Free English


I remember reading an interesting article written by a white American guy who immigrated Japan. His article talked about how teaching English is his profession…and discussed the issue of “Free English Lessons” on the street. For example, waiting at a train station, someone might come up and want to practice their English and try to strike up a conversation. His point was that if he charges his clients money to have English conversations, why should he be obligated to have ‘free’ conversations with anyone on the street.

Not that I necessarily agree with his points (ie I don’t mind English small talk with strangers at the train station), but it is a very interstion view.

His website is:

He’s got a bunch of interesting stuff up there…


I haven’t looked at the site, but…

I’ve never bought this “free English lesson” idea, although I’ve heard a lot of foreigners complain about it. You charge your clients to be at a certain place at a certain time and to be prepared to teach them what they need to learn. Exchganing a few comments in English with someone on the street is just being civil. I suppose you could argue that people shouldn’t assume from your looks that you speak English or you don’t speak Chinese, and there are times when you really would rather not be bothered.

Most people who try to strike up a conversation in English with you are either showing off or looking for compliments on their English. For the most part. Of course, I had one guy come running up to me in a small town down south claiming to be the president of the United States. He did look a bit like George Sr, but I’m pretty sure he was just looney.

Anyway, I don’t get bent out of shape by someone trying out their English on me. I’ve gotten a lot of free Chinese lessons from Taxi drivers. What does bother me is when I start out in Chinese and they keep coming back at me with poor English.


I agree Jeff. Just relax, have a conversation if you want to, avoid one if you don’t. Why think about 3 minutes of talking as a lesson. It makes it sound like talking is some sort of chore.


This is an interesting thread, and deals with some issues that I had upon first coming back here.

First a bit about personal history. I studied Chinese in my undergrad for a few years as part of my major (East Asian Studies) and then landed a scholarship after graduation for the Mandarin Training Center. Studied there for a year, and then continued my Chinese study at a bushiban sort of place called CLD. Then I returned to Canada for the first year of my MA, and spent the last six months in Mainland China (Chengdu, Sichuan prov.). I returned to Taiwan in MArch of this year, and found myself quite upset with the amount of people speaking english to me.

Now for me (as well as the fellow on the aforementioned website), it seems to be an issue of consideration and communication. I really don’t mind someone with really good English coming over and speaking with me, they want to communicate with me, have a good ability to do so in English, and we have a good chat. However, if after the first few comments I can see that their English is simply of a very low level, I have often found that they REFUSE to speak with me in Chinese, after which the frustration begins to mount. My Chinese is quite good (I am able to discuss most university level topics), and I find this behaviour indicitive of the “English Beggar” approach that is mentioned on the Japan website. Lately, I have taken to saying that I am from Russia (I have a big beard), and only speak in Chinese. If they want to talk to me, that is fine, If not, off they go…

Really, in coming to Taiwan (and China), I want to communicate with people as much as possible. I find being seen as a quick and easy english lesson somewhat insulting. If someone truly wants to talk (and communicate) with me, sure. But this is often not the case.

In closing, let me pose a scenario. Imagine a Taiwanese person goes to the UK to study and refine his/her English, but studying Chinese has become quite the fad. Everywhere she goes, people refuse to speak English with her because they want to practise their Chinese. Although initially believing it to be an attempt to accomodate her culturally, she eventually becomes quite upset in that in addition to her ability in English not improving, she learns next to nothing about British culture because everyone she tries to speak with does it in poor Chinese. Does this ring some bells?

Best Regards

quote[quote] Exchganing a few comments in English with someone on the street is just being civil. [/quote]

it’s not the ‘free’ aspect so much that annoys me. I don’t mind helping people for free if it doesn’t pout me out too much. It’s just their motives that annoy me.

It jsut seems kind of strange for complete strangers to just come up and start chatting to you (that is only you, not the Chiense person next to you). Of course, it’s not because they want to be friendly but because they want help with their English (or maybe show off to their friends). They are not in the slightest bit interested in ME, so why should I want to talk to them. I always reply in Chinese, because I figure if they talk to me in Chinese then it means that they’re actually interested in conversation or friendship or whatever. Once this is established I could swithc to English a bit quite happily and not begrudge them a free lesson.

it’s comparable perhaps to a good looking woman in a bar. She gets annoyed with guys continually pestering her with the same tired lines, when actually they’r not at all interested in HER.



As this topic seems to be mainly concerned with difficulties encountered in relation to learning and practising Chinese, I have moved it to the Learning Chinese Forum. However, if it segues back into “When does an impromptu chat become a free English lesson ?” I’m sure someone will move it back !


Well I also am not a big fan of the free English lesson either. I’ve been out with small groups of people and we all can speak Chinese but they only speak English to me. Now that’s ok because we all understand and can join in the conversation. But when they talked to each other they would speak Taiwanese. I don’t understand Taiwanese and didn’t like feeling excluded from my “friends” conversations, but when I asked them to speak Chinese or English so I could participate they refused. Needless to say I couldn’t give a #$@@ about these “friends” anymore even though my Taiwanese is not too bad now.

If you just want a free English lesson and you’re not really interested in me as a person then #$#@ off. I am not a monkey to perform for you or a free English lesson. Next time I will hand them a bill after the conversation has ended.


I think they do it deliberately. Even my husband would do this with his parents or sisters and I’d have to ask him what they were talking about, especially if I heard my name. They grew up in California, so I’ve never understood why they don’t know that it’s rude.