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Is it my fault if my husband's Chinese speaking isn't improved?


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my chinese level is beginner. i have a few chinese friends and i spend about 6 hours a week with them to practice speaking but i don't find it that useful because the normal chinese people have no idea about the problems that a beginner is facing. they don't have the patience to correct me or to repeat something by giving more examples and in the end i just find myself enjoying playing biliard with them but no progress in speaking chinese. when you want to speak to him don't speak to him as you speak with other chinese. be his tutor and make conversations about simple subjects in the everyday life even if you two already know the answer and encourage him to make long sentences and wait for him to finish the sentence. it will look silly like acting in a play but i wish i could find someone to do it with me.

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It's great your husband is so interested in learning your language. I'm sure helping him learn must be frustrating work but I know you'll find it's worth the investment because it will make your family even closer. So maybe the real question is how do you help him achieve his goal with minimum pain?

I went through a very similar situation with my wife where learning became more frustrating than useful until her parents came to live with us for a while. Neither spoke any English and I, for all intents and purposes, couldn't speak Chinese. When I tried to say something in Chinese my mother in law had this great knack for figuring out what I was trying to say and repeating it back to me in correct Chinese but not correcting me. She would say it in the same way a listener in English might repeat what a speaker says out of surprise or excitement. For example I might say the Chinese equivalent of "Person letter going house" and with a smile she would say "Ah, the mailman is here". Then I'd find myself excitedly repeating back to her "Ah, the mailman is here", all in Chinese of course. She never corrected me per say, she just acknowledged what I said in correct Chinese. Through a combination of trial and error, sign language and Chinglish we slowly began to communicate. That went on for as long as they stayed with us and I can't tell you how much my speech and understanding and excitement for learning improved. Maybe it could work for you too.

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When I tried to say something in Chinese my mother in law had this great knack for figuring out what I was trying to say and repeating it back to me in correct Chinese but not correcting me. She would say it in the same way a listener in English might repeat what a speaker says out of surprise or excitement. For example I might say the Chinese equivalent of "Person letter going house" and with a smile she would say "Ah, the mailman is here". Then I'd find myself excitedly repeating back to her "Ah, the mailman is here", all in Chinese of course. She never corrected me per say, she just acknowledged what I said in correct Chinese.

I think this is a really useful way of helping someone with their language learning, provided the learner actually repeats the whole sentence back correctly. Hearing the correct way of saying something without actively learning it is of little use.

And, I did try to speak 100% Chinese to him. but he just sat in his chair and saying : yes, right, ok to all of my speeches, without questioning me what did i mean!!

So I think if you could get your husband to repeat back what you say to him and actually interact with you in Chinese, rather than just passively listening, he would probably improve more. After all, conversation is a two-way street :wink:

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I think it is great that you are willing to help him. But, I don't think you should take the role of teacher, and I don't think you should try to speak chinese all the time. My suggestion is to set some ground rules about how and when you will use chinese. For example, if he initiates a conversation in chinese you can follow suit. That would put the responsibility of practice on his shoulders.

I also suggest you forget about correcting him, unless he asks for it. Probably when he speaks to other chinese they are very impressed with his ability and ignore his mistakes. Your criticism might be a bit of a disappointment.

It is his job to learn chinese, not your job to spoon feed it to him. If you set some mutually agreed upon boundaries, then he can no longer complain about your willingness to help. And he may actually improve.

I do have some experience with this, as my wife is Japanese. She said learning Japanese was my responsibility, and there was no reason why she should have to suffer through my attempts at her language when english is so much easier. I took classes for about two years but eventually gave up, partly because of her criticism and lack of support but also because japanese is so incomprehensible. But after our first daugher was born, I was not allowed to speak Japanese in her presence because my poor pronunciation might have a long term impact. So I feel your husband is quite lucky

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My wife is Chinese and I'm an American who just seriously started trying to learn Chinese, so our situation is a little like yours except that I just started, so there's no dispute that I don't know anything. :) Also, our situation is kind of two-way because I'm also trying to teach her better English.

First I should say that I don't think it's your fault since the responsibility of learning is really his. It sounds like you've tried to help but you're not a language teacher, so at some point it gets hard to be that helpful. My wife is learning "advanced" English because she's writing a book in English, and she wants me to help her improve her grammar, but she's at a point where I often don't know how to tell her what's wrong with a sentence because I'm not an English teacher. Sometimes she asks me questions about writing, and I'm like "I'm a native speaker and I don't even think I can write well. How am I going to help you with writing?" So I just try to correct her grammar mistakes and hope she learns somehow. It is really frustrating to not be able to give her a rule to explain what's wrong though, and I keep telling her to take a regular (not ESL) English class. She does attend a writers' group though which is very helpful to her.

It sounds like you have some specific ideas on what you want him to learn though, like specific words. Why not just create some vocabulary lists for him to learn on his own? There are free computer programs that are good for this kind of thing.

Here's another idea: It sounds like he has taken "basic" classes but may not have learned some parts of basic grammar very well or something. It might be worth having him go through some "basic" textbooks to help determine what he's weak on and needs to learn better without having to retake the whole class so to speak. If he can isolate specific chapters that contain things he's weak on he can just restudy those on his own and practice those concepts speaking to you.

I'm basically trying to learn how to teach myself with the aid of a textbook so I can ask my wife to help me in specific ways rather than expecting her to become a language teacher and just teach me. I'm not sure if it will work but that's what I'm trying to do right now.

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Hi Guys! Thanks for all of you sharing your precious advices and experiences with me, I have read everyone's replies over and over again and I think all of you are very helpful.

I think maybe sometimes I just expect him speak like a native Chinese to me and I think I just need to be more patient with him. maybe it' ll take years or life to get his Chinese better but as long as is improving then I think that's fine.

But I think the problem that my husband having is that he wants to learn it quickly, like he wants to speak chinese fluently and pass intermediate HSK in half a year, also he works full-time and its really stressful, he often feeling tired from work and can not concentrate in Chinese studies, so he felt bit frustrated about he can not achive his dreams quick enough. But I think I do help him, maybe he is not very happy when he doesnt pass his HSK exam in 6 monthes then he thought I didn't help him enough...but anyway I will try my best to help my husband to learn Chinese. I think maybe it is just normal sometimes married couples like to blame each other for some little things even they knew they didn't mean to. :lol:

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Tell him to use these forums. Not only will be be able to read this thread (and hopefully stop blaming you!) but he'll also get a feel for how difficult it is to become proficient at the language, and maybe stop feeling so dejected about it all.

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Hi Strawberry,

I am sorry I am late to conversation but I had one or two points.

One be careful to separate the roles of wife and tutor. If you want to give him Chinese lessons in addition to the one's he's taking make sure you arrange a set time each week. At those times you can really be a teacher.

At other times be the supportive wife. When he struggles give him the supportive, compassionate smile. If he asks if some thing is right when it is obviously wrong, pause, Smile and say "that's close" then give him a clue to get it obviously.

Someone once told me "Learning Chinese is a 5 year lesson in patience. At the end of 5 years you still don't know Chinese but you have learned patience." The HSK intermediate is a difficult, tricky test espicially if he reads slowly like most people. Tell him a 4 out of 8 on the test would qualify him to study undergraduate classes in China. (This will make him feel better when he only gets a 3 which is a good score).

If you think his vocabulary is limited offer to help him by making flash cards of the words you know he doesn't know. (Don't forget the pinyin). Or perhaps you can label things in the house so he can learn it. I found watching a lot of Movies helped my pronunciation, HK ones with subtitles are good so he can figure out what is going on. Also KTV VCDs help though I am not sure how available they are in the UK.

Another slightly sneaky way of showing him his level isn't what he thinks it is , is to hang out with some Chinese or Western people with very good Chinese and speak chinese and a little English with them.

Finally you said you weren't sure if he was making progress or not. This is a possibility. My father listened to french tapes to and from work for 4 years, before giving up. I think having regular quizes and tests should help him make sure he knows what he knows. (I had tutoring earlier without tests or homework and it was not very productive. I was working at the same time so it was easy for me to make excuses) If his Chinese class gives him quizes this should be fine.

You seem like a kind and loving wife. I think simply being sensitive that Learning Chinese is a difficult thing to do will go a long way.

Good Luck,

Have fun,


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I'm British, and my wife is Chinese too. I agree with you that the Chinese will often say things the way they are, and the British will often construct a round-about statement, or just ignore the truth and be positive. Maybe the British will offer encouragement, and the Chinese will offer criticism. I'm not trying to say which way is better, because in each way we are all trying to be friendly, and to help those we care about.

So to bridge this gap, I suggest you start using the "but" phrase more often. My wife and I are always joking about this - the British like saying things like "I'd love to help you, but ... I'm too busy", or "I'd like to go out with you, but ... I have to wash my hair". So you give him a compliment, and then tell him the truth. You give encouragement, and then offer criticism. "I think you've worked really hard, but you still need to improve such and such." "Your tones have got much better this month, but you need to focus on your grammar."

That way he feels the encouragement that he's been conditioned to expect, and you can get across your point. I hope this is helpful, and that I'm not saying things you already know! All the best

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As others have said, it sounds like your husband for some reason or other is just not motivated enough to learn. Sure, everyone would like to be able to speak another language fluently, but only some will be bothered to put in the effort to achieve it. Your husband is not one of them.

If he has spent two years in China taking Chinese lessons and he's still making the kind of mistakes you pointed out, then perhaps he is just not cut out to learn languages. That would also explain why he gets angry when you tell him his Chinese is basic - he's just taking his frustration out on you. The truth hurts sometimes.

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My wife is Chinese and I can assure you, it's best not to try to learn a language from one's spouse. It is just too hard to switch roles from spouse-spouse to teacher-student. My wife simply does not have the patience or interest to teach me, and if we try it, we will end up in a fight.

However, my Chinese does benefit from our relationship. When in the proper mood, she will speak Chinese to me about simple everyday things. She keeps it to language that she knows I already know, perhaps with a new word here and there, so it reinforces my listening and maybe lets me pick up a new word every now and then. I can occasionally ask her a vocabulary question or something, though only occasionally because this can be a road to a fight. (Like if I don't pronounce it exactly right the first time.)

More helpful is that there are often other Chinese friends around, and she speaks with them. (Her friends.) I can pick up a lot by listening to them and sometimes even speaking with them, although tyically their English is good and they'd prefer to use that with me.

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"...it's best not to try to learn a language from one's spouse. It is just too hard to switch roles from spouse-spouse to teacher-student. My wife simply does not have the patience or interest to teach me, and if we try it, we will end up in a fight...."

One thing that's always intrigued me about this sort of argument is that spouses seem to have the energy to spend hours on end every day teaching their child to say just one word and are absolutely delighted and even energized listening to all the mistakes. So why doesn't the same apply to the rest of the family?

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Hi All,

Just want to say that I have read everyone's replies and I find I nearly agree with you all! You people are so nice and friendly, I don't need to study Chinese but I love this forum.

To adrianlondon:

I will definitely ask him read this topic hehe! I think he ll like this website. :lol:

To simonlaing:

I really agree with you and Yes I think putting a name card on each object is a great idea to learn these basic but important words and I am going to do it soon! and Thank you for saying that I am a loving and kind wife! I am so happy and it makes my day! :wink:

To johnd:

Haha actually we often joke about this in the house too! I think now I am saying more ''but'' to my husband because otherwise he gets upset if I am too honest! :roll:

To anoymoose:

I think my husband is bit of both, I sometimes think he does make an effort but sometimes he doesn't, the main issue is that he works so hard, got up early and got home late, and he felt exhausted at the end of the day and I believe it is quite hard to wanting to read more Chinese books. I think I need to be more supportive to him as he is so supportive to me. :D

To thph2006:

I also think I will have more energy and patience to teach my children than teaching my husband. :)

To DrZero:

We are actually married. sometimes my husband say if I can not teach him Chinese than I can not teach our children Chinese in the future. I don't quite agree with him about this and it made me quite upset. I also think that spouse-spouse and parent-child is totally different. :lol:

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If your husband's priority is on his job, and he is working very hard and comes home late & tired, maybe he should just put his Chinese studies on hold for a while. If he has no time for it, he has no time, and that's not a bad thing, but then he also shouldn't expect progress.

And like I said, immersion works for babies, so when you have a child, it will have much less problems learning Chinese than your husband has. (This might frustrate him even more.) Also, children generally don't have full-time jobs, and thus have much more time to learn their mother tongue.

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hi strawberry. I think it's great that you care this much to start a post about it. To me it shows you think about it a lot which is important.

I also like your husband. He seems quite keen to me but obviously suffers from some time issues. tell him to join these forums and everyone will be keen to help him out. and dont worry if he makes some stupid mistakes - im sure we all do here even those of us who think we're really awesome like me.

dont tell him to go back to beginners... thats painful to hear! plus i doubt he's THAT bad. maybe you have high standards? maybe you dont know what an intermediate chinese speaker is supposed to be like? maybe he really does suck but i doubt it...

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dont tell him to go back to beginners... thats painful to hear!

I kind of agree with that. Plus, he has studied Chinese, he has lived in China, he wants to continue to study even now....it seems that this may be a part of his identity at this point.

Many people who study abroad somewhere and then come back to their home country feel a special attachment to that country or language. Maybe (and I'm just guessing) discontinuing his studies of the Chinese language may be a bit like saying all those years of studying and living abroad were wasted.

My wife helped (and helps) me tremendously in the process of learning Chinese. At the same time, I understood her frustrations when I tried to put her into the "teacher" role when she didn't feel like it. :oops:

So, as other have said, maybe he could:

1) Form more specific plans

2) Set certain times to talk with you....per day, per week, after revieing certain lessons...etc.

3) Try to be more aware of your feelings and needs regarding this

And maybe you could:

1) Help him to achieve his goals by jointly helping him achieve his specific goals

2) Read a book or two about linguistics or teaching. For me at least, when I first came to China to teach English, I wanted to have deep conversations with my students about politics and society, while teaching them about Western and American culture and literature. This failed because my students weren't at the conversational level. So I felt very, very bored. However, once I started to read more about linguistics theory and teaching theory, my "mental stimulation" came from seeing how that theory worked in practice (even if what we were talking about was not interesting to me). And then, after a few months, some of the students who studied really hard had became fairly conversational, and it no longer took too much effort on my part to talk and hang out with them in English.

Maybe if you could do something like that strawberry_only, it could help you have more pratience when trying to help him. I don't know?

I think you can probably find a way so that he can improve, and you can feel good helping him, and you won't feel bothered.

Anyway, good luck!

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When I learned Vietnamese I got the same problem with your husband, falsely assumed that we could acquire the language naturally in a "mother-tongue" environment, but i was wrong. The main problem was too little knowledge on vocab, though I've learned its grammar structure.

Then I bought a language book, learned some vocab every day and let my friends know what I learned. When they spoke Vietnamese to me, they only spoke the vocab I learned, or they spoke it in English. Though i didn't continue my study there, I found this much lesser frustrating and had a satisfactory illusion of speaking REAL Vietnamese. See if that works for your husband too.

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