Learning Chinese from Other Foreigners

Just curious if anyone has tried practicing Chinese with other foreigners? Like perhaps you arrange a session where you only speak to each other in Chinese.

I can understand why people wouldn’t want to do this, since they might be afraid of learning bad grammar, pronunciation etc. But surely there must be benefits from learning from another native English speaker, who can better understand and explain concepts in English, than from a native Chinese speaker?

It’s a good idea if the foreigner is a good teacher who knows what he or she is doing. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your time or worse misguided. Same with native Chinese speakers - just as much potential to be bad teachers.

I don’t necessarily mean where one person is the teacher and the other the student. More of an informal gathering where you just practice the Chinese you know with each other. There are bound to be words that come up, that one or more people don’t know, in which case the person who used that word could then explain it to the rest of the group.

No idea if this would work or not, just curious if anyone has tried anything like this.

I’ve done it before but it’s hard because people are either at different proficiency levels or they’re not committed enough and end up speaking English again.

I would be very concerned if it is “students teaching students” in this way – for the same reasons pair and groupwork isn’t good practice if we assume that input is the way language is acquired. Bad input is bad input, though bad input is better than no input, I suppose.

I agree that it shouldn’t be your only source of input. Just a way to supplement your learning from other sources.

I will try it out the next time I meet someone capable, and report back here.

I’ve had excellent results practicing Chinese with a foreigner, but then again he was known as something of a prodigy in both Mandarin and Cantonese. The point was that his Chinese was accurate. Accent is not as important a factor as most people might think so long as the person can easily be understood (that is, some foreign accent is okay, but not to the degree where tones are all wrong, absent entirely, or the person just can’t pronounce certain sounds at all).

The problem is that for beginning students, they can’t tell the difference between okay Mandarin and not-okay Mandarin. It’s one of those things, like immersion, that makes a great marketing brochure but doesn’t really help much in practice.

Agreed that there has to be some level of competency in the group.

There was a method that someone was marketing, which recommended a format like this:

Get four Lx natives who want to learn Ly. Get four Ly natives who want to learn Lx. Sit them together and start off with some topic that allows for plenty of basic conversation (something like, “What was something funny that happened recently in your life?”). Let the Lx speakers go first, for ten minutes, about the topic, and only among themselves. Ly speakers are free to jump in whenever, but are under no pressure. Lx speakers only have to stay on topic. Ly speakers each can ask one or two questions about Lx after each session. Then Lx speakers and Ly speakers switch roles. The whole period takes forty-ish minutes.

I have no clue if this method could work, but it is a student-to-student model.

Well, for Mandarin, it should be fine to rely on a Westerner to teach you. However, for something like Cantonese (which has no excellent grammar books, plus the language is changing very quickly), it is definitely not a good idea.

I have seen a Westerner trying to teach Cantonese on youtube. He treats Cantonese as if it is Mandarin. It is not a sin of course. If you use formal Mandarin phrases for speaking Cantonese, it is still understandable. However, it will become awkward, very weird that is, if you do this over and over again. For example, the usage of “自從…之後”. This conjunction, meaning “ever since”, is becoming very very unpopular in everyday Cantonese conversation.

Example: Ever since I moved here, I have not seen a movie. 自從(我)搬咗呢(呢道)之後,(我)就再冇睇戲喇。Most people, especially those in Hong Kong, would rather say: 搬呢咁耐,都冇睇戲喇。See the problem? The word “都” and “咁耐” has embraced the meaning of “ever since” and the perfect tense in Cantonese. “呢”, meaning come, covers the meaning of “here” so that “呢道” becomes redundant. Well, the guy on youtube deleted all my comments of course. He was embarrassed by my comments, I suppose.

A foreigner is unable to understand the culture behind and the subtle differences in the phrases used by a native speaker. So, it is much better to find a good native speaker who is good at English to teach you, than to rely on a non-native speaker who is good at English.

How about you teach the native speaker something else, in exchange for his/her teaching you Mandarin or Cantonese?

That’s exactly the reason why I hate in-class so called pair and groupwork between the students, the teacher just roaming about … I had to do it with several different nationalities and really, some I couldn’t even understand. How can one learn from this?