Part time programs for Mandarin learner please

So, I have searched the forums and the information I found seems a little dated.
I’ll be in Taipei in month or two and off and on probably for a few years for business.
Looking to start learning Mandarin asap. I know some basics of the language but by no means can hold a basic convo.
I’m not really interested in learning survival type skills, I’d like to do a program where you learn the foundations of the language and build in a structured manner.
I.e. I know I’m not looking for a language center where you drop in and are taught whatever the instructor came up with for that day.
On the other hand, I dont really want to enroll in a University program (those day are over for me!) with all the red tape and quizzes and exams.

Are there places that have a center ground where you can learn a structured program without being a full time student? For instance, a place that uses a standard bookset and you sign up for a semester at a time?
I’m hoping to find something where I can do 2-3 hours a morning and then do my regular job in the afternoon.

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You a complete beginner? There are a lot of 1:1 classes for ~650-900/hr around the city. Most have a 500 registration fee, but no weird enrollment rules. I think the majority if the centers use A Course in Contemporary Chinese. Be warned though: I sang praises about my pretty good experience at TMC in group class, but I quickly learned that’s dependent on the teacher. Some teachers are excellent and get you talking and some will spend two hours going through six vocabulary words and speaking in insanely inappropriate stereotypes about every group of humans on earth except the Taiwanese. And im already at an advanced C1 level, so I have a very good idea of what works and doesn’t work in Chinese learning.

If you’re a total beginner, I advise to consider: the second your teacher says “see, zhuyin doesn’t have this problem the way pinyin does” in response to your Taiwanese pronunciation of a word, its time to run. You’re not going to learn quality pronunciation from someone who doesn’t know enough about pinyin to know that neither zhuyin nor pinyin have any difference in total number of sounds. You should start with pinyin, become fully aware of the sounds of the words you’re learning, then learn the characters. Any teacher trying to push for skipping phonics before you’re ready doesn’t know how to teach Chinese to foreigners.


Thanks nz. Those points are what I was trying to convey in my post and you hit upon: Yes, I want to learn the phonetics, the pinyin (I have already put quite some time into this) and the tones. Plus basic vocab.
If the TMC (Taipei Mandarin Center?) uses the “A Course in Contemporary Chinese” text book, I think that would work since I think that book is one the more standard courses used out there (at least I think?)
I’ll give the TMC a shot and keep your advice in mind.
If anyone else has suggestions given my situation I’d love to hear them. Thanks again!

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are paying someone to teach you Chinese. What will work for you or what you will see as working best for you does not necessarily apply to how others learn or think they learn (I say “think they learn” because absolutely no one actually learns/acquires a language through grammar-translation, but plenty of learners will insist they do. 99.9% of Chinese teachers will also try to teach you in this way). But you are buying a product, so you will need to shop around for the product you want to buy.

In my experience (in linguistics, teaching English as a foreign language, teaching Chinese as a world language, learning Chinese to a native level spoken proficiency, and Montessori education), language acquisition is far more important than anything else. You need to hear a word before you should ever be expected to say it; you need to see a word before being expected to write it. Chinese gets the added bonus of being a written language with limited phonetic association (characters do have some phonetic indication, but not enough to waste your time on at the beginning). This means you need to learn to associate sound with meaning first, pinyin to sound next, and once you’ve got the sound-meaning association fully imprinted on your brain, then you learn the character(s) for that word. Make sure you find a teacher that can do that for you.

You also want to learn words in context. There is no reason to pay $600/hr to read through a vocabulary list with someone. “Fire” any teacher that tries to waste your time like that. Get a subscription to Skritter (it’s ~US$100/yr), find your textbook on there or upload your own list, and learn the individual words that way. (Skritter also appears to have kidnapped the former crew from ChinesePod, to produce some fun videos about specific characters/topics, so that’s also fun). Class time should be spent on meaningful input and learning new words in the context of conversations and stories, regardless of what your end goal is. Never waste your time (more than money!) on classes that do not get you using language from day one.

(Im speaking from experience here — my first year of Chinese was all comprehensible input. No grammar was explained and we learned though memorized phrases where we subbed out key words with new words within those structures. Not the most best way to learn, but you could have thrown me on the streets of Beijing after that year and I would have been totally fine. Fast forward to the following two years, where class was conducted nearly entirely in English and we were tested on things like whether a sentence had used “了 one”, “了two” or “了 three”. To this day, i dont have a fucking clue what the “three 了’s” are, but I’ve never had a problem with proper use of 了 since the very first time it was introduced. Truly, I wasted two years of my life forgetting increasingly more Chinese the more I attended those classes, as everything was focused on grammar, characters, and translating sentences we’d never seen before from English into Chinese. Absolute waste of time; dont even need to talk about the money.)

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Was all that in Beijing?

My year one was my senior year of high school in the US at what would be considered to be an almost community college. But the teacher was fantastic. Masters in teaching Chinese from Middlebury, which is kind of “the place to learn a language if you actually want to learn a language”, so I would imagine the masters program really sets teachers on the right path.

The next two years were at my university in the US, at what is considered to be a very, very good school. Its really telling how little universities actually provide a quality education so much as the people who go there figure out how to learn shit on their own so they dont fail. When it came for the interview for my program to go to Beijing (which i attended my junior year of college), they basically told me they didn’t think I had enough proficiency to attend even their year 2 program. I would agree. I had forgotten how to answer questions like “你喜歡做什麼?” and “你家有幾口人?” Because we had spent literally NO class time using the Chinese language for the past two years, so I had forgotten everything.

Beijing was the pendulum swung the other way. That was Chinese only, 100% of the time, you will be kicked out and sent home immediately if caught speaking English. Technically even when we went out to bars and such we weren’t supposed to speak English. But that program was also stupid. We had a new one page article to read daily and memorize all new words that we didn’t know. Daily (ok, mon-Fri). 100 new vocab words or more was the norm. Rarely did new words repeat. Then we’d come to class and have a 聽寫 (dictation exam) and then spend the next two hours drilling sentence patterns (and really nailing down the use of 的、地、and 得, which are all 的 now) and then spend an hour discussing the text in Chinese in a smaller group and another hour in 1:1 class where the teacher really thought their only job was to make you feel like a miserable failure about everything in your life, not just your Chinese pronunciation and tones. I learned a lot (ended at an ACTFL advanced-low? Or maybe intermediate-high?), but im actually pretty sure my mental state would have been better if id joined the US military as a “linguist”. It was really bad.

Then I did another program that started off with classes but ended with travel (again, all in Chinese). I ended that one with an ACTFL Advanced Low (so I must have come in with intermediate-high, because I remember going up a full level in about one month)


Wow, wow some experiences. The first course sounds good!

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I teach beginners all the time online. If you’re a “slosher” (have some knowledge memorized, “sloshing” around your head, but can’t use it to speak) come sit in on one and see what you think. Students get massive, targeted comprehended input, THEN read directly in characters. To give you an idea, at about 80 hours of class, they comprehend most of the major grammar of Chinese and are speaking in compound sentences, speculating, talking about past actions, etc.

(I’m a Comprehensible Input teacher and teacher trainer, not native but ACTFL Superior level in Chinese and a simultaneous interpreter.)

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These generally meet your requirements including mornings few hours a week options.

Just need to check current schedule as it fluctuates a bit.

If the locations matches and just take a morning or afternoon or whenever you have time and walk through all of them which is quite possible see which one you like.

There are more but these are the more well-known established ones and there are more but you don’t really mention your location so

If I understand this correctly, you are saying to delay the memorization of characters until you have a firm grasp on the pinyin. I’m not sure I agree with this part. With every new vocabulary word you should learn all three: pinyin, tone, and character or it will become more confusing and delay progress later on. I find Chinese to be very visual and it helps to associate which character is being used when you come across a new spoken phrase. You can quickly deduce the meaning of new words if you can visualize the component characters being used.

I’m not a language teacher but I couldn’t imagine trying Chinese with just pinyin first.

I think you meant to direct that at OP

I’m also somehow officially ACTFL-Superior on the OPI and WPT (and struggle with HSK 6 reading material, so somehow I can struggle to read but can convince an ACTFL grader of the contrary with my mad writing skilz…), but I would genuinely love to attend one of your classes as an observer, as your methods are what I know to work. Are you in Taiwan doing classes right now?

No, im saying as a beginner, know that word’s sound (and correct pinyin) very well, as in be able to recall it when it needs to be used, and then learn the character for it. Otherwise you end up with “lau SHEE” and “Han how” because you rely on a general but imprecise knowledge of the character’s pronunciation. As you progress and know enough characters to confuse homophones, then you go into characters at the same time as learning the new words. (Or to an extent). This also prevents things like “I know the characters are ‘fire’ and ‘chicken’ but I can’t remeber how to say the word”. If you already know how to say 火 and 雞, theres no difficulty in remembering how to say the word aloud when you see what the characters are. You just say “huo3ji1”

A few months ago I posted a comment here about Mandarin learning materials in which I wrote lingq was great for other languages but not for Mandarin with traditional characters. It’s recently had a major revamp, however, with 60 plus podcasts with transcripts for the Taiwanese Mandarin series plus a lot of other books and podcasts in traditional characters. Most of this is too advanced for beginners, but the 60 “mini stories” now available in traditional could be excellent for beginners/intermediate (I listened to the mini-stories repeatedly when I began learning German, Spanish, and Japanese).

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This. This sounds exactly like what the dude is looking for. Take your pick, but make sure to read reviews and search on forumosa. Some are better than others. TMI is worth avoiding. I did one semester at TCA before, it was decent. I’ve read good things about TLI on forumosa.

From personal experience I would recommend going to one with more asian classmates as then you will default to chinese instead of English when chatting, which is great.

I felt like this was a good way to ingrain weird habits and bore each other with conversation. Each person will have some weird habit from their language and that’s what you get used to.

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Yeah. I found that right after my Indonesian classmate says something, I speak with a SEA accent. When the Italian says something, I speak like an Italian, etc.

Best way around that is to spend more time listening to podcasts by native speakers and interacting with locals than you do on class.

Oh? I saw their prices are a bit higher than other schools, but what makes them worth avoiding?

I might go to this one. The class schedule lines up nicely for me, but my only concern is taking a course that might be a bit too elementary for me. But at the same time, solidifying my foundation can’t be a bad thing. Any recent experiences?

Shuohao only goes to B2. Its one of maybe two schools I’ve seen in Taiwan that doesn’t pretend to take learners past an intermediate level. That doesn’t mean its bad, in fact it could mean they do a great job of providing foundations, but it seemed weird to me that they would advertise as only going to B2. Then again, most schools that go beyond that dont have teachers that really know how go work with advanced learners, so it’s a wash.

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Unless all your classmates are all Taiwanese, you won’t be able to avoid that.
None of them really talk enough for me to pick up their habits and accent. I spend most of the time listening to the teacher.

The main point is, you will not default to English and you will have opportunity to speak Chinese for the whole time you are in class. It’s preferable to the classes i took in TMI and TCA where English was spoken for half the class and the westerners constantly ask why? why? why?

Unorganized. Some staff were morons. Lack of consistency in teachers. No emphasis on reading or writing, they were fine to teach pinyin in my class. What use is that in Taiwan?