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LTL or BICC - custom program?


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Hi all, 


I posted quite a while back about studying for a year in China. Well its taken longer than I had hoped but I have finally taken the plunge, quit my job and now preparing to move. I have been lurking in the background on this forum reading different reviews about different institutions. I quite like the look of both LTL and BICC, but I seem to gauge that most students are a lot younger than I and perhaps have different interests (experience of being away from home, night-life).


I am 40 years old, have quit my long standing career and investigating a complete change (possibly setting up my own business in china or connection with China). Hence, I am keen to get a good grasp of Chinese. 


If I give you my learning requirements maybe you can suggest which institution / course is more appropriate.

  1. I have no need for accommodation, far too old for homestay :) My Chinese friend will organise a local flat to rent for me. 
  2. Whilst cultural trips, social activities, karoke, nightclubs etc would be appeal to me 20 years ago, its not on my agenda at all. I am just purely interest in language learning.  
  3. As regards the actually study, I  would only like to participate in reading, speaking and listening, for social and communication purposes. Writing is unnecessary for my needs and just too time consuming for the actual use in practice. Speed of learning is paramount for my purposes. 
  4. I would like to aim for HSK as quick as possible more for a guide. Its a stretch but my aim is to get to HSK 5 in one year. I am an advanced beginner. 
  5. Cost is not so much an issue but while one on one is probably too expensive for a full year, I want to be within a small class  (5/6 max)
  6. I want an intense program but I found from my experience of any training programme over last 20 years that often you don't actually need huge amount of hours of tutorials. Study outside classroom time is equally important.
  7. I have business back in London so I will need to travel back every few months for a few days. Can I have a programme that I can pick the hours. i.e. have 3 days per week of 20 hours study rather than 5 days per week 


Visa issue. 

  • I am a bit confused about the student Visa. THE BICC website states that "BICC is the ONLY private Chinese school in Beijing which can issue a students visa", so how do LTL help with the visa issue?
  • Also my friend is a qualified in Teaching Chinese as a foreign language and a professional translator and is happy (she doesn't know it yet) to teach me privately but can't help with a  visa so does anyone know what the minimum hours I need to register for to do for a student visa. 



BICC is ~13,000 RMB (20hours x 45min lessons) or 18,720 (20min x 45min lessons) for 12 weeks

LTL is ~18,460 RMB for 12 weeks (20hours x 55min lessons)


LTL is more expensive, but BICC they have a max of 8 for Regular Chinese, where as LTL have a max of 6.


Avoiding the written parts

Are the written parts integrated into all class of are they separate classes that I can avoid? Is it possible to get a discount if not enrolled in these classes


Suitability for my age group

I would prefer an older age group but are all these the institutions generally the same in terms of attracting nationalities students? I was thinking that a course with Koreans / Japanese might be a nice new experience with rather than the comfort of familiar mix of Europeans / Americans. 


All thoughts welcome.


thanks all

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I am 39 so I guess I can help :-) 

I am a customer of LTL and have attended some of their programs.  So will give my perspective.


First of all - best of luck on your career change.  Research carefully on business with China before making any moves.  Knowing Chinese will help but knowing Chinese culture, business contacts, talking to other foreigners doing their own businesses is critical before you spend a dollar.


1. I did a 4 day homestay last year and would consider doing it again.  Age was no issue.  If speed of communication and learning is your goal them this is one of the most effective things you can do in my opinion.  You could do it for a while then move to your own apartment too.   


Mind you I just showed up with a suitcase because all my stuff was at my apartment :-)  So maybe worth consider approaches that approximate the homestay experience too.  Like tutors/practice partners (and, eventually, chinese speaking friends).


2. Cultural trips are of varying usefulness to your study - visiting temples/markets/restaurants is super useful as there are a lot of social interactions that go on, and lots of cultural knowledge that sticks with you best if learned in context, but bleeds over into the language all the time.  Religious concepts, well known stories, beliefs about health properties of food - all come up.  Plus the fast pace negotiation in markets or ordering in restaurants is a learned skill itself.   Other students vary in their discipline - I went to an LTL dinner a few weeks ago and spoke nothing but Chinese to some of the students and staff for about 2 hours, learned and practiced a number of words.   Karaoke and nightclubs are not particularly helpful to study I agree.


There was a bit of variation in ages in the groups at the LTL school last time I went, but during the summer I expect quite a few younger students.

The ones in early twenties are really having a very different experience, but there are usually folks in their late twenties, thirties who are have thoughts about careers, experience with travel, etc and are certainly going to have more in common.


3. You bring up two things - no writing, and speed.   First - a bit of writing is probably very useful in order to study reading.  It's not just about learning to write beautiful characters by hand, it's about being able to remember which similar sounding characters look different.  Decomposing and recomposing characters is super useful and easy to do with pen and paper.  Anyway most group classes will probably have writing classes and calligraphy sessions.  If other people in the class want to do them, they'll probably happen.  1:1 it's not an issue at all of course you choose how to spend your time.   I personally think learning characters from a human is a slow and expensive way to learn what can largely be done by yourself, but I think there are initial concepts that are worth having explained (stroke order, stroke styles, radicals, phonetic components, etc).  


I doubt any school would give you a discount for not attending those bits.  


Second is speed - this is great but do you want to learn rapidly but poorly?  I know people who speak fast, use lots of vocabulary but use poorly pronounced mandarin, they speak in Englese (directly translated English) and I get stories from them about how people don't understand them.   Trying to get pronunciation and tones right is super important but can be glossed over pretty quick if you are trying to race through textbooks.


Regular feedback, lots of exposure, disciplined study are good keys to making rapid and high quality progress.  Anyway there are lots of tips on the forums here!


4. HSK 5 in a year is... possible ... if you are doing full time study.  It's ambitious from Beginner level.  There is a large amount of vocab (and you'll need more than just what's on the lists - to survive in Beijing and because they put extra stuff into the tests), on top of learning proper pronunciation and training your ear to understand the meaning of stories as they are read out, as well as training your eyes to read large amounts of text quickly and accurately.   And HSK5 will not assess your speaking ability.  


5. Class size of 1 is of course best.  Smaller is better in general.  Personally I prefer to pay for more private hours and no group hours.  I have tried both and I was much happier when I could afford private.   Bigger groups tend to talk in English a lot, few chances to speak, very little progress made.  


You could consider 2 hours of 1:1 classes, pay a cheaper practice partner for two hours of practice (or do a homestay where they tend to talk to you anyway), study 4 hours a day by yourself, and watch chinese TV 2 hours a day.   Then you can do whatever you please with your private hours including using pinyin input instead of writing.


6.  As per above.


7. No idea.  


On visas and so on no idea.  


Finally, note that 55 minute classes are 20% longer than 45 minute ones.   The difference adds up to 200 minutes a week - more than 3 hours.


Hope this helps.  

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Please note: I work for LTL


Congratulations to the brave step. I admire people who dare to do this while in the middle of a career - I was much younger when I did it. Let me answer some of your questions below (again, though keep in mind that I work for LTL, so this is not a student review):


1. I agree with Thyson. Age is not an issue for a homestay. Our oldest homestay student this year was 67 (she was two years older than her homestay "mother"). Obviously the relationship is different than with a 25 year old, but that does not mean it cannot work. I would say it is mainly a lifestyle/how fast you want to learn Chinese choice. If you simply want to live by yourself, then homestay is out of the question, no matter what. If you want to improve as quickly as possible in Mandarin, a homestay is a very good idea. One possible option is to take a homestay for the first month for example and make up your mind then?


2. While LTL has a social program, it is language learning focused. For anyone mainly looking for English language jiaozi making classes, LTL is not the right school. The main part with all whatsoever activities with other students is that there is always the risk you speak English (though we try to avoid that, but in the end it is each persons choice). Social activities with Chinese people however are a very important - maybe even indispensable - part of learning Mandarin. Chinese is a tough language to learn and you need to find things that you enjoy doing and do them in Chinese. To get ahead fast, you should speak Mandarin pretty much all day, however nobody can study 16 hours a day.

What we do for students is to have them tell us what they like to do and then we help them to find a Chinese group of people with that hobby and put them in touch (a Chinese football team, a local hiking club, choir or whatever your interests are - anything that is not connected to the expat world). You can of course organize activities too yourself, however it is helpful to have someone with experience help you there, as for Chinese local events all the information will be in Mandarin, which is a challenge - especially at the beginning.

For our full immersion stays in Chengde this is always part of the program during the pre-Chengde meeting as students there will most likely not be in social contact with any other students at all, for students in Beijing we do this on demand.


3. Hand writing is not necessary for most people in China anymore (I almost never write anything by hand anymore), reading however is. Our courses are designed according to this.

If your main aim is learning as fast as possible, I would recommend to do at least a part of your course in Chengde (http://www.livethelanguage.cn/learn-chinese-chengde/). It is about two hours outside of Beijing, people speak probably the most standard Mandarin in all of China (better than Beijing), nobody speaks English and especially for spoken Chinese you will progress faster. I personally can see the difference quite strongly between students in Chengde and Beijing. If two students study together in Beijing at the beginning, then one stays in Beijing and the other goes to Chengde for a while and then returns to Beijing, in almost all cases they will not be able to study in the same group anymore, as the one who went to Chengde will have progressed up to higher level.


4. HSK 5 is possible in a year and that is what we would expect a student to at least reach in a year long program - though I guess you are more interested in your actual ability to speak Mandarin than the certificate.

As an example student of ours who started his course as a complete beginner last July, just passed HSK 5 with almost full marks last week. His teacher thought he could have given HSK 6 a try too, though he would need to spend some more time on learning characters for that first which he was not that interested in (he spent 9 weeks in Chengde of his program and did 15 weeks of homestay in Beijing before moving to an apartment though).


5. Especially if you think that you might be a bit different from the average student, small classes in my opinion are very important. I find even six students in a class quite a lot and our classes are usually 3 to 4 students, though it can be up to six during peak times (usually only in the summer - however that is how things usually are, the only thing I can guarantee you right now is that it will never be more than six).


6. Fully agree. Making sure you speak Chinese outside of class is at least as important as what you do during class.


7. A group course will always follow a structure and it is not possible to study 20 hours in 3 days one week and then in 5 days the next week (our teachers are full time staff, which means they work for LTL full time and have work schedules - also the other students in your group would probably not be impressed). For a bit more flexibility, changing to a 1-on-1 schedule might be a good idea. Also, in general it can be a good idea to start with studying in a group, but then switch to 1-on-1 at some point. For full year students who expect to reach fluency, we do several Skype meetings usually together and make a plan for the whole year. This might consist out of several parts, small group classes, 1-on-1, homestay, Chengde etc. at different times, depending on each students requirements and aims.


8. Visa: I have no idea how any school can judge other schools abilities to issue visa invitations. LTL does and can organize visas for it's students.


9. Written parts: Hand writing is a part (even though small) of the course and for a group class it is included. In a 1-on-1 class you of course fully decide on what you want to learn and can leave hand writting out (though I would not recommend to not learn any at all, as it helps a lot with the reading).


10. Student mix: We have a very diverse mix of nationalities at LTL. I just walked through the school and checked: at the moment we have students from Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Americans in addition to the US/EU and central Asia. However, you are right that most of our students are from Europe and the US and we do not that many Koreans/Japanese students at LTL. I personally would say that is an advantage for someone with a western mother tongue to study with people with a similar language background though. You will probably have a very different learning style to someone who went through an Asian education system (a lot of rote memorization in Japan/Korea) and studying with Japanese students who already know a lot characters just by being able to write Japanese is a challenge, especially as a beginner. It would take you a long time to get to the same reading ability of a Japanese student, even though your spoken Chinese is already significantly better, which makes learning in groups together difficult.

For age, while in general more people in their twenties are able to take time out to learn Chinese than people with careers, children etc. our oldest student record so far is held by a Viennese gentleman at 82 (he came first two years ago at 81, again last year at 82 and probably will be here again in September to move the school record up to 83). However, you are right to assume that the majority of students will most likely be younger than you.


In case you decide to study at LTL, I would recommend to talk with a (or several) student who has done a year long program at LTL and we discuss together what exact program is best for you. It might turn out that it would suit you better to study in different ways at different times. The choice is always yours, but it can be quite helpful to talk to someone who has experience in organizing a "learn Chinese in a year program".


Again: While all of the above are my honest opinion, I do work for LTL.

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Hi zhouhaochen,


thanks very much for your long and informative post! I note you work for LTL, but your post doesn't seem like self promotion at all. Your post gives some a lot to digest.  


1. As for for homestay, I note the merits you and Tysond mention but its definitely a no no for me. Its probably not due to age, its more an independence issue. I left home at 17 so no chance I could stay with a family. They probably would not take kindly to me watching late night movies in my pants and leaving beer bottles everywhere, haha.  In any case, my Chinese friend and I will now rent the apartment together. Actually this is useful as she has done a masters in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, much like your teachers. So I can get extra private lessons in the evening.



2. The social activities. Ahh good, I have envisaged a internal social activity! I know Asian people in London and I see it first hand. When they are around their own ethnic group, they revert to their own language. I had a Korean flat mate one time. She shared my house with 3 guys and hardly had any English. We took her everywhere with us and in one year she was practically fluent. On the opposite note my school friend lives in Shenzhen for about 3 years now and he doesn't speak a single word of Chinese mainly because he shares a flat with other Irish and soley hangs out with other Europeans (he is there for work though) Something like badminton would be enjoyable I think.


3. Interesting. In that case I will consider Chengde later on. 


4. HSK 5, Impressive!! How many hours did he study? 20hours / week, how many weeks?


5. As regards the class, can students be moved from class to class if they fall behind / run ahead of the class? 


6. Hopefully my Chinese friends will help me with that


7. I intend to stay for one year but at this stage I'd like any program to be open to change. Sounds like LTL is from what you write


8. This is my main concern. My plan is to study for one year, however I have business commitments back in London so a multi-entry visa is important. This will not require a lot of time but I will need to fly I'd say once every 2/3 months. Furthermore, I want to take my "year out" to also explore different places, so perhaps I can do a full 12 week program, have break for 3 weeks, visit friends, etc, fly back to London if required. I note that there are X1 (>180 days) and X2  (<180 days) visa 

Some questions on this

         a) Do both of these allow for multi-entry

         b) How many hours a week is sufficient for a study visa (i.e. if I went on a one to one lessons)

         c) Is the visa length the same as course length. Is it possible to get a X2 visa (6 month study) if just committing to 12 week programme. Alternatively could I get a X1 visa if I commit to say 2 x 12week programmes but have a 1 month break inbetween? If I am required to do more than 2 x 12week programmes, at 20,000 for 12weeks its starts getting expensive.


9. In this digital age I barely write English now so I do feel strongly about the very poor time/reward tradeoff as regards handwriting. If I had the rest of my life to study, then sure! :) I guess if the rest of the class want it there it has to be done. Ok this is fine. 


10. Good to know


As for talking to a student, that would be great!

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Thanks for your long reply. Its good to see your viewpoint.


Interesting to note about the cultural trips. Yes I agree with you on the characters. When I tried before it was a matter of just getting the head done and reading, memorising them. Tuition didn't seem necessary to me.


Actually yes, I agree its prudent to go for quality over quantity 


The HSK test is not really my priority but nevertheless I am more disciplined when I am aiming towards something.


You mention that you prefer a 1 to 1, but how do you tackle the visa issue? Which visa are you currently on at the moment? Actually as I mentioned before I have access to mandarin teachers in the evening and I know Chinese people in Beijing but my concern is as always, ... the visa. 


Hence I wonder, what is the minimum hours per week I must do to get a student visa?

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Yes, learning Mandarin is quite a project, but in my experience it is worth to spend the time beforehand to think the options through.


1. Understood and yes, homestays are not for everyone. For sharing an apartment, my recommendation would be to look for someone who speaks as little (and if it was me, I would say: nothing at all) English as possible. Obviously this is a bit hard to set up when you do not speak Mandarin and I am sure staying with your friend is a great choice. Just if you want to progress quickly, at some point you might want to consider living with non-English people. Humans are naturally lazy (or just tired after a whole day of studying) and if the option to speak English exists, you might end up using it.


2. Yes, speaking Mandarin after class is essential. Dinners with students, going out etc. are fun, but not always that helpful for learning, so in your case you might just choose to not attend some of those. Instead for example joining a local Badminton team would be a good idea. We have several groups we are in contact with, who play on different days of the week, you just turn up with your racket and play against the other people there (most of whom will probably whip your ass, but there are usually some lower level players too). The court fees are shared, not expensive and people of course speak Chinese. A good way to meet locals - invite your opponent for dinner. We put you in touch with them and organize a bit, as we do not want more than one student go to one group at the same time, as they otherwise would inevitably end up speaking English/hang out together instead of being forced to interact and practice Chinese.


3. Decide on the program you think suits you best and if you are looking for some recommendations maybe ask your student advisor. In my opinion there is no better place to learn Mandarin than Chengde. However note this is a full immersion environment, so we do not offer shared apartments with other students as they would inevitably at least occasionaly speak English with each other (you are not supposed to meet anyone else foreign in Chengde at all), so it is either homestay, hotel or short-term lease apartment (the standard offer there is homestay). The important thing is you do not live with anyone who speaks English.


4. He studied so far 9 months, with a mix of small group & individual classes. He did 30 hours per week at the beginning and then later 20 hours per week (at LTL a 1-on-1 class is 60 minutes, a small group 55 minutes). It was an indvidualy designed program for him. As a students Mandarin changes so does the need for intensity and class type. It is a very individual thing.


5. Yes, students can switch between levels at any point, however subject to availability (which means there needs to be another class with less than 6 students available - as mentioned before it is quite rare that we actually have six students in a class, however it does happen).


7. For the visa, it is usually a multiple entry, but the Chinese visa bureaucracy can be an unpredictable beast - things like nationality, previous visas, which embassy you apply at etc. also matter. If you choose to study at LTL, I would suggest to send your private details (passport copy, previous visas, nationality, place of residence, expect entry/exit dates) to info@livethelanguage.cn and have a student advisor check.


8. I understand the point about handwriting, I pretty much never write by hand anymore in any language. The point is that understanding how to write and feeling how characters are built up, constructed, consist of radicals etc. help you a lot with the reading. I do not think I have ever met someone who managed to become fluent in reading Mandarin without at least having understood the basic stroke orders and basic writing skills (I am sure there is someone around who did it, but I would say to learn reading without basic writing skills will slow you down overall).


For talking to a student, send me an email on andreas@livethelanguage.cn and I can put you in touch with someone who spent or currently spends a year learning Mandarin at LTL.


In case anyone reads this, but did not read my post above: I work for LTL

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thanks andreas, ok I will send you a email. 


My main concern is generally the visa. If I have to spend 20,000 every 3 months for study and only get 3 month visa, then it makes studying a bit too costly


Thanks for your other points! All very good

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