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requesting help choosing tutor/city


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i have been living in china for a little under two years, my chinese isnt horrible but its by no means good. next year im taking a year off from my major to learn chinese however i have a few issues.


my class at uni goes mega slow, and im kinda tired of being dragged back by a class thats kinda in it for a good time kinda thing and not so much to get ahead with chinese. 


so my preference is certainly to have one on one style teaching. however this raises another problem. im not short on money but i cant exactly drop 500 american on private tuition weekly for a full year... esp if accom is not included (which is generally what im finding with most of the schools ive seen so far) 


so given that im flexible on which city to go to, and that i can probably get around on my own and arrange living for myself wherever i end up, id love to hear some options on relatively cheap but intensive chinese courses.


id be happy to do anything from 4-6 hours a day and ideally id like to spend under 300 american a week on tuition. (obviously the cheaper the better) 


very grateful for any help you can give me. 

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Names that come to mind from coverage on here are 1to1mandarin in Harbin, Keats in Kunming, and Live the Language in Beijing. Maybe have a look and see what you think, but you might need to contact them to negotiate a price for just classes without accommodation - with a bit of China experience you should be able to sort that out yourself and save a bit. 

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id be happy to do anything from 4-6 hours a day and ideally id like to spend under 300 american a week on tuition.


Four hours a day of paid instruction is plenty. Your target of $300 USD = 1,800 RMB (maybe slightly more depending on fluctuations in exchange rate.)


If one-to-one lessons cost 100 RMB per hour, which they might, and you have 20 paid hours of instruction per week, you would need to come up with 2,000 RMB a week. This is pretty close to your target. Should be doable in any number of places, including Harbin and Kunming as mentioned above.


Need to think about living expenses. They are obviously lower if you steer clear of the first-tier cities. Also need to think about a small class (5 or 6 people) as an alternative to one-to-one instruction. And consider some combination of the two, with language exchange added on top at low or no cost.


Where do you live now?

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currently i live in wenzhou, most of my instruction in chinese thus far has been given for free by chinese friends of mine rather than teachers, and while i do learn a lot from them and will continue to do so, i feel like my chinese level is plateauing off a lot. 


and obviously im not saying its their fault but i feel like ive gotten to the stage where i would benefit from formal lessons more than chilling with friends talking about the same basic stuff over and over again. 

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im "formally" studying with a class at uni now... but after a year and a half they are still learning how to ask what time it is. my particular situation does not allow me to skip year groups to study higher levels of chinese. 


as far as tuition goes, this area has a lot of english tutors but i would say almost no chinese tutors. i have a lot of friends whos major is to learn how to teach english so in the past i would just go meet them for a lesson a night about an hour or so. lately though theyve gotten very busy with their course so now i just resort to chatting with friends from various majors about school, plans, tv shows etc. 




also the living thing is a bit strange. the university town area isnt so bad. i kinda like it. and the city has some great places to eat and though i myself am not big on the partying scene those who are can find things to do. 


there is however a major issue with transport. the buses really suck. it takes an hour and a half ride or more to get to fun areas in the city from university town for what should be a 15 min drive by car and the buses will often finish at 7 which means you need to find a cab to get back. many of whom speak a lot of wenzhounese which is pretty much impossible to understand no matter how fluent your putonghua is. and they often rig the meter or quote ridiculous prices to go places. also theres a lot of bridges hastily constructed over a lot of rivers and buses and taxis fly over them at full speed so it usually causes you to fly off your seat and land uncomfortably something like 10 times a trip. 


when i first got here i could probably get away with bargaining taxi drivers to 35rmb for the one way trip from 欧洲城, now days the cab drivers around the fun things have learnt that most foreigners will spend a lot more than that and refuse to take foreigners for anything less than 50. i dont know if the cab driver was making this up but when i was talking to one about this he said that cab drivers had been hit by some foreigners so now they dont think its worth the risk or something like that. and tbh i did hear a similar story about some foreign students here who had been arrested for something along those lines... 


the thing is ive been to 绍兴, 杭州 and 宁波 and all of them seemed much nicer and far more livable - the former two in particular. (and the people there seemed a lot nicer...)

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I have started and stopped studying Mandarin three times over the past decade.  For the past 1.5 years, I have been studying (and been quite happy with) at www.1to1mandarinworkshop.com in Harbin.  I am spending summers in Harbin, and during the rest of the year, I have a daily 1-1 Skype lesson with my instructor in Harbin. 


I had previously done two classes at different times at BLCU in Haidian, Beijing, as well as worked with private tutors on the BLCU materials.  BLCU (for those who haven't taken a uni course) provides most of the materials for university courses around China.   


With these experiences under my belt, I think I can provide my own informed assessment of (1) university, versus (2) private instruction approaches.  


Universities generally are quite slow and idiosyncratic.  My impression is that all of the Chinese university courses rely on very outdated materials (e.g., referring to your friends as 同志 comrades, which today conveys a positively different meaning on the streets of Beijing). You will be learning around 20 words per lesson, with perhaps 10 lessons in a semester (200 words).  But they are a very strange set of words, and the instructors will themselves tell you that the BLCU word lists don't always contain commonly used words.  Plus many (maybe 30%) of the translations in the text consist of non-standard usages, or may even be incorrect.  The BLCU texts are clearly compiled by academics with only limited knowledge of English, and this translates into very very slow learning and a lot of frustration trying to use lessons in daily life.  Unfortunately, in the 五道口 area of Beijing, around BLCU, most of the private teachers seem to be graduates of the BLCU school of pedagogy, and private teaching may not provide a better experience. 


Private instruction is typically more expensive.   And it is more difficult to do the due diligence and even to find programs.  You will also need to worry about accommodations, being in an area of town without too many expats and other things that may be a bit imposing for a beginner.   A good private school will handle these things for you, but you need to do your research to find the best private schools.  In exchange, you get much (!!) better instruction, up-to-date materials, and a faster, less frustrating learning experience.  You should expect to be speaking Chinese well within a year, and you can decide where to go after that.  Private schools are definitely worth the extra money.


I both cases you will want to learn 'standard' Mandarin (普通话)。  This means that you need to hear the standard Mandarin on the streets around your school as well as in the classroom.   This restricts your choices (in my experience) relatively dramatically.  Standard Mandarin is spoken from around Beijing going up into the Northeast direction all the way up to the Russian border.   If you think that you can learn standard Mandarin in Guangzhou, Chengdu or Kunming, you will be sadly disappointed.  I lived in Chengdu for a summer, and met quite a few expats who had been studying solidly for up to 6 years, and still couldn't carry on a conversation, or effectively negotiate in the marketplace.   Sichuan speakers pronounce Q, Zh, Ch, Sh, J, S, C all as the same "S" sound.  Understanding is well nigh impossible  Mandarin study is a pathetic experience in those areas, and a result of the accents and non-standard usage being so prevalent in those areas.  In the south of China (from Shanghai south and west to Tibet) people speak their own dialects that are as different from standard Mandarin as French is from English.  They are terrible places to learn Mandarin, and it shows in the expats that try to learn in schools in those regions of China.  Again this is just my opinion (based on significant field experience though).  


In China, most of the TV newscasters come from the Northeast (东北)region of China (as in the US they come from the Midwest).  I had to actively seek out a school in the Northeast of China, but after two false starts, I did know that this is what I wanted.  And I would definitely recommend this to any other expats who are interested in having a good and fruitful experience learning Mandarin.

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