Chinese Language Learning – my experience at the chinese language institute (CLI)

disclaimer: this is not advertising or promotion. i am not affiliated with CLI: i am only a former student. after a comment where i recommended CLI to someone who was asking about immersive experiences, [i was asked]( to share my experience in a separate post, so that’s what i’m doing.

my time at the [chinese language institute]( (CLI) in guilin was life-changingly amazing. i was there in 2019 for about three months, and if i could go back and do it over again, the only thing i’d change is that i’d stay for six (or more!) months instead.

CLI has a very innovative formula. you get three teachers assigned to you: one “main” teacher, one reading/writing teacher, and one speaking/listening teacher. you have two classes each day, both of which are 2 hours apiece. you’ll have homework every day that you’re expected to do, and you’ll have the opportunity to sign up for activities.

here’s the big key: **your “classes” are actually 1:1 tutoring sessions**. now that i’ve done it, i’m convinced this is the most powerful way to learn a language… i’m never going to sit in the back of a classroom again. it’s incredibly difficult, because if you don’t understand a concept, you have nowhere to hide. it’s daunting but once you get over the ego hurdle, it’s amazingly effective. i went as an almost total beginner, and i thought it was highly highly valuable to build my language foundation this way. i don’t have experience doing something like this as an intermediate, so i can’t speak to that but i’m sure there’s great advantages to that as well.

i also mentioned activities, but i’d like to dive a little deeper into that. some of the activities are as simple as playing sports or hiking the mountain near CLI, and some of them are more like weekend road trips. activities i participated in included: a calligraphy workshop, making 月饼 for 中秋节, visiting [阳朔]( (including boating down the Li River), visiting the [LongJi rice terraces](, and more. if you go, i strongly recommend participating in activities: they’re an excellent way to gain a deeper cultural insight to go along with your language learning.

the teachers are wonderful. you only have three teachers assigned to you, but because of the activities (and lunchtime if you choose to eat at the school: which i highly recommend! the food is amazing there!), you interact with pretty much all the teachers, to varying degrees. they’re very kind and intelligent, and they care for the students very much.

there are multiple options for housing. i chose to live in the dorm at CLI itself. i think this is the “safe” option, especially if you’re a total beginner with the language. if you want an extra challenge, you could do a homestay, but the program is already quite challenging imo, so it might be best to stay in the dorm. plus, the dorms have western toilets, which you’re not always guaranteed to see everywhere. and you’re with other students, which is nice and builds community.

my best piece of advice for you, if you decide to go, is to practice the language as much as you can. it’s exhausting (literally, your brain will hurt), but it’s so important. and if you can’t say everything you’re trying to say in chinese, even just little things can be very useful, like replacing “let’s go” with “走吧” or being sure to use the appropriate greetings with people (e.g. 吃好了吗,去哪儿,etc). the way to begin getting natural with the language is to use it often, even if your usage is limited. don’t be afraid to make mistakes. language is a sort of semantic negotiation: you can make mistakes, but if people can still understand your meaning, that’s what matters. and you *build* from there.

one last thing… i’m going to switch my tone to be a little bit harsh, so please forgive me, but it needs to be said. do NOT go there and treat these people like they’re servants to you, or like you’re better than them. it wasn’t common, but i saw one or two students take this incredibly offensive attitude, and it drove me insane. these are wonderful people who have built this beautiful and effective program, and you should be humble and treat them with the respect and gratitude they deserve. culturally, it would not be appropriate for them to stand up for themselves against this attitude, so they don’t — so if you see it among your fellow students, please don’t tolerate it.

please feel free to AMA here! 🙂 and if you do decide to go to guilin and study at CLI, i hope you remember me and DM me: i’d love to stay in touch over wechat in case you need any tips while you’re there (plus, selfishly, i’d love for you to pass along my well-wishes to my former teachers, haha).

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