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Recommendation for great language schools in China


From user Matt_T:

Hello Fellow Poddies!

There is a chance that I will have an opportunity to move to China next year (2016) and while I am there I was hoping to enroll in a Mandarin as a 2nd language program of some kind. I was wondering if anyone knows of or could recommend some great programs/schools/universities in China for learning Mandarin.

I am open to suggestions in either Mainland China or Taiwan. If in Mainland China I would prefer to be located in one of the first tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and if anyone has attended some of these schools it would be great to get your feedback.

Thanks in advance!


Gwilym@ChinesePod says

Come Join me at NTNU’s Mandarin Training Centre here in Taipei. I’m currently enrolled in the morning regular class, but I used to do the intensive 3h daily classes which I would recommend. If you want to go really intensive, but pay quite a lot more, I also recommend ICLP which is what a lot of diplomats choose to get good really quickly.


Matt_T in reply to Gwilym@ChinesePod

Thanks for the great recommendation Gwilym, both programs look great. The 3 month programs at NTNU looks challenging and pretty fitting time wise as I doubt I would be in China for the start of the full year program at ICLP. I will have to do more research on it but this is a great start.

I guess my one concern at the moment is that my speaking ability is far above reading/wiritng. I know I would need to study hard before going to NTNU but do they divide the classes so I could be in a beginner class for writing but higher level class for speaking?

Thanks again!



Hi Matt. Can you talk about your situation a bit more. Why you are studying Mandarin? How you learnt Mandarin so far? Are you working now in a job that is China related? Do you wish to work in China after you have finished studying? How long will you study in China (6 or 12 months?). Do you have money saved? Do you need to work part time teaching English to support yourself? Why do you want to be located in a 1st tier city?

The more details you give the better answer you will get, because options for studying in China are very different and you want to get the right fit.

Another really good resource on this topic is



Hi @joshuapetering105 ,

Thanks for the reply! For info on why and how long I have been studying Mandarin please see this post.

I am not working a job that is China related, this would be me moving to China for my own interest to better learn Chinese. If everything goes as planned I would probably be in China for at least 6-8 months. Money isn’t a problem so I don’t need to work part time anywhere unless it is a job or experience that is interesting to me.

I want to be located in a first tier city for ease of travel to other parts of China but also travel to other countries if needed/desired. I would need to remain in contact with people in other parts of the world so living somewhere with decent high speed internet access would be a must for the long term.


Recommendation for great language school for short term courses

If you want to study at a Chinese university their academic year is different to the west. for example you have class Christmas day, have a look at this It’s best you start studying at the start of the new academic year. But some universities will let you start mid year.

You will need to decide if you want to study for one semester or a full year, because you may only get a 6 month student visa if you say you want to study for a semester. Doing a full year will obviously be much better, in a sense it just comes down to “time on task” for improving your Mandarin.

Each universities accommodation situation is generally like this, they will have a dormitory for all their foreign students. Only the foreign students live here, the Chinese students will live close by but in a different building (go check out their accommodation 4-6 students a room) Foreign students get “VIP” treatment. Normally you will be boarding with another person, you may not have a choice who this is. Some universities will have single rooms, but they are hard to get. Another option is you may have to pay double rent to live by yourself in the foreign dormitory. Make sure you are 100% happy about the living situation inside the university before you decide

You can live outside the university, just by renting an apartment. You can imagine the pros and cons of this.

When you talk to the university check where all their foreign students are coming from, many universities have relationships with uni’s all around the world. But most have a focus, for example some will have more African students, students from Europe, America or Asia. 90%+ of the foreign students will be university students doing one semester or a year in China, their Mandarin levels vary! From fluent superstars to just learning pinyin. (For example most of the students in my uni were from South Korea, Japan and Eastern Europe, I was the only Australian)

Option A: If you need high speed internet,the best travel opportunities and money is not an issue live in Beijing or Shanghai go to one of the top universities, you pay your tuition upfront so you can go study anywhere, even the “top” universities like Peking.

It sounds like you have a strong work ethic and study routine, this is the really the most important thing!

A valuable topic would be “How to get the most out of studying in China”(because the real value I think is outside formal classes). I’ve got some tips about joining clubs, getting tutors, things to avoid. As will Gwilym and other people who have studied in China/Taiwan.

Sorry If I rambled on. If you want me to elaborate on any points further or have any other questions just ask.



Hey Josh, thanks for the very detailed reply, it was fantatic! I will keep your advice in mind and if you have other tips you wanted to share then please feel free to do so, I’m always interested in more efficient methods of learning to ensure I make the most of my time in China.



In addition to using Cpod for a few years, I also studied at Taipei Language Institute (TLI) - Beijing.

I recommend TLI mainly because they’re really developed a good set of books and processes around teaching English speaking foreigners. The speaking is right away in mostly Chinese, and after 2 weeks of 2 hour per day lessons, I actually felt I progressed from Newbie to Elementary in speaking and writing! It was fantastic! Their books have good content (not as varied as Cpod, but I’m fine with that), and their speaking/writing was good as well. TLI has also done a good job around teaching their teachers how to use the books/materials to help the students get the most out of their Chinese studies quickly. This is something that I’ve casually heard not other schools have done as well. Added plus: even though you’re Canadian, the American Embassy staff go to TLI in force at TLI-Beijing. I think there was about 10 US Embassy staffers there when I was going, and the Embassy uses TLI for years at this point. The Canadian Embassy uses TLI as well, but I only met one Canadian Embassy staff member there. She was pretty nice.

Regarding a study methodology: after seeing western guys show up at cpod with the great intention of learning their Chinese fiancee’s language/culture, they seem to give up after a couple of years. Rationale: Chinese is surprisingly difficult to learn once you get past the elementary level, so it takes 3 - 5 hours a day for about 6 months before I’d estimate that the average person would get to the intermediate Mandarin level (YMMV).
Also, definitely a non-starter for engaged love birds, but I’d recommend you’d leave your fiancee at home for 6 months while you’re studying Chinese in Beijing. Rationale: it is WAAAY TOO EASY to rely on her native speaker Mandarin to get in the taxi, order food, ask for directions, get in the bus, understand the evening news program, etc. Yes, all guys started with great and honorable intentions (I remember user Xiaoliang, and a couple of other users as well) that were heavy into trying to speak and lead conversations while they were in China. The first couple of weeks they gave speaking and reading Mandarin in Beijing a serious go; interacting with everyone. But it wears you down, the constant mental translation, dealing with the many regional accents (you were warned about the many mandarin accents I hope), people’s sometime impatience with your awkward translation of English, you dealing with your own insecurities about how moronic your Mandarin is (or maybe that’s just me!), getting the same things wrong and wrong again… you get the picture. After a few weeks, you innocently let your fiancee handle a couple of restaurant orders (so you can mentally rest for a bit), or let her handle a couple a taxi directions, then all of a sudden, your time in China is over, and you’re back in Canada, speaking English and French.


I was thinking of trying TLI in Taipei for my next language course, since i’ve heard it’s not so focused on writing and might be easier to fit into a 9-5 job. Also, the current president is an alumni there!


@pretzellogic Thanks for the great suggestion. How long did you attend LTI and what would say your level of Chinese was before and after the class? If diplomats are going to these classes I would think that they are quite good. I was also wondering what class format you were involved in, I notice they offer everything from 1 on 1 tutoring to group lessons.

I will be going to Beijing for a few weeks early next year to visit my fiancees family and do some travelling, perhaps I will try to see if I can get a tour of the TLI Beijing campus.

If I end up going to China for a language program I would most likely be on my own as my fiancee would be staying in Canada and just visit when she can take time off work. I want to make the most of this experience so immersing myself in language learning and speaking would be my main focus.


yes, it was definitely my situation when I attended. The staff worked around my schedule, not the other way around. But I was working US hours at the time, so that while I was in Beijing, I worked from 6am - 2pm Boston time.


I attended TLI for about a year, from fall 2010 to fall 2011 or so. My mandarin was basically at the polished newbie level (I think I studied/memorized 50 Cpod dialogues or so, but using those Cpod dialogues within the Pimsleur methodology. BTW, I highly recommend this approach), but it felt really inadequate on the street; I could barely get myself around, and when the taxi driver asked me anything harder than “where to?”, I’d freeze. After about 2 weeks (2 hrs/day, 5 days/week = 20 hours) I was really pleased that I was able to understand the teachers when I was speaking mandarin, and they were speaking mandarin. After about a year of this, I felt good getting into taxis and ordering stuff. Now i don’t because i’m lazy and my wife’s Chinese is still way better than mine.

You can definitely stop by the “campus” yourself at anytime. TLI (Beijing)-Yansha is really just one floor of 1 building, so maybe around 40 rooms on that 1 floor. It would only take you about 5 minutes to “tour” it.,116.472353,18z?hl=en
The great thing about it was that when I walked in one day and said I wanted to start lessons, the head of the school said something like “ok, we have a teacher available now if you want”. Lessons are overwhelmingly 1-1, so you could start studying mandarin with TLI the second you get off the plane and get situated at your hotel/hostel/fiancee’s family or wherever. At least it was that way when I was there, admittedly that’s 4 years ago.

If I have one more recommendation, what really helped me quickly get myself around and at least be able to communicate with taxi drivers was learning street names and key landmarks in mandarin. Learning how to say “3rd ring road”, “2nd ring road”, “airport expressway”, “21st Century Hotel” (The hotel next to TLI’s building; most taxi drivers know this place). TLI is also across the street from the Japanese Embassy. This is an interesting landmark to use with taxi drivers, as China and Japan are having issues at the current time. Maybe you could also just reference the French Embassy, since the French Embassy is only about 200 meters from the Japanese Embassy.


umm, . . . that would be “alumnus” I think. (I’m sure your Chinese is way better than your Latin) :smile: Anyway, I don’t have experience with TLI but it did come highly recommended to me when I was looking at programs in Beijing. I also heard from a reliable source that many expat business people and diplomats studied there.


My bad. I ummed and ahhed over that for about 3ms and went with what Wikipedia said. Anyway,it’s his alma mater :confused:

P.s a good way to quote people is to just highlight that text and click quote.


@pretzellogic Would you say that this program can also supplement more intermediate learners? Perhaps with the 1:1 classes they can tailor the program to fit your needs but in my case my speaking ability is intermediate, reading is low elementary and writing is well below newbie haha.


If you decide to study in China or Taiwan get 2 or 3 private tutors. I just paid Chinese English students. In my experience it was much better paying and having all the time focused on me rather then doing a “language exchange”. I found Language exchanges just became me teaching them English.

Id see my private tutors every day, we would focus a little on my homework. Also I’d ask a lot of questions and get them to write lots of example sentences. I would read to them, they would correct my pronunciation and help me sound more native.

Seek out the excellent foreign students at your school, talk to them about how they got so good. That taught me a lot about what it takes to get really good. Also look at the students who are struggling and making no progress. Don’t do what they do.

I saw you mention you mainly want to focus on speaking. All the excellent students I met also focused on listening and reading as well, once you can become literate you will get a big “turbo boost” so to speak. Because now rather than being limited to pinyin and text books you can start using “made by Chinese people for Chinese people” media. Just something to keep in mind.


Here’s my 2 cents, although I am by no means advanced in mandarin. I can not imagine learning mandarin without learning characters, since that is actually how I started. For a “turbo boost” with that I highly recommend using this site called abcs of chinese which is free and will teach you all of the radicals. Once you get that down, which is around 400 or so “components” learning new characters is a breeze. Another reason for placing much focus on writing and reading is because mandarin has a ridiculous amount of homonyms so the language makes way more sense if you know how to read. Here’s a funny story: I know this chinese girl who speaks fluent cantonese. Being that she grew up in the US she can not read any chinese characters but speaks fluently. We were speaking one day and she said to me "you know whats funny? the word for mandarin in cantonese has the same word as fish in it guo yu /yu " -face palm- even with 1 year of mandarin study knew what she meant but I couldnt help but think wtf how is it even possible to function like this. LOL.


I’d give a qualifited yes to TLIs ability to help intermediate users, only because I wasn’t an intermediate. They have plenty of content and experience with teaching at all levels, and my casual conversations with the US Embassy staff suggested that the Embassy has people at TLI for as long as 3 years for certain career paths.5 days a week, 50 weeks a year for 3 years will get you pretty fluent in mandarin, especially in Beijing. But I’d also say that the more advanced your mandarin is, the more specialized it gets. TLI does ok with general business mandarin from what i’ve seen, but I’m in IT, and TLI can tell you how to say “server”, “network”, computer, cable, and other simple terms. I didn’t challenge them with sentences like “We’re seeing a lot of packet loss on the line, but it might be a function of UDP’s ability to deal with packet loss and latency. Or maybe your virtual machine is having issues we don’t quite understand”.


A good point from KnowledgeAllah, you will need to teach yourself how to read and write characters, it’s much faster and efficient then formal classes. I used the Heisig method (google it if your interested).I’ve had dinner a few times in China with American born Chinese, their spoken mandarin is fluent. But I’m the one who reads the menu and orders because they can’t read, confused the hell out of the waitress and kind of embarrassing for the ABC’s.


Hey Gwilym, I noticed you’re Chinese has been getting better in the podcasts. Keep up the good work!

I live in Japan and fell in love with Taipei over the past few years. I travel there a week at a time whenever I get a chance to take time off of work. I like to take lessons, so if you have any recommendations for short term (a few days or one week) immersion experiences, I would love to know. I’m up for trying daily lessons as well, as I usually do 1 two hour lesson with a private tutor each day when I visit.