Calculating Costs in China

Immersion-Style Classes for Adults

Is it possible to have a basic Mandarin Chinese class that uses very little English? Yes! For whatever reason, no one bats an eye when we do immersion-style classes with the little kids, but when adults hear the class will only be in Chinese, they get nervous! Most of my adult students are interested in traveling to China, or have done some traveling there already. It is actually possible to help students prepare for a trip to China by talking about how much things cost there, all in Chinese!

Introducing Numbers in Chinese

One lesson that works for adult students (delivered almost entirely in Mandarin Chinese) is to talk about the prices of things in China. Usually, the students will already be familiar with the numbers. I like to do a warm-up that involves using chopsticks to move coffee beans around. I give the students one or two minutes (depending on how generous I am feeling :)) to move a small pile of coffee beans from one side of the desk to the other. Then we count together to see who moved the most. In a group of ten students, they will hear me count from one to ten close to ten times. There is no point in having the students struggle over trying to remember the numbers, so I also write them on the board. The added bonus is that some students will realize that they need to practice their chopsticks skills.

picture of person holding a pair of chopsticks
How well can you use these?

 

Guessing Costs

Once we have finished the chopsticks activity, we look at a slideshow of things that people often buy in China. These include a coffee, tea, beer, a bowl of noodles, and bottled water. In Chinese, with translation as needed, I ask the students to guess how much each thing costs in China. As the students make their guesses, I write down the numbers and repeat them in Chinese. This way, the students hear the structure over and over again. After collecting all the guesses, I reveal the correct answer and we see who got the closest.

We stay in Mandarin Chinese throughout the activity, so that the students get plenty of input in that language. If the students make their guesses about prices in English, it is no big deal. They are still active and engaged in the class. They just don’t have the language yet to use it. I simply repeat their guess in Chinese so that the students can hear it.

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Takeaways

The content is interesting to the students because it is useful. Since we look at the costs of coffee, water, food and beer, they can get an idea of how much they would spend on a typical day traveling through China. They can also get an interesting insight into simple economic differences between the US and China. Many students are surprised to learn that a cup of coffee often costs twice as much as lunch!

*With the little kids we talk about pets, transportation, food, etc., but those are all topics that are more kid-friendly

Learn more about classes for adult students here.

More on doing business in China.

China and Your Career

The Rise of China

Last month I did a presentation at Texas State University about China and young professionals’ careers. Gone are the days when the only people whose careers intersected with China were diplomats and manufacturers. My classes for adult students are filled with people who work in tech, medical devices, oil & gas, sourcing, and other industries. They either go to greater China for work or they work closely with Chinese colleagues here in San Antonio. Many students are interested in how greater China might be a part of their career and others realize that the region will be a part of their future based on their career interests. It is just as common to travel to China for work now as Japan was in the 80s.

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Since I was talking to undergraduate students, I decided to keep things interesting by talking about real people I know whose careers have had some connection with China. Below are the slides from my presentation a long with some comments. I called these “mini case studies” but they really are just the personal stories of early career professionals who work a little or a lot with China. I’ve changed details in every story except my own to keep people anonymous.

Case studies of Young Professionals and China

my career and China

My adult students always ask me where I learned Chinese. The short answer is China. The slightly longer answer is that I learned through language classes at Chinese universities and immersion in Chinese society. Eventually, I translated my language abilities (heh :)) into a job in marketing at a consulting firm in Shanghai. When it was time for me to come back to the United States, I thought that I would probably stay in the marketing field and that no one would care about my experience in China. I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong. Turns out that my knowledge and skills in Chinese were way more interesting than my experience in marketing. More on how that turned into Lotus Chinese Learning is here.

Borja’s Career

borja

Borja’s career has a lot to do with China because he lives there. He works for one of the world’s largest wine companies and he focuses on expanding their market share in mainland China. China is important to his company because there are almost 50 million wine drinkers in China. For comparison, the entire population of Spain (where Borja is from) is 46 million.

Mr. M’s Career

Mr M

Mr. Miller is based in the Washington D.C. and while he does not go to China anymore he still is involved in the region every day. When I interviewed him for this project  he made an interesting comment about how important it is to have a deep background knowledge of Chinese culture in order to do business there. He said that of course people can get away with just hopping off of a plane and heading into a business meeting. They still might be successful. Spending the time to really learn about the background of Chinese culture will pay off for people looking to be successful doing business in China.

Kirsty’s Career

Kirsty

Like many folks in sourcing, Kirsty travels to China at least twice a year. Sourcing in China is so much more than just the Canton Fair. As factories move farther and farther inland to reduce costs, sourcing managers will have to travel away from the beaten path. A little knowledge of Chinese language and culture goes a long way when you are not in Shanghai or Guangzhou anymore, Toto.

In summary, there are lots of jobs and careers that will take people to China. There are also lots of jobs in which people will find themselves working closely with colleagues who are based in China. I’m sure that there are plenty of professionals who work in China regularly who never dreamed that China would be such a big part of their careers.

Are you an adult who has to travel to greater China? Check out our class options here.

More on traveling in China for business is here.

So You Wanna Study in China

Summer Study in China for Everyone

Many students start out their studies of Mandarin Chinese with the eventual goal of studying in China or Taiwan. Most students will wait until they have at least an intermediate level of Mandarin to study in China or Taiwan, but there are options at all levels**. For students who are still in school/college/university, summer may be an ideal time to study in a Mandarin-speaking environment.

Enroll Directly in a Chinese University

Students can enroll directly in a Chinese university. Some, such as Beijing Language and Culture University, offer summer classes. Although some universities are more prestigious than others, the ranking of the university has little relationship with the quality of the class. Most language classes will follow a similar curriculum. Compared to average tuition in America, tuition in Chinese universities is very inexpensive. Additionally, the costs of renting a room, buying food and buying textbooks will be much lower.

There are some caveats to taking language classes in a Chinese university. Depending on where a student chooses to study, he or she could walk out the doors of the university and not hear any Mandarin at all. Chengdu is a great city in China, but the locals tend to speak their form of Sichuan dialect. This does not create the Mandarin environment that many students are looking for. Second-tier cities in northeast China are the student’s best bet for a balance of cost of living value and a Mandarin-dominant environment. Especially at the lower levels, students might find themselves in an English language environment, not a Chinese one. Even if the other students in the class do not speak English as their first language, it still often becomes the default lingua franca.

Enroll in a Private Language School

Large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have private language schools, such as the Hutong School or Mandarin House. Tuition is often higher than at Chinese universities, but they often have more flexible schedules. Some even offer special summer courses. A private language school might also be a good option for adult learners who would like to be in a class with other professionals. Unlike classes taught in Chinese universities, the instructors might not have formal qualifications in Chinese as a second language(对外汉语)instruction. As with classes at a Chinese university, it is also easy to end up in a mostly-English environment. This is especially true at the lower levels.

Studying in China for High School Students

While most options for studying in China are for students who are at the university level and up, there are some options for younger students who want to study Chinese in China. The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council has a list of summer camps in China here. Even elementary students can study in China. Austin-based Chinese with Meggie runs a two-week summer camp in Beijing that includes both American students and Chinese students. (Disclosure: I used to work for Chinese with Meggie). There are also summer camps in Taiwan for kids. For a look at what it is like to spend part of the summer in Taiwan and directly enroll young kids in both international schools and local summer camp, check out the Mandarin Mama blog.

With all these programs for younger children, a major caveat is that they can be expensive. The supervision that minors require means extra costs for parents. Ancillary costs, such as flights to China/Taiwan for an adult to drop off the students also make the bills higher.

There is Always Backpacking

As discussed in this post, China can be a difficult place to travel for a tourist who does not know the language. But for students with a few semesters of study under their belts. A trip to China can really motivate them to reach the next level. It is also easier to truly be immersed in a Chinese-language environment as a solo traveler. Depending on how good a person is at budgeting, the costs of just traveling around China for a month might be similar to enrolling in a short-term course at a university.

As of this writing (July 2018), there are many options for the foreign student who wants to study in China. They can take language classes at Chinese universities, private language schools or they can just travel around and do their best self-study on the road. More exposure to the language should have great benefits. To truly reach advanced levels of Mandarin Chinese, however, students need to learn content in the language. This is because we don’t learn language by memorizing vocabulary lists or reading about grammar. The human brain is designed to connect language with meaning. If students do not care about the meaning of the target language, they won’t learn. Students in China should work towards taking a Chinese-language calligraphy class, history class, TCM class, etc. This is the type of learning that will really lead to deep language acquisition.

photo of library at Zhejiang University
You Could Be Studying Mandarin Chinese Here!

 

Did you study in China or Taiwan? What was your experience? Share in the comments!

**Any mention of a specific school in this post is just that, a mention. It is not an endorsement of the school.

How Much Mandarin Do You Really Need to Travel in China?

photo of Jade Girl Peak at Wuyi Mountain (Wuyi Shan)
Go to China and see the Jade Girl Peak in person! (But learn some Mandarin first)

So you want to travel in China…

Many adult students seek out Mandarin Chinese classes in preparation for a trip to China. Lots of American tourists would take a trip to Mexico or France without brushing up on Spanish or French. Many travelers, whether they are going for business or pleasure, however, feel that it is necessary to learn some Mandarin for China. Despite the fact that many people in China spend years learning English, knowing Mandarin is very useful for travel in China.

Leaving Shanghai and Beijing

Outside of Beijing and Shanghai, travel in China can be very difficult. Sichuan Province recently made the list of Lonely Planet’s top destinations in Asia. The capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, is a fast-growing city, but it does not nearly have the infrastructure of Shanghai or Beijing. Knowing the language (at least a little) can make it so much easier to travel in places like Sichuan.

Ordering Food

A good reason to learn a few Chinese characters before traveling to China is ordering food. Big restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing have English menus and/or picture menus. If a traveler goes off the beaten path, Anthony Bourdain-style, knowing Chinese characters will help when looking at menus. Even knowing the characters for beef (牛肉) and pork (猪肉) is useful. Going to hole-in-wall restaurants is also easier on the budget.

photo of crab dumplings
Crab dumplings? It is easier to order these if you know some Mandarin

Get off the Beaten Path (there will still be loads of Chinese tourists)

One of the best things to do in China is to climb a scenic mountain, such as Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan) or Wuyi Mountain (Wuyi Shan). Places like these require some navigation and that is where knowing Mandarin comes in handy. With a beginner or intermediate level of Mandarin, a tourist will not have elaborate conversations in rural China. They will, however, be able to more easily give directions to taxi drivers, find out room rates and order food.

view at Yellow Mountain (Huangshan)
Getting to see this view is a lot is easier with some Mandarin knowledge

It is not impossible to travel all over China without knowing any Mandarin. It just makes life more difficult (and expensive). One of the joys that knowing the language opens up is getting to know people. An article in Bon Appetit suggests going to the same restaurant more than once while traveling, just to get to know some locals. They are onto something. Eventually all the food, mountain vistas and train rides blur together when traveling. But the people remain distinct if you get to know them.

 

Headed to China? Learn some Chinese before you go! Get in touch via the contact page. Skype classes available.

The Dialects of China

photo of Shanghai pudong skyline
If you are in Shanghai, you will hear a lot of Shanghaiese, but perhaps not a lot of Mandarin. The locals heavily favor their own dialect.

There is not just one Chinese Language

Summer is almost here and many students of Mandarin Chinese will go to China or Taiwan to do a summer intensive language course. It is quite common for students to step off of the plane and then feel disappointed that they cannot understand any of the local Chinese people. Perhaps these students do not understand Mandarin Chinese as well as they thought they did. Just as likely though, there is another culprit: dialects.

Most students arrive on their first day of Mandarin class knowing that there is a difference between Mandarin and Cantonese. There are actually many, many different dialects spoken in China. We use the English word Mandarin generally as a translation of  the word 普通话 (Putonghua), the official language of the People’s Republic of China. 国语 (Guoyu) and 汉语 (Hanyu) can also be translated as Mandarin. Mandarin or Putonghua is the official language of China and Taiwan*, but in reality every city has its own dialect.

They are Not Just Dialects of Standard Chinese

The word dialect is actually a very misleading term when we talk about the spoken languages of China. It implies that there is mutual intelligibility between the different dialects, and this is very often not the case. A better term is topolect. A long discussion of what a topolect is and why we should use that term instead of the word dialect is here. In short, a topolect is a language of a particular region of China.  Every city or area you go to has its own topolect. Some of the more well-known ones are Sichuanese, Shanghaiese, Hakka, and Cantonese.

Some of these topolects are more closely related to each other than others, but they are not necessarily dialects of Mandarin. They could be just as different from each other as English and Spanish. In theory, all educated people in China speak Mandarin as well as their native topolect. Especially outside the big cities however, this is not always the case. If travelers who are proficient in Mandarin have trouble in China, it is often because they  are speaking to people who do not speak Mandarin fluently.

Keep the Topolects in Mind as You Travel

Even in big cities, proficient Mandarin speakers might have some trouble. Shanghai and Chengdu are two popular cities for foreign travelers. Local Shanghaiese love their local topolect. They speak it at every opportunity, even if it irritates their fellow countrymen and women. Chengdu loves Sichuanese so much that they even discussed making it one of the languages for announcements in their metro system.

The many topolects of China can make life difficult for any traveler in the country, even if they are Chinese themselves. Keep in mind that if your Mandarin skills are not getting you as far as you would like, it might be because those around you are not speaking it!

Have you had any frustrating experiences because of the many topolects (dialects) of China? Share in the comments!

*Taiwanese usually use the term Guoyu