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Machjo

'Language switching' among native English speakers in China.

Is it rude for native English speakers to refuse to speak English?  

  1. 1. Is it rude for native English speakers to refuse to speak English?

    • Yes. (English is practically China's second language, and Chinese worked hard to learn English, so foreigners must respect this and not be so exclusivist in choosing Chinese friends)
      5
    • No. (Mandarin, not English, is China's official language, so foreigners certainly have a right to insist on speaking Mandarin when they can; and when they can't, to speak in whatever language they want in their free time)
      38
    • Yes. (other reasons)
      8


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Yuchi
中国人说中国话外国人说外国话,不是很好吗?

That covers it all.

Hardly, there are many implifications that may come from that sentence, please elaborate.

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mpallard

Dennis: Of course I read the Chinese title.

And also, I don't think it's rude for foreigners to refuse to speak English in China. Exactly the opposite, I think it's rude for Chinese people not to speak to you in Chinese.

I think I've just lived in Taiwan too long but I am totally sick of people comming up to me and wanting a free English lesson. Even worse is when I say something to someone in Chinese and they answer me in English. I know I sound like a jerk but the only way I will speak to a Chinese person in English is if:

1) They have already spent some time speaking to me in Chinese

2) Their English is near native speaker (ie. lived in an English speaking country for more than 10 years)

3) It's in a business setting

4) They pay me

I do speak French and I probably would teach French to someone for free as I would automatically like that person for showing some independent thought and not just blindly following everyone else.

In addition, most Chinese just learn English because they feel they can make more money. If they are going to make more money off of me teaching them they should have to pay for the priviledge.

It's unfortunate, but as a foreigner living in Taiwan you have to be millitant about speaking Chinese. Otherwise there is no way you will ever learn the language.

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fenlan
In addition, most Chinese just learn English because they feel they can make more money. If they are going to make more money off of me teaching them they should have to pay for the priviledge.

I suspect this is true and find it regrettable. I think most foreigners study Chinese primarily out of interest and fascination with the language/culture/history/China's development etc, not actually for career reasons as such. But I think few Chinese are learning English out of a fascination with our language and culture. That's a shame.

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roddy
I think most foreigners study Chinese primarily out of interest and fascination with the language/culture/history/China's development etc, not actually for career reasons as such. But I think few Chinese are learning English out of a fascination with our language and culture. That's a shame.

Couple of points. Probably for the vast majority of Chinese students of English, it's just something on the curriculum - consideration of a better job might come into how enthusiastic they are, but if they aren't going to graduate with X level of English, then they haven't got much choice (although this is thankfully changing, I think). However, there are plenty of people out there with an interest in the language / culture of English speaking countries - they just get a bit swamped by the masses of people who are obliged to study it.

As for your point about foreigners learning Chinese, I think that might have been true up until recently, but I think more and more people are looking at Chinese study as something that gives them an extra edge in the job market. Not sure how the two groups would balance out though.

Roddy

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daydreamer

It's an interesting topic. Now I know why my survey went on so well in BLCU. Because I looked at the foreign students and say "ni hao" and then I talk to them in Chinese.

I study in Zhejiang province. And in a city where there're few foreign people. And there're not many international students neither. A lot of whom are from Korea and other Asian countries. Here we are willing talk to international students, either in Chinese or English. If English, Chinese sudents would be happier, I guess. Because I study TCFL so me and my classmates always speak Chinese to them. Even if for other students, they'd be okay if speak Chinese. I think most students like to communicate with people from other cultures and learn about some other cultures.

Last week I was in Beijing, my friend was there too. She's Korean, and going to study in BLCU. She wants to find some people to be friends and can talk in Chinese, but people asked for money. It suprised me a lot. I guess maybe because there're too many foreigners in Beijing, especially in Wudaokou? I agree with someone said it's rude for Chinese refuse to speak Chinese.and I think it's ruder for asking for money when foreign people only want to be friend and try to talk to you.

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wix

When I was living in China I had a simple policy. It was only speak English to someone if their English ability exceeded my ability in Mandarin.

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大肚子

I guess the biggest problem is boring conversations. I find that most times when a Chinese person comes up to me on the street English conversations are stilted, difficult and not very interesting. The majority seem to be basically a case of asking me, in weak to poor English, about whether I love China and/or their hometown. Which sould be just about tolerable if there was any interest at all on their part, rather than just a desperate loning for me to cry out "YES!!!!! IT IS THE BESTEST BESTEST PLACE IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD!!!!". My policy is that if the person seems interesting (and it doesn't take too long to work out) I give the usual platitudes and then wait for interesting topics to come up. If not then I answer honestly to all their questions. This usually stops the conversation pretty quickly.

As far as helping people practice English, I teach, I go to English corners (both at university and in town) in my free time and I'm always willing to give friends as much help as I can. Anything else is really wholly dependent on my mood and attitude to the other person. And, sadly enough, most of the people who come up to me in the street I wouldn't hold a long conversation with in Mandarin, either. Or for that matter in English if they were native speakers in London.

I think the crux of the problem is cultural differences. I would be happy for someone to come up to me and try to start a conversation based on shared interests but, ultimately, that's not the way things work here. From my experience Chinese relationships are based more on shared circumstances and experience than interests. Thus conversation openers should be based on common circumstances and experiences. Which, for most Chinese meeting a foreigner in China, is pretty much limited to their hometown and country. And, unfortunately, in such circumstances it's not really done for the foreigner to be honest and outline the bad with the good. Result: precisely nothing interesting to talk about. Interestingly, enough, though my conversations in Mandarin have generally had more interesting content, though perhaps that's because they've often been with older people with more experience and who feel freer to speak their minds.

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fenlan

Yes, Roddy, I think the $13,500 a year courses are for people who want to learn Chinese for a career?

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fenlan

Daydreamer, I think foreigners are under no obligation to talk English, but then I don't think Chinese are under any obligation to provide free Chinese practice either. The trick is to find someone who is happy to do so -- not to expect it of them.

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Ferno
Probably for the vast majority of Chinese students of English, it's just something on the curriculum - consideration of a better job might come into how enthusiastic they are, but if they aren't going to graduate with X level of English, then they haven't got much choice (although this is thankfully changing, I think).

What do you mean??

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wushijiao

I think he meant that no students in China get to chose if they want to take English or not. The result is millions of young students that are about as enthusiastic to learn English as, say, the avergae jock in Kansas would be enthusiastic about learning French, or something. In other words, probably about half of the people who study English in China really hate studying it.

Like I said, I almost always try to speak English to anyone that wants to practice with me, although I'm under no obligation to do so. Sure, you get a lot of annoying and aggresive English-learners wanting to hear my opinion about the buring subjects of "Do you love China?" or "Can you use chopstcks?". But if you don't talk to these types, out of principle, you'll also miss out on talking to some really cool and interesting people, who are usually brutally shy.

I also think that talking to a native speaker, even for just 5 minutes or so, may give a shy student the determination to keep studying hard in a learning environment that is often very bleak, discouraging communication.

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hakkaboy

Wushijiao, you encouraged with your posting to post in this thread. Yes, you are right. If one only gives English practice to Chinese pretty fluent in English already, then one is only helping those with pretty good life chances anyway. I am interested in people in smaller towns with less advantages in life - and more than happy to spend longer helping them.

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Ferno

but wushijiao, he also said that this is "changing"... won't English studies be stressed even more as China modernizes?

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Guest KuifjeenBobbie

My $0.02:

When you speak Chinese in China, you are not "practising" your Chinese. You are simply doing what is normal in China, namely expressing yourself in the official language.

If you speak Chinese well enough such that a Chinese person can understand you with no trouble, you have merely done what is normal in China and you do not have to feel that you owe the Chinese person any English lessons in return.

If, on the other hand, your Chinese is so bad that it takes effort and patience for a Chinese person to understand you (I would be in this category!), it would not be unfair or unreasonable for the Chinese person to ask if he/she could practice English with you, i.e. you are costing him/her time and effort with your poor Chinese, so he/she can ask you to expend a bit of time and effort for his/her English!

Of course, for a Chinese person speaking English in an English-speaking country, the situation is reversed.

The fact that you can speak English is, in my opinion, not a justification for demanding English practice from you, if you can express yourself perfectly well in Chinese. Speaking Chinese is customary and normal in China, speaking English is neither.

A Chinese teacher of English would not just give free English practice, but surely expect to be paid for his time and skills. If you speak Chinese well, you may consider yourself in being in the same situation, i.e. you speak Chinese but have specialist knowledge, in a foreign language, English.

If a Chinese person objects that you are exploiting his/her "specialist knowledge in Chinese", he/she should bear in mind that Chinese is not speacialist knowledge in China, whereas English is.

In summary, I think it is perfectly all right to refuse to speak English if you are competent in Chinese. If you are not so competent, I think it is unfair to refuse to speak some English.

Thanks for reading this: I know I was a bit long-winded!

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Roee

IMHO everyone are free to use whatever langauge they want.

If a Chinese person speaks to me, in any language, I would concentrate and do my best to understand their words.

Sometimes there's the known "mental block" where they cannot "accept" that a foreigner is speaking Mandarin, and many other reasons why they cannot understand.

However, on some occasions a Chinese would PRETEND they do not understand, or make a -10% affort to understand, in order to practice their English. Now THAT is rude. Period.

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Guest KuifjeenBobbie

Yes, deliberate attempts to block conversation in the local language are rude.

What is also rude/stupid are people who react as if you are unable to speak the local language when you have just spoken it! I'm not just talking about Chinese people here but all people! Sometimes you will say a sentence in the local language which is perfectly understandable but then get a reply in English for no good reason.

They do this either because they want to practice, or are trying to show intellectual superiority, or because they are prejudiced and can't believe that you, as a foreigner, can speak the local language even though you just spoke it!

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Lugubert
中国人说中国话外国人说外国话,不是很好吗?

OK, I'll spoil the joke (or whatever).

Routledge's Colloquial Chinese was first published in 1982. (The quote is from Lesson 3.)Some examples/stories are slightly antiquated, but I found the book extremely useful, especially as our teacher was as skilful as dedicated. At least two out of the five major universities in Sweden use that book.

Still, even as a self-study book, it's one of the best I've seen. Some other Routledge Colloquial are at least useful (Hindi, Panjabi). The Routledge Comprehensive Chinese Grammar (NOT their Essential Ch. Grammar) is my favourite for Chinese grammars so far.

A sad example is the Routledge Colloquial Vietnamese. Example sentences introducing chapters on the cassettes are not explicitely written out in the book, just a fraction of the vowel system is explained and the rest can't be deduced from just listening, the description of the six tones doesn't match others on the Internet and certainly doesn't match what I hear, etc.

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Guest KuifjeenBobbie

I found colloquial Chinese good, but not all of the titles on other languages

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