What Students Are Saying about Chinese Language Programs

Are you thinking about studying Chinese in China? After all, it involves learning one of the world’s oldest continuous languages in its country of origin. While challenging, learning to speak Mandarin Chinese is one of the best investments you can make in yourself. Just consider these facts:

  • One in every six people speak Chinese (15% of the world’s population speak it as their mother tongue).
  • The language has no alphabet. Rather, it is a tonal language that relies on a word’s pitch to convey its meaning.
  • There are over 20,000 distinct Chinese characters. But don’t worry, 98%of the language uses just 2,500 characters.

To guide your decisions about applying, learn from former and current students who have firsthand experience. In fact, our team regularly conducts student interviews covering a range of topics on our YouTube channel, so be sure to subscribe and check them out.This article explores various Chinese language programs and presents a conversation between two former students sharing their experiences.

Chinese Language Programs

Chinese language programs are offered by many universities, language institutes, and cultural centers across China. They are designed to teach students how to speak, read, and write Mandarin Chinese. The programs cater to individuals starting out different levels who are interested in learning or improving their Chinese language skills while immersing themselves in Chinese culture.

Program Features

  • Language Levels:
    Programs cater to various proficiency levels from beginners to advanced learners. Once you have been accepted into the program, you are sorted into a class that suits your current abilities.
  • Cultural Immersion:
    Program curriculums often venture outside the classroom to incorporate cultural activities, trips and workshops, allowing you to develop a deeper understanding of China and the language’s context.
  • Small Class Sizes:
    Class sizes are generally kept small to allow for interactive learning and personalized attention. As a result, you can easily practice speaking while receiving individualized feedback from teachers.
  • Flexible Duration:
    The programs can vary in length from just a few weeks (intensive summer programs) to a full academic year or longer.
  • Morning Classes:
    Most universities share a similar structure where classes are held in the mornings, giving you the freedom and flexibility for other pursuits or commitments. Many international students take the opportunity spend their afternoons discovering the city they live in. Some programs might also have later sessions to accommodate different schedule.
  • Intensive vs Regular:
    Programs can be intensive with multiple hours of classes per day, or more relaxed, with fewer hours. Intensive programs accelerate your learning so it can be completed within a shorter period.
  • Certificates and Credits:
    Depending on the program and university, you might receive a certificate upon completion. You may also receive academic credits that can be transferred to your home institutions and other programs.

Available Programs

Chinese language courses are usually presented in one of three formats; one-on-one, group, or HSK.

One-On-One Classes

By taking individual classes, you can go at your own pace and get a personalized education. One-on-one programs are offered by:

Group Classes

Group classes are great if you’re someone who can retain information through discussion/explanation and who learns better by listening to other perspectives. Apply for group programs with:

HSK Programs

These are classes specialized to help you pass different levels of the HSK test. These can be taught on-on-one or in a group. Programs to get you HSK-ready are offered by:

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Student Interview

Student Advisor for China Admissions Saskia and student Joshua Watson recently got together to discuss what it’s like to study Chinese as an international student in China and the valuable lessons they learnt along the way. We hope their practical advice and personal anecdotes below can help shape your decision and expectations of embarking on an academic journey abroad to learn the most widely spoken language in the world.

A few years ago, Joshua decided to take a gap year and study in China. He spent a semester at the University of Shenzhen as an international student, focusing on earning a Beginner’s Certificate in Mandarin. Despite the pandemic interrupting his studies, he shared his experience with us about his time in the program and the country. This semester influenced his decision to pursue his current program (Bachelor’s of Theology) at the University of South Africa.

Watch the full interview below.

Saskia: You did your Chinese Language certificate while you were doing your a gap year. Is there a specific reason why you took a gap year? Would you recommend it? 

Joshua: I think during that time, after [finishing] school, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Many people immediately go study after completing school, but I was still confused. Studying costs a lot of money, so I wanted to be sure of what I wanted to study. My father gave me the opportunity to go to China and just spend some time there to figure things out and see if that works out for me. 

So, I decided to go to China. It was a nice opportunity. Going overseas and studying a different language always gives you a bit more perspective, or a better term might be a holistic view on things in life. It helped me a lot to understand who I was and what I wanted to do. I don’t think it’s for everyone… some people are more interested in the mathematics part of the world. Then there are some people, like my sister and I, who might be a bit more culturally orientated and who enjoy language or psychology etc. I think for people like us who enjoy the humanities aspect of the world, [going overseas] might be a very good start. Luckily for me, I am that person. It helped me veer in the direction of what I am studying now [Bachelor’s of Theology], which is much more to do with people. 

As a beginner student how were the classes in China for you? Was it very challenging?

No, it was actually quite fun. It wasn’t difficult. I am language orientated so I found it naturally advantageous, especially having a sister who is also already speaking Mandarin. None of the classes were too difficult. Even if you’re not the best at languages, they try to make it easy and settle you into it very gradually. The only thing that was difficult was trying to balance everything. I was having such a fun time in China doing so much other stuff I didn’t always get to my studies. But the studies wasn’t a lot of work.

Can you talk about some of the memorable experiences you had while you were in China?

Where do I begin! Studying in that class, you have a lot of off-time and you really keep yourself busy. You make friends quite quickly, especially with the class and through the studies. We did lots of fun stuff with the teachers. Once we went out for dinner as the whole class together, which was quite fun. There were a lot of other opportunities with the friends I made, for example, I climbed one of the mountains in the Guangzhou district and it was very beautiful .

You start to see a bit more of China and not just the inner, dense populated city. Some of my friends were fortunate enough to go to some of the rural towns nearby which Is quite pretty. I did have the opportunity to go to a resort which was just outside of the city. It was a bit more embedded in nature and it was very pretty. We saw lots of shows while we were there and had wonderful food. It was like a lodge, and we got to see a bit more of the countryside in China.

Just experiencing the culture was amazing. I think some people don’t always appreciate it as much, but for me it was amazing just being able to see how people do things differently and think differently. The entire structure of their life is completely flipped or different from what I’m used to.

Ws it hard to get used to the food? Did you try anything strange while you were there? 

Yes and no, depending how you interpret that! 

The food was actually quite healthy. I did get food poisoning once but that was my fault. The food is delicious and very, very healthy. There’s a such a variety and I really enjoyed the sweet stuff (the pudding!). There’s not always a lot of meat so that is something that you need to adapt to, but it’s generally lots of healthy foods. If I went back there now, my eating habits would be much better, I think!

The food is very different and I think in the first couple of days for anyone in China, don’t expect to adjust to it immediately… especially if you’ve done a very long trip. Sometimes you get jet lagged and that also affects how you feel. I recommend for people that have just arrived in China to just eat very bland food in the beginning to ease yourself into it. Don’t eat anything extremely strange; you don’t want to get food poisoning the first day that you arrive, especially when you’re finding your accommodation and doing everything else. Just stick to some basic things and then ease yourself into trying other foods so that your stomach can get used to everything. It’s not fun to get food poisoning in China, definitely! 

Would you go back to China again? 

Yeah for sure, definitely. I’d love to take my partner with me, and we’re actually thinking of maybe going back there after studying our degrees, maybe to go do some teaching. China is a beautiful country and we’d like to see a bit more of the rural areas. It’s just so vast and different; from the one part you know it’s jungle and tropical, in another part it’s cold and mountainy and snowy, and in another part it’s a bit drier… there’s so many different biomes and diversity in China. 

Students have asked me where they should study a Chinese language program, since there are so many universities all across China that offer this kind of program. One of the things that I always recommend is if you want to go to Beijing and Shanghai, which are the two biggest cities where a lot of people want to go, have a good reason as to why you want to go there. You might also have a really good experience in another area.

Also think about what temperature you want to be living in. If you hate warm tropical weather, then you shouldn’t live in the south of China. Some people don’t think that this is really important, but if you’re going to be in China for a year or more, you have to actually be happy living there. The temperature is not always the first thing you think of but you should definitely consider it.

Pack for the correct weather; don’t bring long-sleeved clothing if you’re arriving in the summer in China because you’re going to pay for it. It’s hot, it’s sweaty and you need to wear a very breathable clothing. It rains constantly so you need to make sure that you have shoes that are either waterproof or ones you don’t care about breaking. In the north, you need snow clothes.

To add, that’s one of the mistakes I made when I got there. You look at the temperatures of 23, 24, or 25 [degrees  celsius],which is not too bad. But you don’t realize how humid it can be sometimes. We went to the Shenzhen and yeah, I suffered with my long pants

We have these shoes in South Africa called vellies. They’re made out of leather which is quite popular here. But I didn’t realize we were going to do so much walking… these shoes are not made for walking so much. Remember, in China public transport is accessible everywhere, so you’re going to be doing a lot of walking and not driving. So make sure you have shoes that you can walk with, and that you don’t mind walking in. 

Definitely. China was in a different hemisphere from us so I remember how we went from it being winter in South Africa… to arriving in China in the middle of summer. Especially in Shenzhen, September is still technically the middle of summer. It only starts to get cooler in November. 

Apply to a Chinese Language Program

We hope the insights shared by Saskia and Joshua will guide you in your journey of learning Chinese in China. If you’re eager to explore Chinese language programs you can enroll in, browse and apply to programs right here on the China Admissions platform. You can also book a free call to speak to our student advisors. All the best in your journey! 

Kay is a marketing assistant at China Admissions. A "third-culture kid" based in Thailand, she has had lifelong exposure to international communities and has worked with top global brands. Having studied abroad herself, she encourages young minds to invest in their self-development and foster an appreciation for new countries and cultures.
Kay Marlowe

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