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How much Chinese is enough for beginner students to have a good trip to China?

After some Chinese lessons, many students reported that they found that their travelling experience in China became a lot more fun and exciting. 

It seems that it won’t happen to every one. A few years ago, I read an online article about a guy who went to China after learning Chinese for a period of time. He was so devastated by the fact that he could not order a coke there. He did not talk much about his Chinese classes except they were useless. 

I wonder what went wrong, because to have a good trip in China, one does not need to be fluent in Chinese. Some knowledge goes a long way. 

I have some interesting observations.

You don’t have to study for years before you make your first trip

At MSL Master, the very first course is Mandarin Express Intro Level A, teaching all the basics. It takes two to three months to finish this course.

There were students who couldn’t wait to try their Chinese in China after this course. Most of them took trips to Shenzhen, did some shopping, and had some massages. They were always happy with the trip and were always amazed that they were speaking Chinese to Chinese people. Before their trips, they did not have high expectations. After the trip, they were extremely pleased. 

There were also students who had to go to China for business. They had to attend meetings or trade fairs and got themselves around. They often felt that being able to speak some Chinese gives them certain advantages. The more they learned, the better they were at easy in China.

You don’t have to learn Chinese characters to tour around China

It is always an advantage to be able to recognise all the signs in China. However, not knowing any characters is not life threatening. 

Many years ago, one student toured around the Southwest for two weeks all by himself, after finishing Mandarin Express Basic Level B and before he learned any Chinese characters. He felt the trip was so fantastic and it was a totally new experience for him. Although he could not read Chinese menus at that time, he remembered the few common Chinese dishes he learned in his class. So he was able to feed himself whenever he went and also picked up some local delicacies recommended by waitresses. 

For big and well traveled places, such as Shanghai, Beijing, there are even less problems. Many restaurants provide English menus, and hotels are full of capable employees who speak English.

The most difficult thing is listening

Many students go to China to speak Chinese with Chinese people. It turns out that, to have a good conversation, listening is the most difficult thing. 

This is especially the case for Intro Level students. They often have a good laugh when Chinese people understand what they are speaking, and respond with a torrent of words, which they don’t understand much. 

Basic Level students have gone through lots of listening exercises. They often understand quite a bit of what others are saying. That really boost their confidence. It seems to them that Chinese people have the ability to guess what level their Chinese is, and speak to them using words they know. Thus, they get to understand them more and more. 

I think what really happens is that students get used to how Chinese people speak, and therefore they are able to understand more and more.

Don’t be shy

Some students are shy. 

They don’t feel like speaking Chinese unless they are absolutely ready. 

My suggestion is, try to speak more Chinese regardless of your level of Chinese. 

It is hard to do. But it is really beneficial.

It doesn’t matter if you’re making mistakes.

Have a good laugh, and have a great time.