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How did I choose one of the best Chinese schools to learn Mandarin?

    I was born in Russia, but immigrated to United States at the age of 14. My reasons for studying Chinese are mostly professional – I wish to do graduate research on Chinese pre-imperial and early imperial history and thus must know the language. Studying Chinese in China seemed to be the most productive scenario and TLI (Taipei Language Institute) appeared one of the best schools to learn Mandarin. So, I came to them in Beijing.

    The reasons why I became interested in Chinese history and wanted to learn Mandarin are not very different from other people in the field. In university, I chose to study history, as I was always interested in origins of ancient civilizations. Then I came across a great professor of Early China, whose teaching method encouraged students interest and whose lucid explanations made everything look simple. Deciding to focus solely on Ancient China quickly proved worthwhile, as Chinese history had a plethora of actors and events to which American general textbooks do no justice. Reading the works of Han Feizi provided clues why Chinese civilization endured for so long and further convinced me to learn Mandarin.

    When a time came to decide where exactly to study Chinese in China, my choice fell on TLI. This was not accidental. Earlier, when I was studying abroad at Peking University, I had a wise old man for a program director. I asked him: “Sir, I need to master the Mandarin, both modern and classical. How do I do that?” His reply was: “Go to TLI. They will get you started.” And so, following my graduation in the spring of this year, I almost immediately arrived to Beijing and went to TLI Beijing Branch.

    One’s idealistic expectations are often crushed by harsh realities and that happened to me as well. Chinese proved to be quite difficult to master. Characters seemed too widespread to be memorized. Grammar, by itself not difficult, was too numerous. Talking and listening were by far the biggest nightmares – Chinese speech appeared to be an endless flow of sound, with individual portions completely indistinguishable, and watching one’s tones while maintaining normal speed of speech likewise seemed impossible. Still, progress was made. These days I find myself less and less relying on gestures and facial expressions and speak Chinese more often to resolve daily situations. This is a direct outcome of the collective efforts of my teachers, whose patience and optimism carried me thus far. And while I continue to struggle with everything mentioned above, I will certainly progress further. Perhaps I will finally be able to specialize my studies in learning how to discuss Chinese history in Chinese.

    To summarize, the study of the ancient Chinese history allows me to illuminate long-forgotten civilizations and human lives. As I study Chinese history, the knowledge of Mandarin is an indispensable tool. And so, I am grateful for the guidance of learning Chinese that TLI (Taipei Language Institute) has provided so far.

Author:TLI Beijing Center Ilya Bobkov

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