the only foreigner around in Carrefour - the one in the centre of Kunming - and/or the only foreigner on public transport / on the street. Certain places like Salvadors and/or Wenlin Jie (including certain bars) will have a foreign element, but Kunming is a 2nd tier city. You cannot compare it to BJ or SH.

Best thing is to trial a small city / town - say for a 1 month, and see what you think. Have a back-up plan that doesn't involve going back to BJ or SH. Maybe try a 2nd tier city.

FWIW, I choose Kunming predominantly for the reasons that you originally stated. Although, my priorities were a liveable, clean, relatively unpolluted environment, with good weather i.e. not stupidly hot and definitely not stupidly cold, and decent language schools. It was the latter that proved hardest - I went private language school 1-2-1 route because I didn't have the connections to start up a small i.e. 3/4 class-room based learning group, and large class-room based learning is not for me i.e. I want face to face time.

Let us know what you decide and keep us updated on your progress!

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gkaa

thanks for the input above, def helpful. It seems to be maybe a misunderstanding though. I see some people praising the big cities and the possibilities of learning the language there. To make myself clear: I certainly agree that you can learn perfect Chinese in Shanghai, Beijing or even Hong Kong. Idk if youve seen the blog alljapaneseallthetime? A guy in his mid-20s, full time university student, in the middle of Ohio, without a single Japanese friend, OR without taking a single japanese class, went from total beginner to doing a job interview in japanese only in about 1,5 years. Fluency in about 2. Now, his japanese is supposedly at native level (he gets corrected by japanese people, but their corrections are wrong - he knows stuff in their native tongue they dont know abut themselves) So basically, anything is possible.

What Im saying is that while you can learn Chinese in any city in China, or anywhere else in the world, it takes extreme dedication to get the same opportunities as in a smaller Chinese city, at least in my mind. I too talked to the local fruit guy, the poeple in Wal-Mart and cab drivers. At the same time, for most western people it will always be easier to meet other westerners, and spend time with them. I met people who had lived in China for years, and still didnt speak much. More power to those in Shanghai who can isolate themselves from the foreigners, the foreign restaurants, the clubs and the magic number, but I didnt, and pretty much everyone else I met didnt either.

Let me get back to the original topic. I am not in China atm, but if I postpone my Masters degree I might go back. If I do, the big cities are not an option. I dont mean to come off as rude, but opinions on the small/vs big city, university/vs language school debate is not really what I was seeking in this particular thread (although it is interesting topics). It is interesting to hear other peoples perspective on these issues, but what I really need is advice on specific small cities that might be an option. Especially interesting are those options mentioned in the thread that I dont know anything about.

As someone mentioned above, trying one month at a time might be a good way to do it, especially if the place is very small. When I took a train from Shanghai to Vietnam I looked up some places on the way, but I couldnt find to much info on them. Does anyone know something about places like Changsha or Nanchang? I spent a night in Nanning and thought that looked ok, any advice on that particular town?

Keep the discussion going people, been very interesting so far.

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jbradfor
This is when you need to step out of your comfort zone and (1) talk to them in Chinese and (2) do your best to make friends.

I don't disagree with this at all, but different people have different comfort zones. Personally, I would rather give a speech to 1000 people, on a topic for which I haven't prepared, while naked, surrounded by snakes and spiders, all on the edge of a tall building, rather than go up to a stranger and make conversation in English, let alone Chinese. [but don't get me started on where going to a dentist falls on my scale.]

My only point is that for some people, that advice is easier said than done.

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Silent
it takes extreme dedication to get the same opportunities as in a smaller Chinese city, at least in my mind. I too talked to the local fruit guy, the poeple in Wal-Mart and cab drivers. At the same time, for most western people it will always be easier to meet other westerners, and spend time with them.

I think above a few people mentioned why this is not true. In the bigger cities more and better language resources are available ranging from better schools/teachers to more reliable internet connections to use online resources. Sure big cities have disadvantages too such as costs and more (potential) distractions. I absolutely disagree with your statement that it's always easier to meet other westerners. This may be true if your Chinese is extremely basic, the moment you're able to strike up a fair (but basic) conversation it becomes more a matter of numbers and attitude. If you choose a lifestyle that is more likely to meet westerners, you will meet westerners. If you choose a lifestyle that fits locals you will meet more locals. I don't think there's much difference between a 1st, 2nd or 3rd tier city in this respect. I think it's an attitude issue and only going to a real small town with (virtually) no foreigners will fix this. I mean if you prefer expensive western style pubs/restaurants etc over some cheap local watering hole you will meet different type of people. However such a place where virtually no foreigners are living wouldn't fit your request for good mandarin schools.

My guess from what you say (and my limited knowledge) would be some city in the northeast. I often see Haerbin touted as a good place to study mandarin.

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jkhsu

My only point is that for some people, that advice is easier said than done.

Agreed. I never said this was easy for me to do or that I did it all the time. :lol: I do think the ability to walk up to random strangers and strike up a conversation is a nice skill to have for improving your conversational Chinese though, regardless of whether you're in a big city or a small town.

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gkaa

I find it weird how you say it is not true that foreigners generally seek other foreigners. Its about cultural similarities, not attitude, as well as language. Hence english speaking chinese is always easier to meet, in part also because they have been exposed to more foreign culture and get along better with foreigners. Thats why I would personally never go to a big Beijing school. I went to fudan my 2nd time in china because the only options fitting in to my degree was that and some other school in another city, cant remember exactly but it wasnt a good option. Also because I wanted to live in SH. Now that Ive done that I wouldnt go back to Fudan, one of the reasons being the extreme exposure to foreigners. I rate SH more as an asian city like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and think it has much more similarities to those than to Beijing. I dont find it very Chinese, by now its so westernized that it resembles more another big asian city than truly "chinese" Beijing.

Call it attiude or what ever you want, being surrounded by westerners makes it harder to blend in and experience China. Being in a class with 20 super social and curious foreigners necessarily makes it harder to meet other people. And thats why Im not gonna do SH, xiamen, beijing, Zhenzhen, Hangzhou etc next time, but rather a place like Hengyang, where english speakers literally does not exist.

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icebear

I won't argue extensively about whether those cities or the sticks are better places to learn Chinese - I think many fair points have been made on both sides and the best from a strictly language learning perspective will come down to individual quirks, self discipline and ability to avoid temptation (be it with English speakers online or in person).

One important consideration [for others] might be what other concurrent goals are with that time in China; for some, they are there not only to thoroughly consolidate language abilities during a gap year but also to find a niche where they can live and work for some extended period of time. Beijing, Shanghai, and the other usual suspects provide much more opportunity for worthwhile networking (in a huge range of industries/services) that might land you that real job after that lets you keep using your Chinese for more than just the year abroad. In that case I'd say being on the ground in Beijing and heavily disciplined with 95% of your time, and dedicating some small 5% each week towards reaching those other longer term goals, make them a worthwhile choice.

This is of course conditional on the self discipline aspect, which is by no means easy - your comments on the temptation of 20 fun and outgoing foreigners in each class is well taken. I don't mean to sway you or berate your decision (I can't offer advice on the best nth tier cities), but merely add another consideration which other readers might find helpful.

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gkaa

good post icebear. other than maybe strictly language, the bigger cities of course offer so much more, and opportunities the villages dont. I mean SH is such a cool city, amazing nightlife, great restaurants and all that. and lots of quality people, who certainly might be helpful later on.

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gkaa

btw, found a website of a school that summed up my thoughts excactly:

"In large international cities such as Beijing and Shanghai there are literally thousands and thousands of English speaking foreigners. Entire districts have evolved to cater to the English speaking populations, and many language programs in these cities place you directly in these areas. It is entirely possible to live in Beijing for years and never learn any Mandarin beyond the very basics. You can get around, but your career and education will be severely hindered. While extremely self-motivated students will have little trouble learning wherever they go, for most people it is very helpful to have a complete immersion environment, and complete immersion can only truly exist when there is not an option to remain illiterate."

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jkhsu

btw, found a website of a school that summed up my thoughts excactly:

@gkaa: I think your post #23 pretty much explains what you are looking for. Hopefully, you'll get some more suggestions of cities that are more suitable for you.

However, posting an ad from a company that specializes teaching in a city outside of BJ, SH, etc. is not a solid basis for your argument. No offense to the company and I am sure they are great at teaching Chinese, but if the discussion is about motivation, then there are many other solutions that have nothing to do with moving to a smaller city. For example, if you were presented with a job opportunity or an acceptance letter that required you to be at a certain level of Chinese, you might study harder?

Again, I have no interest in belaboring my point. For you, a smaller city with fewer foreigners may work (I will assume you're right) and that's totally fine. I just don't agree with the blanket statement that "BJ and SH are both great cities, although clearly not the best to learn Chinese" and have explained, from my personal experience, that your assumption doesn't apply to everyone.

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imron

P.S. See this post for a perfect example of what I was talking about before.

I don't understand what 杀 means in this context. One of my Chinese friends says that 杀 has no meaning here.

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knickherboots

Just a personal anecdote. About twenty years ago I travelled to Japan on a bit of a lark. I had already spent several years learning Chinese, and I had it in my mind to learn Japanese and support myself by teaching English. I ended up in a small Japanese city near Nagoya and lived there for two months before leaving Japan to continue unrelated academic studies.

My host ran the language school and tutored me in Japanese, and I used some texts that I obtained earlier. Other than during English class, which only amounted to around ten hours a week, I was almost completely immersed in Japanese. TV, written material, everything was in Japanese. My host mother/landlady/boss was friendly and, though she spoke English, usually tried to converse with me in Japanese. It was tough, very tough, to be so isolated. (This was the pre-internet age, which was also a time when international phone calls were expensive. Geez, I sound like a dinosaur.)

During those two months, I only saw other foreigners two or three times, and I don't remember talking to one in person. I even remember how excited I was when I saw another Caucasian person, but I couldn't think of an excuse for approaching him on the street. "Um, excuse me, I haven't spoken English with some who isn't Japanese for a month. Could I just talk to you for a few minutes?"

But, I did learn Japanese, and learned it rapidly, practically out of desperation. If I had remained in this pseudo-Robinson Crusoe environment, I think my Japanese skills would have continued to improve quickly.

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gkaa

i think thats a good example above, the more you have to, the more you do it.

anonymoose I really liked guanxi, but dont know all that muh about it. and at least the places Ive mandarin was not universally understood by the locals. at one time i had to have a 10 year old translate to his mother from mandarin to the village dialect. pretty hilarious.

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markhernandez

how about xishuangbanna in yunnan province?

it's really close to thailand, and it supposed to have lots of minorities and warm weather.

did anyone hear about this new 'mandarina' place in jinghong? is it worth going there to study chinese?

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abcdefg

I live and study in Kunming and have done so for a sizeable part of each year since 2007. It's a livable place with good weather most of the time, but the main thing that keeps me coming back is the easy availability of non-university teaching at a reasonable price. I've never set foot in an expat bar or cafe and don't plan to if I can help it. All my friends are locals. Sometimes dialect gets in the way of communication, but that is still a minor problem. No place is perfect.

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gkaa

Yeah many people say good things about Kunming! xishuangbanna sounds interesting as well, would be fun to live close to thailand/vietnam so one can pop in for a weekend every now and then!

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abcdefg
...would be fun to live close to thailand/vietnam so one can pop in for a weekend every now and then!

Xishuangbanna is closer to Burma (Myanmar.)

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