Mandarin will inarguably be one of the dominant languages of the future, as China grows in economic and political power on a global scale. More schools in the West are offering Mandarin to their students, and learning abroad in China is thus an excellent choice, giving those students a chance to practise their Mandarin with native speakers and expand their language skills. The four cities of Beijing, Xian, Chengdu and Shanghai give a diverse glimpse of the large country, including its linguistic diversity.
Beijing’s grandest monument, the Forbidden City – for almost 500 years home to the Chinese royal dynasties – stands imposingly over the vast and infamous Tiananmen Square. It is a vast complex of about 980 buildings with over 8,000 bays or rooms. Exploring it will take students to throne rooms, courtyards, gardens, statues and more; it will feel unending. Another famous structure that seems never to end is the Great Wall of China, built over many centuries as a defensive measure against enemies to the north. Beijing, with its “pure” Mandarin, is a good first destination for Chinese language students who are learning abroad China’s silk road economic belt.
Xian is most famous for the terracotta warriors buried with Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, to the east of the city. A visit to the site will not be forgotten quickly. Excavation of the warriors is not yet complete, but the scale of the burial is clear – and staggering. An accompanying museum displays other items from the vast burial. Back in the city, students will appreciate the scale of defensive works by walking the walls. Temples and mosques – as Xian is the easternmost point on the Silk Road that connected China to the Islamic world and the eastern edge of Europe – are numerous and beautiful.
Home to the giant panda, Chengdu is another top stop on a trip for students learning abroad in China. A world-renowned breeding and research centre for giant pandas draws in almost 100,000 visitors a year to see the iconic animal in a native-like bamboo habitat. Students can add new vocabulary to their repertoire as they learn about the conservation efforts there – then head into the city streets to order spicy stir-fries and drink tea in one of the city’s innumerable teahouses. The dialect is different in Chengdu: a form of Sichuanese known as Chengdu, distinct from other forms of Sichuanese.
Arriving in Shanghai, Chinese language students learning abroad will find a very different form of Chinese: “Shanghainese”, a form of Wu Chinese, mutually unintelligible with “pure” Mandarin. The two types of Chinese co-exist in Shanghai, with Mandarin the lingua franca while Shanghainese is the native language. This will not stop students from practising their Mandarin, whether by ordering seafood dumplings or visiting the city’s many attractions, such as Jade Buddha Temple, Nanjing Road, the Bund and Yu Garden.