Learn Chinese for Westerners

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Learning Chinese is very popular now. In fact, it is one of the most popular foreign language in most language schools around the world. It is not uncommon to see Non-Chinese in different parts of the world speak Chinese as more and more cultural and business transaction takes place between China and the world.


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A Brief Introduction to the Chinese Language

The Chinese speak different dialects in different parts of China. In fact, there are more than 1,000 Chinese dialects and Chinese dialect speakers in different parts of China are likely not to understand one another. However, there is only one main dialect that everyone in China will share in common and will understand one another. That official dialect is Mandarin and Mandarin is also a unifying dialect and language that Chinese in all parts of the world can understand and communicate with one another.

With the strong economic emergence of China, it is very common to find non-Chinese in China speaking Chinese. In fact, many CEOS of Multinational companies in China speak fluent Mandarin and there are even performers of foreign origin performing XiangSheng (a form of crosstalk), Chinese opera, Chinese songs and other Chinese cultural events on Chinese TV.

Be aware of difference between Mandarin and Cantonese

Be careful when learning Chinese. The Chinese in Hong Kong and Macau speaks Cantonese. Cantonese is also common and popular in most Chinatowns in Europe, USA, Canada and Australia. However, Cantonese is but just another dialect.

The most common dialect and also the representative language of the Chinese is Mandarin. Mandarin is spoken and understood in just about every Chinese speaking country and society including China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and even the Chinese in HongKong and Macau.

So, be careful when learning Chinese. Make sure you are learning Mandarin and not Cantonese as both the dialects share the same written scripts.

How to learn Chinese for Non-Chinese

You can always buy a book or pick up a CD on the Chinese language to learn Chinese on your own. However, self study for languages can be difficult. The best approach to learn Chinese is to learn in an interactive environment such as that offered in a classroom.

Approach a language school in your home country or seek out the language departments of your school or university to see if they offer a course for Chinese language. Learning a new language tends to be difficult and it is important that you try picking up a new language as young in your life as possible. In fact, many of the Western CEOs in China who speak fluent Chinese had actually picked up and learned the Chinese language since they were very young.

However, it can be difficult learning a language in a classroom without immersing in the culture or mingling with the native people. Many people who are serious about the language will seek to learn the language in the host country.

One of the ways to learn Chinese without being in China is to learn the language in a country like Taiwan or Singapore. These are Chinese speaking societies which will also have good Chinese learning environment. However, do note that Taiwan practizes a form of written Chinese known as Fan Ti (Complex Chinese) which can be quite totally different from China's Jian Ti (Simplified Chinese). Although the written form is different, the spoken form is the same.

Although Singapore uses the Simplified written format which is the same as China, the country may also not be ideal for total language immersion to learn Chinese as it tends to be an English speaking country. Hence, it may be ideal as a intermediate host, so that there is less cultural shock while learning the Chinese language, ultimately, it also lacks the total immersion that mastering a language will require.

Your best approach towards learning Chinese lies in learning within China itself if you want to pick up the Chinese language quickly and efficiently.

Learning Chinese in China

There are many Chinese language schools teaching Chinese in China. Many of these schools are even run and operated by non-chinese. Many local Chinese schools and universities also offer language courses.

Research: It may be useful to research on these schools from the internet. Approach them over email or the phone. Language should not be a problem as many of these language schools should have a administrative person that will be familiar with English or even other foreign language. Speak to them and ask about the language modules they can offer. Check if they teach Chinese in a small group environment or large class .

Learn about living and studyingin China: You can research about living and studying in China by checking out our website or other similar websites. Calculate your cost of living and check with the school if they can arrange dormitory housing. Also check out the city where your preferred school is located to understand more about the city.

Clearing bureacracy: To learn a language well, you will probably need to spend 6 months to a year of intensive study. Ask the school for an invitation letter so that you can approach the Chinese embassy in your own country for a long term visa. A normal social visit visa will not allow you that much time in China.

Accelerate your learning: The best way to learn a language is to speak, write and use the language very regularly. Hence, make as many local friends as you can in China. Also, practize your language with the bus driver, laundry woman, canteen helper, grocery shop or anyone that you meet on a daily basis. The Chinese may laugh initially at your funny pronunctiation but once they are aware that you are serious about learning Chinese, they will be more than willing to help.

Persevere: The Chinese language is one of the toughest language in the world. There are four intonation to a word and each intonation may have a different meaning. In addition, the written Chinese word is a unique word by itself, yet has a certain meaning when combined with other words. However, always persevere, and for inspiration, look out for the blond hair and blue eyes performers that appear on Chinese TV programs on a regular basis.

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For more information about living and travelling in China, check out this interesting China Book. Or email us for further information.