For foreign learners, Chinese is about as easy to forget as it is hard to learn. Whether you’re studying abroad and want to have a plan for when you return to your home or you know this from experience, Project Pengyou is here to help!
1. Practice: Join a language exchange club (Or start one)
Meeting new friends, getting a fresh perspective on both China and the US, practicing Chinese—the benefits of getting to know the Chinese students at your school are endless! With over 274,000 Chinese students attending university in the US during the 2013-2014 academic year, there are bound to be a few new faces to help you sustain all the hard work you’ve put into learning Chinese, but also empathize with you on what it’s like to go to school half way across the world.
2. Ask: Get individualized help.
Many programs exist to help you get one-on-one help with your Chinese upkeep. Some programs like Hamilton College’s ACC Distance Learning Program even give you access to a professionally trained teacher in Beijing. One-on-one sessions help ensure you get to focus on the aspects of language learning important to you and to have a teacher that is familiar with your skill level is extremely useful.
Reaching out to professors is another valuable way to find a mentor who understands the student perspective returning from abroad. After being surrounded by like-minded classmates and teachers in China, going back to a traditional college classroom where some people think of learning as a chore is frustrating. Make sure to show your new teachers your enthusiasm– who knows where simply asking for an independent study or other opportunities can lead you?
3. Keep in touch: Use Chinese social media.
Perfect your pronunciation by using Wechat to practice speaking with a friend you met in China. For more advanced learners, keep up with current events and pop culture news on Weibo, browse q&a sites like zhihu.com (a Chinese language version of Quora). The number of internet users in China is more than double that of the entire population of the United States, so there’s bound to be something out there that piques your interest.
4. Explore: Discover Chinese TV and music.
Chinese pop culture can be hard to navigate for foreigners, but with a quick introduction, you will be as addicted to Wo Shi Geshou (我是歌手, I am a Singer) or the latest 宫斗剧 as you are to Netflix. Once you understand the types of tv shows available, you’ll be able to pick out your favorite ones. Reality tv shows are also worth watching, as not only do they help you keep up with listening comprehension, but also cultural trends.
5. Inform yourself: Listen to podcasts
Instead of listening to music on your walk to class, plug in to a helpful Chinese language learning podcast. Free and interesting, these offer a good alternative method for busy students as they won’t take up time in your schedule. Podcasts such as Popup Chinese let you select from absolute beginner to advanced and combines learning the language with current events and pop culture.
Tip: The Popup Chinese website also offers interactive learning tools such as flash cards, reference tools, and a community forum.
6. Plan ahead: Think long term!
Knowing why you want to keep up your Chinese — and remembering why you started studying the language in the first place — is the best way to ensure actually following through with the steps above. Returning home and getting caught up in family, school, and friends can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to let studying Chinese take a back seat. However, there are a few simple ways to remind yourself why you studied Chinese in the first place. China-related documentaries and books always make me nostalgic, and remind me how much more there is to learn.
If you are having a frustrating time and feel your Chinese losing its edge, head to our forum to commiserate and/or give advice or leave a comment below.
Whether you’re in Texas, Wisconsin, or New York, there are a variety of ways to keep your Chinese skills sharp! If you’re thinking about returning to China to continue your studies, check out our list of scholarships available to American students and recent grads!