The sheer number of language schools in Beijing is astounding. You probably get offers to learn Mandarin thrown at you from every direction, but if you’re looking for something first-class for your first class, then here are some recommendations.
best intensive university course
University of International Business and Economics 对外经济贸易大学
While most universities are in Wudaokou, UIBE is conveniently located in Chaoyang District (near the Huixinxijie Nankou subway station on Line 10). UIBE is ideal for someone who wants to advance their Mandarin as quickly as possible. There are approximately eight students per class and you’re required to attend four hours of classes per weekday. As with many university language courses, you will have to do a lot of self-study. If you have the discipline and can manage the heavy load, then going here will give you that big leap towards fluency that you’ve been looking for.
Cost: Approximately RMB 9,000 per full-time semester.
Mon-Fri, 8am-5pm. 10 Huixin Dongjie, Chaoyang District (86 10 64492131/86 10 64492329, email@example.com) www.uibe.cn 朝阳区惠新东街10号
best for beginners
Berlitz created their own teaching method, which is recommended by foreign diplomats. Berlitz excels at offering students a great base from which to further their language skills, focusing specifically on listening and speaking. They offer courses (both in-person and online) for kids, adults and people in the diplomatic and corporate fields. However, big brands don’t come cheap. In a nutshell: Berlitz is both a concrete choice and an investment.
Cost: Approximately RMB 10,000 for 50 classes. One-on-one encouraged.
Mon-Fri 8am-8.30pm, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm. 801 Sunjoy Building, 6 Ritan Lu, Chaoyang District (86 10 65930478) www.berlitz.com 朝阳区日坛路6号新族大厦801
best for flexibility
New Concept Mandarin 新概念普通话
New Concept Mandarin has private lessons that can be planned completely around your schedule, language level and where you live. Courses are personalized and there’s online support if needed. If you cannot commit to scheduled lessons, New Concept Mandarin is a good option.
Cost: RMB 3,000-10,000 for two to four months.
Mon-Fri 9am-6pm. Unit 1903, Bldg B, Ocean Express, 66 Xiaguang Li, Sanyuan Dongqiao, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China (86 10 8446 6455, beijing@newconceptMandarin.com) www.newconceptmandarin.com
best for business
The Frontiers School 北京富隆特文化有限公司
When conducting business in China, your language skills and vocabulary must be spot-on. The Frontiers Chinese School offers lessons in advanced business, current affairs and Chinese law. They are very experienced and worth looking into if you want to communicate more clearly in the office.
Cost: RMB 1,380 for 40 hours (Mon-Fri, two-hour sessions). Prices may vary according to level.
Mon-Fri 8.30am-9pm. 3/F, Bldg 30, Dongzhong Lu, Dongzhimenwai, Dongcheng District (6413 1547/48) www.frontiers.com.cn 朝阳区东直门外楼东中街30号30座3层
best for survival
Pentagram offers a spoken-Chinese course to improve your day-to-day language skills. This course is helpful for people wanting to develop practical vocabulary that they can use in markets, restaurants and cabs.
Cost: RMB 2,438 for 65 hours (three-six people per class)
Mon-Fri 8am-8pm. 301 RuiChen International center, 13, Nongzhangguan Nanlu, Chaoyang District (86 10 6500 5755, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) www.pentagram-chinese.com
best for shunyi
Mandarin Connection 汉通
It’s easy to let your language skills slide in this English-friendly part of town, but you don’t need to travel all the way into town to practice your putonghua. One of the most well-known language schools in the Shunyi area is Mandarin-Connections. They offer a range of courses and have a selection of children’s courses as well. They focus mainly on verbal Chinese but have a lot of experience teaching expats.
Cost: RMB 50/hour (a class of three or more students), RMB 70/hour (a class with less than three students)
Mon-Fri 8.30am-5.30pm. D2065, Area 2, Gahood Villa, Houshayu, Shunyi District (86 10 8046 2765, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) www.mandarin-connections.com 顺义区白辛庄嘉浩别墅2区D2065
best for lido
Civil Aviation Management Institute of China (CAMIC) 中国民航管理干部学院国际文化交流中心
While the CAMIC is technically located in Wangjing, it’s actually only five minutes from the Lido Hotel. Don’t let the name put you off – the Mandarin lessons offered by CAMIC are superb. Classes range from beginner to HSK-level Mandarin. Located in the predominantly Korean part of town, you’ll find that your classmates will be Korean – this means that English is never used in class as a fallback language. You’ll find the pace moves quickly, so you’ll need to stay on top of your homework.
Cost: RMB 7,500-8,000 for half a year. Prices vary according to level.
Mon-Fri 8.30am-5pm. 3 Huajiadi Donglu, Chaoyang District (86 10 6472 1653, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.camicec.cn 朝阳区花家地东路3号
best for CBD
Beijing Mandarin School 北京普通话学校
The Beijing Mandarin School is based in Guomao near the Kerry Centre and their location is great if you want to learn before or after work. Their times are also practical with their last lesson finishing at 9pm. Despite a range of classes and clients from various embassies and international companies, classes remain small (four to eight people).
Cost: RMB 3,600 (60 hours). Discount available.
Mon-Fri 9am-9pm. Units 904-905, E-Tower, 12 Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District (86 10 6508 1026, email@example.com) www.beijingmandarinschool.com 朝阳区光华路12号数码01大厦904-905室
best for sanlitun
Bridge School 桥学校
The Bridge School is an established chain that has recently opened a Sanlitun branch. Their classes are divided into morning, evening groups and private sessions. In addition to language courses, they also offer cultural lessons like Chinese calligraphy.
Cost: RMB 165/class. Prices vary according to level.
Mon-Fri 8.30am-5.30pm. 8013 Tongguang Tower 12 Nongzhanguan Nanli, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China (86 10 6538 9422, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.bridgeschoolchina.com 朝阳区农展馆南里12号通广大厦 8013
best for house calls
TailorMade Chinese Center 北京泰莱梅德文化交流有限公司
TailorMade offers private one-on-one lessons at any location of your choice. As it’s name suggests, teachers at TailorMade lead students at their own place and are able to adapt lessons plans to suit your needs. This is a great option for busy parents who need the classroom to come to them.
Cost: Private lessons start from RMB 105/hr; group lessons start from RMB 47/hr.
Daily 7am-10pm. Rm 810, North Tower B, Shangdu SOHO, 8 Dongdaqiao Lu, Chaoyang Disctrict (86 10 5900 5420) www.tailormadechinese.com 朝阳区东大桥路8号SOHO尚都北塔0810室
mandarin learning tips
Chat in Chinese whenever possible – with your ayi, shop assistants and even taxi drivers. This will improve your tones, as locals have the uncanny ability to repeat what you just said, but correctly. Tones are very important; it can be the difference between "mother" and "horse," and no one wants to mix those two up.
Learn how to learn. People’s learning style varies greatly, so try to recognize what works best for you.
Grammar is the bane of Chinese learners everywhere. While it may not be easy, it is essential. Remember some essential word orders and sentence structures and use them as often – and as correctly – as you can.
Modifiers make all the difference. Learn the different degrees of emphasis. In English we use "a little," "very," and "too." Chinese is no different. Frustrations can arise when you can’t express yourself and modifiers will help you articulate.
Keep on top of your workload. Easier said than done, but learning a language requires a time commitment on your behalf. Set aside 30 minutes every day and you’ll see improvement in no time.
Feedback. Sometimes you don’t want to hear any, but it’s good to listen to the opinion of others (providing their Chinese ability is good). While it may be embarrassing to hear the honest truth, it will help you develop and recognize your weaknesses.
Read when you can. Not a Chinese novel (although that would be impressive), but the little things: sign posts, menus and short articles. Anything that will jog your cognitive memory and help you recognize the differences between 马 (mǎ, horse) and 妈 (mā, mother).
Write and repeat. Then repeat again, and again. There is no quick fix when it comes to writing – it’s all in the repetition and memorization. You’ll find that the more you write, the better your reading will become.
Use all the 21st century has to offer. Buy an electronic dictionary. If you have a smartphone, download apps like iChinese. If you have iTunes, download Chinese podcasts (most are free). Utilize every Mandarin-learning tool in your arsenal.
Turn learning into playing. When learning vocabulary, play guessing games with everyday objects and check to see if you guessed the Chinese correctly. One great way to involve your kids is to draw a town, starting with your home – what’s in the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom? Write down the names of objects you drew in Chinese and pinyin (no English). Then expand out to the supermarket, the post office and the school. Sure, the map of your make-believe town will become pretty epic, but whenever you forget the word for something in Chinese, all you need to do is remember your kid’s drawing. Trust us, it works.