Somebody wrote a question about studying Mandarin in China on the Lonely Planet message boards. I wrote way too much, so I'm archiving it here, along with the original question.

Posted: 26 Jun 2005
2:34am (NEW!)

Where to Study pudonghua in China
Can people rank the places according to where they think it would be best to sit down and study Chinese for one-two years.

I have become all to aware of the dialects in the different regions- having talked to loads of people, it seems that it is either a big problem or a minor problem??? What do you think is the best place?


1) Language instruction, school quality

2) Local dialect

3) Costs

4) Quality of life- social life, activities, wealther, pollution, apartments....

Posted: 26 Jun 2005
11:57pm (NEW!)

You should also avoid picking up the Beijing local accent

You should also AVOID language Nazis who tell you to STAY AWAY STAY AWAY STAY AWAY from local dialects. No matter where you go to study Chinese, your teachers at the university will have had to pass tests to ensure that they speak, read and write standard Chinese (no matter what subject they teach), and you will be just as likely to be enriched as to be distracted by local differences between what you are taught in the classroom and what is spoke on the street. Consider anybody who tells you to be careful of picking up bad Chinese to be insulting your intelligence. Unless you are going to be hanging out with construction workers and street sweepers after class (and don't realize it), then you will be able to distinguish between standard and non-standard Mandarin Chinese. Learn to appreciate the differences, not fear them.

And any local quirks you pick up in speaking will be over-shadowed by your different skin tone and hair color. For many, many years.

That said, the primary consideration in choosing a language school should be its reputation for good teaching. Secondary, but still important, are the personal factors: think you will be enriched by living out in the boonies/in the big city? will you be distracted/depressed by extreme cold/heat? on a budget/big spender? If you want a personalized recommendation, it's probably better to express some personal preferences first.

For example, I have some friends studying Chinese in Ha'erbin, famous for its standard Mandarin, who tell me that the city is OK if you like hanging out in bars and watching drunk people fight. Which they do, but would never fly by me. I much prefer the more varied and rich cultural experience of Beijing, or the rich range of night-life options available in Shanghai.

Haha, I write this long post and still give no concrete recommendations. Here are a few:

- Several universities in Taipei (NTNU, etc)

  • Local dialect: Taiwanese

  • A more accesible international lifestyle

  • Hot and muggy.

- Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), Jiaotong University (Shanghai)

  • (Disclaimer: my current hometown, so I'm biased/informed)

  • Local dialect: Shanghainese (but lots of domestic immigrants and educated Shanghainese, so Mandarin in many forms is spoken here)

  • Big city life: busy, fast-paced. Easy to spend a lot of money.

  • Cold/humid winters, hot/humid summers.

- Beijing Culture and Languages University (BCLU)

  • Local dialect: heavily slurred Mandarin, with some non-standard vocab.

  • Big city life: rich in cultural activities, bad public-transport.

  • Cold/dry winters. Hot summers.

I guess that's about three cents worth.