So it’s almost summer time, and what better time to learn Chinese? What a great excuse to get out of the heat and stay in doors in air conditioning and learn more about the fascinating culture and language. However if you’ve done some of your homework, you’re sure to find that there are multiple choices for you to pursue your Chinese language studies. This article’s aim is to help narrow those choices down by asking you the right questions.
The first question is, 1 – Why are you learning Chinese? If the answer is for a general casual benefit, such as I’d like to learn Chinese because I want to eventually travel there, or for work in the far future I can see myself using Chinese, then you have quite a variety of options open to you. Group classes might be better suited, especially as a group class also provides you with classmates who can teach you how they learn and also be potential study buddies. Group classes are also cheaper than customized private lessons.
There are two kinds of group classes, one which meets once or twice a week, and one that is more intensive. A course that meets once a week might not be a bad choice for someone that wants to learn the basics, and is also able to study (even for a little bit) outside of class. It also has the potential to be a long term course, as long as the teacher and students work well together.
However as the summer approaches we would also recommend a second offering, which is intensive Chinese courses. At Hills Learning, we’ll be offering two levels of intensive courses. China Institute and colleges in the city also sometimes offer these intensive courses throughout the summer. It’s worthwhile to consider this option, if you have the time and would like to learn a large amount of language in a short amount of time.
The second choice for Chinese classes is private lessons. It shouldn’t be any surprise that with private lessons, you’ll get more personalized attention and usually progress quicker. Private lessons are usually recommended when the student has been in group classes and it hasn’t worked in the past, feels that he or she is a very effective self studier (more effective than others), or for the more clear reason that private lessons will give business people “more bang for their buck.”
Which brings us back to the “why” question again, if you’re looking to learn the most amount of Chinese in the shortest amount of time, private lessons actually might be for you. For example, you’re traveling to China this summer and would like to communicate on a basic level before going there. Or, your company will be transferring you to China and you’d like to develop the ability to meet and greet in meetings and function in daily society. Where there’s a “pressure” to learn Chinese, private can sometimes be more effective than a group learning environment.
So the first question we asked is why, but there’s also a second important reason to ask students of Chinese and that is 2 – What level are you? If you’re a beginner in the language there’s no real reason to read further, however if you do have some background in Chinese then the situation might get a little more complicated as to if private or group classes would work for you.
Three Categories of Students
1 – If you’re a non-Chinese native, didn’t grow up speaking the language but have only taken it in college / other language schools, then either group or private will probably work for you. Just make sure to compare your prospective school’s curriculum with the curriculum you’ve taken in the past, what textbooks they use, what are the goals of the classes (Speaking, Writing, Reading, Listening). Most importantly, don’t be afraid to contact the school and ask them how they would place you.
2 – If you’re a non-native Chinese and have lived in China for a significant amount of time, you should consider either private or an advanced course in Chinese. Please keep in mind when you join a group class you might be involved with students that have only taken courses in America, and might have a different conversational aptitude than you. Always ask about the class environment and how much Chinese versus English will be used.
3 – If you’re a near native Chinese speaker, or grew up in your household speaking Chinese but never learned to read or write, we’d probably first recommend private lessons. There are also group classes out there, but please make sure to check if they’re geared towards students of your situation. You’ll be bored joining a complete beginner class only to learn how to read and write.
Of course, we have seen American Born Chinese join our more advanced group classes and enjoyed it thoroughly, just be ready to practice the characters and writing systems outside of class.
We hope that this article gave you some direction for choosing the right Chinese class this summer. Please keep in mind 1 – WHY and 2 – WHAT IS YOUR LEVEL before choosing a group class in New York City. Good luck and happy learning!