A difficult language
Chinese is one of the most difficult languages for Westerners to learn. The pronunciation is challenging. And there’s a whole different alphabet to learn, if you associate their characters with letters, they’re more like pictures than words. The Chinese character makes it virtually impossible to connect written Chinese with the oral. Clearly, this is a distinct disadvantage.
In countries where you don’t speak the language, there are signs written in the shared alphabet, so you can attempt to read the signs and butcher their mother tongue. Also when you go to the cinema, subtitles translate everything, and you can pick up the language almost subliminally as a result. You won’t have this advantage as you try to learn Chinese in China.
The advantage you will have in China is that there are a lot of Chinese who don’t speak English. Obviously, the best way to learn Chinese is to practice speaking it. You need to try to form friendships with Chinese people who don’t speak English very well, or just having Chinese friends would be a good place to begin.
So many Westerners go to a foreign country, and the only people they know are people who speak their language. That is not a good way to progress quickly in the local language.
The best way to learn Chinese is what is termed ‘Pillow Chinese.’ Which refers to getting a Chinese partner, or lack of a better word, lover. During those intimate moments shared, well, on the pillow, is one of the best times to learn a new language. I’ve mostly heard it as ‘Pillow French,’ because who could resist a seductive French native whispering sweet nothings.
It’s easier to learn when you’re happy
So this is very likely the first time the term ‘Pillow Chinese’ has been coined. ‘Pillow Chinese’ is getting a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend, depending on your preference, and practicing Chinese with them. In bed, lying amid soft pillows is the best way to learn a language.
Your inhibitions should be removed in this situation, and you should want to speak to and listen to your boyfriend/girlfriend.
Learning a language, in this case, Chinese takes on new significance, when you have to communicate with someone you’re in love with in that language. You will want to impress them, you will want to learn new words and phrases to keep them entertained and, it’s a well-known fact, that learning is much easier when you’re happy.
If finding a Chinese partner isn’t for you or maybe even having Chinese friends is beyond your abilities as a social being, then there are always language classes. In virtually all of the jobs and internships I’ve seen advertised for work in China, language lessons are part of the bonus package. If you are determined to learn Chinese, then a full immersion into the culture is an effective way to learn the language.
If you are working or doing an internship in China, maybe free Chinese lessons come with the position, but you aren’t aware of it. Perhaps you recognize the need for you to learn Chinese and are at home wondering how to go about it.
Look for a job or internship in China; you’ll get to fully immerse yourself, as well as gain a unique experience for your career. There’s also private schools or universities located in China, but those can be expensive.
China is certainly the flavor of the month in business circles. The Chinese economy is booming, and communication is a necessary part of business. Speaking Chinese and English is a very useful qualification to have on your CV, as is having an understanding of Chinese culture and the Chinese market.
Many universities in China offer a degree called Chinese Studies, which covers every aspect of Chinese society, including language. If you see China as your future, then a course such as one of these would be ideal. You’ll be immersed in Chinese culture and language for three years. You’ll learn Chinese quickly this way, as there are usually about 20 hours a week of Chinese. Many Western firms see this as highly desirable.
Private language schools
There are also many private language schools at which you can learn Chinese either full-time or part-time. If you have a job in Beijing, I’m sure the language school will have a schedule that will fit in with your job. Studying a language is an excellent way to meet people because there is something about learning a new language that lowers your guard and allows you to get to know people.
Language schools have short and long courses at all levels, depending on what you want. But if you want a more personalized service, visit a university and put an ad up either online or on a notice board, for someone to teach you Chinese.
They don’t need to be qualified, just Chinese and willing to go through a language textbook with you. You’ll pay them of course. You might have some foreign friends who’d like to join the class. That way you don’t have to travel anywhere. The language teacher can come to you.
There is also a language exchange service in Beijing; it is a cheap and effective way to learn Chinese. Google ‘language exchange Beijing,’ and you’ll find a site where you can find someone who wants to exchange your language for Chinese. You meet for a couple of hours, however often you want, spending the first hour speaking Chinese and the second speaking English or your mother tongue. It’s free for both of you, and you’ve got a friend to help you settle into a foreign city.
It’s very easy to feel isolated in a big city like Beijing. Instead of sitting at home moaning about how isolated you are or how difficult it is to meet people, you could get out there and learn Chinese while meeting people. Going out and drinking a lot tends to loosen the tongue. Leaving China after a year or two and not speaking Chinese at all, will feel like such a waste of time. Get out there and go for it.