Rocked by the martial arts films, amateur of Asian gastronomy or lover of the Chinese spirituality, China attracts you and you would like to stay there but learning a new language can be daunting.
The 4th most visited country in the world, (you already know what’s the first one you chauvinists!), China has in its midst an ancient civilization steeped in history that dates from before our era.
Very distant from the British, European and Western culture, the Chinese culture can come as a shock given that its traditions and its lifestyle are very distant to ours. But what better way to develop your conversational skills by taking Chinese lessons with native speakers and immersing yourself in the culture? Native speakers can also give you an insight into the different dialect. As you learn the correct pronunciation and begin to learn to write basic Chinese you will notice your level of fluency will develop much faster than if you were learning from the comfort of your own home.
To leave blindly for China seem too risky and many bloggers can confirm the ordeal that might be to stay in a place where you don’t understand the language or the signs and even less the behaviour of the population! But many people are able to successfully travel around China, learning Mandarin as they go.
The Chinese language barrier is complicated to jump, however, with a good training through Chinese courses, you will be capable of recognising some of the Chinese grammar, phrases and characters, of understanding the principle of tones and assimilating the basics to establish a dialogue in Chinese.
If you think that you don’t need to learn Chinese before travelling to China, keep reading. If you dream about an authentic journey and in an immersion in the Chinese culture, again, continue reading…
Travelling in China is a great way to Learn Mandarin. Photo credit: visualhunt
Learn About The Culture To Learn Chinese
When we leave for China – unless in a business trip – we try to discover the history of China, the culture and the Chinese traditions, as well as the language Chinese Mandarin. Learning to read and write Chinese can be as complicated as it gets when it comes to learning a new language but this knowledge will really enhance your trip.
Without the notion of Chinese characters and by focusing on the translating applications on the Internet – knowing that the network is not reliable – you will be forced to follow the path of those tourists whom the young people of today try not to look like.
To travel to China in a Club Med way, through organised visits – where the price is based on your salary – and everything will be made in English and presented to cost of Pack 1/Pack 2/Pack 3 while being previously arranged so they are in accordance with the Westerners preferences!
Not very enriching culturally speaking and this will also not help you to develop your proficiency in the language.
Not to mention, hurting your wallet.
And humiliating when you cross an expat in real immersion, here you are on a journey that can’t be more touristic, like a Safari organised in Africa or a complete tour to visit the “Favelas of Rio” (Yes, if that exists…).
Due to the lack of knowledge of Chinese language, improvement in the Chinese vocabulary or even of practice in the oral as in the writing, you’re going to have to confine yourself to the tourist areas of Shanghai, Beijing… At the risk of missing out on experiences, landscapes and the discovery of people and its culture.
It is, then, while being on a trip in the country or in a linguistic exchange, when we realize to what extent it’s complicated to communicate with the Chinese and when we regret those Chinese courses that we should have taken.
Your Chinese-English dictionary or your Chinese conversation guide won’t change anything: when we are alone in a megalopolis where the signs are as understandable as the hieroglyphs and when you’re incapable to make the difference between the name of a street and that of a gastronomic dish. Moreover, Chinese is a very tonal language, making the language even harder to learn.
May the linguistic gods forgive you…
China is one of the most touristic countries in the world. Do we have to learn Mandarin before going there? Photo credit: Wilson Hui via Visualhunt.com
The swindles to the tourists are far from being a Chinese phenomenon, they exist in everyday life in London, New York as in the remote provinces of Vietnam…
Although it’s difficult for the most part of the British people in China to look like a local, we take very badly the fact of being “taken for a fool”. Nevertheless, in China, to be a foreigner means being a prey to scams.
In addition, negotiation is part of the Chinese culture. Without notions of Chinese, your souvenirs are going to cost you the same price as if you had bought them in the 13th district of Paris (obviously I exaggerate a bit).
So, to not to look like a simple-minded and rich tourist, (Laowai), 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!”).
Consequently, to make this journey an enriching experience, where you can ask for another ticket, by expressing yourself in Mandarin, it’s necessary to understand and to speak Chinese! It’s a bit like everywhere!
For that purpose, we invite you to discover the Chinese teachers on SuperProf, there are about 800 on the site, and hire them for Chinese courses for 18.5 GBP / hour on average!
To learn Mandarin it’s necessary to learn to write every line in the right order. Photo credit: Axel Rouvin via Visualhunt
When we travel to a country where we don’t speak the language, we imagine that we will figure it out with the ancestral techniques of the language of the human beings: sign language and gestures!
Yet, if you go to Greece – where the sign “no” of the head means “yes”, and vice-versa – we can sometimes find ourselves in situations funnier than those of Mr. Bean…
In China, the English sign language is confusing.
“English” signs are interpreted differently than their original meaning, sometimes leaving you in embarrassed.
So, unless you go to a restaurant showing photos of its dishes like McDonald’s or you make a tour through the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant to choose the dishes, you’re going to order dish randomly!
You will probably tell me it’s an ideal way to really discover the Chinese gastronomy, and I will answer that it’s also dangerous if you are allergic, intolerant to certain food ingredients or dependent on religious beliefs.
While the art to point the finger would have taken all its sense, it’s not the case in China!
For example, the figure of number 2 in the English sign language, means 8 in Chinese. You can imagine all the minor and major problems that these slight differences can have about your stay in China!
We find ourselves once again in the same scenario, without speaking or understanding the language: it’s almost impossible to communicate in China this way.
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 Chinese traditional customs are very atypical for a Brit. How can we learn this culture? Photo credit: Adam Hinett via Visualhunt
Although Chinese learning is recognised, these days, for its international commercial benefits, it also may have other more human aspects than it may appear.
Rarely evoked, this reason, however, makes sense since the learning of a language requires the understanding of the other person, its culture, its history.
With 1.3 billion inhabitants in current Zhongguo (“the country of the Middle Earth”), we already know that Mandarin is a language that will not be disappearing anytime soon.
However, we can think that learning Chinese to promote the dialogue with the people of “Sons of Han”, the good relations and the peace is a good reason to choose Chinese courses.
Nowadays, when the conflicts are common and knowing that the Chinese culture considers respect as one of its greatest values, it would be good to incorporate these elements into our training, rather than for a simple line on a CV.
Often misunderstood, neglected, even humiliated by the Westerners, the Chinese people are now one superpower in the ancient history that we can’t just look at from a professional point of view.
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.
The ancestral traditions of China, the Confucianism as the official ideology in the monastery Shaolin, have influenced our western traditions.
By trying to acquire the knowledge of the Chinese language you can maybe discover yourself no matter if your approach is purely linguistic or influenced by a sense of spirituality…
Why not try taking lessons with a Chinese teacher or try group lessons to help you improve you language skills before your trip to China?