Learn Mandarin Chinese in Shanghai -- where you can immerse yourself in Chinese culture and practice your Mandarin but at the same time involve yourself within the center of business, trade, finance, and commerce in all of Asia.
Every city in every country has some sort of local accent, and China is no exception. What’s different in Shanghai, however, is that the “local accent” is not just an accent, but rather a completely mutually unintelligible dialect from the official language, Mandarin Chinese.
Folks call this dialect Shanghainese. It is part of the Wu family (one of eight mutually unintelligible families), and functions in Shanghai society alongside Mandarin Chinese and English. Shanghainese establishes a personal relationship between locals, and thus many local merchants speak Shanghainese on the streets, and businesses are sometimes done in any of the three languages, depending on the linguistic ability and relationship between client and provider. Most of the time, two business dealers will start speaking in Mandarin Chinese, and upon discovering both are Shanghainese, they will continue the conversation in Shanghainese.
Shanghai is a fantastic location to learn and practice your Mandarin Chinese. Don’t let the speaking of Shanghainese be a setback to going to Shanghai! If anything, it is a cultural experience, and a great way to further understand Chinese culture. There is so much to offer here: whether you’re looking for a chance to practice your Mandarin, learn about Chinese culture, or understand business practices in China (in Chinese!), you will find plenty of opportunities, here, in the Pearl of the Orient.
It's important to choose a program that works best with your schedule, what type of learning style you have, and what you want out of the experience; luckily, there are all sorts of options that can work best with what you’re looking for! Here are some programs that are popular in Shanghai:
Shanghai has one of the best systems of education in China! Taking classes at a university is a popular choice for university students because credits can easily be transferred back to their respective home universities. Popular universities for learning Chinese include Fudan University, Jiaotong University, Tongji University, and East China Normal University. Taking classes will not only allow you to learn the language, but it can also teach you different approaches to a subject you might have learned about at your home university! For those who are not students, this option tends to be harder to access, but it’s not impossible.
Private tutoring/group courses
Both of these are great options for those who are not able to attend universities. These can also take advantage of the small amount of people and encourage communication between students, which tends to be the best environment for language learning. Beware however; private tutoring tends to be double the price of group courses.
Language study & internship combination programs
In addition to language learning, many programs also offer internship opportunities for participants. Add to your schedule and enhance your experience in Shanghai by partaking in an internship! You’ll learn so much more, not only through practicing your Mandarin Chinese, but applying it to everyday life and immersing yourself in Chinese work culture.
Shanghai is a great place to learn both about Chinese culture, practice your Chinese, and immerse yourself in the urban environment. Although the majority of people are able to speak some English, most will not be able to hold a detailed conversation with you. In fact, the Chinese will respect you more if you speak Mandarin to them, and thus this is a great way to practice it! Some people will start to speak with you in English, however you must actively respond to them in Mandarin, and this way you will be able to gain others’ respect and improve your skills.
The weather in Shanghai weather is similar to weather you’d find in the Midwest of the United States, but on a more extreme level. In June, the monsoons come in, and within the middle two weeks, you will experience humid rain and thunderstorms. After that, the hottest time of the year will have hit: and temperatures can get up to a humid and flustering 40 degrees Celsius! This can last until August. In the winter, there is snow and is quite cold. Whether you go in the winter or in the summer, it’s best to be prepared!
Shanghai is divided into Puxi and Pudong districts.
Puxi is located west of the Huangpu River (the name is literally composed of “Huangpu” and “west”), and is older than Pudong (which is linguistically composed of “Huangpu” and “east). Because it is older, Puxi retains more of Shanghai’s historical, cultural, and commercial roots, and is also Shanghai’s residential center. Puxi contains many famous shopping streets, such as Nanjing Road and Huahai Road; as well as main attractions such as the Bund and Tianzifang, an attraction that combines traditional architecture with various marketplaces and delicious food.
Pudong, in contrast, is newer than Puxi and located on the east bank, and is more the business and economic center of Shanghai. It is home to the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, Shanghai Stock Exchange, and the Shanghai World Financial Tower. The iconic Oriental Pearl tower, located across the Huangpu River and across the Bund, is also located in Shanghai. Both districts have their urban sites, as well as more countryside areas. You will have more luck practicing your Mandarin in these countryside areas (rather than traversing the more touristy areas), however this is not to say that people in the metropolis won’t speak to you!
For expats: there’s this fantastic website that helps expats out! It’s called Shanghai Expats. The website is essentially a database of resources that allows expats to ask questions through their forum, read articles and blogs about living in Shanghai, and even search for jobs and housing.
Although Shanghai is such an urban city, it’s pretty affordable to live! There are many convenient and cheap ways to travel between locations, such as taking the bus (around 2-4RMB, or around 40 cents), or taking the subway (around 4-6RMB, or around $1). Americans will also find taxi fares to be cheaper in Shanghai than back at home, with prices starting at 14RMB, or around $3.
Food is also relatively cheap, the cheapest being in smaller restaurants near the streets. Make use of the public transportation: it is one of the best in the world. If looking for a more fancy meal, restaurants will be located in rather large structures, and while they are more expensive, this doesn’t mean they will be any more authentic!
When it comes to price, the only thing to worry about is the living! While cost of living is relatively cheap, apartments are becoming more and more expensive due to Shanghai’s extremely fast industrial developments. Expect apartments to be around 6000-15000RMB a month ($1000-$2500) within the city. This number also depends on the living location.
There are quite a few scholarships that can also help fund some of the costs specifically for students heading to China. If you're not a student any longer... welp, we'll let you know when adult scholarships become a thing:
The China Scholarship Council is one of the largest scholarship programs in China, as it is funded by the government. There provide many scholarships, is constantly updated, and there are plenty of options for getting to Shanghai.