Learning Mandarin in Beijing, China – Claudia’s story

Posted by Grace Feng on November 7, 2014

Learning Mandarin in Beijing, China - Claudia's storyThis article is recommended by LTL (Living The Language) Mandarin School in Beijing. It’s written by Claudia Nobbs, who is currently learning mandarin in Beijing at LTL Manarin School. I especially like the part about how Claudia innocently confused her friend by using the wrong tone in her conversation and how her friend finally “understood”.


Biography of the author:

Claudia Nobbs is a girl from Switzerland. She previously spent a year studying in Japan and is now planning on studying and working in China for a year.?


After my experience of learning Japanese for one year in Tokyo, I realized that one of the most important tips I would give when going abroad, is to make local friends. If you want to learn a language seriously and be able to be fluent in a language, textbooks will only help you to a certain point. Knowing this, my one wish before coming to Beijing to learn Chinese and intern at LTL Mandarin School, was to make Chinese friends. Making friends in another country is not always particularly easy. Language barrier, timidity, ignorance are all elements that might make you take a step back instead of taking the plunge. Although most of the LTL students choose the homestay option, which is the best way to learn about the everyday life of the locals and increase your Chinese very fast, I opted for a room in a shared apartment. I knew that this choice could make it harder for me to speak to locals on a daily basis but I wanted to choose accommodation that allowed for more independence. I hoped I had made the right choice!

I quickly noticed that from the five rooms in the apartment, I was the only foreign person, which was very good news for me but it also seemed like they were all living their own lives and didn’t hang out together. This meant there wasn’t a group of friends in which I could integrate and I knew I’d have to be quick to take every opportunity I had to talk to one of my new flat mates. This opportunity finally came one week after my arrival. I managed to start chatting with the resident in the room directly opposite mine, a 21 year old Chinese girl whose English name was Beryl. Our first discussion was really typical of new neighbors, it was about who had left their clothes in the washing machine. Finally, she told me she would like to improve her English speaking. As my aim is to improve my Chinese speaking, I told her that hanging out together would be a good solution for both of us. The day after this she invited me into her room. It was the smallest room I have ever seen and I felt as though I was living in the royal suite in comparison.? She showed me places she’d visited in China and also famous place we could go to in Beijing. We decided to visit the Lama Temple the following Sunday. As I had a problem with my cellphone at that time, I also wanted to ask her if she could come with me to the phone shop and help me explain my problem to the shop staff. I should admit that we were talking English most of the time but when there were some sentences or words I knew in Chinese, I did my best to use them.


Learning Mandarin in Beijing, China - Claudia's story

“I have bought this cellphone last week.” I told her in Chinese.


(What a question!) “To be able to contact people.”

“Why did you sell your phone?” She asked me in English.

Suddenly I realized that I used the wrong tone and said “sell (卖mài)” instead of “buy(买mǎi)”.

“How do you say buy in Chinese?” Switching the conversation into Chinese again.

“mǎi.” (To sell in Chinese is mài).

“I didn’t sell my cellphone, I bought my phone last week.” I said, doing my best to explain it in Chinese.

After a long period of consideration, her face suddenly lit up.

“I have understood!”

(Finally!) A big smile formed on my face.

“You sell your phone in order to buy that one!”

… (it could have been a good alternative though)


Learning Mandarin in Beijing, China - Claudia's storyThe experience reflects the difficulty of speaking mandarin, the ways you can improve and also fun moments you can spend speaking Chinese with Chinese friends.


One thing that I find very interesting about Beryl is that she loves Chinese tales, thoughts and old stories. So when we went to the Lama Temple in Beijing, she was able to explain to me some characters’ stories or the fact that it’s important to always pass through the door on the right of the temple and not the left, as a sign of respect. Knowing and chatting with local Chinese people is crucial when living in China not only if you want to learn the language, but also if you want to understand the culture.? In my experience, this is something you are more likely to succeed in when studying at a smaller private school with homestays such as LTL than in big universities full of foreigners who all live together in large dorms.


Learning Mandarin in Beijing, China - Claudia's story


Here is a picture of my friend and I burning incense sticks before going to pray in front of the temple. We had to bow three times, she was categorical on this point.? There is nothing I like more than going to temples where the smell of incense and the silence makes you feel so relaxed and at peace. I definitely recommend a trip to the Lama Temple for those of you planning to come to Beijing.


Learning Mandarin in Beijing, China - Claudia's story


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