Learning Mandarin is more than learning a language it is learning something about an ancient culture that has been developing for thousands of years. Even though Mandarin is the official language of China most people are not aware that it is not spoken in the entire country. The further you go to the south the less you hear spoken Mandarin. In Shanghai the population speaks Shanghaihua, in Hongkong they speak Cantonese and in other southern regions you can hear Jin, Ping and many other languages on the streets.
These languages are not just dialects, they are languages with different grammar and pronunciations. China is an extremely diverse country; this characteristic might difficult to understand at first, but makes the experience of getting to know China unique! If you are thinking of travelling to China to improve your Mandarin, you should visit China’s north, with its aristocratic architecture and its pure Mandarin.
Beijing -which means “northern capital”- is nowadays the political and cultural centre of China. The city offers all kinds of amusements and is a great place for a good nightlife. The northern capital is an interesting place to live but can prove to be problematic in terms of learning Chinese, it is occupied by too many foreigners. In conclusion you are likely to be tempted to use English instead of Chinese a lot.
The best way to learn any kind of language is through immersion. Immersion is defined as learning a foreign language like a native speaker learns his mother tongue. Every time you use a language that you already know e.g. English you miss the chance to engage into speaking Mandarin. Your ultimate goal should be to think in Chinese and to dream in Chinese. When you reach that level of immersion you will be highly surprised how fast you will progress.
The perfect place for learning a perfect Mandarin is Chengde. Chengde is located in the north east of China two hours away from Beijing and allows nothing else but total immersion. During the Ming dynasty the emperors used the city and its picturesque landscape as their summer residence in order to escape the brutal summer heat in Beijing. 500 years later the emperors disappeared but servants and their families stayed and formed the population of Chengde. The contact with the upper, elitist class of ancient China is the reason why people in Chengde speak the best Mandarin in whole China. Chengde has 450,000 inhabitants and no one of them speaks or understands English. Spending your time in summer residence of the old emperors will make you see China from another perspective.You don’t necessarily have to travel to Chengde or to another city which hasn’t been reached by the globalisation yet but try to keep your environment as Chinese as possible. Try to make Chinese friends, if your language level it allows try to watch as much TV as possible and simply a fun while exploring and learning new details.
If you want more details about learning Chinese in Beijing, Shanghai or in Chengde, LTL Mandarin School can help you to discover these wonderful cities:
http://www.livethelanguage.cn/ (English version)
http://www.ltl-chinois.fr/ (French version)
http://ltl-chinesisch.de/ (German version)