GoKunming Forums

Help Deciding: Dialect vs Homestudy vs School

karalee (4 posts) • 0


I've read through some of the threads that come close to my questions but most are either kind of old or have few responses.

I'm an elementary level Mandarin student in America (meaning I know some pinyin but can't speak much) and trying to play a trip in April 2020 for a month studying intensively. I'm also in my early 60's, so the bar scene isn't what I'm looking for at this point. Just culture and studies. I visited Beijing last summer so spending a month someplace new, and smaller, is appealing, which puts Kunming high on my list based on location... but language is the top priority and I am very anxious about the dialect of locals.

Many of my Chinese friends here tell me to NOT study in Kunming because they say the dialect of locals will be too hard for me at my level and will make it harder for me to learn. This includes one person who grew up in Kunming.

Instead most encourage me to study in the north. Since only one said it didnt matter where I learn, that most people know standard Mandarin, I am pretty anxious about trying to speak with locals to practice if I study in Kunming.

My northern choice is a program with 2 weeks of classes in Beijing followed by 2 weeks of complete immersion in Chengde. Live with a family and study 20-30 hours a week with tutor.

I do like the idea of homestay to augment class studies, although it is scary, especially considering I'm older than most students.
The schools I know of in Kunming are Keats, which was referred to me by a friend of a friend, TenWest and Huayang. I've read all their websites and reviews on gokunming but cannot tell which is best. I do know that Keats emailed me that they no longer offer a homestay option, which was a little disappointing. But they stated the families tended to want their students to teach the family English vs. the other way around.
Please tell me your thoughts about the dialect and local schools, and how homestay work IYO.
Any and all feedback will be appreciated!

tigertigerathome (124 posts) • +1

Here are my immediate thoughts. I am no expert, and you will also get differing opinions.

Homestay. I occasionally see classified ads on here for people offering a free room, in exchange with some time spent with their kids. Some people are reasonable and only expect 2 hours per day. This still leaves a lot of freedom to study at a school. This would likely be with a middle class family the speaks Mandarin, not Kunminghua.

Learning dialect
Dialect is probably too strong a word. Kunminghua is more of a regional variation with variations in pronunciation and use of tones. Mostly it will be the older people in working class districts who use Kunminghua day to day. Most of these older people will also be able to speak and understand Mandarin. There are also ethnic languages, but these are mostly spoken outside of the city, and there are many of them.

Most classes have a mixed age group and there are many people in their 50s and 60s who come to China to study. There are some schools, and private tutors, who offer classes in local dialects; but these classes will probably be 1to1 and will cost a lot more per hour.

You will only be able to get a study visa from a recognized school. These schools may not take you on a tourist visa. Private tutors cannot offer a visa, but some people on a tourist visa do engage a tutor on an ad hoc basis (technical visa violation).

Most teachers are locals and you can usually double check something you think you heard on the street during coffee break at school.

North Vs South.
In the N people speak a more standard Mandarin, especially Beijing. As a result they usually hear people speaking good Mandarin. I have been in places where they just don't understand my poor Mandarin as they hear the word that I speak, e.g. if I often use the wrong tone, a problem for learners wanting to be understood. In other cities, where there are a lot of people from all over China and where tones are often mangled, or there are a lot of foreigners, local listeners brains are used to sorting through tone errors.
If you do come south you will hear different pronunciation, but people will also understand your pronunciation, and you can quickly adjust to locals speaking. A strategy I use is for me to repeat back what I think they have said in my bad Mandarin, and you can check their body language etc. to check for agreement.

These are just my observations, I am sure there are others can add to the discussion.

karalee (4 posts) • 0

that is an interesting point about the expectations of Chinese people in the north.... I have been so worried about understanding others I had not considered they might not be able to understand my bad chinese. Tamen bu hui lijiu wo de bu hao zhongwen. (<--- close?)

LaurentD (9 posts) • 0

Do not go Beijing anyway unless you don’t care the air quality. I suggest you choose a southern city.
Southern culture and pronunciation is the true and standard of speaking. The north is the minority from the history.
Shanghai would be your best choice I believe or Suzhou

Learn Chinese YN (19 posts) • 0

I have friends from Shanghai that cannot understand their grandparents because Shanghai Dialect is so heavy so maybe no Shanghai.

While there are issues with dialect and accents in Kunming there are also people here from any part of China. You can also make sure your school / teacher has standard Mandarin.

One great benefit of Yunnan is the great weather and access to nature. If you have one month in great weather intensively studying with a great teacher I think it is important to make sure you are in a comfortable place

April might still be cold some places in the North but Kunming has great weather at that time.

Best of luck with your study!

karalee (4 posts) • 0

Thanks Chinese YN. In Kunming I think only one school offers a homestay option,Tenwest, but there is not a lot of info on that school - even on their website. Keats is better known but no longer offers homestay programs so I would be around native speakers less, I think. The city does sound great ,which is why I'm having such a hard time deciding!!!

tigertigerathome (124 posts) • 0

It might help you to clarify, to yourself (not us) what your primary and secondary purposes are. This will help you decide your best way forward.

In the meantime, if you have a university or community college near you, you will probably find a Chinese student who wants to do language exchange. You can help them check their use of English in their homework, and they can help you with your Chinese. There will be an overseas student officer at the college, and college admin should be able to help you contact that person. With a language exchange partner you will get your regular speaking practice. You can use your existing text books as a guide.

If you make friends with the student/language exchange partner, you may find a home-stay opportunity opens up for you in the summer months.

karalee (4 posts) • 0

Tiger - first is language improvement. Second, it would be nice to visit someplace I haven't already been (Beijing, Tianjin, Datong, Shanghai), but I realize there is always more to see even where I have briefly visited.

I've tried language exchange here and its not so easy to find standard Mandarin speakers. There are some Chinese at work but they have strong southern accents I do not understand.

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