Learn Chinese in London – what are the options?

There are a lot of options when it comes to learning Chinese in London, but some do a better job of advertising themselves than others. Many people don’t realise just how many kinds of school there are.

Like residents in many other important cities, Londoners have the choice between Confucius Centers, full time university courses, private language schools, and private tutoring.

There are big differences between these options.  Read on to see which one is the best fit for you.

Confucius Centre

Confucius Centers are run by the Chinese government to promote the Chinese language and culture. London has two centres.

To quote their website:

The London Confucius Institute’s main objectives are:

  • to be a leading training organisation for teachers of Chinese at different levels in the UK
  • to be a course and programme designer and examiner for institutions who run, or plan to run, courses in Chinese language or language & culture
  • to be a valuable resource for teachers of Chinese to strengthen their teaching and research, as well as for learners of Chinese
  • to be a major platform of information and materials about Chinese language, culture and society for all who are involved or interested in the area

The London Confucius Institute aims to achieve its objectives by engaging in following activities:

  • providing Chinese language and culture courses to meet different needs at different levels
  • organising teacher training courses and professional development programmes for teachers of Chinese at different levels
  • offering HSK , HSKK, BCT YCT exams, and relevant courses
  • providing information services and resource assistance to promote and support the learning and teaching of Chinese in the UK
  • organising lectures, seminars, workshops, and other activities that promote learning and understanding of Chinese culture and society
  • developing teaching and learning materials for use in non-Chinese environments
  • providing consultancy services on study programmes in China

Note two important things about Confucius Institutes:

  1. Confucius Institutes are more than just schools. They’re also test centers, and provide teacher training.
  2. As they are not run for profit, you may be eligible for a scholarship. You may even be eligible for a SCHOLARSHIP IN CHINA.

For most people, their local Confucius Centre website is a great place to start when it comes to learning Chinese.

University

Ah the luxury of a full time course. I would be perfectly happy to go back to college and spend the rest of my life studying course after course.

All I need is a wealthy benefactor. If you’ve got cash and would like to adopt a 31 year old Irish male, leave a comment below.

Obviously, not everyone will have the time or the money to attend University full time. Especially after they’ve started working. But if you’re of University age, and have the means, why not study one of the world’s most influential languages?

Chinese pairs well with International Business, or International Relations. If nothing else, it will look good on your C.V.

A word of caution; some students come out of these four year degrees without a particularly impressive level of spoken Chinese. If you choose to pursue this route, I strongly suggest you make at least one trip to China to study intensively.

The following is a list of all the University courses where you can study Chinese in London, and the rest of the UK.

Private Language Schools

There are a number of private language schools in London. Practical Mandarin is by far the most popular according to Google, but it’s not the only option.

In my experience, the best school is always the closest school. Pick a school that is close enough to be convenient. If it’s a hassle, you’ll find a reason not to go.

Private language schools have the advantage of being profit driven, and therefore customer orientated. This means you can expect a bit more say in when and how the classes are conducted.

They’re a good option for busy people, or people who just want to dip their toe in Chinese. You can start or quit at anytime, and they should be able to accommodate most timetables. Many also provide online courses, which are worth checking out.

The going price for lessons seems to be about 15 pounds.

Tutoring – online/offline

I have mixed feelings regarding private tutoring. Whether or not it works is entirely dependent on the teacher and student involved.

A lot of famous internet polyglots swear by private tutoring. They are professional students; highly organised, driven, and experienced when it comes to rapid language acquisition. For them, group classes move too slowly.

They don’t need a professional teacher with 20 years of experience. They are their own best teacher. They know how to learn, they even know how to organise the material in the most effective manner.

In a scenario like this, the teacher just needs to be a native speaker. Someone who can answer grammar questions, speak with native diction, and correct mistakes as they happen. A lot of the backroom class preparation is handled by the student themselves.

This works great if you’ve already learned several languages. But for less experienced learners, or people with jobs, it could prove disastrous. Or at the very least a complete waste of time.

At least one person in the teacher-student relationship needs to know what they’re doing.

A good, professional, tutor can provide you with a personalised curriculum. They know a variety of textbooks, and will pick the best one for you. They’ll plan real classes, with objectives and outcomes, not just ‘conversation time’.

A bad tutor will just show up. They won’t have any materials. They’ll make up the class as they go along, stringing together a list of unrelated topics. In effect, they’ll be no different than a language partner.

A bad tutor can become a good tutor if you tell them what you want. Make it clear from the get-go what kind of class you expect. The opposite is also true,  a good teacher will let you away with murder if they think that’s what you want. Afterall, the customer is always right.

Tutoring is the most flexible option of all. The time, location, and price of the class is completely up to you.

When it comes to finding a tutor I recommend your local websites, like Gumtree or Reddit. If there’s nobody in your area, or nobody suitable, you can always use iTalki for online tutoring. I like iTalki a lot, because you can see how previous users rated that tutor.

Conclusion

There are a lot of options for learning Chinese in London. Take into consideration how much time you have to study, and how much you’re willing to spend.

It’s worth thinking about whether you’d prefer 1 on 1 or group classes. Some people prefer group classes, they enjoy the social element. Others, like me, find that a lot less work gets done in this environment. I also find myself speaking English, which never happens in a 1-on-1 class.

As I said above, the best school is usually the closest school. Check where your nearest Confucius Institute, university, private language school, or good tutor is. Once you’ve picked one, stick with it.

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