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Learning Chinese in China


BEFORE coming to China, I learnt Chinese for almost two years in a Confucius Classroom sponsored by China Radio International (CRI) in Yekaterinburg, Russia. This is one of 12 CRI Confucius Classrooms worldwide. I quickly developed a strong interest in China and its language, and was excited to learn that my program offered its students the chance to study free of charge in the Middle Kingdom under a scholarship. In Russia, the teaching was lively and inspiring, and we were quickly immersed in Chinese culture through multi-media and other IT tools, as well as a good variety of group activities. My Chinese improved rapidly during those two years, and on completion of the course I was fortunate enough to win the scholarship to study in China for a further year.

There is no better way to learn a language than to spend time in a country where the language is spoken. Besides the opportunity to converse with native speakers, my stay in China gives me the chance to further explore a culture that I find both fascinating and mysterious.  

I picked Beijing for my study and soon realized I had made the right choice. Beijing is a modern metropolis with a unique rhythm and vibe: one is hooked the moment one sets foot in its airport, the world's largest. Furthermore, the local Beijing dialect is the basis for standard Mandarin Chinese (there are lots of dialects in China, and though their written form is the same, they can differ wildly in pronunciation). I applied to enroll at the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), which has one of the best language schools in the city and has run international student programs for decades.

I arrived at Beijing International Airport on a balmy morning. On the drive to university I met many other foreign students, and we soon all became friends. We were guided through the registration procedures and helped in finding our dormitory rooms. This first day was a hectic but wonderful experience, and at the end of it I threw myself onto my bed, breathing a great sigh of relief.

My university is conveniently located in the northwestern part of downtown Beijing. It is ten minutes' walk to the nearest subway station, from which I can reach the heart of the city, Tian'anmen Square, in 30 minutes. The campus is huge, divided into eastern and western sections, which are connected by an underpass. The School of Chinese Language and Literature is located in the western section and housed in a sleek building in which every classroom is well equipped with the latest teaching apparatuses.

I am fortunate to live in a dormitory near my school. Newly refurbished, my room wouldn't look out of place in a 5-star hotel. My friends who live in the eastern part of campus walk up to 20 minutes to class; some choose to ride bicycles. The cafeteria is a four-story building complex. Its menu is so extensive that even after a month I hadn't yet tried everything on offer. China has great food, and every meal is a joy. And the prices are good too. A decent lunch costs RMB 6 to 9 (US $1-1.50), and RMB 15 (US $2.30) can buy a real treat. The university also has a big sports center, the facilities of which include a swimming pool, a fitness center and various ball courts. I couldn't have dreamed up a better campus life.

It is a breeze for foreigners such as myself to fit into the BFSU community as the student body is very international. I meet interesting young people from many other countries and cultures, all of whom share my curiosities and occasional anxieties about life in a foreign land, and are as eager as I am to learn more about China. Getting out of your room to say hello to your neighbors is all it takes to make new friends!

There are Koreans, Japanese, Germans, Americans, Russian compatriots and students from a number of other countries in the 2011 enrollment. My next-door neighbor is from South Korea; he is neat and tidy, friendly and courteous: all trademark traits of the Korean people. When we first began to talk, we were forced to shift between Chinese and English and supplement our words with body language, though this didn't dampen our desire to communicate with each other. 

On the first day of classes, the international students were required to take a Chinese language placement test, the results of which would determine into which class, coded from A to G, we would be placed. The test was conducted in two parts: transcribing Chinese characters into pinyin (the Latin alphabetized transliteration standard for Chinese characters) and then conversing with a teacher. I was placed in Class D, which had the largest number of students.

The teachers in BFSU are lovely, extremely positive people to whom we can talk as friends. Although well versed in their respective specialties, they never carry themselves with an air of superiority or aloofness. We often converse not only on the subject of classes but also about life in general.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us