There is no better opportunity to learn a new language than when you are immersed in it and surrounded by the language. Shanghai is an international city but there are still many situations where knowing some Chinese can be more than advantageous. I remember first arriving and being so grateful that the metro map and stops were in both English and Chinese. But when I attempted to order food, I ended up just pointing at a picture to indicate my food choice and then using my fingers to show running legs towards the door that I wanted it to be a takeaway (not ideal).
It can initially seem intimating to learn Chinese because you are painfully aware of how much you don’t know – but don’t let that stop you. It does not necessarily have to be about you mastering every grammar point. Maybe your intention could be to be able to converse successfully in daily situations and perhaps even to catch on when your students are complimenting (or complaining!) about you. Or maybe you are more serious about it and you would like to learn Chinese in order to take the HSK exams (to test your Chinese proficiency level). Whatever your intention, here are some of the learning options:
1. Self-Learning: Apps and Books
There are a plethora of apps you can access for free that cater for learning the language. This is often a great way to start even before you enter the country as it offers bite- sized information. I started off with an app called Duolingo – a feature of this that I particularly enjoyed was that you can set the amount of time you want to spend on it per day.
Another extremely helpful app is Pleco, a Chinese to English dictionary. A noteworthy feature on here is the flashcard setting – making it easy for you to test your retention of new words. You can also purchase a Chinese language book (again something you can do ahead of arriving) and work through that at your own pace.
2. Language Exchanges
I didn’t know that this was even an option until I actually got to Shanghai. I signed up for an app called Meetup as a way to meet new people by attending different events around the city. One of the events that happen regularly at different locations are language exchanges. What this basically entails is a group of people who can speak different languages, meeting up and learning from each other, literally exchanging language with each other. For example, if you can speak English but you want to learn Chinese then when you attend the language exchange you’ll meet up with and chat to people in attendance that can speak Chinese but want to learn English.
This is a great way to learn together and potentially make some new friends at the same time!
3. Lessons (Classroom setting or one-on-one tutoring)
Lessons are the best way to learn faster and ensure progress. Particularly if you would like to take the HSK exams, this is likely the most suitable route.
There are plenty of language schools in Shanghai to choose from. Being in a setting with other people that are also learning can be highly motivating and can also allow for not only new friends but also people to practice with outside of the classroom.
A further option is to have one-on-one lessons. This is the option that I have currently opted for and have found myself thoroughly enjoying learning the language. I see my teacher once a week for one hour. Initially this amount of time sounded like too less to me but once I got started I quickly realised it was enough. The reason for this is because it’s one-on-one; there is no one to hide behind. You are forced to focus from start to finish, really making the most of the lesson time.
Whether in a classroom or by yourself, weekly or bi-weekly lessons give you an opportunity to review the work from the lesson in your downtime and will provide you with materials such as a workbook to work through.
You can also consider a combination of the above options – varying the way you learn and making it more fun. Ultimately you want to enjoy learning Chinese as well the benefit of being able to communicate better in this new environment. Learn as much as you can and then go out and use it, don’t be afraid to try and make mistakes. I have felt so certain of my pronunciation but still get many a confused look from whoever I am speaking to. Take it in your stride and just keeping practicing and learning. You have the incredible opportunity of living in Shanghai and having access to so many situations to practice this new language – enjoy it!