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jkhsu

What level of Chinese can you achieve outside of China?

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Scoobyqueen

@ 雅各

Chinese being a tonal language means it is harder to learn to speak and listen when you are not in China than English is for a Chinese being in China.

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雅各

Scoobyqueen, I agree. In fact, I think there are lots of reasons. You've probably already read:

http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html

I was actually just posing the question/s. To me it's important to acknowledge that Westerners have no less ability to learn languages - should they choose to set their minds to it - than anyone else.

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jkhsu

I've met plenty of Chinese in China whose English was virtually fluent.

I suspect most of them are English majors or have studied abroad.

I would like to know how many of those Chinese who's English was virtually fluent fits the criteria below:

1. To me virtually fluent means being able to read the wall street journal, the new yorker, new york times, etc. types of publications with ease. They should be able to converse about various topics concerning the current news, be able to understand jokes and tell jokes with ease, be able to participate in group conversations without any problem, be able to write essays, arguments and participate in forums such as these with ease. I don't really care about their accents but I do care that they have a solid command of English vocabulary.

2. They are NOT english majors in college

3. They have NOT traveled to an English speaking country to take any English courses or immersion summer programs. It's ok if they traveled there for vacation but not for 3 months continuous or more.

I know there are more Chinese in China who are fluent in English than the other way around. However, given those conditions I mentioned, if you can answer yes to all 3 of my conditions, most likely they are Chinese married / or in long term dating situations to English speaking foreigners. Even though there are quite a few Chinese (mostly females) in those situations, most still do not fulfill condition #1.

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xianhua
I've met plenty of Chinese in China whose English was virtually fluent

But there still remains a seismic gap between being virtually fluent and being able to communicate effectively with native speakers on a day-to-day basis, understanding all of the linguistic nuances and undertones which are used habitually, as well as being able to comfortably express emotions and feelings. The chances are you've met people who are very comfortable in certain situations but take them outside of that comfort zone and you'll see how their fluency rates.

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roddy

Seems to me you've decided that fluency cannot be achieved overseas, and are defining fluency to fit. We really should have a standard forums definition of fluency.

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Scoobyqueen
We really should have a standard forums definition of fluency.

Good idea. Some clearly defined conditions for which obvious exceptions would apply.

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Scoobyqueen
the fluency discussion again

I was being ironic.

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jkhsu

Seems to me you've decided that fluency cannot be achieved overseas

I do believe that it is difficult (definitely not impossible) to achieve "native" level fluency unless one spends some time in a country where that language is used extensively everyday or where that language is one of the official languages of the country. A great example is India. There are a lot of Indians who are fluent in English without ever having left India. Although some Americans may still have a hard time understanding them mostly because of accents (I am thinking of outsourced customer service), the Indians often have better grasp of English vocabulary and grammar than many Americans. Also Singapore is not part of greater China and being fluent in Chinese there is normal. And then there is the usage of English in European countries... Although more difficult, I also believe one can achieve fluency if one has rigorous fomal training. During the cold war the Soviet Union created a city where every one spoke English to train their agents for a year. Ok so I've stated my beliefs.

But this thread is not about native level fluency. If you read my original post I stated several conditions mostly reflecting the situation of self learners and people who didn't major in Chinese or didn't work in an environment where Chinese is used extensively. I specifically ruled out IUP, ICLP, and Middlebury (which is in the USA). I also mentioned in this thread somewhere that I am just looking at around 6th grade level fluency in Chinese. My conditions were too many to put in the title of this thread so it might have been misleading.

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jkhsu

The fluency discussion again

I looked at the link from imron. This thread is definitely not about that.

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yellowpower
1. To me virtually fluent means being able to read the wall street journal, the new yorker, new york times, etc. types of publications with ease. They should be able to converse about various topics concerning the current news, be able to understand jokes and tell jokes with ease, be able to participate in group conversations without any problem, be able to write essays, arguments and participate in forums such as these with ease.

apologies for being off topic...it is not a given that even a native speaker of English from the USA or any native English speaker from any country can fulfill these conditions of 'fluency'....educational background/cultural background, literacy levels of a country, etc all plays a deciding factor...so competency and fluency levels vary even among native speakers of any language.

So being a native speaker from any country for any language does not confer automatic fluency/competency in that language, it's all a matter of degree.

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jkhsu

So being a native speaker from any country for any language does not confer automatic fluency/competency in that language, it's all a matter of degree

Of course. There are plenty of illiterate people in the USA who are born in the USA. There are also plenty of literate people who are not fluent. I also agree that everyone has their own definition of fluency. I think what I listed in #1 is pretty standard for what "fluent" should at least include. Is there anything I listed in #1 that you would not consider including for your definition of fluent?

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yellowpower

to me, I would use the 'average Joe' as a yardstick, and consider being able to read & understand daily newspapers and general interest magazines, to be fluent. Publications such as Wall St Journal, The New Yorker are rather specialised publications, and more often than not contain a lot of technical jargon or specialised vocabulary, and not reading materials for the masses but a narrow segment of readers.

But it's OK as you have your definition of fluency which I can appreciate. Again, maybe your line of thought is whether any non-native speaker can reach such a level of fluency outside an English speaking country?

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Mike N

Just because you're living outside of China doesn't mean that you cannot bring China to you. For example, I started studying Japanese on my own about two months ago, and one the very first things I did was hop on MeetUp and look for a Japanese language and culture MeetUp in my area. Lo and behold, I found one (not everyone will be so lucky). The American to Japanese ratio is about 70/30, and as far as the level of Japanese in the group we have pure beginners (such as myself) all the way up to advanced speakers. This group is a great resource for three reason:

1. I have regular contact with actual Japanese people in addition to advanced American speakers so I am exposed to a lot of verbal Japanese.

2. The advanced American speakers have helped me a lot with getting my learning started, explaining finer points of the language, and suggesting learning materials.

3. I made a bunch of new friends!

We have bi-weekly MeetUps (though we tend to hang out most weekends), and during the time in-between I'm much more motivated to stick to my studying because every time I see other members having conversations that I can't participate in, . In addition to this, how else am I bringing Japan into my little apartment in the USA?

I listen to streaming Japanese radio using a program called KeyHoleTV. I watch Japanese movies and animation. I'm in the process of posting sticky notes with vocabulary and sentences all over the place. I've got some very low-level "graded readers" which provide me with simple short stories for reading practice.

My Japanese is coming along nicely and I've never even stepped foot in the country.

So my advice to you if you're trying to learn Chinese outside of China: make China come to you by setting up your own immersion environment. It's difficult, but so is anything worth doing!

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jkhsu

Again, maybe your line of thought is whether any non-native speaker can reach such a level of fluency outside an English speaking country?

First, I will agree with you to remove Wall St. Journal and The New Yorker from the types of publications you are expected to comprehend easily. Those are more specific and more advanced for most Americans.

The reason I asked @雅各 those 3 questions about the Chinese people in China that he mentioned who were virtually fluent is because the main purpose of this thread was talking about level of Chinese one can get outside of China with mostly self-study and without access to immersion programs and formal education. There are plenty of Chinese people in China who I would consider are fluent in English and who might not have spent much time outside of China but they most likely majored in English in college which is very common in China. I also believe that the people who majored in Chinese in a respectable US college and continues on to do a program like IUP, ICLP, etc, and or goes into a career involving Chinese full time can get fluent enough in my book. My purpose for this thread was really to ask if people didn't spend their life and career on studying Chinese and did it as more of a hobby, what level they can get to. This is why I had all of those conditions in the very first post of this thread.

What I wanted to point out to @雅各 was that a Chinese person in China who is not an English major and who did not spend time outside of China studying English would have similar difficulties as people who are trying to learn Chinese outside of China as a "hobby". Yes, it is easier for a Chinese person to learn English for various reasons but it is still not that easy.

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jkhsu

@Mike N

I am not sure exactly what level of Japanese you are at but one of the things I mentioned in this thread is that it is focused really on the advanced learner. I've organised Chinese meetups myself but it is no where near the level of Chinese when you are chatting with a group of locals eating hotpot in Shanghai. I firmly believe one can get the basics of reading and even written translation with enough work but it's the immediate understanding and being able to respond at a native conversation level that is difficult. Such environments are hard to create. Again, I can only speak for Chinese but since you've never been to Japan, you might want to go there and see how the natives speak there. I've been to Japan a couple of times but since I don't know Japanese, I can't make any judgements.

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Erbse

It's not to difficult to have the Shanghai hotpot experience anywhere in the world. I've been asked by my language exchange partners to join them for hotpot with their all Chinese friends. And when there are like 10 Chinese persons, they are not going to slow down just for you. I admit that is not possible daily, but monthly if I'd push for it.

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jkhsu

It's not to difficult to have the Shanghai hotpot experience anywhere in the world.

That's great to hear. I think if you can be a part of their group then you're that much further in creating an environment to improve your Chinese.

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realmayo

I have a suspicion the whole "immersion" thing comes down to quantity/quality. Some people think that the quality of study you do while "immersed" will be better than that which you do while not: ie a 30 minutes skim of a newspaper while "immersed" will be of greater benefit than a 30 minutes skim of the same newspaper sat behind a desk in your home country.

I'm sceptical. My assumption is that if you're "immersed" you are simply exposed to a greater *quantity* of Chinese: this, naturally, is great for your Chinese.

(Now, I'm aware there could be quibbles here: for instance, 30 blocks of 1-minute conversations studded throughout the day will likely not be as good as one 30-minute conversation for one's conversation skills; but I think the broader point stands.)

On the basis then that "immersion" is good because of the quantity of Chinese you're exposed to and so on, the original question about whether you can learn good Chinese without immersion or full-time study is surely just a variant of the question "how long does it take to learn Chinese?" -- ie can you learn good Chinese by only doing an hour or so of mainly self-study a day? To which I say, and hope, that, yes, but obviously it'll take longer than if you were exposed to larger amounts of Chinese each day.

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Mike N

How is dinner in Shanghai with natives different than dumplings in Ann Arbor with natives? What about a family dinner in the home of a Chinese language partner? Or perhaps a game of majiang with some beer and three of your closest Chinese friends in New York City? If you're a Christian, try attending the local Chinese church.

The whole point of going to China as a Chinese learner is that you're given infinitely more opportunities to apply your language in practical ways. You're surrounded by other people speaking Chinese, and unless you live in the "foreigner" part of town in a large coastal city, you're going to have to use at least some Chinese to survive. Even still, it's not a magic bullet. I met a number of people who had been in China for X number of years and could barely speak a lick of Chinese, if any at all.

For those of us who cannot make it to China, this also potentially becomes a crutch or an excuse for why they cannot speak Chinese well. "If I could only go to China, I would be able to learn Chinese." This kind of thought process is self-defeating and detrimental to your success as a student of Chinese.

Finally, natives will speak natively with each other. Moreover, if you listen to native sources of Chinese (TV, radio, movies, music), you can train your ear to understand speech at a native level, even though you may not be able to speak that fast yourself.

I am in no way trying to say that these ideas are somehow superior to actually being in China. There is no substitute for actually being in China. It requires a lot of extra work to set up these kinds of immersion environments where they would otherwise be immediately available to you in China. It is therefor very difficult in general to get your Chinese to an advanced level while studying outside of China, but it can be done. I had a classmate at school who did it (he won regional Chinese-speaking contests, too), and I firmly believe everyone can do it if they are serious about it.

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