IWTYAL 186: How to prepare for a trip to China

Quinton asks: “How can I prepare for my trip to China?”

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Full Transcript:

Olly: Good morning everybody. Welcome back to the I Will Teach You a Language podcast. Thank you very much for listening. If you are new here and you are learning a language or trying to then you are in the right place.

This is where I talk to you about language learning, give you some of my experience about learning languages from my experience of learning, give or take, about 10 languages. Most of them really badly but nevertheless having the experience of going through that language learning journey and figuring out quite a few, I guess you would call them truths, along the way. Commonalities, things that make language easier rather than harder.

Today we have got a question that links what many of us dream about doing, it is the link between actually learning a language and then having the opportunity to go to the country to put it in to practice and experience the local culture and everything else that brings.

Before we that I would like to thank the sponsors of the show and the sponsors of the show are italki who have been sponsoring the show almost since the beginning. I love them. It is a place where you can find language teachers of all kinds colors shapes sizes and prices as well. If you would like to get a free lesson you can go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freelesson. So, you can pick a teacher, try him or her out and see how it goes.

Without any further ado let’s get in to today’s question from Quinton.

Quinton: Hi Olly. My name is Quinton. I live in Arizona in the United States and I've been studying Portuguese and Mandarin for a couple of years now. My Portuguese has now gotten to a point that it is pretty proficient. I can hold a conversation on most things. However, my Mandarin is still somewhat basic, I only know maybe 30 or 40 characters by heart and I have an opportunity to go to China this summer and stay for an extended period.

My question is, is there anything you could suggest to help improve a little bit more. I only have about two months before I will be going. Some people have suggested that I focus on learning all the radicals and phonetic symbols in order to learn more of the characters more easily. However other people have said that with how little time I have it would probably be better to just focus on the pinion and on the verbal spoken language more so than anything else.

But I am not sure if that will help me when I am trying to learn the written language while I am there. So, any thoughts suggestions or ideas for things I could do in the short amount of time I have to better prepare myself? Thanks.

Olly: Hi Quinton. Thank you very much for a great question.

That is so cool you are going to China. I am so jealous, I am sure everybody else listening is jealous as well. I hope you have a really great time and I am sure you are really really excited.

There are two things you have got to think about here. The first thing is what are you actually going to do when you are there. Are you just going to hang out? Are you going to stay with the host family? Are you actually going to be in a school? That is the first question.

The second question is, and this is probably the most important question. What will you be able to do? What will you have the opportunity to do when you are in China that you don't currently get the opportunity to do in Arizona?

Now the thing about Chinese is that you have got these two strands. You have got to learn to read and write, we don't have to actually but most people want to. You have got to learn to read and then you have got to learn to speak. Although they are obviously very closely linked you don't necessarily need one or the other.

Now we are not going to get in to a discussion here about whether or not you should learn to read and write Chinese characters, we have done that elsewhere, and also, I don't know that much about your situation Quinten so it is difficult for me to comment.

But I would have thought that if you are going to spend a bit of time in China, whether it is a couple of weeks or a couple of months, most likely the unique opportunity that presents itself from that trip is the opportunity to speak a lot with people. When it comes to reading, and writing if that is an aim of yours and it is something that you want to work on you don't have to be in China to do that, you can do that perfectly well in your room at home in Arizona. It is not so fun and it might be a bit slower, but really it is just a question of learning a lot of characters.

There is nothing particularly unique about going to China for learning Chinese characters. If you are just there for a few weeks you might pick up a few characters on the street but really if you are going to improve your writing or your reading massively it is going to mean you sitting in a room by yourself and studying. So, you can do that back home in Arizona.

So, for me the really unique opportunity you have got is to speak and in your situation what I would be doing is to try to arrange as many speaking partners as I can in advance. What I found when I went to Hong Kong was that everybody spoke to me in English in the sort of circles that I moved in. So, the way that I got my speaking practice was actually going on websites like conversationexchange.com and actually looking for local people in Hong Kong who were up for doing language exchange. That worked out super well. But the point was that I had to actually go and organise it.

In China from what I have heard, because I have never been to China, but from what I have heard you won't have the same problem. It is not so common to speak English in China and so you should be able to get a lot of Chinese speaking practice there.

So, the first thing is that. I would focus all of my ambitions during that trip on just speaking as much as possible. That is the opportunity you have got. If you do spend a few weeks speaking non-stop then you have got a great opportunity to really cross that threshold of competence and confidence as well that comes from just many many hours of speaking and pushing through those language barriers. So that is the big opportunity.

In terms of how to prepare for that then I would get on Italki. As you know you can get a free lesson at iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freelesson. So, use that if you haven’t already. I would find a couple of tutors on italki and I would just be speaking with them every day. It is very affordable to get spoken Chinese practice online. So, if you can I would load up your days with 30 minutes speaking session, so every day speak Chinese for 30 minutes. Just get in to the habit of it. Get that speaking muscle going and just do that really.

If you are going soon to China you are not going to make a massive in road in to your ability in just over a few weeks. So, I think the biggest thing you can do is just get that speaking practice, get used to speaking Chinese on a daily basis so that when you arrive you can really hit the ground running.

Now again I don't know what your situation is whether you are going to study in a school or whether you are doing a homestay or what or if you are just on a trip or if you are going to be traveling around. All of those situations have slightly different implications for you and language practice. If you are doing a homestay it is ideal because you just speak all day long. If you are going to a school then you get taught so you don't have that much say. Then if you are just traveling actually that can be the most tricky of all because unless you are the kind of person who can just kind of shamelessly speak in any situation then it can actually be quite tricky to get structured speaking practice.

So, depending on the situation you are in I would definitely look at trying to contact some people in advance and arranging to meet them for language exchange. The cool things about that is then that is also a really good way to make friends and they can show you around the local place where you are. That is especially good if you are just going to be staying in one place. We have many many Chinese people listening to this podcast, so what you could do Quinton is go in to the show notes, which will be at iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode186. Let us know where you are going to be going and we might have some listeners here who will be able to reply and maybe they would invite you to go for some food or have a chat in Chinese or something like that. It would be so cool if I could connect you with other people locally where you are going.

So, go and let us know some more information in the comments and if you are in China if you are Chinese and you would like to help Quinton out and maybe show him around, depending on where he is going, go and reply in the comments and let him know. Invite him to get in touch, I am sure that would be most welcome.

So, it is about that really, I think it’s about really thinking what is the unique opportunity about going to China and how can I make the most out of it. Hopefully the suggestions here have given you some inspiration for that and I hope you have a great time, let us know how it goes.

If you would like to ask me a question like Quinton did you can go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask. If you would like to leave a review on the show that would be most welcome because it helps other people find the podcast. So just go to the iTunes store, search for i will teach you a language and you leave me a review there. I'd love you forever if you did that.

Now at the end of every episode I'd like to leave you with a resource of some kind on the topic of the show and this resource for today is actually a recent podcast episode that Quinton you should definitely listen to because it would be good preparation for you. It is episode 153 and it is tips for learning languages abroad. I recorded this at the new year whilst I was in Hong Kong so it was really on my mind at that time. So, have a listen to that if you are planning a trip abroad at any point this year. Check out this episode as well because it will really give you some idea on how to focus your time so you make the most out of it.

Thank you very much for listening. I will see you back in the next episode for a very very special one indeed. I am not going to tell you what it is, you will just have to listen back for that next week.

Talk to you soon, bye bye.

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