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ChineseTable

Finding fellow learners to practice the language with? I'm hosting weekly meetings for learners of intermediate to advanced proficiency to meet each other.

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ChineseTable

Hey folks,

I've been learning this language for about 2.5 years now, and one problem that I faced and continue to face is that it is difficult to find fellow learners of similar proficiency to meet and practice with. There are language exchange apps like hellotalk, but it seems that these apps are focused on facilitating interactions between native speakers and learners rather than between the learners themselves. Although there is definitely value in interacting with a native speaker, I found that it was not a particularly efficient way of improving my Mandarin language skills as I would often switch between Mandarin and English during these interactions (the native speakers on apps like Hellotalk would understandably rather speak English to me so they get some English practice).

To address the issue above, and facilitate interactions between learners of similar proficiency, I am aiming to host weekly hour long sessions on a video conference software where (1) participants are assigned a partner of similar proficiency, (2) engage in one on one conversation with said partner and (3) rotate partners and repeat.

As a start, I'm targeting those who already have an intermediate to advanced level of proficiency in the language, and are able to carry on a conversation, at least about simple topics.

The sessions are completely free of charge, and will be conducted virtually. There is no sponsor / no ads etc. I am funding this out of pocket (albeit, it is not expensive).

The Facebook group (where the links to sign up for the sessions will be posted) is called "Chinese Table".

Thank you.

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@jiaojiao87

 

Interesting idea to use HT just to have chat solely in Chinese rather than exchange. 

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feihong
On 12/27/2020 at 6:48 AM, ChineseTable said:

To address the issue above, and facilitate interactions between learners of similar proficiency, I am aiming to host weekly hour long sessions on a video conference software where (1) participants are assigned a partner of similar proficiency, (2) engage in one on one conversation with said partner and (3) rotate partners and repeat.

Really curious how this is managed. Do the participants reshuffle the connections themselves or do you, as the moderator, do it for them? And do they have to download a new app on their computers, or can it be done in the browser?

 

And while I’m here, I’ll weigh in with a few thoughts:

 

- I think conversing with fellow learners can be quite useful. But I would prioritize conversation with native speakers much more. And it is not as difficult to find native speakers to talk with you as you might think.

- It is very difficult to pair people of similar proficiency together. People who aren’t formally studying Chinese have no idea what their level really is, and others are simply delusional (lot of people who can barely hold a conversation describe themselves as “almost fluent”). One way to help you do it is to have people fill out a short questionnaire with simple questions on it. But really, it’ll probably tell you that  80-90% of respondents are total beginners.

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Jan Finster
On 12/28/2020 at 7:20 PM, jiaojiao87 said:

If I did, I just explained I was looking to practice Chinese right now and we can talk some other time, then found a new partner.

Is it not supposed to be a tandem system (you rub my back, I rub yours)?

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jiaojiao87
5 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

Is it not supposed to be a tandem system (you rub my back, I rub yours)?

HelloTalk is not necessarily a tandem system, although they have been implementing more language exchange functionality.  It is more of a social network with a language learning slant.

 

Many people from many countries use the app as a forum just to talk to people from different countries.  I've seen lots of Canadians, Americans, etc. who just post in english about their lives.

 

Of course, don't deceive people about exchanges.  I'm always very direct that I am only looking to practice Chinese, and have made many friends who live in China with no interest in learning English, just interested in learning about America and sharing their hobbies and interests.

 

There are many different types of people on HelloTalk, and it is easy to find and engage with those who aren't interested in learning English, provided your Chinese level is sufficient.  

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Flickserve
9 hours ago, feihong said:

- It is very difficult to pair people of similar proficiency together.


I agree. Many years ago, I went on an beginners course in mandarin for non-Chinese speakers. I found I could pick it up faster than than the other people in the class. More accurate to say, I wasn’t as slow as they were and I am quite slow naturally.

 

I also tried a Cantonese group class - mainly heritage speakers and one guy was really good , a couple of others including me knew a mish  mash of Cantonese and one person much less.

 

These two experiences pushed me towards preferring one to one interactions. 
 

2 hours ago, jiaojiao87 said:

Of course, don't deceive people about exchanges.  I'm always very direct that I am only looking to practice Chinese, and have made many friends who live in China with no interest in learning English, just interested in learning about America and sharing their hobbies and interests.


Do you just state this in your introduction? It’s very intriguing. In fact, one of community tutors on italki that I used admitted that they went on italki to teach as a chance to talk to some foreigners - they themselves didn’t have much English and weren’t putting effort into learning English. They were happy to just talk to a foreigner in mandarin and the money was just a token amount.

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jiaojiao87
17 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Do you just state this in your introduction? It’s very intriguing. In fact, one of community tutors on italki that I used admitted that they went on italki to teach as a chance to talk to some foreigners - they themselves didn’t have much English and weren’t putting effort into learning English. They were happy to just talk to a foreigner in mandarin and the money was just a token amount.

 

I usually would just make a post saying something like:

 

大家好!有人有空,想跟我打电话吗?我想练习中文。

 

Or thereabouts.  Sometimes throw in a short audio clip of me saying the same thing as the text.  I think this helps because it makes those who don't speak English more confident they can communicate with me.

 

As long as it isn't during "off hours" (night time, noon, or 1pm where everyone seems to take a nap), I usually get 10s of responses within minutes, with only a few being focused on English or language exchange.  Plenty of responders are like your italki tutor, happy to talk in Mandarin.  The exception tends to be college kids, particularly women, in the spring time.  They all seem to want to study for the TOEFL, so I avoid that demographic so as to not set up false expectations.

 

I haven't paid for the premium features of HelloTalk because they lean towards additional translating functionality or focusing on multiple languages.  I specifically DON'T want easier translating, and am only studying Chinese, so they don't appeal to me.  I haven't actually spent any money on the app.

 

 

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@jiaojiao87

 

Very nice indeed. I think I will try that. I have been more focussed on fair exchange in the past. Avoiding girls studying for English exams is a good idea. 

 

 Do you find yourself talking to some ‘regulars’?

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jiaojiao87
3 hours ago, Flickserve said:

Do you find yourself talking to some ‘regulars’?

There are definitely people who are interested in regular conversation, and I have made a few friends through this method.  However, one thing I specifically choose to focus on is to use the 30 minute conversation to talk to new people as often as possible.  

 

It would be super easy to find people to repeatedly talk to if you prefer that, just have to find people who share interests with you, like any other language 😉

 

 

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abcdefg
On 12/27/2020 at 6:48 AM, ChineseTable said:

I've been learning this language for about 2.5 years now, and one problem that I faced and continue to face is that it is difficult to find fellow learners of similar proficiency to meet and practice with.

 

@ChineseTable -- Sorry, but I think the concept you propose is a non-starter. 

 

I have never found practicing casual conversation with fellow learners to be in the least helpful. In a classroom, pairing off to do short grammar drills can be of limited use. But for conversation, I have zero desire to ingrain the language mistakes of other foreigners by practicing with them. It's simple enough to find native resources. 

 

On 12/27/2020 at 6:48 AM, ChineseTable said:

Although there is definitely value in interacting with a native speaker, I found that it was not a particularly efficient way of improving my Mandarin language skills as I would often switch between Mandarin and English during these interactions...

 

As pointed out above, that can easily be managed. Your partners might be switching to English because they despair of continuing with you in Chinese. This happens when there is a significant missmatch in conversational levels. The conversation breaks down. Someone jumps in to rescue it by switching to English.  

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PerpetualChange
3 hours ago, abcdefg said:

I have zero desire to ingrain the language mistakes of other foreigners by practicing with them. It's simple enough to find native resources. 

 

I think this is a fairly narrow and cynical view of what such groups can accomplish. As a guitar player, imagine me telling people that I will only jam with my teacher and Master level players.  Surely, you can learn from other learners too. It's a little snobby to assume that no one other than a native speaker has anything to teach you. Many Chinese you will meet speak speak Chinese better than you'll ever speak English, and a decent number of them never talked to a native speaker before meeting you. 

 

Full disclosure, I've been part of such groups for awhile. As someone who has studied for many years it's very interesting to see what others have been learning, and many people bring things to the table that you might not have expected. The people I've met range from journeymen learners like myself, to sinologists, to people learning because they have an Chinese spouse or adopted a Chinese child, to ABCs who are illiterate but speak at a fairly high level casually. I've learned a thing or two from almost everybody that has shown up. The only time I ever regret attending such groups is when people default to speaking in English and about non-chinese study related topics.

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feihong
10 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

Full disclosure, I've been part of such groups for awhile. As someone who has studied for many years it's very interesting to see what others have been learning, and many people bring things to the table that you might not have expected.

I’ve gotten a lot out of in-person meetups as well and I think there’s something to be gained from talking to other learners. Sometimes the benefit of talking to a person at a lower level is that you teach them something and reinforce the concept in your own head.

 

But it helps to have a moderator or host on hand to keep people focused. Otherwise the beginners use up all their vocabulary within the first 30 minutes and switch to English. This may be a big challenge on internet calls.

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jiaojiao87
8 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

As a guitar player, imagine me telling people that I will only jam with my teacher and Master level players. 

 

I agree quite strongly with abcdefg, and disagree with you here.

 

I don't think this is a good comparison, but even the comparable elements I disagree with.  As a bluegrass musician, I participate in lots of Jams.  When I lived in the Midwest, there weren't many players in the city I lived in, and most people had a low skill level.  When I moved to San Francisco, which has a booming bluegrass scene, participating in Jams with highly skilled individuals saw my own skill massively increase in a way it never would have had I stayed in the Midwest.

 

That said, jamming with people doesn't negatively impact you in the same way that speaking practice can.  It's in many ways more independent.  I have found that even listening to youtube videos with accented non-chinese speakers can impact my own pronunciation.  This is particularly pronounced at low skill levels, but can happen at any skill level.  Much the way if you move to the US south and are surrounded by southern accents, your english accent and speaking habits can be impacted.

 

Most importantly, your time is a zero sum game.  Speaking with other learners is useful to share tips, study methods, etc. If you enjoy it, then it is even more worthwhile.  However, it will never compare to speaking to native/very high level speakers and engaging with native content, and can inarguably have negative impacts on accents, grammar, etc.

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PerpetualChange
25 minutes ago, jiaojiao87 said:

Most importantly, your time is a zero sum game.  Speaking with other learners is useful to share tips, study methods, etc. If you enjoy it, then it is even more worthwhile.  However, it will never compare to speaking to native/very high level speakers and engaging with native content, and can inarguably have negative impacts on accents, grammar, etc.

I do agree with you. I do not think the main point of spending time practicing with other learners is to polish your pronunciation, though. I would say it has more to do with the other things that come from having a community. You're absolutely right about time though, some people simply don't have time for that or don't need it. 

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abcdefg
4 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

I think this is a fairly narrow and cynical view of what such groups can accomplish. As a guitar player, imagine me telling people that I will only jam with my teacher and Master level players.  Surely, you can learn from other learners too. It's a little snobby to assume that no one other than a native speaker has anything to teach you.

 

You're probably right in your criticism. I sometimes tend to be impatient and demanding. It's a character flaw. 

 

That being said, I think the window during which I was satisfied with learning from my foreigner peers was mainly when I was just starting out. At that point I was happy to recieve any instruction at all. Became more picky as time passed. 

 

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PerpetualChange

I'm the same way sometimes. Even though I'm defending these kind of groups, there's been more than one occasion where I invented some alibi to leave a session that I wasn't enjoying or wasn't getting anything out of. @feihong made a good point above that I think is true. These groups are as good as the people who moderate them and keep them on task. The best groups like this I've been to have been hosted by abc's who are somewhere in between ironing out their own Chinese and testing the waters to see if they like teaching others. 

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道艺黄帝
19 hours ago, abcdefg said:

But for conversation, I have zero desire to ingrain the language mistakes of other foreigners by practicing with them. It's simple enough to find native resources. 

Great quote LOL. I enjoy an occasional 班课 for the added pressure of competition and some 打折, but I almost never take what my classmates say at face value because as soon as they open their mouth, I can see the lack of desire to even attempt at tones...sentence structure...word order...the list goes on.

 

Anyway OP if you're located in Shanghai, you're welcome to pm me and join my wechat group. We do regular meet ups. I keep invites capped at 10, 5 laowai and 5 Chinese only. 

 

Even if you're not in Shanghai, feel free to join the group for regular practice, questions, or just to link up with English learners and set up exchanges with them. We got Chinese and English learners of all levels, so you're bound to find a good match.

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Flickserve
On 12/31/2020 at 2:15 AM, jiaojiao87 said:

There are definitely people who are interested in regular conversation, and I have made a few friends through this method.  However, one thing I specifically choose to focus on is to use the 30 minute conversation to talk to new people as often as possible.  

 

It would be super easy to find people to repeatedly talk to if you prefer that, just have to find people who share interests with you, like any other language

 

 

I have come up with a problem.

 

I have signed up on HT twice. Once a couple years ago. It was really good then. I could see hundreds of chinese users and they could see my moments. I deleted my account because my chinese was still at a low level.

 

I have signed up again after but I have had a lot of problems the second time around.

I can't see so many mainland China posts - There was a time I could not see any moments from China, but if I changed my language to Japanese. I got a lot more activity

 

After moaning to HT, something happened and I am seeing more mainland users but I suspect still not all who are online.

 

I just put up a moment asking all mainland China users to give me a like and got very few responses - on my first stint I would get loads.

 

I had another one where I got Taiwanese users outnumbering mainland users in giving me likes.

 

 

The problem occurs if I am looking for ad hoc language exchange for mainland putonghua. They cannot see my request. I have had times when nobody has replied for voice call practice and that is very strange indeed. Before I would get fix or six people answering a request.

 

Basically, I am based in HK and have been blocked for mainland users...... and I have paid for VIP status.......s**t

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roddy

I'd imagine that's a regulatory issue? They have to moderate content for mainland users or they're in trouble, they can' t moderate everything, so you end up with some kind of walled garden for mainland users, with perhaps some content making it over the fence?

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