Learn Chinese in China
歐博思

What's the appeal of language exchanges?

32 posts in this topic

Demonic_Duck, I am going to be a purist and say that what you are saying is potentially disastrous advice for a Chinese language learner new to China.

How many foreigners have you seen enter a kind of English language bubble? Surrounded by 'helpful' English speaking Chinese friends, often met through language exchanges and the like. Once these people fall into the 'social interactions' of associating with the English speaking Chinese people they lose all the opportunities to deal with problems themselves, and sacrifice their learning of Chinese. I have seen this in Japan, Korea and China.

 

The only way to prevent it is to reject it. Minimize interactions with English speaking Chinese people, maximize interaction with Chinese people that cannot speak English. Avoid hanging out with large groups of foreigners - one or two foreign friends is OK, especially if they are motivated learners of Chinese. A hard nosed attitude IS required, and it need not infringe upon anyone else.

 

I guess we're just coming at this from different angles. I've never subscribed to the language-learning "purist" approach, yet my Chinese level is better than 90% of my foreign friends who've been living in China/learning for comparable amounts of time. I don't put that down to avoiding English (because I don't do that), I put that down to having learning/using Chinese as a high priority, and seeking out opportunities to do so. A language exchange is one such opportunity, and it may well be one of your best or only options to do so in a social setting when you've just arrived.

 

There's also the fact that, if your Chinese level isn't already fairly high, it can feel like you're a burden on the conversation in a social setting. If your Chinese is Mark Zuckerberg level, you'll do fine in Chinese-only social situations as long as you're Mark Zuckerberg. People will be fascinated to hear your opinions delivered in slow, broken Chinese as long as you're Mark Zuckerberg. You're an expert in your field, and what you say is very likely worth listening to, even if half of the meaning and nuance has already been lost in translation. If you're not Mark Zuckerberg, though, it can quickly become a drag.

 

On the other hand, when you're talking to a fellow language learner, and affording the same courtesy to them, they'll be more than happy to listen to whatever you're saying, not to mention help you express yourself better. There's no pressure to say something fascinating or humorous, using all of your 500 word vocabulary.

 

I'm not saying this necessarily applies to you personally, I'm talking about people who have just arrived and have very limited Chinese.

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I can say anecdotally that all the language exchanges I've done have been with people who speak English better than I speak Chinese, but all have had a 50-50 equality between languages because we agreed to split the time equally from the beginning. I didn't start doing language exchanges until I had around 800 words, however. My only problem with language exchanges is the often repetitive content. This isn't too bad for one's Chinese, as repetition can be helpful, but it could make the English language part a slog sometimes.

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Thanks everyone for their input so far. It's been an enlightening read.

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Writes a friend about a "language exchange" friend that he became acquainted with through italki. The language exchange was via Skype.

"One girl called me on Sunday. We spoke for 45 minutes. she wouldn't speak Chinese, and when I did, ignored me. Eventually had to hang up"

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45 minutes? They wouldn't make five with me.

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Some people are more willing to give before seeing what they can take.

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I don't think anyone's denying that some language exchanges can be fruitless. Wasting 45 minutes of your time sucks, but if you waste a couple of hours in the process of finding one or two long-term language exchange partners it's not the end of the world. You'll be just as likely to waste a little time on finding the best tutor out there.

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"One girl called me on Sunday. We spoke for 45 minutes. she wouldn't speak Chinese, and when I did, ignored me. Eventually had to hang up"

Shitty behaviour on the girl's part. Sometimes it doesn't work out. I've had some good and fruitful language exchanges though.

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You guys rock. The discussion in this thread prompted me to write a full blog post.

 

I think that based on how you approach your exchange it will make a big difference to what you get out of it. Here are some guidelines I try to follow to help get the most out of my exchanges.

 

  1. Converse in the language ( as opposed to teach, or learn the language during the exchange )
  2. Make intentions clear
  3. Be positive, try not to complain
  4. Multiple 5 - 10 minute chunks of time in each language
  5. Limit explaining time
  6. 1 on 1 only
  7. Similar levels is preferable
I feel following these guidelines helps make the experience more useful and enjoyable for both parties.

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I switch between English and Chinese, and I make sure they do too. If I get nothing but English from them in the first few minutes, I end it. If I get nothing but Chinese from them, I keep dropping in English until they build up the confidence to give it a go.

 

Language exchange is what you make it. If you persist with people who waste your time or exploit you, of course it's not going to work out. Like anything, you need to maintain some control over your experience.

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I just found this forum but I already like it as people have had the same experiences that I have had. Personally (your experience may differ and that is fine) I think language exchange is more trouble than it is worth. First, I guess I am not that interested in meeting friends over the internet, I am showing my age here but I have a small group of close friends and a larger group of acquaintances and I am very happy with that (I make friends slowly).  

 

So for me it is totally 100% about Language Learning and I would much rather pay $8-12 dollars an hour on Italki than spend one to two hours finding a language partner then speaking at least 50 percent English. If it goes to plan in can work but sometimes you get people that just want to speak English or they are too clingy, don't speak well even in Chinese or just want a boyfriend. I think of it as when they are speaking English they are using you and when you are Speaking Chinese you are using them. I think I could just read Chinese newspapers, do Grammar drills, watch Chinese TV and get more benefit out of the time than doing language exchange. However I am going to try it again in a year or two when I passed the HSK5  

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This thread is interesting. Some of the opinions are a bit harsh. Language exchange is not a big thing in my learning at present because I find other people's English is far better than my Chinese. I only have a limited range of vocabulary before the conversation will break down. Secondly, my listening skills are not at a near enough intermediate level (though improving).

In the end, I would rather pay for a lesson than exchange at present.

Street talk and slang expressions are potentially something you can pick up from language exchanges better than tutors.

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