The Ins and Outs of Studying Mandarin Chinese at University

Now that China is considered to be such an economic powerhouse, for the future, if not already, studying Mandarin Chinese has suddenly become more appealing to a large number of people. However, finding the dedication to stick to a learning plan can be difficult, particularly if you already have a job. Deciding to go to University and study for a degree in Mandarin Chinese is one way of ensuring that you carry your plans through. However, there are a number of things that you need to consider before you come to a final decision. 

Are you really dedicated? 

Learning Mandarin Chinese is not as difficult as many people presume. It can, however, take a great deal of work to get to even a basic level. Initial pronunciation can be a real problem for some people, particularly because the Chinese language has four different tones, which give the same sounds totally different meanings. Once you have mastered pronunciation, building up vocabulary can take much repetition – don’t forget that there are very few words that are similar to words in other languages. And the writing and reading takes constant practice. 

Do you want to learn to read and write Chinese? 

Think about this. Learning Chinese characters takes infinite patience, and more importantly, time and a University course will apply a large proportion of time to this. If you do not really need to learn to read and write, then you might want to consider other options – you may, for example, want to concentrate on business vocabulary for negotiations that you won’t need to write yourself. You may be better off taking yourself off to China for a year and working on your spoken Chinese in the environment. 

Are you prepared to go abroad?

Most courses in Mandarin Chinese worth their salt will involve up to a year in China. You will almost certainly be posted to a foreign students’ block in a Chinese University. The conditions are unlikely to be as high a standard as you are used to. Then there is the change in food and the distance from your family to consider. Most people end up having a fantastic time while studying in China, however, there is no doubt that you will need to make some sacrifices. Make sure that you are prepared to make them. Note that the time abroad could lengthen your period of study quite substantially. 

Do you know which are the best courses? 

As with any course, you will want to check which Universities are considered to be the best for learning Mandarin Chinese – and of course, the number of Universities will be limited because they don’t all teach it. If you are confined to a certain part of the world by family ties, then you will want to check that the University you want to go to has a good reputation and has a course that will suit you. Try and talk to some people who have already taken the course and go to the University to meet staff and students in the relevant department. 

Are you a confident person? 

As with any language, you do need to have a certain amount of confidence to study Chinese. If you don’t like speaking out in class, then you are going to have a problem. In addition, going to China can be a real trauma if you are shy – you will almost certainly be the centre of attention wherever you go and will be asked to do all sorts of things from teaching English, giving talks and singing karaoke. This isn’t really a reason not to do Chinese at all, but you may want to put it off for a couple of years until you feel more confident. 

What will you do with your degree afterwards?

Think about what you want to do with your degree afterwards. The main job openings are going to be in the commercial world, so if this isn’t for you, you will need to explore other options. Academia is one, working for an NGO or government organisation is another. Make sure that you put some thought into where you could go after your degree – you don’t want to pay out all that money and dedicate all that time if you aren’t going to be using it in the future. 

Studying for a degree in Mandarin Chinese may well be the best decision you have ever made. Just make sure that it isn’t a decision that you take too lightly.