Almost as important as where you learn 普通話 Chinese is where you learn Chinese. By choosing a place that does not promote good language skills, you will spend much more time (actually, much less time) learning than you would like. In this section we will discuss learning Chinese in China and beyond.
Students studying Chinese in China will develop much faster than those who study in their own country. This is because the Chinese are immersed in the language, which means that they not only have round-the-clock access to language through television, radio, etc., but also have endless opportunities to use language in their daily lives . . . A person who studies in China for six months or less is quite often ahead of his peers who study at the university level for four years or more.
Before we move on to choosing a location in China, let’s look at an example of how choosing one location over another will help you master the language faster than choosing another. Caroline chooses to study in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, at the Harbin Institute of Technology. Harbin is known to speak the most standard Chinese language in all of China. Although it is a very large city, it has very few indigenous people. Most Of Harbin’s Chinese residents do not speak English. James, on the other hand, prefers to study at Fudan University in Shanghai, where the Shanghai dialect is spoken alongside Mandarin. Shanghai and Fudan are known all over the world. Shanghai is a very large city with a huge English-speaking community, and Fudan is a huge university with a large number of students studying Chinese.
Imagine that these two students study the same number of hours per week, use the same curriculum, and have teachers who teach in the same style. Let’s also imagine that two students have similar personalities, learning styles, and learning habits. Which student do you think will reach a higher level faster?
Answer: Caroline. Why? Three reasons: immersion in the language environment, standard pronunciation and the number of students. Let’s look at these issues below.
Know this from the beginning: class is just a place where you get the tools you need to succeed. The best classes at the best universities with the best teachers can’t practice what you use in class outside of class. The more chances you have to practice outside the classroom, the more chances you have to achieve your learning goals.
Since Caroline lives in an area with a very small English-speaking community, she will need to speak Mandarin almost every day. Cities like Harbin tend to have few English-speaking residents. This means that Caroline will have to speak Mandarin to shop, go to restaurants, take taxis, etc. to communicate. There will also be fewer locals forcing her to speak English. It is also much more likely that most of his friends are Chinese who do not speak English.
Having no choice but to speak Mandarin day after day, Caroline will quickly learn to think Chinese. This will speed up her reaction and make it more natural when talking, as she will no longer have to translate from English to Mandarin.
Dialect and interference L1
Harbin’s people speak only Mandarin. Mandarin is their native language. They don’t speak any other Chinese dialect. On the other hand, Shanghai is shanghai’s native language, not Mandarin. (Check out our discussion above about how “dialects” in China are actually incomprehensible languages with each other and don’t have much in common.) This means that most people in Shanghai grow up as children. They speak The Shanghai language and begin to learn Mandarin. as soon as they go to school.
In learning the language, L1 interference is the most common source of error for any student. L1 simply means “one language” or native language. For example, L1 American – English. L1 Russian – Russian. In China, the local L1 is usually a local “dialect” spoken. A resident of Guangdong (a province bordering Hong Kong) is likely to speak Cantonese as their L1. A Resident of Shanghai is more likely to speak The Shanghai language like his L1.
Interference in L1 occurs when the first language of students causes them to make a mistake in L2 or their second language. For example, a student whose L1 is Chinese and L2 is English is likely to say the word “volleyball” as “Woolleyball”, replacing “v” with “w.” This is because the “v” sound does not exist in Chinese. The student’s brain and mouth compensate for the inability to reproduce the “v” sound by replacing it with the motion of sound/mouth closest to that sound. In this case, “w” is closest to “v.”
In Shanghai, many locals mispronounce words that end in -g, often ignoring the sound -g. For example, the word “class” or “course,” kecheng, is often pronounced as kechen. Many southern Chinese also can’t pronounce the initials of consonants -h (e.g., Sh, ch, zh).
How does this apply to Chinese language learning in Shanghai? If your shanghai teacher grew up in Shanghai and learned Mandarin at school, she learned Chinese at L2, and it is very likely that she speaks Mandarin with a Shanghai accent. When you study with this teacher, you will speak your Chinese with a foreign and Shanghai accent. In fact, you speak Mandarin with two accents. Are you starting to see a problem here?
Since Mandarin is already a language sensitive to pronunciation, you want to speak with the most standard accent, which means you want to sound like a Chinese from northeast China, not someone from the south.
Frankly, anyone who teaches Chinese at a university or public school, or someone who teaches Chinese, probably speaks standard Chinese (although this is not guaranteed). It is also likely that most major cities will consist of people from all over China who communicate with each other in standard Chinese. With this majority of the population will be locals, remember what we said above? It’s not just about having a good teacher have a basic mandarin. This is an environment in which you can immerse yourself in standard pronunciation. Having a teacher who speaks Mandarin perfectly can be counterproductive if none of the locals do. It would be like learning American English in Scotland.
Immersion in a standard Mandarin dialect is more than half the battle. However, another issue that should be seriously considered is the English-speaking permanent population and the student base in your chosen location. Simply put, the more native English speakers in a given place, the more English is spoken. For example, The Peking University of Languages and Culture is mainly made up of non-Chinese. This means that if you decide to go to BLCU, you may be tempted to speak more English and find more English-speaking friends than anywhere else.
It all comes down to immersion in water and the ability to practice. If you immerse yourself in a language and speak it every day, your skills will quickly develop. If you are immersed in the process but only communicate with other native English speakers and spend little time actually using what you are learning in class, your skills will not develop quickly.