It doesn’t matter if you’re learning Chinese in your own country, or you have gone abroad to learn, finding good opportunities to practice Chinese can still be a problem. If you’re at home you have the obvious problems with immersing yourself in Chinese, and if you’re abroad you might find yourself in a bubble of foreigners, if you’re not careful.
(yes that is Mark Zuckerberg in the photo, from a recent video showing him learning Chinese)
Find a language-exchange partner
Something that you can do regardless of where you are is find a language exchange partner. When you’re first starting out learning Chinese this really is an essential part of the learning process. For the most part you’ll be in a classroom looking at a textbook and discussing the topics chapter by chapter. But it quickly becomes apparent that if you really are to learn this language you need to get out there and find a native speaker and see how people really speak in their every day lives, and not the polished version you see in the textbook.
This might seem impossible if you are learning Chinese at home, but try putting up a note on the noticeboard at the local university. There will no doubt be Chinese or Taiwanese students who are looking to meet local students to polish up on their English.
If you are learning Chinese in China or Taiwan you might think that a language exchange partner isn’t necessary, but it might even be more valuable, allowing you to learn local usage and integrate more into the place you are staying. Your Chinese Language Centre will no doubt have a language exchange programme already set up and you need only put your name on the list to find a partner – take advantage of the opportunity, it will do wonders for your Chinese conversation ability.
Make good use of your time during a language exchange
There are various things you can do during a language exchange, such as going through your textbook to clarify things you’re not sure of from class, or if you have any specific questions about how to translate things from your own language you can discuss that. One of the best usages of the time might be to go on a pseudo field-trip and discuss usage of words relating to place you visit, like ordering food in a cafe, going shopping for clothes, take a visit to a local tourist attraction or gallery, even discussing furniture in IKEA, whatever you have an interest in.
Generally speaking a language exchange might last for a about 2 hours, being split evenly between speaking Chinese and English. Make sure you make the most of your time and only revert back to English if you really can’t explain yourself in Chinese!
I’m sure you’ll meet really nice people who will likely turn into good friends, and what use is language if you can’t meet people?
Have you done a language exchange during you studies? What topics did you discuss and how did you arrange time? If you have any other ideas for study tips let us know in the comments!