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Shai

1 year, maximize results. How?

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Shai

Hello everyone,

I should be graduating on June and am planning to go on a full year of studying in China. I need some help with planning this the right way.

1. I was thinking about spending my first semester at HIT (sep-dec) as my primal goal is to get the best Mandarine I can right from the start, something which Harbin can offer (so I hear...). I have been studying Chinese for 2 years and so I would rate my level at HSK 3 左右 (still havnt taken the test though). I know I would have to face at least 2 months of freezing weather but don't plan on staying for the 寒假 obviously. However, I have no idea what to do during the vacation. What DO students do? Travel? My time is limited and so I would like to dedicate all of it for studying. Another problem is that I don't know where to go after that. But I guess I will have a better clue once I decide what to do during winter brake. So help me out on this one...

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ZhangKaiRong

Most of my Harbin friends have heavy 东北口音, so you won't be hearing crystal clear 普通话 there. You can consider other cities as well (IMO the smaller the city the more is the motivation for studying and full-immersion).

And yeah, you can travel during the breaks :) maybe you have heard the old Chinese proverb: 读万卷书,行万里路. I learnt a lot during my 寒假 travelling last year, met a lot of different and interesting people, I had a thousand chance to practice my 口语, so it definitely worth to visit other places during your time spent in China. Most of my classmates who just sat at the dorm and had been grinding for HSK ended up with a shallower and weaker Chinese knowledge than those who went travelling a lot. These are my two cents.

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Shai

Of course I dont plan to "grind HSK" (in fact, the test means very little to me), but picking up as much as I can is an absolute must. What you suggest makes a lot of sense though. I am worried about cost however; how much does it cost to bagpack your way around China (per month)? And how does one go about planning a 3 months route during WINTER? You said most of your friends spoke with harbin dialect - well from what Ive heard every place has one, but the north east is as close as it gets. Would really love to hear about other places to go study in. Harbin seemed ideal due to relatively less westerners, great 普通话 and an active night life (which is just as important for me). I am also considering Chengdu, but my Chinese teacher (成都人) wasnt too thrilled...

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Silent

I second that a change of scenery and routine may very well be better for your (real world) chinese then grinding on with your textbooks and srs-deck. This is specially true if you're outgoing and chat up everyone and it's dog.

 

Backpacking is not that expensive but of course depends strongly on where you go, what you do and how basic/luxurious you want to travel. Had many days 100 元 was plenty for a day but also had many days that the hotel alone was 200 元 or more. Last time I met a Belgian guy who claimed to have spend less then 300 euro's for two months including transport (mostly hitchhiking) from Belgium.

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Ruben von Zwack

If you eat cheap and use public transport, you can make it on 80-100 元 per day, including staying at nice clean dorms and using their laundry machine.

 

That does not include entry to big sights, a lot of taxi rides or having drinks at night. I guess when night life comes into the picture, you can easily spend twice as much.

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roddy

"I know I would have to face at least 2 months of freezing weather"

If you don't WANT 2 months of freezing weather (and probably more), don't go to Harbin. It's a fantastic place, but you have to prepared to embrace and enjoy the sub-zero experience. It sounds like you're just thinking you'll put up with it for the sake of good Mandarin, when really you can get a perfectly decent Mandarin experience in plenty of non-Siberian cities. 

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gato

During Siberian weather, everybody stays indoors all day, which is good for studying but not as good for a good time.

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Kelby

I can take a stab at the more conceptual side of this. I apologize in advance because I'm in the mood to write.

 

Here the advice I can give three trips to China to do the same sort of thing you're looking to do. The way I see it you're asking two questions; how do I maximize my study and how do I manage my travel.

 

First thing's first, if you're going to want to cut down on dungeon-like study time while you're in China, you need to start preparing now. Traditional study time is a necessary evil that'll require less and less time as you figure out a routine, but you'll need to spend time reviewing vocab and doing other study. This is especially the case if you'll be taking classes which it sound like you are. Anywho, preliminary study is a must, and if I can recommend one thing that helped me the most before coming here my second time, aside from learning vocabulary, that would be to work on your listening. I kept podcasts in my ears most spare minutes during the day during the months before departing. This was useful because when I touched down I found I could understand a lot despite not being able to express a lot. This may be an imbalance, but it's a good one to have. At the very least it's better than being able to speak but not understand responses due to colloquial or dialectual Chinese and certainly better than not being able to understand or be understood.

 

In addition I'd take some time to sit down and really dig into common grammar rules. Then, look for these grammar patters when practicing listening. Just off the top of my head I'd go over the rules for 把,被,the difference between 呢, 吧 and 吗, the question patterns like 有没有 and 是不是, as well as rehearse sentence patterns that express interests, efflings and wants such as the difference between 想, 觉得, 想要, and 要. Getting a conceptual understanding for these takes time and being able to apply and recognize them takes practice. It's best to spend your before country prep learning the concepts that way you can dive right into application after touching down. Any other more intelligent folks please chime in with more things to pay attention to(or say if any of this is unnecessary :P).

 

Once you arrive, don't just take your classes and assume they'll get you where you want to go. I participated in an immersion program during two summers of my undergrad and the first time convinced myself that my homework and classes were enough practice to get me where I wanted. Needless to say I walked away very disappointed and regretted all of the free time I wasted reading American blogs and not exploring my China and Chinese related interests. Going out and meeting people is a given, and taking down new words, looking them up, and reviewing them might be as well, but in my experience the best thing you can do for your personal satisfaction is to give yourself projects to do outside of your coursework. Find interesting ways to dominate your free time and you'll be surprised at how much you pick up. For example, during my second go at immesion I joined my floor mates (Chinese guys) in basketball every week and as a project learned some basic lingo to help us communicate better on the court. I also spent a lot of time researching tea (a passion of mine) and tasting and discussing different varieties with a local shop owner who was kind enough to give me perhaps too many free tastings. Both of these were done along side my classroom studies, an internship, and several required out of class immersive activities. All of that being said, don't burn yourself off or cut yourself fully off from your mother tongue. Just ask yourself if there are Chinese ways you can have fun and relax before seeking out the comfort of other expats or media from home.

 

Structuring your days so that you set some time aside each day for getting out and doing some exploration as an awesome idea. This will do wonders for your stress. I like to think of learning chinese as a tool that allows me to explore China more and more, and seeking out interesting experiences outside of your study makes for a great reward for sitting down and grinding through your word list or working on a personal project. I personally like studying during the day. Nowadays, since I'm not taking classes, I fit in all of my study first thing in the morning and during breaks at work, and only focus on studyng things I feel will add value to my life. In the begining this meant learning how to buy things and how to very basically discuss topics I was interested in. Nowadays this includes learning vocabulary to read more and refining my speaking so that I can communicate more clearly with my fiance. All of this work, done then and now, I do before I get off work leaving the rest of the time for exploration and conversation with friends and loved ones.

 

As far as travel goes, it's almost impossible to study while you're on the road. You'll bump into expats left and right in more famous cities, and even if you go to places off the beaten path you'll have to dedicate your energies to adapting to and navigating all of the logisticlal issues that accompany travel. I'd think of any travel time as a time to take the Chinese you learned and go deep on exploring the country with it. Don't be afraid of being wrong and don't be focused on growing your language skills during this time. Just experience what it's like to be on the road with your skills and be thinking of ways to better your Chinese once you get back to your studies. Unfortunately I can't speak to the logistics or price of backpacking, but I can say when I first got here and started work with employer provided accomodations I lived on 200-300 RMB per week and often ate for less than 30 RMB per day. I do live in Zhengzhou though, and the cost of living here is very, very low.

As far as your locale goes, I'd just look for a place that has a good program for foreign study of Chinese since you're going for study. Um, if memory serves 普通话 is based off of the style of Chinese spoken near Beijing. If you spend your time in Harbin you'll be picking up no small amount of 东北话, and they're really not that close. If you're considering 成都 then you'll be bumping into  四川话 which is even less like standard Mandarin. I suppose I could go on forever like this, but the point is that learning standard Mandarin is up to you and no matter where you go you'll be influenced by the local accent and dialect (I've been told my mandarin carries the occasional hickish sounding 河南话味儿, for example). I'd not stress over where to study in terms of most authentic Mandarin spoken by the locals but instead focus on going to an area which interests you. That's just my 2 cents though.

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emmanuel

People which want to improve your chinese and get maximize results, study chinese during vacation. Yeah, I saw them.

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roddy

And did they get better at Chinese than the people who went and traveled around China, practicing what they'd learned and gaining exposure to different accents and new vocab...?

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emmanuel

Different accents and local vocab may be bad for people with pre-intermediate Chinese. But, I saw a lot of people who went to travel and who stayed to study, so, people who stayed to study suddenly get better at Chinese.  Anyway, it depends on person :-)

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roddy

Shai, how are your plans going? We'd love an update. Well, I would...

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