Published: January 4, 2024

The Ultimate Guide to Learning Chinese in China

In 2019, close to half a million students studied in China, making it the third most popular destination for international students behind only the U.S and the U.K.

As Chinese educational institutions become more attractive to students around the world, you might be thinking about studying in China yourself. At many universities in China, you can choose between courses taught in English and courses taught in Chinese.

Of course, to enroll in the courses taught in Chinese, you’ll probably have to demonstrate your Chinese proficiency through the HSK exam. If you choose to take courses taught in English while you’re in China, you should still make sure you know some Chinese.

In this post, we take you through:

  • Why you should learn Chinese in China, as well as the benefits of doing so
  • How to achieve Chinese language proficiency and make the most of the experience
  • How to make the most of your time in China when speaking Chinese

Studying Mandarin will greatly benefit your study experience and improve your life in China.

So, whether you’re thinking about studying in China or you’re already there, here are some tips on how to let the Chinese language improve your study experience in China.

image of traditional Chinese temple

Educational and Career Benefits

When it comes to navigating your education in China, Chinese language skills will make your journey smoother.

Your school will probably have documents and web pages in English available for you, but there might be some times when you wish you could read Chinese to get some more information.

If you’re taking courses in English, then you won’t have to know Chinese to understand your course instructors.

Nevertheless, speaking Chinese will still be helpful, especially at a practical level. You will probably be fine knowing only English when you’re in class, but once you’re out the door, you’re in a Chinese-speaking world.

If you know Chinese, you won’t have to limit yourself to educational experiences and resources that cater to English speakers.

More scholarships and career opportunities are available for Chinese learners.

If you can prove that you have the Mandarin skills needed to study and work at high levels in China, you may qualify yourself for money for your studies or even for a job.

Furthermore, given that Chinese language skills are in demand in the international marketplace, whether you decide to stay in China after your studies or move elsewhere, the language skills you acquire will benefit your career wherever you go.

image of Chinese city scape

Social and Quality-of-Life Benefits

A great social benefit of knowing Chinese is being able to connect with your Chinese peers.

You can participate in student social activities and join student groups and clubs.

It might feel easier hanging out with other English-speaking students while you’re in China, but making the effort to engage with the Chinese-speaking students around you will greatly expand your potential social circle.

If you’re new to Chinese culture, you’ll have a much better time if there are people who can show you around.

Your Chinese peers will be able to show you cool places and teach you things about Chinese culture that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

Moreover, knowing Chinese makes your life in China so much easier. Without relying on a translator or dictionary, you can run errands, navigate the transportation system, talk to cab drivers, and ask about different products at markets or dishes at restaurants.

Finally, you should learn Chinese because you’re in China! This is such a good opportunity to learn Chinese through the best Chinese language courses.

A full immersion experience in China is an opportunity envied by Chinese learners all over the world, as it’s truly the best way to learn Chinese.

When you’re there, make sure you don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

aerial view of the great wall of china

How Should You Learn Chinese in China?

So, you’re convinced that you should learn Chinese in China. What’s the best way to do so? Here are some practical tips to lean on.

Prepare Before You Go

That’s right—before you even get to China, you should start preparing. If you have enough preparation time, try to get to around HSK level 4.

When you don’t know enough of the language, the gap between your language skills and those of a native speaker is baffling, and the whole experience in China can end up feeling more bewildering than enriching.

HSK level 4 is a good place to be to feel like you already understand enough of the language to make healthy progress while in China.

Study Every Day

In terms of your study plans, develop a habit to practice daily. Practicing every day is the best way to learn Chinese and make real progress long term.

Learning Chinese is a matter of going slow and steady since it takes a lot of time and effort to learn.

When you begin to study Chinese every day, start easy by learning in small chunks of time. This will help you make it a habit.

Learn Your Chinese Vocabulary

Learn Chinese vocabulary in the smartest possible way. Growing your active vocabulary will improve all of your other language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) as you practice and expand your store of words and phrases.

Here’s a tip for studying Chinese words: when you do your vocabulary studies, focus on retention.

You don’t want to forget what you’ve already learned. A great way to prevent vocabulary loss is the use of spaced repetition.

For the most effective spaced repetition platform to learn Chinese vocabulary, check out Hack Chinese.

man wearing headphones while sitting on chair in front of MacBook

Get Help from a Tutor or Online Tutor

For extra help, take Chinese lessons with a native tutor.

There are many advantages to hiring a personal tutor. You learn at a completely personalized rate, and you can tailor your lesson content to your interests and goals.

A tutor can help you learn exactly what you want at a pace set by you.

It will take some work to find a tutor with whom you feel compatible. Allow yourself to try out different tutors so you can find a great fit.

Immerse Yourself in Chinese

While you’re in China, fully immerse yourself in the language. You’re already in China, so take advantage of the opportunity! Go out and allow the Chinese language to become a part of your background soundtrack.

After you’ve spent the day out in public and get back to your place feeling exhausted, you might feel tempted to unwind with English language media.

During this time, try to absorb some Chinese language media as well by reading Chinese news articles, watching Chinese TV shows, or visiting local Chinese supermarkets and restaurants.

By fully immersing yourself in the Chinese language, you’re priming yourself to grow your skills.

Spark Up a Conversation

While in China, take advantage of being surrounded by Chinese native speakers.

If you hear passing conversations, can you understand what they’re saying? Did they use any phrases you haven’t heard before?

Also, try to speak with other people to practice your language skills as much as possible.

Try to casually converse with passersby, cab drivers, and waiters. You won’t be able to talk with everyone who crosses your path, but every now and then, you’ll encounter someone friendly and willing to chat.

image of traditional Chinese temple

Make the Most of Your Time in China by Learning Chinese

More and more international students are choosing to study at Chinese universities and, nowadays, you’re not always required to know Chinese to study there.

Still, learning Chinese in China holds significant benefits for international students. With the right approach, mastering this language can be a fun and rewarding experience.

Give it a shot and make your stay in China a memorable one.

Daniel Nalesnik is the founder of Hack Chinese, a smart platform for learning Chinese vocabulary. Daniel moved to China in 2009 for a year of full-time Mandarin immersion at Peking University (in Beijing) and Fudan University (in Shanghai).

In the years since he has worked with teachers throughout China to discover what learning methods are most impactful for Mandarin Chinese learners. This experience inspired Daniel to found Hack Chinese, a spaced-repetition platform for learning Mandarin Chinese.