Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Taiwan: 2011 Summer Fellows – Language Exchange

For students who are concentrating on foreign language study, finding a language partner is one of the most effective ways of spending one’s after-school hours. First of all, students will have chance to practice, in casual conversation, the language they’re studying. Even if one’s language program provides a well-structured curriculum, there are numerous informal expressions and slang phrases that the curriculum does not cover. Moreover, students will broaden their general understanding of the society and culture by spending time with native speakers. Students can learn a native’s way of speaking by discussing and confronting specific situations.

How can one go about finding a good language partner? Many students can find a language partner by themselves. Indeed, there are quite a few proposals for language exchange partners on the language program and international student dormitory bulletin board. You can also gain information from online community websites such as Tealit ( There is, however, a risk in finding partners through public exchanges, since you have to choose one or two partners from large numbers of anonymous candidates. Most of the time, you will meet friendly and enthusiastic language partners, but sometimes the partners might not be the most educational. If you are not satisfied, you can try to find another partner, but that means you have already invested your time and energy.

A more reliable route is asking for introduction to a native speaker. If you have Taiwanese friends, they may help you to find people who want to learn a foreign language and are willing to meet for conversation. Even if you don’t have any acquaintances in Taiwan, however, you can contact foreign language programs or departments of literature and ask them to introduce language partners. Most language program offices or departments are eager to help because language exchange is also beneficial for their own students. The people they will introduce to you are “verified” students who are currently investing their own time and resources towards language study at an academic institution.

In my second weekend in Taiwan, I sent an email asking for help in finding a Korean-Chinese language partner, and sent my curriculum vitae to the Language Center at the National Taiwan University (The Language Center offers English, Japanese, French, German, Korean, Vietnamese, and Latin courses). A few days later, one Korean instructor replied to my email and introduced me to his former student Amy. She is a professor of linguistics at a university in Gaoshung. I meet with Amy three or four times a week. We have lunch together and study together during the afternoon. I help her to solve problems with her Korean textbook, and she helps me to follow the ICLP’s curriculum. Sometimes she shows me around the NTU and gives me a feel for Taiwanese life.

Besides offering me a greater opportunity to speak in a variety of real-life situations, as a language partner with professional knowledge, she helps me in diverse ways. Based on her general understanding of linguistics, Amy always tries to provide me with a deeper understanding of Chinese. On the first day we met, she explained a difference between ideograms and phonograms in order to point out the uniqueness of Chinese. She is a strict user of Mandarin, and also shows me how to use Chinese in the most appropriate way for a given situation. For example, she drew a clear distinction between 方法, measure, and 辦法, solution, which my teachers had not provided. In addition, she often suggests alternatives to outdated expressions in my textbooks.

Thanks to its open attitude towards foreign culture, Taiwan is a good place to enjoy the various advantages of language exchange. There are many people who want to study foreign languages, and most Taiwanese are quite friendly to foreigners. Those partners will help you learn up-to-date Chinese in many ways. Therefore, if you are eager to improve your Mandarin Chinese, go for it!

Seung Joon PAIK
Ph.D. Political Science, 2015
Sigur Center 2011 Chinese Language Fellow
National Taiwan University, Taiwan

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