Learning Chinese

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The Independent Online

Anyone considering doing some work or study in China would be sensible to know a bit about the language before they leave.

The country is so huge that many parts have their own regional dialects, but there are two main forms of Chinese: Mandarin and Cantonese. Of these, Mandarin is the one to learn. It is widely spoken across the country as well as in the capital Beijing, and the Chinese government has also declared it the nation’s official language.

If you live in London, the well-established Link Chinese Academy could be worth a visit. It has six centres spread across the city and offers Mandarin tuition to people of all ages and abilities. You can learn online or in the classroom, and if you’re in a hurry, the 12-lesson survival course is ideal. See www.linkchinese.co.uk. If you’d prefer to learn Mandarin in China, try Language Courses Abroad ( www.languages abroad.co.uk) which has schools in Shanghai, Beijing and Qingdao. Those interested in combining overseas Mandarin lessons with work experience should check out Cactus Language ( www.cactuslanguage.com). After a four-week crash course in Mandarin based in Beijing, students can embark on an eight-week internship with a local company.

Student experiences

Ros Holmes, 26, graduated from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 2006 with a joint honours degree in Chinese and art history. She is an assistant curator at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

My course at SOAS involved a year abroad, and I had the option to come to Beijing. It happened to be the year that SARS broke out, which was a bit unfortunate. But I liked it so much that I decided to stay on for another year, working for a magazine. Then I went back to London to finish my degree, but I always knew I wanted to return to Beijing – I’ve now lived here for two years. When you arrive it is slightly overwhelming, because it’s so different from what you expect. You’re also thrown in at the deep end, because you actually have to survive and get by on a day-to-day basis. But as a student it’s very exciting. China’s a fascinating country and is changing so much at the moment – everything’s new and fresh. Even in the last year or so there have been a lot more foreigners arriving looking for jobs, probably because of the Olympics. It’s a good time for graduates to come as there are a lot of opportunities, whereas in the UK you’d have to work for a lot longer for a similar chance to come up. You just have to be willing to try something else and be open to different things

Chris Courtney, 27, is studying a Masters in contemporary China at the University of Manchester, having previously spent 18 months in the country teaching English.

I first arrived in China in 2004, after I got a job as an English teacher. I’d done anthropology for my degree and was interested in Chinese culture, and I also liked the fact that it was so easy to get a job! But then I fell in love with a place called Wuhan (pictured below), which is a city of about eight million people in the centre of China, on the Yangtze River. It’s not as big as Beijing or Shanghai, and it has really nice people. To get along in China, you have to be versatile and be prepared to expect the unexpected, but if you have an open mind you’ll have a great experience. China has something to offer everyone: if you’re into clubbing and city life there are plenty of opportunities in the bigger cities, but if you’re into beautiful scenery, different cultures or great food then you’ll still be spoilt for choice. People shouldn’t be put off by the negative depictions of China in the news. In the UK we have a very jaded view about what it is, but when I first went there it wasn’t what I expected. People should go and check it out for themselves.