A Guide To Language Study Abroad in China
China is a thriving country that houses over 1.3 billion people. From huge cities with booming businesses to scenic countrysides with historical treasures, you’ll continually discover new places and people while learning a new language in China. Those with Chinese language skills and experience living in China have an enormous advantage in the global job market, as China is a highly influential player. Attending Chinese courses at language schools in China will help you build fluency in an increasingly important language and visualize the world in a way that you simply cannot learn from a textbook.
The world’s top companies tend to have headquarters in at least one of China’s three leading cities: Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Beijing. Therefore, these three cities have the largest number of language schools in China and serve as the best places to study Chinese abroad. However, choosing the right location for your language program in China depends on your goals and desired lifestyle, as each location offers something different.
Hong Kong is a global trading hub and one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The city’s historical roots as a British colony make it an “East meets West” city. If you’re just beginning to study Chinese, you might want to consider attending a language school in Hong Kong as the majority of residents speak English. Without a huge language barrier, you might be able to slowly adjust and settle into the country in a smoother fashion than the rest of China.
The bustling city of Shanghai is China’s economic capital and the largest city in China, with over 14 million people. This exciting city is a fusion of Eastern and Western culture, and is the most international area in all of China. Boasting over 50 skyscrapers in its skyline, while still containing small historical markets and fortune-tellers sprinkled throughout the city, you’ll see firsthand how the city is a juxtaposition of old and new. Shanghai is definitely a great place for adventurers with a desire to learn Chinese abroad in an ever-growing, multinational city.
Beijing is the capital of China and the center for the country’s political entities. The city also houses seven UNESCO world heritage sites, making it the perfect place for language students interested in learning more about China’s history. As you attend language courses in Beijing and begin to improve your language fluency, you can take time to explore The Forbidden City and the Great Wall, and simultaneously delve into Chinese cinema and modern art too.
Undoubtedly, all three of the latter locations will provide a memorable language learning experience, each with its own unique characteristics. Generally speaking, Hong Kong’s environment evokes a Western influence, Shanghai elicits a more cosmopolitan lifestyle, and Beijing offers more of a traditional experience. It is up to you which type of experience fits you best!
Chinese is the choice language of study in China by far. There are a variety of language programs in China, which offer many types of language learning opportunities:
- University programs
- Culture centers
- Host family stays
- Language exchanges
It’s important to keep in mind that there are 56 different ethnicities in China and a multitude of dialects spoken throughout the country. However, the popular dialects taught at language schools in China are Mandarin (spoken in Beijing), Wu (spoken in Shanghai), and Cantonese (spoken in Hong Kong).
When deciding which language program to select, consider your language goals. Do you want to learn a specific dialect? Do you want to utilize Chinese for your career path? If so, which dialect will be more useful in business settings? Considering questions like these can really help you focus on the important aspects needed in your language program in China.
Structure. Class sizes can vary depending on the program’s focus. A private lesson is one-on-one with the teacher, while group lessons can have up to 20 students. Generally speaking, as language programs do involve a low student to teacher ratio, classes usually do not sit more than 20 students, with average class sizes ranging from 10 to 15 students per class. The class length also depends on the type of language program you choose; if it’s an intensive program, students might study for up to eight hours per day with two four-hour sessions, while long-term semester or year-long programs might heavily focus on language study each day, combined with other cultural classes throughout the week.
A number of programs offer culture electives, social activities, and guided tours. These out-of-class settings are designed to broaden a student’s awareness of Chinese culture, history, and lifestyle, while dually improving each student’s linguistic ability. Language schools in China entail a time-intensive process, as does language study abroad in general, and the more you are involved in each program component, the faster your language skill will progress.
When scoping out various language programs in China, review the highlights that appeal to you and always keep in mind your goals. For example, does the program help you find an internship that will help you improve your language skills? Do you receive a language certificate upon completion of the program? What type of support do you receive from the program in terms of visas, health insurance, and housing?
The cost of language programs in China will vary depending on if the program is intensive, short-term, or long-term. For example, for tuition only, a four week intensive program can cost $900, a short-term semester can cost $2,000, while an academic year can cost $4,000. Housing will increase the cost of attending language schools in China, and housing rates can range from $3,180 for a short-term program to $14,780 for an academic year.
Studying and living in China is affordable compared to Western standards. Eating out for a local lunch can cost around $5 and Boba milk tea less than $2. Living expenses often depend on each student’s lifestyle. It’s relatively easy to cut back on costs, especially by avoiding buying imported Western goods; items that are not natively found in China, like wine and dairy products, can cost more than in your home country.
When researching language schools in China, you should also keep an eye out for possible scholarship opportunities. If you hope to pursue a career in academic or public affairs, there are specific scholarships in place to promote language study in China and increase the number of students with Chinese language skills. Additionally, there are numerous scholarships and fellowships available for those who want to complete Chinese language immersion programs. Most government-sponsored scholarships for language study in China have the ultimate goal of bridging the gap between the U.S. and China, both culturally and economically.
If you’re interested in being completely immersed in the Chinese language and culture, you should consider staying in a homestay. It’s the best way to really understand the lifestyle and familial relationships present in China. Those who choose to pursue homestay programs in China will more quickly adjust to their home away from home too. Homestays are often selected through an intensive selection process, ensuring that the family fits the student’s wants and needs, and vice versa.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in an independent lifestyle during your language program in China, you might want to consider program-provided housing or renting an apartment. Language schools in China usually offer housing support to students, by either setting you up with an apartment or assisting you in finding one. If you’re unfamiliar with the area that you’ll be studying in, definitely ask your program provider or language school for advice on safe areas to live. All major cities in China have an intricate train and bus system that will make it convenient to get to where you need to go. Bus systems offer flat rates, which means you’ll never pay more than 2 RMB (about 32 cents) to get around.
Americans can apply for a X1 Visa, for long-term language study in China over 180 days, or the X2 Visa, which is for short-term study less than 180 days. Students who need the X1 Visa will also need to obtain a Residence Permit within 30 days of their arrival in China. Both visas require a valid passport that will not expire for a minimum for six months after your planned date of return. Depending on your country of residence and specific program, you may be required to complete a physical check prior to arrival, an application letter, and a letter of admission. As requirements vary depending on the student’s citizenship, it’s important to check with your local Chinese embassy or consulate for more information.
Air pollution might be a factor in your decision of which language school to attend in China. If you experience health issues that affect the heart or lungs, you might want to consider limiting your outdoor activity or wearing a N95 mask in bigger cities. Some language programs in China will even offer housing that includes an air filter system because pollution levels are so significant in some areas.
Studying Chinese in China can provide you with the opportunity for career advancement and increase your competitiveness in the global job market. There is no shortage of need for individuals that can communicate with corporations in China’s booming economy.
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