Learn Mandarin in Beijing
Learn Mandarin in Beijing - A Study Tour at Peking University
December 23, 2000 - January 1, 2001
This travel story reports how I learn Mandarin in Beijing. Learn language from life is more effective than learning in a classroom. Therefore I decided to go on a Mandarin study tour in Beijing which I would want to share with you my experience in learning Mandarin.
It was Christmas 2000. I went on a 10-day intensive Mandarin training course at the Peking (Beijing) University.
Peking (Beijing) University
Peking University is not only a university. It is actually a beautiful little town with classic and traditional buildings. Asian Research Centre, where our classroom was, was a two-storey classic Chinese building.
Apart from school facilities, there are hotels, hostels, shops, restaurants, post offices. Students don’t have to leave the campus and can access all kinds of daily necessities. Bicycles are popular vehicles here. Taxies can also access our hostel entrance.
The campus scenery was extremely beautiful. The To-Be-Named Lake with the pagoda formed an extremely picturesque scene. FYI, the lake was so beautiful that no one could name it. The former headmaster of Peking University Qian Mu, therefore decided to call it To-Be-Named.
We went during Christmas time, the lake was solidly frozen and we had fun walking on it. Some guys even set up a store to rent rollers.
We were supposed to stay at a hotel but ended up at a student quarter. I am sure there must be complaints if we were on a regular tour. However out of the vanity of being a Peking University student, no one cared to raise a complaint.
After a casual entrance exam, I was assigned to the advance level class. We were supposed to be taught by Peking University professors as advertised, however taught by two graduate students. Again, the study tour brought back our sweet memories of those good old days of being a college student, no one cared to protest.
The training was mainly focused on pinyin and oral. However we were more eager to speak Cantonese in class. Actually learn Mandarin in Beijing should involve more listening and conversation, but I didn’t see much focus on these.
I must say that the tutors didn’t have much experience or preparation in teaching. Together with students requesting for leisure time to travel Beijing, classes ended daily at 2pm.
Mandarin learning at Peking University classroom didn’t work out as I expected. But I have other ways to learn Mandarin in Beijing.
Taxi drivers and restaurant waiters were both my target teachers. I just grab every chance to speak with them. From Peking University to downtown Beijing took about 40 minutes to an hour. I would say taxi Mandarin learning was more effective than classroom learning. Taxi drivers even point out our weaknesses and where we need to improve. Restaurant waiters were also very eager to speak with us. While we practice speaking Mandarin with them, they asked us about Hong Kong, so we both learn something from each other.
Though we spared a lot of time in playing, we did learn at the same time. As I said, I learn Mandarin in Beijing from taxi drivers, restaurant waiters and whoever I came across. Going out alone was another good way to learn Mandarin in Beijing as these would stop me from speaking Cantonese with my classmates. I’ll have to survive by speaking only Mandarin.
Towards end of the course, we had to sit for an examination. We had to pass in all sections including written (pinyin), reading, conversation and a tongue-twister before we were entitled to a certificate. As you can imagine, all of us got a pass.
I came to Beijing with only one objective of learning Mandarin. Actually most of my classmates had dual objectives, learning and traveling. Tutors gave us a choice of staying behind to have further practice, but most of us were very eager to leave on time in order to travel. As a matter of herd mentality, I started to join them. One day we even ask for a half-day off (truancy) in order to travel. On New Year Eve, all tutors had to attend Peking University staff party, so we go another half-day off.
Peking University is situated at Haidan District, very nearby the Summer Palace. I skipped it as I’ve been there many times. On the day of truancy, we visited the Palace of Prince Gong and had a delicious lunch at my favourite Sichuan Restaurant.
Our next destination was the Nine Dragon Wall at the North Sea Park. Unfortunately the taxi driver didn’t drop us at the right entrance. We had to walk for an hour under freezing temperature. Wasting an hour, we were too late to visit the Forbidden City as latest admission was at 4pm.
We spent some time at Liulichang Street to do cultural shopping. Again, shopping time was another great chance to learn Mandarin in Beijing. We bargained on almost anything though we thought that the prices were attractive. Liulichang Street was actually a 100-year-old hutong with many shops selling antiques, paintings, calligraphies, books and all kinds of cultural stuff.
Towards evening, we turned to Lao She Teahouse which was named after the famous Chinese author, Lao She. We ate snacks in a style like Qing Dynasty Emperors and watched all kinds of traditional Chinese cultural performance art including Beijing opera. (Daily shows 7.50pm to 9.20pm) This cultural show matched our theme of learn Mandarin in Beijing, as at least we had a chance to practice listening though not talking.
On the New Year day of 2001, we struggled to wake up early in order to visit the Great Wall before heading to the airport. Unfortunately we went on a sandy day and that we had quite a hard time at Juyongguang.
Learn Mandarin in Beijing was fun, especially we could learn from life. I really enjoyed speaking with taxi drivers and restaurant waiters. They became my everyday Mandarin teacher in Beijing.
Spend some time in Beijing is the best way to learn Mandarin. However if you can make the time, here is an option. Check out Rocket Chinese.
Peking University 2007
In 2007, I re-visited the Peking University as part of my Beijing Food Tour. View my blog to see an updated look of the
Peking University with photos and videos
Shao Yuan Guest House
During my 2007 Christmas visit, I stayed at the Shao Yuan Guest House within the campus of Peking University. Only 320 yuan for a double room. Ideal accommodation to explore Peking University. Highly recommended.
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