Sunday, July 31, 2011

Summer Fellows 2011-Learning Chinese Outside of the Classroom

As with any language, making use of new vocabulary and grammar structures helps reinforce the material learned in class. After all, class is only 3 hours a day. Prior to my departure, a common warning I received was getting stuck in an “American bubble,” where American students would only interact with each other and lose opportunities to enhance their language skill. Interact with locals as much as you can, they would say. Despite these cautions, I discovered that it easier said than done—especially for a student near the beginner/intermediate language levels like myself. In this blog post, I would like to introduce a few methods that I have learned to practice my Chinese outside of a classroom setting.

1. Don’t rush and take your time: If it is your first time studying Chinese outside of the US, it is only natural to need a few weeks to build your confidence in speaking. Speaking is the least practiced skill in Chinese classes in the US, so your pronunciation and word choice will at first be difficult for locals to understand. If you are in Taipei, many people can speak English, so they may even choose to start speaking English while you are stumbling over words. Personally, I needed two to three weeks of classes before I could string together sentences (that made sense).

2. Find a Language Exchange Partner: In Taipei, there are many students that are looking to practice their English, so language exchanges are easy to organize. It is a great segway into making local Taiwanese friends. I have so far used two methods to finding language exchange partners: the bulletin at ICLP and language exchange websites. On the first floor of the language center at ICLP, there is a bulletin board where students (foreign and Taiwanese) that are looking for language exchange post flyers with a brief description of themselves and their contact information. Using the bulletin ensures that the person you are getting in touch with is affiliated to the university, close to your age group. Language exchange websites, such as, are also available. Using the website helps you find language exchange partners from other universities and various age groups.

3. Home Stay: Although I am not doing a home stay, I have heard from my classmates that it makes an incredible difference in the improvement of their Chinese. Being in a home stay ensures that you are constantly in a Chinese –speaking environment. Especially if you are planning to do a 2-3 month study abroad, I would highly recommend setting up a home stay to maximize your learning during a short period of time.

Kazu Koyama

BA International Affairs 2012

International Chinese Language Program

Taipei, Taiwan

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