Language Partners and Tutors

Language Partners and Tutors
Feb 19, 2009 By Fred Dintenfass ,

Chinese, like the Kama Sutra, is not something you can learn on your own. The eye blurring characters and the confusing tones which most of us can neither say nor hear correctly threaten to doom our attempts to communicate in Chinese to failure. Whether studying on our own or lacking individual attention in school, most of us turn to language partners and tutors for help.

If you are a native English speaker looking for a language partner (yǔbàn – in Beijing yǔbànrr | 语半) be careful posting an ad. An American friend of mine posted an ad at the Beijing Language and Culture University, a mere forty five minutes later he’d received so many calls that he had to turn off his phone and go pull down the three signs he’d posted on campus. It was another week before the calls ceased.

From an ad by a Chinese tutor

Europeans and others who speak English fluently but are not native speakers have a more difficult time finding someone to do a language exchange with them but given a little time and patience it’s almost always possible to find someone by sticking an ad on a university bulletin board or posting one online. Keep in mind that some Chinese are looking to learn a language other than English and may be looking for a partner who speaks another language.

Usually when you meet your language partner the plan is to speak English for an hour and Chinese for an hour. If you don’t create rules for your partner and yourself you may spend more time speaking English than Chinese.

Language partners can be enormously helpful – accompanying you to buy a cell phone, to the bank, or shopping for pants - when you need someone who understands what’s going on. I’ve had my language partner make calls for me, go apartment hunting with me, and generally put him thorough the paces. In return I’ve helped him prepare for a visa interview and suffered some of the most excruciating hours of my life at various events he’s masterminded. (Like the party at the Women’s University where he abandoned us to fight with bitterly with his girlfriend, broke up with her, and then an hour later proposed to her onstage. While her classmates shrieked with excitement she fled. And that was only the beginning.)

They can also teach you a lot about China and Chinese culture – inviting you to meet their families, or to go out with their friends – and give you a window into what life is like in China for college students and their families.

If you lack the time or just want someone qualified to really have to teach you then you’re better off with a tutor. Chinese tutors (fǔdǎo lǎoshī | 辅导老师)are often college students learning to teach Chinese as a foreign language, Chinese teachers working part-time, or just college students looking to make some cash. Prices range from 15 to 80 yuan an hour. A reasonable price for an experienced tutor in Beijing is 30 yuan. 50 is high but certainly not unheard of and many consider the help they receive from their tutor more than worth the expense.

Usually people meet their tutors and language partners at a café or campus library. Keep in mind that while you may not think twice about spending 22 kuai on a cup of coffee, to your language partner, although they won’t say so, this is a lot of money. Be considerate and meet in a park, library, or somewhere like McDonald’s where you can loiter for free or pay a couple of kuai for a soda.

This man wants to be your language partner

With both a tutor and language partner you’ll get more out of it if you come to a session prepared with a story, vocab, questions from class, or a topic to discuss. Unlike formal classes you can study the topics you’re most interested in. If you urge them to, your tutor or language partner can make sure you correct all your tonal and grammar mistakes.

A language partner or tutor is more than just another aid to learn a language – they are a teacher, friend, and guide to Chinese culture as well. Many friendships and, as many an expat will tell you, relationships grow out of hours spent drilling tones or English grammar. Shop around until you find a suitable tutor for yourself – and be careful about giving out your phone number.

Related Links
7 Reasons You Should Learn Chinese: 1-3
Want to Learn Chinese? Choosing the Best Language Program

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on without written permission from constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.


All comments are subject to moderation by staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



That first line could not have been catchier.

Apr 23, 2011 00:48 Report Abuse



oh,really?wat type of business r u planing to set?i also wanna start to do do you think?

Apr 27, 2011 19:39 Report Abuse