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SDE International - Shenzhen

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You might think you can cruise through your year in China simply by speaking English and pointing. And you’re right. You can get by this way. But I promise your life will be significantly more difficult if you don’t speak a lick of Mandarin Chinese.

My husband and I put effort into learning the language, and we were confident ordering at restaurants, bargaining at markets, and asking for directions. Not to mention, we had a lot of fun making small talk with neighbors.

On the other end of the spectrum, our friends who didn’t speak any Chinese got social anxiety when they went new places. If anything didn’t go as planned, they knew they’d be in a sticky situation.

So what are you waiting for? Whether you’re preparing to move to China or have been there for months without learning the language, there’s no time like the present. Here are the five best ways to study Mandarin Chinese.

1. Take a group class

The school I worked for, required teachers in my district to take a group Chinese class once per week. Our school didn’t assign us classes on Wednesday afternoons, and every week, our school driver took us to the designated meeting place.

There were usually 15 or 20 foreign teachers in these lessons. The classes not only helped us learn Mandarin, they helped us get to know each other.

If your company doesn’t have organized language lessons, talk to a staff member. Even if they don’t set up weekly meetings, they might be willing to organize an informal class for teachers who are interested.

2. Sign up for tutoring

Depending on your preference, you can take one-on-one classes with a tutor or small group classes with your friends. The latter option will probably be cheaper. My friends and I met a Chinese woman who was a certified Mandarin teacher. She taught four of us. It was a great way to spend time with friends while simultaneously being productive.

Hiring a tutor provides you with opportunities that group classes just don’t. For example, our tutor took us to a traditional Chinese breakfast and explained each dish to us. I would never have known all the meanings behind the different foods and drinks!

3. Download apps

Downloading apps is a convenient way to study Mandarin in your free time. And if you take public transportation, you’ll have plenty of free time! Try apps with games and flashcards, such as Memrise or Duolingo. Or check out an app with videos and audio recordings, such as FluentU.

4. Talk with your co-teachers

It’s no surprise that the best way to learn Chinese is to actually talk with Chinese people. And guess what? You’re surrounded by Chinese people every day at school! Just pick one person at random and strike up a conversation.Even when I took group and private lessons, I still learned the most Mandarin during my lunch break at school. I sat at a table of Chinese teachers and just asked them questions or pointed at objects and asked what they were. They got a kick out of teaching me new words.

5. Go on dates

If you’re single, download the app TanTan, which is the Chinese equivalent of Tinder. Nothing will make you learn the language like eating dinner with a local for two hours. Just don’t cheat and only go on dates with locals who are fluent in English! My Western friends who dated Chinese people always seemed to know the most Mandarin. I don’t think it was a coincidence.

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SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!
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About the Author:

Laura Grace Tarpley
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer and English teacher in Shenzhen, China. She enjoys tinkering with crossword puzzles, reading Bill Bryson books, and taking naps on her huge couch. Follow her travels on her Instagram and Twitter. Or you can check out her blog, Let’s Go, Tarpley!
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