I wanted to relate a little lesson learned about how best to study Chinese. After two years of self-study while working in China, heavily assisted by ChinesePod, I thought I would spend my last six months in the country making the best use of my time and enrolled in the Chinese program for foreigners at a university in Shanghai I had heard good things about. It was quite expensive (9,000 RMB for the semester after I had been earning 3,000 RMB/month in one of China's least developed regions) but I wanted the best Chinese learning experience available, no matter the cost. I could also earn a lot in Shanghai with part-time English teaching jobs.
However, after the first week of classes I felt a huge sense of disappointment. I had envisioned less than 10 students in the class with plenty of speaking opportunities with the teacher; instead I had 20 classmates with literally one or two minutes of speaking time in a three-hour day of classes, even 口语 class. Despite the students being foreign the teaching style was 100% Chinese, with little interactivity and the class contents based solely on an inspiring textbook. For the first time ever learning Chinese, I was bored. I was the only one who had never studied Chinese through a school before and I noticed that most of the other students had poor pronunciation and speaking ability. Ironically, I would be so busy with class and working to get by in Shanghai that I would no longer have time to actually converse in Chinese.
So I quit while I still had the chance to get the majority of my money back, and I'm glad I did. Now I'm back in Gansu province where I concentrate on full-time self study with ChinesePod as well as a private tutor, and for a fraction of the cost of the school. I learn just as much, get quite a lot more speaking practice, and enjoy it much more. The language environment is also better here as I already have friends and the local people are so much friendlier and eager to speak to a foreigner. I have heard of really good experiences learning through a school and I'm sure many would appreciate the structure of it, but I've come away feeling that motivated self-study is definitely the way to go, certainly when you have the chance to live in a country that speaks the language.
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