When I decided to move to China, by Spencer Berning

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When I decided to move to China, one of the most important aspects of this opportunity for me was the chance to learn Mandarin Chinese in Beijing. Previously, I had taken 2 semesters of Mandarin in college, but I didn’t have a chance to practice in the 3 months before I moved to China. After I arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport, I found that I had forgotten more of my Chinese than I realized!

Fortunately, in Beijing there are plenty of opportunities to learn Mandarin. One of the easiest to access is the free Mandarin lessons that Aihua provides to all teachers. These classes are a great place if you’re brand new to learning Mandarin or need a refresher course like I did. The classes meet twice a week and there are several different levels depending on your skill level. It’s great place to learn the basics as it is a very low-pressure environment and you get to learn with your fellow teachers.

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After attending the Aihua Mandarin lessons during the first term, I felt more comfortable that my Mandarin level was back at a level I was comfortable with. I decided that I wanted to push myself further and do more than 2 hours of classes a week. Several other teachers recommended Culture Yard, one of the many great Chinese schools in Beijing. This was a great decision, as I’ve been able to take even more classes at Culture Yard. I decided to take an intensive Mandarin course of the Chinese New Year holiday, doing about 4 hours of classes a day. This was a great opportunity to really immerse myself, as my days were pretty much consumed with learning Mandarin.

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Unfortunately, right in the middle of my classes, Covid-19 began to spread rapidly in China. Due to the virus, Culture Yard was unable to hold classes at their physical location. However, I was able to continue my classes online. I can honestly say I never expected my Chinese learning experience to end up like this, but it’s worked out for the best. Having classes online has saved me the time travelling to a physical location to learn, and I’ve been able to review my notes more.

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Outside of classes, the whole of Beijing is your classroom! Everyone in Beijing speaks Mandarin, though most local people have a bit of an accent that makes their Mandarin sound a bit different from how it is taught in classrooms. While you can survive in Beijing knowing only a handful of phrases, knowing how to communicate on a basic level really opens up a new world of communication. I’ve been able to use my Mandarin to ask for a new exit-entry card, find my lost phone, and many other situations where if I didn’t have speak Mandarin would have had to rely on translation apps. Nothing’s more fulfilling than successfully communicating with someone else and not being greeted by confused stares. Though the more you speak with local Beijingers, the more you might find yourself picking up the local accent, and adding the “-er”(儿) sound to the end of your words!
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