Live The Language – Studying in-country

July 14, 2012 by 20 Comments

Going abroad is the one thing many of us think about as being the best way to learn a new language.

If the opportunity arises, is it worth grabbing?

I have talked about courses before, be self-study with Pimsleur or taught like Turkish course in Skopje.

What about these “intensive courses” though?  Just how much can you learn on one?

Living the language

Learning a language in-country can take many guises.  You can move to a country indefinitely for work, love or study without a definite plan to return to your native land.  Other options are exchanges (particularly for school/university students).  The other option open is short to medium stays, learning the language as an independent learner or on a course.  You could choose to do this in combination with a paid or unpaid work placement.  Or you might choose to seek out language tuition in the country.

All of these options have pros and cons attached, including a number of factors ranging from cost and efficiency to personal experience and preference.  I have done the language exchanges offered by my school, like Tim Doner from New York, who went to France on such an exchange this year.  In this video he talks about his experience:


I have been on short courses abroad to brush up on my language skills and full year-long courses, working towards a diploma, like my Advanced Diploma in Czech Studies from Charles University in Prague.

If you are thinking about going on a course of study abroad with a language school or university, this new challenge is FOR YOU.

The set-up

I am currently taking mandarin language lessons over Skype with LTL (Live The Language) in Beijing.  The goal is to bring my very limited Chinese to a decent basic level in preparation for a one month stay in China at the start of 2013.


I will be taking part in the “Two City Combo” offered by LTL and spending two weeks in Beijing and then two further weeks in Chengde.  I will live with local families in a bid to make the most of my language learning experience and really Live the Language.  Whilst I am in both cities I will have twenty hours of tuition a week.

What do you expect to know after a month in China?

I aim to get my Chinese to a solid A1 level before I go over.  80 hours of tuition in China should be sufficient to get to the next level.  I hope to be able to speak it at a good A2 level by the end of my stay.  Any more than that would be a bonus.  The key is to get a solid grounding in the language to build on it  after the stay.

Why Chinese?  Why now?

Mandarin and I have had a rocky relationship with lots of starts and stops for a number of reasons.  Without a doubt it is an important language in terms of numbers of people who speak it.  It contains a the rich history and culture heritage.  I would also like to support my daughter in her studies of the language, as she constantly expresses an interest in learning it too.

Recording my journey

My Chinese was very basic before starting the Skype lessons, so it makes little sense to record a video saying nothing, right?  I will make a video in Chinese after I have studied for three months and then again at six months.  When I arrive in China I will be assessed officially for the course.  I will record this assessment too and then later show my progress at the end of the course.

Join me on my journey

Share your stories with me on here and on my Facebook page and let me know how I am getting on! 🙂

If you sign up for italki and buy a coupon for language lessons through them, you can use the Promo Code below at checkout to get $5 OFF your order! So a $10 coupon costs you just $5! Use Promo Code: RICHARD

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This post was written by Richard


  • Sounds like a fantastic opportunity, Richard.

    Will your family be heading to China with you?

    If I make it to Beijing from Seoul around that time I’ll message you and see if you’re free.

    • It would be super to meet you, Donovan. Do let me know your whereabouts nearer the time. 🙂 For a real intensive study period I will need to go alone. Otherwise I will speak too much of my home languages with my daughter and my wife. I am going to do this as a singleton to show the maximum benefits of such an investment. 🙂

  • Marianne Senoj says:

    I have learnt Mandarin going on lots of short intensive courses lasting max two weeks. These were supplemented with skype lessons. My level is now fluent(after five years), meaning I can do presentations about my company for Chinese attendees and host delegations. Unfortunately, my work does not allow me the “luxury” of taking time out, so I had to do it this wayin such burst but it paid off. Good luck with learning Chinese in Chengdu (I think this is the town you meant) and Beijing. Don’t leave without going for a foot massage足疗:-)

    • Suniel says:

      I should be a litlte bit more angry than I am that 38 has become my boyfriend’s pet name for me but I’m at peace with it now 😛 I definitely have some seriously 38 moments.I’ve been teasing han that I’m going to get a 38 t-shirt made. I wonder how many people around Taipei would noticer and/or react.03/08 actually comes from either Ukraine or Russia. The software company I used to work for was run by Ukrainians and I used to work a ton of them. Some of the holidays they celebrate are Russian since they were part of the USSR and others are purely Ukrainian. I can’t remember if this is one or not.

  • Alex Yeo says:

    After the evaluation of Benny’s Chinese by LTL – is this LTL’s next “advertisement campaign”? How much do you have to pay, Richard? It seems that LTL is in urgent need of more customers.

    • I got in touch with LTL following my Pimsleur Challenge for Hungarian. Benny’s piece highlighted them to me. I had always wanted to learn Mandarin and I got a good response about my assessment of language learning materials/courses following the Pimsleur Challenge and my on-going Turkish course with Yunus Emre to demonstrate ability at each CEFR level. Many people ask me to learn Mandarin also, so I thought that this would make for an interesting adventure. Learning Mandarin, as you can see in this piece, is something I would like to do personally to support my daughter’s education later. This is one in a series of courses and methods I plan to test out. If you have any ideas for future language adventures for me, do let me know. 🙂

  • Andreas says:

    The city is Chengde (承德 – the old imperial summer capital about two hours north east of Beijing. Very standard mandarin spoken and a fully immersed environment in a beautiful and very historic city.
    Chengdu (成都) is almost 3h by plane from Beijing in Sichuan province and while mandarin is of course spoken and understood everywhere, if you started speaking with that accent people in other provinces would at best find it very strange and at worst have no idea what you are saying.

  • Sounds like an excellent project. To be honest I am quite envious of your project. I wish I could do such a thing…..alas at this point in time it is not possible. I am really looking forward to reading future blog posts on your learning journey. All the very best with your studies.

    • Thanks! I am excited about the whole thing. Hopefully I can do Mandarin justice and make good progress in it before I go out there. I certainly prefer to have the basics down before I go to the country to further my knowledge. 🙂

      • Tom says:

        Sort of. My husband is oilarngily from Germany, and the kids understand a bit of German from him (although we didn’t do a good job raising them bi-lingually). So the German is more of a relaxed conversation class whereas the French and Mandarin classes are basic introductory courses.

  • Awesome Richard! Keen to see how you fair in China (and Chinese!).

  • Elliot says:

    Richard, I am interested in going abroad for about two weeks to further develop my Spanish and German. Are there such programs in other languages as well? (similar to what you are going to do with Mandarin)

  • Articulate emotions with tones. Mandarin is a tonal language that does not give speakers as much room to change words to show emotions. Students should learn to play with different emotions as they repeat sentences. Teachers can demonstrate the sounds associated with different emotions and then let the students practice with each other. Thanks.

  • Danielle says:

    I found a website which has been assisting me on my journey to learn Mandarin. It helped and is a free site. “Mike” provides video lessons with coinciding downloads. Thanks to him I got an A in my Chinese 111 class. He is easy to follow and understand.
    the site is if you are learning Mandarin and just can’t grasp some tones, or patterns check out this site.


  • patriciosilvarodriguez says:

    Richard, te tengo una pregunta, espero me la respondas. Resulta que en el colegio estudié muchos años inglés alcanzando un nivel intermedio pero como no lo utilizo siento un poco de desconfianza. Ahora mi idea es llevarlo a un nivel avanzado y no sé si utilizar el texto y audio de assimil (los que tendría que comprar) o bien llegar a avanzado solamente escuchando y leyendo. ¿Qué opinas?

  • I give you koodos for taking the challenge of learning Chinese!! I hope the best for you. Do you have any videos on Youtube showing your progress so far with Chinese? If so I would to check them out. I am also trying to do Chinese but it is quite tough.

  • I’m learning Turkish, thought that was difficult until I read about you learning Mandarin! I’m currently living in Turkey but I’m not doing an intensive course. In fact I did actually start such a course but I found it a waste of time.

    They use the modern method of doing the classes wholly in Turkish. This means when a new word comes up instead of saying for example “kelebek” is “butterfly”, several minutes are spent using words the students already know to describe what a “butterfly” is until finally the penny drops. No explanations were given for grammar, sentence structure, etc.

    I ditched the course after 2 months, bought a standard Turkish language book and combined that with an online course. Combine that with talking to people, watching TV and reading newspapers and I’ve made far better progress 🙂

  • Great stuff! Please to see my challenge is finding its way onto other sites. 🙂

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