So what do you do if your language partner only wants to speak English?
Known colloquially as the ‘language power struggle’, I’ve provided some tips below to help get around this issue and improve your spoken Mandarin.
Why It's Hard to Find a Chinese Language Partner
This question sounds paradoxical, especially since anyone who speaks a decent level of Chinese will tell you to spend time in China to improve your Mandarin.
However, even in China, you will always encounter issues maximizing your time speaking Mandarin. When you spend time with local Chinese, you'll realize that many of them...
- Speak better English than you speak Chinese. So to promote the efficiency of communication, the language used is the one that both parties are best at.
- Have many foreign friends and have habits of only speaking to foreigners in English even after making it clear you want to improve your spoken Mandarin.
- Want to speak English with you to finally get some use out of the decade they spent learning English at school.
Solution for Finding a Good Language Partner
While a lot of the time it just requires patience and a bit of luck, there are a couple tried-and-true solutions you can use to find a good Chinese language partner.
1. Language Exchange (with careful consideration)
I say careful consideration here in that I tried many language exchanges during my time in China only to be disappointed.
Most of my tutors were either not qualified to teach Chinese as a second language, often canceled, or each session we had turned into an off-topic conversation in English.
So who is best suited for a language exchange? This may sound mean but you need to find people who are:
- Really bored...
- ...and who want to listen to you.
John Pasden from Sinosplice discusses how he used to spend an hour a day talking to the guards at the building where he worked.
Their job consisted of essentially sitting all day, pressing a button to open the gates when a car came. They were understandably very bored – and therefore far more willing to put up with John’s broken Chinese and explain things to him when he did not understand.
Bingo. This is like having free Chinese tutors!
The best thing was the guards loved having John there to chat and invited him to visit them every day. Needless to say, John’s Chinese is now amazing.
You can try this approach and you don’t necessarily need to chat with guards. Try visiting restaurants or shops and talk to the owners (bookshops are great).
Alternatively, you can befriend senior citizens in parks, who are usually more than happy to talk to foreigners interested in their language and culture.
2. Online Tutoring (with an experienced teacher)
Although you are likely to maximize opportunities to practice your Mandarin through a language exchange, you still may need guidance on new vocabulary, grammar structures, and areas where you can improve.
Unless your language partner is a trained teacher in teaching Mandarin as a second language, it is likely this need will go unmet.
For this reason, I recommend signing up for online tutoring for Chinese. With a quality online tutor, you can count on having an experienced professional develop your spoken Mandarin.
Additionally, you can spend less time trying to find a quality language partner and instead dive right into improving your Mandarin from the comfort of your home.
Final Thoughts on Language Partners
Many other aspects that hinder your ability to improve your Chinese have everything to do with how you spend your time in China.
If you are not happy with your Chinese, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Does the time I am spending with foreigners outweigh what I am spending with locals?
- Am I actively immersing myself in the local community with Chinese that don’t speak English?
- Am I not devoting enough time to study my Chinese textbook and other helpful resources?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, try to rethink ways how you can spend more time immersing yourself into the local environment and increasing the time you spend studying Chinese.