To begin I will introduce myself and say why I wanted to begin learning mandarin. I am 22 years old, from England and just graduated from university last year. As I want my future to be in Mainland China or Hong Kong I felt that learning to be able to speak mandarin would be essential for my future job prospects. It also would allow me to learn more about the culture and lifestyle in Mainland China, which I can now say is a lot different to that of other countries.
I have been at LTL for 7 months now. When I arrived I knew very little mandarin, I could barely introduce myself and say some basic phrases. As a result landing in Beijing for the first time and being thrown straight into the fire (a homestay) was a very daunting prospect. My family however was very welcoming and patient with my non-existant mandarin, which meant I was able to settle in very quickly. My family would sit down and talk to me during meal times and would teach me the basic nouns, such as chopsticks, bowl and table. They would then test me the next day and it progressed from there. My homestay Auntie was also more than willing to take me to look at the sites on the weekend, which was helpful in acclimatising myself to Beijing and in getting to know her better. On a sidenote the cooking was really good.
In relation to classes, for the first 3 months I did 4 hours a day of group classes and 2 hours a day of one on one classes. Again i was initially daunted by the prospect of studying for so many hours a day, especially considering the fact I have never really had a penchant for languages. As with the homestay everyone at LTL was really welcoming and patient. The group classes were really fun because if you were stuck there was always other learners there to help you and ask questions you maybe would never have thought about yourself. The one on one classes were very tiring but allowed me to solidify my knowledge and ask more specific questions on areas I was still stuck on. I felt that having the one on one classes really did compliment the group classes well. This all gave me a really good base before i went to Chengde.
After this i went to Chengde for 3 months and did 6 hours a day of one on one classes. This was intense but i felt my spoken confidence and fluidity skyrocketed during this time. The homestay in Chengde was really good and I would come home from class everyday and watch mandarin soaps with auntie (I hate to admit it but I got pretty into some of them). I was also there during chinese new year, which was an amazing experience. Fireworks went of nearly every minute and I ate like a king during the whole festival. I took my classes in cafes and having one on ones for such a long time was tiring but well worth it. By the end of the three months my teachers were more like friends and I would go have dinner or play mahjong with them after class. I also made friends with people my age through the gym and through my homestay. They would take me out drinking, eating and to play pool and this is the main reason why I think my mandarin improved so much in Chengde. In the three months I never had a conversation in english apart from with my parents once a week.
I have now been back in Beijing for a month and am studying for the HSK 5, which I will take in a couple of months time. Looking back now I am actually quite astonished with how far I have been able to go in this time. I would seriously recommend a person who is serious about learning mandarin for whatever reason, be it work or hobby related, to do something like I have done. It has been a productive way to spend my time after graduating, not only from an educational standpoint, but also I have made a lot of good friends during my time here, allowing me to have had a lot of fun/cool experiences. Learning mandarin and living with homestay families has also allowed me to understand the chinese way of thinking and culture better, which hopefully will put me in good stead when I attempt to find a job in the future.