So I just got back from a four-week intensive Chinese class, the second time I’ve taken one of these, and for those of you who are thinking of doing the same thing, I thought I’d write about my experience so you can decide for yourself.
Four years ago I was a student at Keats School, in Kunming, China.
This summer I went to Omeida, in Yangshuo, China
I’ll just start off by saying both were great. They both had similar teaching techniques and methods, and both were well run, organized, with good food and comfortable single rooms. In Keats I lived in the same building as the classrooms, so going to class was a matter of a elevator ride, while in Omeida I lived in a hostel (operated by the school) right down the street.
The Most Important Thing You Need to Know About Taking an Intensive Chinese Course
A intensive Chinese course is only as good as you are motivated!
These are schools for people who want to study Chinese on their own. They aren’t for an official degree and you don’t have years of class to get a diploma. The teachers can try to push you, but it’s really all up to you. There are no tests, no grades and if you don’t do your homework, you don’t get into any trouble. It’s up to you and you alone.
Luckily, these programs attract self-motivated people and your classmates will probably be next to you studying as well, but if you’re not self motivated. or easily distracted, an intensive course might not be for you. Perhaps a more traditional degree program is what you need.
Student Know Thyself
Another important factor for these types of courses is they cater to the individual student. Sure, they all work from standard textbooks, but with the small classes (one-on-one in the case of Keats) they can, and do, cater to each students interests.
Before you arrive they give you a little interview to test your Chinese level and to figure out your goals. It’s not just idle chit-chat, but they take your goals into consideration while deciding what class and level is best for you. Your class will focus more on reading and writing if you are, say, preparing for a test or need it for business, while they will focus more on speaking and common topics like food and travel if you are living in China and just want survival basics.
Your teacher is told your goals and in class you will find more topics and conversations aligned to you specifically. This is way better than a standard semester course which just works from a book and has little student participation. Of course, it kinda sucks for the teachers who have to do a lot of individual prep work everyday, but hey, this is from the students perspective, so it’s all good.
You need to have specific goals, and know what those goals are to get the most out of it.
You Learn More than Just Language
Intensive courses are much more than language learning. If you want, they will take all your free time. Weekend trips, culture nights and more are all par for the course. Keats has additional evening classes like calligraphy and Tai-Chi, while Omieda would hook you up with a Chinese student from their sister English school who would be your Chinese “buddy” you would talk to everyday.
For people who are new to China, or just here for a brief period, I think this is great. As for me, I don’t need to make dumplings again, or learn about the Chinese holidays, but even after being here for 7 years I found myself going to the paper cutting class and weekend trips.
I heard from other students how excited they were to meet real local families and have dinner at people’s houses and other meaningful experiences. Despite my “been there, done that,” attitude I ended up making a bunch of Chinese friends too. It wasn’t as new and exciting for me as for some of the other students, but it made the whole thing more fun.
Bottom line is I’d recommend taking an intensive Chinese class if all the above doesn’t put you off. It’s the best way to learn very quickly and it seems to really boost everyone’s confidence no matter what the level. You don’t just kinda learn, but you begin using and speaking it very quickly and even the total beginners were conversing out of class in Chinese.
As to which school I would recommend? I would easily recommend both. They are both in great parts of the country, both offer great classes and I would happily go back to either. As I don’t do a lot of formal study, I think taking one of these courses every few years is a really good way for me to get a bit back on track, and push me academically in a subject that I usually only use socially in my life.
Learning Chinese isn’t easy, especially for me, but I think these intensive Chinese classes are the best way to learn quickly and begin to really use your knowledge right away. And there is no better place to take one of these courses then China itself.