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wenshidi

Language Exchange Practicalities

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wenshidi

Does anybody have any tips about getting the most out of language exchanges?

In your experience, how have you been able to get the optimum benefit out of these interactions?
For example, what have you found to be the most successful topics of discussion?

 

If you live in a place where the local level of English is very low, how do you maximise your improvement just by talking to ordinary Chinese people?

I find that this might help improve my fluency little, but does not really help in terms of vocabulary, structure etc.  Any tips and tricks would be most appreciated.

 

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艾墨本

While it doesn't directly address your questions, I wrote about this more here in response to a post about tutoring with a significant other. It's a similar concept since your language exchange partner won't be trained in teaching and nor will you. It's good to be able to have some tools to tutor someone so it isn't simply talking about the same thing every time.

 

As far as getting the most out of language exchanges, make sure you both sincerely enjoy talking to each other rather than just "using" each other for the free language. 

 

The best topics of discussion are those that you are both sincerely interested in. It would be extra helpful if you both knew the topics in advance so  you could both study relevant vocabulary about the topic(s) in advance rather than using the time with each other to find the right words.

 

 

50 minutes ago, wenshidi said:

I find that this might help improve my fluency little, but does not really help in terms of vocabulary, structure etc.

This is the point, actually. The goal of language exchange should be (in my mind) to "activate" what you have previously learned. It is not a place to learn new words and your language partner shouldn't be spending time on teaching you new words. It's a place to practice using what you have already learned which will help transfer the knowledge from passive to active.

 

Overall, it is helpful to divide your learning time into periods of practicing fluency and periods of practicing accuracy. Fluency is when you're not focused on getting everything right, but rather just focusing on communicating a certain idea or gist. This can also happen in reverse with your goal to understand the general meaning but not getting hung up on specifics. Graded readers are great for fluency practice in the form of reading. This plays out when watching TV by pausing as little as possible so long as you know the overall plot. There is no need to worry about the joke you missed or the technical vocabulary he said. In contrast, watching TV with accuracy in mind would be stopping it frequently to get all the important words, writing them down, studying them, and then watching it again, ensuring you understand all the nuance. Actually, you might want to watch the same small segment a dozen times or more. 

 

That said, structure is very important with a language exchange. If you want to do some accuracy based exercises, though, you could come with a list of sentences of you written for words you are learning and give them to your partner to fix. Make sure they tell you if they are fixing the sentence because it is grammatically wrong, sounds to "foreign," or if you simply chose the wrong word. Make sure to ask if he understood the overall meaning of the sentences before he corrects them. This can help you isolate where your biggest mistakes are to focus on those.

 

All this said, if it isn't a language exchange and your just talking to random Chinese people, mentally prepare yourself to be a fool and then go have fun being foolish. Use those new words you just learned, say things that have nothing to do with your topic, make grammatically incorrect statement that helps the person understand your meaning even if they aren't technically correct. The goal here is 100% focus on fluency. So long as they understand your meaning, you have enough accuracy.

 

 

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abcdefg
7 minutes ago, 艾墨本 said:

This is the point, actually. The goal of language exchange should be (in my mind) to "activate" what you have previously learned. It is not a place to learn new words and your language partner shouldn't be spending time on teaching you new words. It's a place to practice using what you have already learned which will help transfer the knowledge from passive to active.

 

Well said! I agree. (Though nowadays, I take it further, and use casual language exchange as way to learn new stuff as well.)

 

Quote

All this said, if it isn't a language exchange and your just talking to random Chinese people, mentally prepare yourself to be a fool and then go have fun being foolish. Use those new words you just learned, say things that have nothing to do with your topic, make grammatically incorrect statement that helps the person understand your meaning even if they aren't technically correct. The goal here is 100% focus on fluency. So long as they understand your meaning, you have enough accuracy.

 

Bravo. In my mind, at this stage it is all about communication.

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艾墨本
2 minutes ago, abcdefg said:

Well said! I agree. (Though nowadays, I take it further, and use casual language exchange as way to learn new stuff as well.)

Fair. But this is probably only appropriate once you can learn new stuff without reverting back to English or your mother tongue. If you can learn new stuff while still speaking Chinese, then you are practicing using Chinese at the same time. In fact, one of my favorite language learning games is to try to describe a Chinese word to your partner using only Chinese and see if they can guess what it is. Great way to create hooks for the words you are struggling with.

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abcdefg
1 minute ago, 艾墨本 said:

But this is probably only appropriate once you can learn new stuff without reverting back to English or your mother tongue. If you can learn new stuff while still speaking Chinese, then you are practicing using Chinese at the same time.

 

For better or for worse, I'm at that stage. When there are things I don't understand, I look them up on Baidu.

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imron
14 minutes ago, abcdefg said:

When there are things I don't understand, I look them up on Baidu.

Glad to hear your reading is coming along ;-)

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abcdefg

Trust me, it is still laborious and I seldom (almost never) read Chinese material just for relaxation or for fun. But if I'm after information, there's no problem. I can go after it hard and strong.

 

I've also found that when I want to know things about Chinese tea, Chinese food, or "minor" things about Yunnan life, English sources are really shabby, they just don't cut it. I must deal with the Chinese sources to get the real skinny.

 

English-language Chinese recipes, for example, have almost always been "adapted" in some way, either to fit western palates or to utilize ingredients which are available overseas. They are not what I'm after, so I go straight to the native materials.

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Flickserve

One thing you need to have is plenty of time. Busy lifestyle means I don't speak to my own friends a lot - how am going to keep up with a language partner?

 

I did find a few people to exchange via italki. I found it quite difficult. The ones that are most productive are people with similar interests or similar jobs. But even then, the interactions are infrequent as both sides are quite busy.

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wenshidi

Time is not a problem, neither is finding willing people, but subject matter certainly is.

Most Chinese seem to be so cut off from the outside world that it is really difficult to find areas of common interest.

I have to admit that I am really here for the nature, and am not at all a big fan of the culture.

This might be even more tough now that I hear that culture classes are going to become compulsory for international language students in China.

I wonder how long it is before we are all subjected to 毛泽东思想和中国特色社会主义理论概论 Máo zé dōnɡ sī xiǎnɡ hé zhōnɡ ɡuó tè sè shè huì zhǔ yì lǐ lùn ɡài lùn - Mao Zedong Thought and an Introduction to the Theoretical System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.

I get enough propaganda from my text book with having it shoved down my throat in a specially dedicated class.

 

Anyway, what areas of common interest do you find to be most effective for making conversation?

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歐博思

Nature fan in China? I imagine there is quite a vocal minority of them, if only one knew where to look to find them (I don't). By chance are you also keen on politics?

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艾墨本
1 hour ago, wenshidi said:

areas of common interest do you find to be most effective for making conversation?

Of course, this is highly highly subjective.

 

I had a great conversation partner for a while based on around our mutual love of modernist literature. It often got philosophical which helped me learn a lot about talking around words. 

 

I had another great conversation partner that was interested in current events. We had starkly different opinions on right and wrong, but he was kind and considerate and willing to recognize failures in any system, as was I. Made for nice, relatively objective conversations.

 

Another conversation partner is very interested in health and runs a beauty salon. We mostly talk about health-related stuff. 

 

With strangers, I mostly keep it surface level and deflect deeper questions because they usually aren't interested in learning what I think so much as telling me what Americans think. I'm sick of that and prefer to just not go there.

 

Over the past two years of living in China, I've found roughly five different people that I connect with and can have lengthy "real" conversations with. All of these conversation partners were made. I met people, talked to them, and actively searched for topics they were interested in. Active listening is a great skill to learn about. Most of the time I wouldn't reach out to them because we didn't share interests. I want to emphasize "most of the time." This has been and is still a slow process of meeting people and making friends. 

 

If you wanted to find someone interested in nature, consider checking out local "health food" places or vegetarian restaurants, the two topics often go together. Invite people out to go for hikes and see who actually shows interest in the offers. 

 

If you are just having a casual conversation partner, your topics can be arbitrary. Just pick one, study the relevant vocabulary, and discuss the life out of it.

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歐博思
Quote

consider checking out local "health food" places or vegetarian restaurants, the two topics often go together

 

Really like this idea.

 

Quote

I had another great conversation partner that was interested in current events. We had starkly different opinions on right and wrong, but he was kind and considerate and willing to recognize failures in any system, as was I. Made for nice, relatively objective conversations.

 

The perfect conversation partner, haha? Maybe OP can find similar people in their local Whole Foods.... seriously, what a good idea.

 

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abcdefg
19 hours ago, wenshidi said:

Time is not a problem, neither is finding willing people, but subject matter certainly is.

Most Chinese seem to be so cut off from the outside world that it is really difficult to find areas of common interest.

 

What would you talk about with friends back home? The same things will work here just as well, perhaps with a few arcane exceptions. Frankly, saying that you cannot find interesting subject matter to discuss sounds like a lame excuse. You and your conversation partner don't need to agree about the things you discuss; as Ben pointed out above, you can have differing opinions.


 

Quote

 

I have to admit that I am really here for the nature, and am not at all a big fan of the culture.

 

Nature -- What about national parks, trees, flowers, clouds, animals and so on? I'm not really sure what "coming to China for the nature" would really mean. Waterfalls and such? Rivers, mountains, seashore? Plenty to discuss.

 

Do you enjoy books and movies and music? Do you enjoy travel? Dining out? Night life? What about sports? Most Chinese are keen on American basketball. Well, I don't know where you are from, after all. Maybe soccer 足球。The daily news, TV shows.

 

The list of possible topics is virtually endless. I'm simply amazed that you would find it to be a stumbling block.

 

Quote

@艾本 -- This has been and is still a slow process of meeting people and making friends. 

 

I agree that this is a key element. Need to be willing to meet people and make friends. Need to open up; need to take a chance. Cannot remain socially isolated or in some sort of safe little "foreigner bubble" and expect the process to work.

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Flickserve
3 hours ago, wenshidi said:

Most Chinese seem to be so cut off from the outside world that it is really difficult to find areas of common interest

 

Strong statement.

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wenshidi
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Most Chinese seem to be so cut off from the outside world that it is really difficult to find areas of common interest

 

Strong statement.

 

Maybe, but not half as strong as the efforts of the authorities to make sure that they stay this way.....

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On 17 June 2017 at 0:43 PM, wenshidi said:

Maybe, but not half as strong as the efforts of the authorities to make sure that they stay this way.....

 

 

Perhaps you can widen your perspective and find someone interested in talking to you.

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