Getting a driver’s license in China

Chinese Driver's License

Chinese Driver’s License

Good news! I finally got my Chinese driver’s license! Actually the process was much easier and faster than I thought, so I wanted to share it with you as well. I know many of my readers who are interested in getting a license and driving in China. My experience is in changing my Finnish license to Chinese, so if you don’t have a license at all, you need to go to driving school first.

Documents needed for changing foreign driver’s license to Chinese:

  • Application form
  • Health check (Super easy and superficial done at the exam center at the same day)
  • Four color photos, ask the photo shop for driver’s license photos, they know what to do
  • Official receipt for the photos with you passport number on it
  • Passport and an official translation and notarization of it (can be done at any 公证处, takes about half a month)
  • Foreign driver’s license and an official translation and notarization of it (can be done at any 公证处, takes about half a month)
  • Registration paper from your local police station, the original with a stamp

Translations and notarizations will take a few weeks, during that time it’s best to get ready for the theory exam!

Websites and apps for studying:

You will want to use these for studying at least for a few days before taking the exam. Also notice that many cities, including Guangzhou has new rules for the traffic violation scoring system, it changed at the beginning of this year. So find the newest regulations concerning the scoring and memorize it.

Taking the exam:

When you got all your paperwork in order and have studied enough for the exam, it’s time to go to the vehicle administration office (车管所) of your city. In Guangzhou it’s called Cen Village Vehicle Administration Office (岑村车管所) and it’s located at Huaguan Street 1732 of Tianhe District (天河区华观路1732号).

Take a waiting number and head to the back of the first floor to get your very quick and simple health check. If you can walk and aren’t blind, you can pass it in five minutes. When your number is up, give them all your paperwork and pay for the exam (80RMB). There are exams being held throughout the day until 3pm. Multiple languages are being offered, English being one of them.

You can take the exam twice in a row, so if you fail the first exam, you can just do it again with the same computer right away. Just tell the staff there you need to take it again. If you pass, you can pick up you new license at 4pm in the first floor lobby. They will call your name and give your license to you right away.

Now just get out there and learn to drive the Chinese way!


How to learn Chinese pronunciation

Learn Chinese Pronunciation

Learning how to pronounce Chinese is one of the first big challenges you encounter when you decide to learn Chinese. The size of the challenge depends on your native language and if it has any similarities with Mandarin or not. I don’t remember having much problems in pronouncing English, Swedish or German while studying them in school, but learning Chinese was a whole another thing.

Yes, Chinese pronunciation is challenging, but it’s not impossible! There aren’t any ways to cheat around it, but with a plan and hard work, you can reach your goals and be understood by locals in China. What your goals are, is totally up to you, maybe having survival level is enough or maybe your perfectionist tendencies want you to reach for native like fluency, or anything in between.

When I started Chinese lessons back in 2008 I didn’t pay enough attention to the correct pronunciation, especially tones. I thought just speaking a bit more quickly would do the trick. But later on when I wanted to advance from survival upward, I realized learning the pronunciation well is better to be done in the beginning than trying to fix bad habits later on.

So here comes my experiences and useful resources I’ve created and found to learn Chinese pronunciation.

Where to start learning Chinese pronunciation

First of all you need some basic information how to pronounce Chinese and what pinyin is. Your textbook of choice probably has an introduction, but if you find it lacking, there are other good resources to check and learn more.

Pinyin quick start guide is a great place to start understanding Chinese pronunciation. While you are reading the theory behind pronunciation and pinyin, also listen to all the sounds and repeat after it. You can find many pinyin table applications in the App Store, for example Pinyin by Chinesepod or Allset Learning Pinyin.

Here it’s important to understand that a Chinese syllable has three parts, for example: nĭ (you). The initial is “n”, final “i” and tone is the third tone. Each of these three are equally important and should be seen as one unit. You aren’t learning “ni” + third tone, you are learning “nĭ “.

There is also a new Say it Right video course by my affiliate partner ChinesePod, I’ll be reviewing it on the blog soon so stay tuned for that.

Training your ear

Starting from the early stages, listening is the first step to good pronunciation. You will first train your ear to hear differences between sounds and tones, after that you can start pronouncing them your self.

For example the difference between initials s and sh, c and ch or the differences between tones.

A good app to train your ear is Pinyin Trainer by trainchinese.

For those of you who really want to get those tones right, try Tone Trainer. It can seem a bit difficult at first, but it’s the best tool I’ve found to learn to hear the differences between tones and test your ear.

Start speaking

When learning to pronounce Chinese on your own, go from small to big. First go with one syllable words like yī shí wŭ liù (1, 10, 5, 6), then gradually go to double syllable words and different tone combinations. Gradually go from syllables to words and then to sentences. Listen to phrases and mimic the flow of the language.

At the beginning listen and repeat a lot, you will soon notice which sounds are easier for you and which require more work, remember to pay attention to the difficulties, don’t shy away from them.

If you are unsure how you are doing, have your teacher or tutor to listen you and correct your mistakes. If you don’t have a teacher, you can try my Pronunciation Tutor Service.

Step by step plan to learn Chinese pronunciation

  1. Read a bit of basic info on Chinese pronunciation and pinyin, know what you are supposed to do
  2. Listen a lot and train your ear
  3. Start speaking from syllables to words to short phrases
  4. Have a teacher correct your pronunciation or use my Pronunciation Tutor Service
  5. Continue to improve your pronunciation along with your studied until you achieve your goals

Do you have any questions on how to learn or improve your Chinese pronunciation? Please ask away in the comments section and I’ll do my best to help! 


Raising bilingual kids in China

No matter if we are married to Chinese or just live in China with out family, all of us expats here come accross the issue of raising bilingual kids in China. Today I have guest post from Charlotte Edwards Zhang, she is an American teacher and writer, who has lived in China for 11 years and has been married to her Chinese husband for nine.

Charlotte loves spending time with her two children (ages 8 and 4) when she’s not stressed over school-related issues. An essay of her pregnancy with her son is featured in a soon-to-be-published anthology Knocked Up Abroad: Baby bumps, twists and turns from around the globe. Read 26 amazing stories from women who have been pregnant or birthed or raised (or possibly all three) their kids outside of their home country when you pre-order your copy on Kickstarter.


Raising bilingual kids in China

We didn’t really put much thought into how we’d raise our children to be bilingual. We sort of assumed it would happen rather naturally. Yes, you could say we didn’t really know what we were doing with kid #1.

Since I was nowhere near feeling confident about speaking Chinese, as I’d made little progress in my three years of self-study, I spoke English only to my firstborn. My husband is a whiz at studying and despite skipping out of all of his college English classes, he speaks fluently and uses big, fancy words that I’ve only read in books (thanks, TOEFL prep books). I felt that it would be best if he only spoke Chinese to our son, but since English was our language of communication, it was natural for Zhang to want to speak English to the baby, too.

So when it was just three of us together, English was used. With the two of them, or when yeye, nainai and any other Chinese family were present, it was Chinese.  Mandarin or Hubei dialect.
Now nearly eight years, and another child, later, there are some things that I feel we did really well and others that we could have done much better.


What I’d Do Again

I spent a lot of time reading to Nathaniel. During my zuo yue zi, I secretly read to him while his grandma was busying herself preparing our meals. I believe we went through a book of Bible stories twice in that 30-day period.  I also listened to various English-language podcasts while I cleaned, and he overheard the Chinese news after dinner.

He got daily lessons in Hubei dialect from his grandparents. He was just a month old when I had to go back to work, so we were lucky that his grandparents could watch him and influence his language, even if they don’t speak Mandarin. While we don’t go out of our way to encourage him to learn this dialect, he’s picked up the habit of saying a few words in it but can understand his grandparents perfectly.

Everything felt right, and months went by. As he grew and became more responsive, we could tell he understood us and would respond appropriately no matter what language was spoken to him. I felt we were on the right track with this dual-language thing.

Finally, around ten months he said “baba” which was soon followed by “yeye,” “mama,” and “nainai.” But all in Chinese. He continued to add Chinese words to his vocabulary, albeit more slowly than his peers. At two years old, his oral vocabulary–in both languages combined–was less than 100 words. But suddenly there was a huge leap in his progress and communication became much easier.
Of course there was the mixing of languages. Even though my husband and I never mix the two in a sentence, or even a conversation, Nathaniel would come to us with requests like, “Mommy, wo xiang eat ping guo.” I’d simply correct his speech by saying, “oh, you want to eat an apple?” and then give my reply. This was just to make him familiar with the correct way, but without telling him that I was correcting him.

It was effective, though slow; for example, two-year period in which he’d say “me” instead of “wo”, even when speaking Chinese. Every once in awhile, I would jump into teacher mode and give him a mini-lesson in hopes that he’d magically get it.


What I’d Do Differently

My husband is a voracious reader, but he’s not much into reading books to the kids. When he does it, he’s great. He makes voices and reads with emotion; I do not. To be honest, I don’t like reading aloud either. But I loved being the listener as a kid and in my teaching courses my professors were constantly stressing the benefits of reading aloud. So I did it anyway; kind of like how I eat mushrooms. I know they’re good for me, so I do it. But I never insisted that my husband read to the kids in Chinese.

But now that my son is in school, we can see that his Chinese lags behind his monolingual peers in some regards. He didn’t know many of the common measure words when he entered first grade, and we didn’t realize that he was lacking that knowledge. Reading good quality children’s books and literature is very important, no matter what the language is. I believe he missed out on quite a bit since he wasn’t being read to in Chinese. We’ve since become more intentional about reading aloud to the kids and now Nathaniel is able to read his Chinese books to his little sister.

My having a limited Chinese vocabulary has its benefits: it’s only been recently that I started speaking to him in Chinese, and surprisingly he hates this. With him, I wish I’d spoken to him even more than I did since his sister had the benefit of three people speaking to her.  Nathaniel was at a disadvantage since his parents are naturally quiet people who like to spend their evenings silently reading. Nor do we have any sort of social network that we hang out with and in which he’d get linguistic input from other adults.

I’m not a fan of most television programs, preferring the benefits of reading over mindlessly watching actors, but with my daughter I’ve been more lenient about watching television than I was with my son. I think finding quality shows is essential, but allowing him to listen to the television (or an app with audio programing, as we frequently do these days) would have given him additional language input.

Don’t get me wrong: my kids can speak both languages quite well. Their Chinese, overall, is better than their English, but that’s what happens when they only go to the USA every three years and the only English speakers around are Mom and Dad. I’m all about giving myself grace when it comes to this still new-to-me world of parenting so I don’t mentally beat myself up about them, but I hope all the parents and parents-to-be find my experiences and insights useful.


Finding a new ayi

So it was only a few months ago when I wrote how to find a nanny and here I am again, writing how to find a new nanny! It turned out that one thing even harder than finding a good nanny, is to keep her. We had such a nice nanny for Anna who lived with us and was slowly becoming a part of our family, but then her own family wanter her back. In China decisions are often made as a family unit, so when they wanted her to move back to her hometown, there was little to be done.

It was before our Summer holiday in Finland, so the timing wasn’t too bad, but still I wasn’t looking forward of going on the hun again and have our daughter to get used yet another caretaker. Luckily this time I had my old connections from previous search and we quickly set up meeting with two possible ayis or nannies.

We first decided on a nanny that had experience working for foreigners, but after working for two days cleaning our house, she made up a family situation excuse to leave for a week. Then she came back, washed the dishes and told me she isn’t coming back to work. She could have done that over the phone, but guess she was too embarrassed to play us like that. Probably she wasn’t planning on coming back at all.

So we went with the option number two, which in the end really should have been our first option! She has quite a lot of experience and she is a nice person. For our daughter who is going to be 1-year-old in a month, it was a big adjustment, but we took our time and let them get used to each other slowly. Now I can go out and work without having to worry how she is doing at home.

For me as a Finn it’s a little bit awkward having someone at home taking care of my child, cooking, cleaning and washing my clothes. I’m shy at telling her what to do, but little by little learning how to help her do her job well. How would I assume her to know the way of the house, if I didn’t tell her?

My husband pointed out that with ayis and nannies it’s best to give clear instructions. For example mopping the floor, it’s best that I show her how I like it done, so she knows what our expectations are. We have actually created a family WeChat group where we can send messages during the work hours and stay connected.

The Chinese word ayi doesn’t only mean a housekeeper, but an auntie. She is living with us five days per week and for our daughter she is the third adult in the house and an important person in our lives. I hope that this good start will continue and we can live and work together for years to come.

Things to remember when hiring an ayi or nanny:

  • Use your existing connections and find someone through recommendations, here international WeChat groups are a big help, someone always knows someone
  • Communicate your wants and needs clearly in order to find the right match to your family
  • After starting to work, give clear instructions to your ayi so she can clean or babysit the way that you want, don’t expect her to read your mind or guess what you want from her
  • Be fair and allow her public holidays, but be strict to follow working days and times. If you give too much leeway, she might start using that and want more and more free time from work

What’s your experience in hiring help in China? What should I pay attention to in order to keep her?


How to teach English in China

Teaching English in China

(c) Thomas Galvez

Blog post sponsored by EF English First

I often get questions on how to teach English in China. To help answer these questions I have recently had the chance to contact EF English First, one of China’s largest English language training schools who has been recruiting in China for over 20 years. The following is almost everything you need to know before you start teaching English in China.

What are the requirements to teach English in China? 

Maybe it is best to start with the second part of the question first. In the past, the term “native speaker” was used as one of the requirements for being an English teacher in China. Some companies still may use this term. However, it’s not 100% correct. EF hires teachers on legal working Z visas. One of the guidelines that we follow is passport status. If you are a passport holder from the USA, UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, then you will be eligible to teach English in China. It doesn’t matter if you were born in this country or not, you just need to be a passport holder from one of these countries. For South Africans and people with dual citizenship, this could be subject to change, so it is advisable to contact your hiring company. (But it can vary from province to province)

The other requirements can be as follows:

1.    You will need to have a bachelor’s degree in any field. The degree must have bachelors on the certificate, either in English or the Latin equivalent. Recently it has become common for candidates to be required to provide an original hard copy or a certificate of authentication from a notary.

2.    TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certificate. TEFL certificates can be found online, but sponsorship is available through EF English First, and the full cost will be covered if you meet visa requirements. If you are taking an online course, make sure that you take the option for 120 hours. A 120 hours TEFL certificate is now the minimum requirement for a legal working Visa. However, in most cases, you can complete the course in much less time than this.

3.    The ability to obtain a clear criminal background check. Your company will provide more information on where you can get your background check, but you need to have no prior criminal offences. If you have any minor infractions, then it’s important to consult your recruiter or company.

4.    Experience. The amount of experience needed often depends on company or province. Some companies offer more training and can help hire less experienced people. However, some provinces have different visa rules which may require a minimum of 2 years teaching experience.

5.    Finally, you must be able to live in China for at least one year. For some internships, this may be less, but many companies will prefer a longer term commitment.

How long is the visa process and what should I expect?

The visa process can seem daunting; especially if you are going through this alone. If you work for a company like EF, full support is often provided. An experienced company can take you through the process step by step, which often makes things smoother. All being well, the visa process takes around 2 to 3 months.

Where in China can I teach English?

Almost anywhere! Many cities and provinces across China are looking for English teachers. You just need to assess your options and do some research on the city. Make sure that you can live there comfortably, and you are eligible for a visa in the city. You will be a long way from home, so make sure you have checked the surrounding area and you think you will be happy there.

What salary and benefits package should I expect?

Salary and benefits can vary depending on company and city. In the smaller cities, it I common to be paid less than in the larger cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, this doesn’t mean you will have less money in your pocket. You can still live comfortably in China, and most teacher salaries are very comfortable. Your benefits package can influence your salary. It is common for public schools to provide accommodation and pay less. Some companies can offer up front flights or more vacation time. The important thing is, you need to take into account your experience.

Things to Remember

If this is your first time in China, make sure you choose your company wisely. Choose a reputable company like EF who can provide you with a legal working visa. If you teach on the wrong visa or break the rules, this could stop you from getting other visas in the future. Make sure that you will be happy in China and you have chosen your city wisely.

Finally make sure you can meet the following criteria.

•    Have a Bachelor’s degree

•    Have a 120 hour TEFL Certification

•    The ability to obtain a clear background check

•    The ability to live abroad for at least one year

•    Applicants must be citizens/passport holders from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand to meet China’s visa regulations.