Mandarin textbooks and Chinese language learning apps are great resources. But to be frank, if you want to achieve fluency in Chinese, you also need Chinese speakers consistently in your life. In this guide, we’re going to give our best tips on how to find a Chinese language partner. We’ll also share advice on finding the right language partner for you, and how to maximize your time together.
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First, let’s discuss how to find a conversation partner:
- In China
- Outside of China
If you’re in China, finding a language partner shouldn’t be hard, but it will still require some intentionality. Not everyone in China will be interested in learning English with you, but there is one place you can find English learners in any city. Locate a university or college near you. Most Chinese universities will allow you to come onto their campus. Then, find the English language department. From there you should be able to ask around to find young Chinese people who would be interested in having a language exchange with you.
If you’re interested in enrolling in a language school in China, this Chinese language school has its own language partner program. The language school hosts both foreigners studying Chinese as well as Chinese people studying English. By enrolling in courses, you can be paired up with a Chinese language partner.
Attending a university’s English corner is also a great way to meet lots of language learners quickly. Even if you can’t find a university near you, you can still ask around and find language corners that are held in coffee shops or peoples’ homes.
Even outside of China, universities are still the best places to meet Chinese people. Almost every university in the West has an international student population where Chinese are the most abundant. Check out any university’s international student office and ask about conversation clubs or international meet and greet activities. You’ll definitely meet someone Chinese.
Chinese people who are new to the West and who enroll in universities often have a hard time making friends. Their upbringing usually differs greatly from their Western peers, and many of their classmates don’t take an interest in them. If you’re interested in befriending Chinese international students and learning more about their culture, they’ll probably be pleased to meet you!
A restaurant isn’t the ideal place to make Chinese friends, but it may be your next best option if you don’t live anywhere close to a university. Many small Chinese restaurants are owned by Chinese people. Even if they’re not interested in hanging out, they may know someone who is.
Hello Talk: This free app is all you’ll need to meet a Chinese language partner online. When registering, you select your native language as well as the language you’d like to learn. You’ll instantly be able to view Chinese users who want to learn your language. Then, any of these users can message you. You’ll soon have more conversation partners than you can handle!
The messaging interface in Hello Talk allows you to send phone calls, video calls, text, and voice messages. It also allows you to correct your partner’s text messages, so they can see the right way to say what they want to express.
HelloTalk also lets you search for users by region. You just might find someone nearby!
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Here are a few characteristics to look for in a great language partner:
- Passion: Ideally, you won’t have to persuade someone to be your language partner – they’ll be as eager as you are. You don’t want to pair up with someone who is half-hearted about language learning. They may constantly make excuses of being too busy or too tired or “forget” to meet up with you. A genuinely passionate language learner will be consistent in their language exchange with you.
- The right level: If you’re a beginner, you don’t want to pair up with another beginner. Neither of you will have enough lexical resources to communicate. You’ll need someone with stronger language abilities to carry your conversation, more like a tutor. If you’re at an intermediate or advanced level, it’s best to find someone closer to your level. This way you can split your conversations 50/50 and avoid one language dominating the conversation.
- A knack for trying new things: Over time, language partners can easily grow tired of meeting at the same place and talking about the same things. However, if you can find someone who enjoys trying new things and going new places, it will be easier to build a natural friendship. Strive to keep your language exchange alive!
Once you’ve found someone who suits you well, keep these 7 tips in mind to maximize the potential of the exchange.
In the West, it’s usually easy for us to poke fun at our own country, culture, or even political leaders. This isn’t as common in China. Even among the younger generation in China, it’s normal for people to take great pride in their country, culture, and leaders. If you’d like to discuss an aspect of China that troubles you, do so respectfully. Otherwise, your partner may take your jokes or criticism very personally.
Don’t just talk about the weather! Discussing topics such as cultural differences can be more interesting, but they can also become very redundant. One of the best ways to keep interest in your conversations is to share details of your personal life with your partner. This will help your partner feel they can open up to you about their own life, and you’ll have much more to talk about. In this way, you’ll eventually be able to talk with them as you would with a close friend.
It’s best to have vocab sets and grammar points that you’re currently studying on your own. Instead of relying on your partner to introduce new language, you can use them to help clear up questions you have regarding what you’re already studying.
For your first few meetings, you might meet at the same time and at the same place. If this continues, however, it can be easy for the two of you to lose interest in the exchange. Invite your language partner to do what you love to do: go to parties, sporting events, travel, etc. Some of the most useful spoken language can be learned from interacting in more natural environments.
Your language partner likely isn’t a professional language educator. They simply grew up speaking Chinese and may not know all the language rules. When you ask them “Why do you use (grammar structure)?”, expect to hear “I don’t know. That’s just the way we say it!” Maintaining appropriate expectations can prevent unnecessary frustration.
Chinese people are often very polite, especially regarding a foreigner’s Mandarin ability. They may be very hesitant to correct what you say, for fear of offending you. Remind them that you want them to correct your errors – you need it!
You’re going to make language mistakes… a lot. Learn to laugh when you say something incorrectly. This can keep you from getting frustrated, or from taking it personally when your partner corrects you over and over.
Here’s the last question we’ll discuss in this guide, as it’s often on the mind of many single language learners:
Obviously, one of the quickest methods to learn a language is to fall in love with a native speaker of that language. It’s the ultimate way to require you to keep using the language throughout the day, as you’ll be interacting with your partner often.
However, we strongly recommend you don’t use this as a factor in choosing a romantic partner. When choosing a life partner, you should focus on the personal traits of that individual, as well as the compatibility of your future together. It’s easy to let your passion to learn Chinese blind you from thinking clearly about the person you’re falling in love with.
This is especially important to consider since Chinese culture can be very different from the West.
One example is in regard to money. In China, children are usually expected to provide financially for their parents and grandparents as they get older. In many cases, they may choose to live together or nearby. This can be troubling if you ever want to move back to your home country to live. When marrying a Chinese person, it’s often said that you aren’t marrying one person. You’re marrying a whole family. And since the wishes of Chinese parents can sometimes precede the wishes of a spouse, there’s potential for major conflict. This can be especially true for Western/Chinese couples.
It’s also important to consider how compatible your future with a Chinese citizen may be. It can be difficult for Chinese citizens to get tourist visas to Western countries. Usually, if authorities know that the Chinese person is visiting a romantic partner in these countries, they won’t be awarded a tourist visa for fear of illegal immigration. And resorting to an immigration visa can be a long, expensive, and tiring process. An immigration visa usually takes a year or more to process.
Also, China doesn’t allow dual citizenship. This means that visits to China and your home country will always require processing visas for both of you.
You may find a wonderful Chinese life partner who suits you well. If so, this may also greatly help your Chinese language! However, if you choose your partner simply to learn Chinese, you may encounter an abundance of barriers you didn’t anticipate.
Finding a Chinese language partner isn’t hard, especially if you speak good English or another major world language. All you need to know is where to look and who to look for. And a little intentionality in your language exchange can earn you a gateway into authentic Chinese language. Needless to mention, you’ll also make a great friend. Best wishes to you as you learn Chinese!