Learning any language is a big step to make, but it's certainly a great experience. Especially if you're interested in or you are a fan of the culture, as a strong motivation is always key to learning a language for beginners. China is the fourth most visited country in the world. Tourists are fascinated by the mix of old ancient traditions and the rapid development of one of the largest economies in the world. It may come as a great shock for those from British, European and Western cultures, as the Chinese culture can differs from western societies in so many ways, and you can only truly understand it by going there. But what better way to best develop your cultural understanding of China than by studying the Mandarin language with native speakers and immersing yourself in the culture of the country? Speakers of Mandarin all have a dialect from their local region, with lamguage often serving as a reflection for their own distinct culture! Interesting right! Taking your first step into the pronunciation of the language and its writing system and vocabulary, you will gradually notice your level of fluency and listening skills developing faster if you live in China than if you are in your home country. But you still have to go out and make an effort. Nothing comes for free in language learning!, it takes practice! Moving to China without a plan might be considered risky by some (your parents for example), and the culture shock of entering a place (if you go to rural China) without any romanised letters, or where no locals speak a lick of English can be a scary thought. But many a wise traveler can get around China just fine, and picking up parts of the language like vocabulary, tones, pronunciation and listening skills is inevitable. The Chinese conversational language barrier is a difficult one to overcome, however, with the right teacher, a good course, motivation and discipline, you will able to learn the grammar structures, writing characters, tones, pronunciation and vocabulary just as anyone else could. But remember, all this takes time and a good language course. For many learners, especially beginners, it's difficult to perceive the amount of hours of study required to learn a language. Grammar, pronunciation, level of listening skill, vocabulary and written skills including learning characters will all take hundreds of hours to become well mastered. A good teacher and good material to study with is a must. Take a step forwards today and find a teacher on Superprof. You can read a review of the teacher before paying for a lesson, and often the first lesson is free. Think you don't want to start learning Chinese before travelling to China, keep reading. Is it a dream to go on spiritual journey into the depths of China, again, continue reading…

Travel to China, the 4th most visited country in the world
Immersing yourself into a culture is the best way to learn a language. Photo credit: visualhunt

Learn Chinese by Learning About Chinese Culture Most travellers - unless in a business trip - try to discover the history and traditions of China. But not so many make an effort with the languages. Yes it's true, Mandarin Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, due to its system using tones, but don't be put off by this. Making an effort to learn a local language significantly enhances the enjoyment of a trip, and your day to day experience will be much better. 

See why not Mandarin Chinese here on Superprof.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without any idea of how to read Chinese characters, and by following the often lousy English translations to be found on maps, signs, and menus - you will follow the path designed for you and a million other tourist before you to follow. How authentic an experience is this? Or, for example, to visit China in a Club Med way, on an organised tour - with fixed package prices - and everything is made in English and presented in accordance with the Westerners pre conceived idea of the country!  As we mentioned earlier, you will only see things that they believe tourists will enjoy, it's not a true reflection of the country or culture, and you certainly won't pick up much of the language.  Not to mention, the costs the involved.. If you are a complete beginner with knowledge of Chinese language, including Chinese vocabulary, characters, or spoken, listening and written skills, you're pretty much going to have to limit most of your stay to the city centres of big cities like Shanghai, Beijing… Of course, with a country the size of China, this means you're missing out on a hell of a lot.  It's when on a trip or linguistic exchange where you study language courses, when we truly realise the difference in places in this world of ours, inlcuding language barriers and cultural ones, and perhaps it leads us to regret the time we spent not listening in our language courses back in our home countries.   Picking up a Chinese-English dictionary won't change a thing unfortunately, and putting one under pillow certainly won't help when you are alone searching for your hotel room or a place to eat. Moreover, Chinese is a tonal language, making it difficult to differentiate some of the words, and the pronunciation is well known to be very difficult. 

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Avoid Scams by Developing Your Chinese Skills

Learn Chinese to avoid scams in China
China is right up there for the amount of tourists it receives. Must we learn Chinese before going there? Photo credit: Wilson Hui via Visualhunt.com

The swindles or scams on tourists are by no means different than ones you could find in any other nation, they exist in everyday life in London, New York just as they do in the remote provinces of Vietnam… Whilst it's pretty much impossible for westerners to look like a local in China, no one wants to be "taken for a fool". Nevertheless, as a foreigner in China you do need to pay attention on a day to day level to your surroundings and how people may be trying to get things from you, based on your appearance. Moreover, a large part of Chinese culture is negotiation. If your Mandarin Chinese is lacking, your souvenirs are going to cost at least double what a local might pay, sometimes a lot more if you don't bother to barter at all.  So, here's a good tip to get you started in the negotiations, it's better to put the odds in your favour for the trading with Chinese words like "Tai gui le" (meaning " it's too expensive!"). As a result, to make your trip an unforgettable experience, trying learning at least how to buy a ticket by expressing yourself in Mandarin, or asking for directions, or to tell people where you are from and to give a bt of information about yourself. It will help you make friends with locals!  For this reason, come and discover our amazing teachers on SuperProf. Especially in a country like Australia, it's easy to find a Chinese tutor, and searching for a teacher is free!

Important Cultural Tips

Write in Chinese Mandarin to improve communication
Written Mandarin is another big stepping stone. It takes a long time to adjust to writing in this format. Photo credit: Axel Rouvin via Visualhunt

A common tendency when visiting a different country is to imagine that we can figure everything out the ancestral way, with sign language and gestures! Yet, in parts of Greece - where the shaking of "no" of the head means "yes", and vice-versa - we can sometimes find ourselves in some funny, or tricky.. situations! In China, the English sign language can be difficult to understand.  "English" signs and menu's are often mistranslated in China, so if you're trying to translate things for them you can be sure things are coming out just as strange for them.  So, unless you go to a restaurant that shows pictures of the menu items (remember this is a sure sign locals don't eat there), you might find some surprises in the things you order! Now, you might say that choosing things at random is a great way to discover the Chinese gastronomy, and I might show you some things that people eat over there.. you might want to avoid some certain delicacies!  Meanwhile, the commonly known fingure or hand gestures in western countries are not interpreted the same way in China. For example, making the number two with your fingers means eight in Chinese. Just think about all the problems this could cause in many types of contexts during a trip.  So yet again we are back to benefits of at least knowing some basics in the local language. In a country like China it really goes a long way. We suggest you pick up a language course as soon as possible, so you start to practice the language basics before getting there. There are always courses at university, language school, and even nowadays there are some great online apps to study and practice your language skills. Tell yourself that the Chinese learning is the first work for your journey, in order to have a direct immersion in the Chinese culture and to avoid any disappointments.

The Humanist Reason for Mastering Chinese

Discover Chinese culture learning the language of Confucius
The Chinese traditions and customs can be a delight. How can we learn more about this culture? Photo credit: Adam Hinett via Visualhunt

Although many people now study and learn Chinese for its enonomical or commercial benefits, there are more humanist motivations for some.  Rarely sought after, these motivations do make sense since  learning a language requires the understanding of "the other".  With 1.3 billion inhabitants in current Zhongguo ("the country of the Middle Earth"), Mandarin Chinese has the most native conversational speakers in the world. However, we can look at learning Chinese as improving the planet and our relationships within in, for the people of "Sons of Han", keeping world peace and realtions is enough to be a motivation for anyone.  In the modern era, with conflicts between China and the 'West' becoming increasingly common, knowing that the Chinese culture considers respect as one of its greatest values, it could be good so see people striving towards these values rather than trying to import cheap goods to our countries.  Often misunderstood and teased upon by Westerners, the Chinese people are clearly a group of people we can't simply look at as those who make cheap products for us to consume.  There is no question here to study the language of the dynasty of Song, Yuan, Ming to enter the labour market, improve sales or to make economic partnerships. Think about Confucianism, and the official ideology in the monastery Shaolin, and how so much of China's history has influenced the modern world.  By obtaining the knowledge of the Chinese language you may find your true motivations at a later point, be they purely linguistic or influenced by a sense of spirituality… Whatever it is, we encourage you on this journey.  Why not start new Chinese lessons with a native speaking Chinese teacher on an online app, or try group classes to buid those speaking skills before a trip to this fascinating land. 

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Jon

As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.