You can’t study language without understanding culture

china landscape

“Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.”

Rita Mae Brown

Language and culture are inextricably intertwined. Language is defined as a system of speech and written symbols that humans have been using since the dawn of time to communicate. Culture encapsulates how we use language to communicate, and is an understanding of our thought processes and behaviors. There are demographics all over the world that each have their own distinct culture and language. China is a giant melting pot of language and culture.

Through virtual learning, more and more students are beginning to understand China beyond a superficial level, realizing that China is actually a giant melting pot of language and culture.

Despite Mandarin, or pǔtōnghuà (translated as ‘common speech’) being the official language in China, there are hundreds of Chinese dialects and 56 official ethnic groups within the country, each having their own unique linguistic and cultural differences.

Language and culture are in many ways a mirror reflection of each other because they share the same beliefs and realities. Even our paralanguage, the manner in which we make non-verbal gestures and intonate our voice, represents our culture. Because language is related to all aspects of human life and society, having a comprehensive understanding of the surrounding culture is key to fully grasping a language.

chinese calligraphy

For instance, the Chinese language has many famous idiomatic expressions called ‘chéngyǔs’. A chengyu typically comprises 4 characters that often alludes to a story of historical quotation. Let’s take a look at a beginner chengyu that Chinese language learners are often taught: mǎmǎhūhū.

Mǎmǎhūhū (马马虎虎) simply means so-so or can describe actions that are performed carelessly. The character mǎ (马) means horse, and the character hū (虎) means tiger. To a non-Chinese speaker, it may be confusing as to why the phrase ‘horse, horse, tiger, tiger’ means so-so. However, those who are aware of Chinese culture will know that the meaning of this chengyu traces back to an old story, in which a painter was drawing a tiger, when the customer suddenly approached the painter and asked him to paint a horse instead. Unwilling to start a new painting, the painter continued and drew a horse’s body under the tiger head. The painter’s carelessness led to him being called ‘Mr. Horse-Tiger’.

Language and culture are constantly developing. An example of this can be seen in the term xiǎo xiān ròu (小鲜肉), an internet slang to describe a young, cute, and handsome male. To non-Chinese speakers, it may be confusing as to why the phrase, which literally translates to ‘little fresh meat’, has this meaning. However, those who are in-tune with Chinese internet culture will know that the term is reflective of the recent male beauty standards in China, led by famous Chinese ‘idols’ or pop stars.

These examples are a few of many that emphasize the following reality: Having an authentic and solid grasp of the Chinese language requires interacting and immersing yourself in Chinese culture. In the past 2 years, this has been resolved through the emergence of virtual learning. This article will introduce the benefits of virtual learning, and how students can participate in virtual programs to deepen their knowledge of China.

Why is it important to learn about China?

chinese painting

Beyond the obvious fact that learning about China and Chinese culture is essential towards developing a stronger understanding of the Chinese language, there are many other reasons to learn about China. Did you know that papermaking, printing, gunpowder, and the compass were all invented in China? Historically, China has contributed countless inventions to world civilization.

In recent times, China has become a leader in the technology space, with companies such as Huawei and DJI innovating within their respective industries. Countries all over the world continue to rely on China for product manufacturing. Yet, despite China’s integral role in the global economy, many people around the world, especially those in Western countries, seldom know about China and its culture.

Western countries such as the UK have attempted to remedy this imbalance of knowledge by collaborating with the Confucius Institute, introducing Mandarin as a learning subject to students in 29 Confucius Institutes across the country (Cai, 2019). But to what extent can students overseas fully understand and learn about Chinese culture through textbooks and PowerPoint slides?

This article will look at the recent emergence of virtual programs, and how virtual classes can be leveraged to create a fun and interactive virtual learning experience about China, especially for those outside of the country. Within the last 2 years, virtual classes have played an important role in education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Education

virtual learning

Needless to say, the repercussions of COVID-19 have impacted the world tremendously. In particular, its effects on education have been tangible, profound, and are still ongoing. During its initial impact in 2020, countries around the world were forced to shut down schools and universities in accordance with new COVID-19 policies. Not only was local travel affected, but policies also indefinitely suspended international travel. So why is this relevant to this article’s discussion?

Prior to 2020, students curious about Chinese language and culture could receive a full Chinese learning experience by applying for a tourist visa and hopping on the next plane to China. Unfortunately, given the current global situation, China only allows foreign nationals with valid residence permits and visas to enter the country under very limited conditions. 

So what’s the next best alternative of getting a real-time, and authentic experience of Chinese culture without being able to enter the country? This is where virtual learning, through live-streamed China virtual programs and classes, comes into play.

China virtual learning programs

In order to circumvent these major learning obstacles, WildChina has embraced the ongoing transition towards remote virtual learning by organizing and hosting virtual classes about China via the application Zoom. Since the start of COVID-19, virtual learning has played an integral role in the operations of universities and schools across the world.

With lockdowns temporarily forcing schools and universities to close, teachers and professors had no choice but to embrace virtual learning and conduct their classes online. Even to this day, students who are still affected by the pandemic are receiving their education through virtual learning.

With lockdowns temporarily forcing schools and universities to close, teachers and professors had no choice but to embrace virtual learning and conduct their classes online. Even to this day, students who are still affected by the pandemic are receiving their education through virtual learning.

For those who are unable to hop on a plane to China, do not fear! WildChina has optimized the virtual learning experience, so that you not only learn but feel like you’re in China. Since the start of COVID-19, WildChina has run over 800 webinars about China, covering every facet of Chinese culture and lifestyle for those wanting to learn more about China but on an intimate level. Class topics range in scope, these include:

  • Interactive webinars that live-stream ancient Chinese cultural traditions in real-time, such as Chinese Calligraphy, Taichi, and Shaolin Kungfu. Each virtual class provides a fun and interactive activity for students to take part in, guided by a professional expert.
  • As well as teaching traditional Chinese customs, WildChina also hosts webinars that provide deep cultural insight into modern topics. We host roundtable discussions with our extended network of Chinese experts, teaching students how to leverage Chinese social media within China to become successful within the Chinese e-commerce market; and teaching the do’s and don’ts when conducting Chinese business.
  • Virtual learning classes offer an amazing opportunity to show students a side of China, without leaving their chair. WildChina hosts dynamic virtual programs that showcase every province across China, with an interactive tour guide taking the students on an interactive, virtual journey through famous landmarks and neighborhoods.

The primary aim of hosting China virtual programs is to edify students with an outlook of China that they could not otherwise experience in their home country. We’ve collaborated with prominent institutions from various industries, like Huawei, Tsinghua University, and Wall Street Journal, who have recognized the value of virtual learning.

chinese dragon


Chinese is more than a language. In today’s climate, it has become more important than ever to find innovative solutions that help students truly understand and immerse themselves within Chinese culture, without having to necessarily step foot in the country.

WildChina’s virtual programs and classes provide an exciting alternative solution to connect students from all over the world to explore what China has to offer. As technology continues to advance and increase its capabilities, virtual learning appears to become the future of education!


Cai, L. (2019). A comparative study of the Confucius Institute in the United Kingdom and the British Council in China. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education, 18(1), 44-63.

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