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

Language Wars: English-Speaking Chinese Person Meets Mandarin-Speaking Foreigner
Mar 20, 2017 By Benjamin Burley ,

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 lifestyle; 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 lifestyle”. 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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Mar 31, 2017 18:55 Report Abuse



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 Report Abuse



choc de culture

Mar 20, 2017 16:44 Report Abuse



Another point is that strange thought usually Chineses got, that in their mind any foreigner is American and speaks English. They don´t even consider many of us are French, Italians, Germans, Spaniards, Argentinians, Russians...Sometimes when you say that you speak another language different from English they surprisily answer " What?, aren´t you a foreigner?". But of course: When they go to Europe, never tell them " for us chinese and japaneses are the same" unless you wanna offend them deeply.

Jan 03, 2015 12:08 Report Abuse



Oh boy do I have their number on the flattery part, (I'm not fluent Putonghua speaker) but I have a conversation with someone (a Chinese person) and they try to use any English I ALWAYS say "Ni de yingwen bi wo de zhongwen hen hao!" I don't know if that's totally correct but man oh man do I win some brownie points! If there's something I've learned cultural wise since I've been here (for almost two months) is flattery goes a LONG way. No I'm not talking about with women, I'm talking about with meeting new contacts or making new friends.

Dec 27, 2014 21:35 Report Abuse



haha, brilliant

Aug 03, 2014 13:46 Report Abuse



I'm still trying to find the main point here. Is this an article on how to convince your Chinese friends to practice mandarin? Or is this some amateur etiquette seminar?

Aug 01, 2014 07:51 Report Abuse



I thoroughly enjoy ALL of the comments on this website, "negative" or "positive". It is just entertainment folks! According to the Android Meme (look it up) your opinions don't really matter and never did in this type of electronic media environment, but you might get some "relief" and maybe a few laughs from the audience once in awhile. China can be frustrating, and sometimes it is better to bitch and moan here a little bit with others that can understand English than to go shooting up a McDonald's (sorry, no guns here). For those "foreign friends" that feel the need to "defend China and Chinese culture/people", there are already about 1 billion highly trained robots ready and able to do that, and plenty of websites dedicated to extolling the virtues of the motherland, both in English and Chinese, but hey, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and say it! I support you! That said, it is true that some people can be really naive about China, some hyper-cynical, and others, just plain weird.......I feel everything is welcome here and PLEASE throw something interesting into the pot once in a while to get it bubbling. This is why we hang out here. The traditional media here in Chinar is BORING. If you want to rant and rave, or blow sunshine and puppydogs up somebody's butt, it is all good as long as it is INTERESTING. There is no REQUIREMENT for "content" to be "positive" or "negative" (whatever that means), as long as you are creating "content". BTW this site is run by CCP 50 cent army propagandists (just look at the articles that get submitted). We should be grateful they are providing us with this forum. Thank you moderators! I'm surprised it hasn't been "harmonized" already like the rest of Chinacyberland. At least you can still say fuck. Have a nice day!

Jul 31, 2014 20:11 Report Abuse



"Out of necessity" Cant find a proper job or women who are interested in you in your home country , that is your necessity for being here dude.. 'nuff said.

Aug 01, 2014 12:08 Report Abuse



Sure, then you should ask the jews how they feel when germans killed them in world war II, and while we are at it we should blame american citizens for killing native americans, french people for killing algerians, and we should hold current british citizens accountable for what the british empire did , and the opium wars... Retard...

Aug 02, 2014 12:19 Report Abuse



And btw study your history. Armenians were not guests in Turkey. They were there before turks migrated there. I have greek ancestry so don't talk to me about what turks did...But i don't hold the current citizens of turkey accountable for something the empire did back in the day..Thats stupid

Aug 02, 2014 12:28 Report Abuse



You forgot to mention the Arts degree.

Aug 03, 2014 08:57 Report Abuse



Man i am sorry for what your family went through but i'm sure you don't go around blaming germans now for what the third reich did..

Aug 03, 2014 10:57 Report Abuse



Damn people can be harsh with comments

Jul 31, 2014 15:15 Report Abuse



Whats with all the hate towards chinese people on this website? I really don't get it...I mean I know opinions are meant to be respected but you guys do realise its a different culture right? China is not the US and never will be like the US. You should stop comparing chinese people to american people or try to put them into a western standard because you all have western mindsets. Yes, sometimes some stuff they do, some traditions they have is too foreign to me too , and yes it pisses me off to no end when someone says : 不行不行 or 没办法 to something actually not impossible , or yeah it did piss me off when people were laughing at my chinese when i was learning it , but its not because they make fun of you its because chinese people are shy...They are brought up on this kind of society...They are not american ...or western...They don't have the same mindset as the western people. All in all, you guys should be more open minded...Stop fighting or complaining against something you cannot change. Chinese people are like this and they won't change to please americans, europeans etc. Plus you are in THEIR country. You are all GUESTS in THEIR country... Adapt...Darwin...I Ching...All that stuff guys...Evolve or die ...stop complaining...or just go back...simple as that..

Jul 31, 2014 15:15 Report Abuse



Gee........i wunder how many long- term "guests" are living in Chinar? At what point are they no longer "guests" and begin to have feelings about their new environment, both "positive" and "negative"? How many "guests" in Chinar get the privilege of going to work everyday and dealing with the "happy citizens"? When was the last time you asked a guest to run your business, pay your taxes, or educate your children? Is there a time line or some kind of qualification certificate when the Chinese decide that you are no longer a "guest"? Fluency in Mandarin? CCP membership? Minimal capital investment? (he,he) I suppoze that you wouldn't say rude things to guests, or let them see your dirty house and fighting relatives, or attempt to cheat them at the market. "Guests get best!". The idea of foreigners being "guests" in China is typically an Amerikan meme promoted by apologists for Chinar and is usefully exploited by the CCP. When some foreigner screws up, or says something uncomfortably true that causes loss of face, the "foreign guest mantra" is invoked (Because you wouldn't do that at home, right?). The Chinese themselves don't feel this way (just ask them when the camera is off), they just see "economic opportunities" and "peaceful development". I have seen many rich Chinese tourists act like jackasses in Amerika, and they could care less about "American Culture". Lots of Chinese hate foreigners too and don't like to see them in their country taking their jobs (that they can't do) screwing their women(that they don't want)and stealing their money(that they stole fairly from someone else), but need foreign ideas,IP, investments, and English lessons right now (for a little while). They would be glad to get rid of us if they could. Amerika also hates its foreigners, but needs the cheap labor and $$$ college tuition fees. For years, it has been loss of face and humiliation at the hands of foreign powers that has driven the Chinese "economic miracle" to succeed at any cost, even taking on "Foreign Friends". "Foreign Friends" will be screwed here if they are dumb enough to believe that everything Chinese people say is true. They have even gotten foreigners to repeat the dumb shit that Chinese people say in Chinese! Chinese people also screw each other and laugh about it, so screwing the laowai is no big deal anymore, and is morally/historically justified by CCP. You should be laughing too when some "old China hand" is gonna "tell you like it is" or chide you for being your cynical American/European/Western self because it IS FUNNY how the CCP has gotten laowai to do their work FOR THEM for free.It is called the Central Propaganda Department. We're obviously not in Amerika, Darwin. Quit lecturing us with bumper sticker wisdom and say something ORIGINAL. Some of us are not here out of choice but necessity, and we need to vent once in awhile. If it were as simple as "just go back to Amerika/EU" then fewer of us would be here, as Amerika and much of the EU is currently an economic wasteland and we are a little bitter about it. Adapt to this. BTW Charles Darwin enjoyed eating exotic, nearly extinct animals that he discovered, just like the Chinese. Have a nice day!

Jul 31, 2014 22:22 Report Abuse



Wouldn't the Chinese family who let their kid shit on the seat of their flight from Beijing to Detroit recently be considered "guests" of Delta Airlines? They should've been ejected from the plane mid-flight!

Jul 31, 2014 23:55 Report Abuse



I did not say I enjoyed getting treated like a guest after having studied chinese for years, speaking mandarin in a near native level and having lived here for about 8 years. I hate it man ...Trust me i do get it...I am not in favour of this , but its the sad truth unfortunately...Even if you live here for 40 years you are still considered a "guest" ...

Aug 01, 2014 15:16 Report Abuse



Yeah and your typical white dude racist comments about "Chinese people" are SO original man ...Number 1: You cannot just put every single chinese people in the same basket by saying "Chinese people". That is very racist and quite frankly stupid. You are no different than the people you criticise. The people here who call you laowai as if we are all from the same country. 2. I m sorry dude but there is no "American Culture" . Well, if you consider hamburgers, guns, and keeping up with the kardashians a culture yeah thats true. America is a country made up of different cultures, it does not have its own culture. It is of course debatable if China has any culture left at this point, but do not compare it to the States. 3. Yeah its true. You are a guest. WE ARE ALL GUESTS here. Have you read the guy who left china after living here for like 40 years? He said the same words. He left because after all those years, after speaking chinese in a native level he is still considered A GUEST. Thats the cold hard truth. You will never be Chinese and they will never accept you as one of them. And no , they won't change their minds...Cold hard facts may hurt you but sorry dude thats just the way it is here. So basically my meaning is don't complain about shit you won't be able to change. You should just take it as it is...No need to be hostile at me cause you made wrong life choices and got stuck here man ...

Aug 01, 2014 15:28 Report Abuse



Well said JohnAE. There are a lot of people on this site that just seem to spew hate. It's anyone's guess why people who don't like a country and its people would choose to remain in that particular country? Empathy, tolerance and open-mindedness cannot be taught easily. Racism and bigotry can be taught easily and are often handed from one generation to the next. It seems no matter what the topic some people manage to turn it towards how inherently evil and flawed the Chinese people are without managing to hold their own race/country to the same standards. Sometimes people have to simplify the world just for their own comprehension of it.

Aug 02, 2014 13:54 Report Abuse



Thats true thats what they say...But you are confusing the word : "Guest" here. Chinese people can go to your country and be a citizen. When that happens they are no longer a guest there, they enjoy equal rights as you. But we can't here. You or me or anyone on this board will never enjoy equal rights. You live here 50 years you will still be dependent on some sort of visa. Always seen as "temporary". I am not criticising China here I'm just stating facts. Because why would i criticise? Thats their system...I don't agree with it but i respect it. I came here knowing these facts. I wasn't promised something different and got something totally different in the end.

Aug 03, 2014 11:13 Report Abuse



Yeah man. I mean look at this topic. Its about a chinese speaker and an english speaker, and underneath of it all hateful comments...Of course people are free to voice their opinions about whatever but i don't think "west centric" and "western supremacy" type of ideology is gonna help anyone working or studying here.

Aug 03, 2014 11:24 Report Abuse




Jul 31, 2014 02:20 Report Abuse



1) No one wants to teach me Chinese. 2) They only speak English. 3) They are insulted that I want learn Chinese as a practical matter, not because I love it. I do love the hanzi, but speaking is a necessary and useful skill. Sorry about that. 4) My Chinese lessons morph into long English conversations. It is pathetic. If I ask how to say a certain word in Chinese, to redirect the conversation, they stare into space for a moment and go back to English. 5) They won't admit that you can speak Mandarin even if you can. 6) Many believe we are unable to learn Chinese. It is a pain in the ...

Jul 30, 2014 17:03 Report Abuse