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Language Wars: English-Speaking Chinese Person Meets Mandarin-Speaking Foreigner

Repost     Mar 20, 2017 By Benjamin Burley , Comments (2)     Add your comment Newsletter

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There are myriad reasons foreigners pack up their old lives and make the leap of moving to China: a fascination for Chinese culture; searching for a different life style; a sense of adventure; or the allure of career and business opportunities, that’s resulted in a modern day reverse gold rush.

Chinese culture; an apothacary of mysticism, history and geography. “A different life style”. Those rich aromas of the to-be-discovered, or the modern reversed gold rush that has attracted so many. However, the impetus for some is simple and more objective: learn the language.

Mandarin, the most widely spoken Chinese language, is a mesmerizing string of rising and falling tones that any Westerner would feel proud to master. How to learn Mandarin is a question with no single answer, but how to use and improve Mandarin are questions that touch upon issues of cultural perspectives and cross cultural understanding.

Language Wars: English-Speaking Chinese Person Meets Mandarin-Speaking Foreigner

In China, English study remains essential and success in English study is, as ever, a coveted skill to acquire. Thus, there exists a so called ‘language war’ in which a Westerner is keen to display his or her hard-to-gain Mandarin skills meets a Chinese person who is every bit as enthusiastic about speaking English to them. So, if you find yourself in this kind of stalemate, what tactics can you use to achieve your goal?

1) Lay out your cards
Be honest and polite and say that you wish to teach as well as learn, give as well as receive. People are usually more than happy to help, and quite accepting of such reasoning. If needs be, state this thought openly to show why it’s so important to you and your learning to share a few conversations with them. It’s also important to let people know that they are welcome to correct you; Chinese people may sometimes be reluctant to do this as they don’t want you to lose face.

2) Sell your story
Remind those talking to you that you are fascinated with their country and wish to understand it and its people on a deeper level. You want not so much to rack up a higher language score, rather to mingle with the people and integrate into the culture. Express that you want to learn the language as a way to show respect.

3) Flattery will get you everywhere
In all areas of life compliments can open doors, or at least loosen up the hinges. Show your appreciation for the English skill of the person talking to you and do so with sincerity. Whether it be their pronunciation, vocabulary, fluency, intonation, grammar, or even passion for speaking, let them know you noticed it.  

4) Be a student
It’s a wonderful feeling to be needed and in just the same way it’s a great feeling to give when you know the receiver appreciates it. So when you are chatting with anyone in China, if you ask a language question or receive any language help be sure to express your sincere thanks and moreover let the person know that you respect and look up to them as a teacher.

5) Who are you speaking to?
When learning any language the best and most efficient method is to go to the country where the language is spoken. For foreigners in China however, this may not always seem to hold true. If your primary source of interaction is Chinese English teachers, students’ parents, or university graduates in their mid 20s to 30s the chances are that you will on some level feel like you’re in an ‘English bubble’. At the very least there tends to be a tangible, even awkward shared awareness of the valuable learning opportunity each provides for the other. However, with the population as vast as it is, it’s easy to break into other social circles and have some relaxed conversations free of any unspoken learning objectives or awkward tensions.    

6) Be magnanimous
Treat others as you wish to be treated yourself, a maxim that holds true in almost all situations, including interlanguage exchanges. A sure fire way to curry favour from those around you is to happily and graciously offer up some new words and sayings. Start the ball rolling as it were, you are much more likely to receive unrestricted help from those you have befriended by helping in the past than someone English meeting you for the first time.

7) Be confident
It is important to be considerate of other people’s expectations and desires just as much as it is to hold on to your own. When chatting to someone remember this: If you want to learn or practice that’s fine; you don’t have to let this fall to the wayside while you serve to help others. Remain confident and polite and all will be all right.

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Keywords: how to learn mandarin english-speak Chinese Chinese language

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2 Comments ( Add your comment )


choc de culture

Mar 20, 2017 16:44

You can replace "Chinese person" with about any nationality in the world. Non-native English speakers want to practice their English and they are literally everywhere in the world.

Mar 20, 2017 21:40

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