Interview with a language exchange partner
Tell us a little bit about yourself
Hello. My name is Amelia Li. I had my birthday recently, now I am 28 years old.
I’ve lived and worked in Shanghai for the last four years. I am an operations manager in a financial education company. All the clients are Chinese, and I don’t get a chance to use my English. I like my job because I can help people to decide how to make financial investments in the various Chinese stock markets.
Before being an operations manager in the financial sector I was working as a nuclear physicist. I decided to change because I didn’t want to be a nuclear physicist any more; also the nuclear plant, where I worked, was very far from any town.
My ambition is to travel to England to study a Masters Degree in Marketing. I can also practice my English there, and meet people from all over the world.
Tell us something about your English
I have been learning English for over 20 years. It was at primary school when I was 6 years old that I started learning English. There have been times when I didn’t study English, so there have been big breaks in my learning. I feel that I didn’t form a good habit in speaking English.
Over this period I learnt English in state schools and at university. We concentrated mainly on learning grammar and reading but not on speaking. In the first couple of years of university, where I studied nuclear technology, we had some native English language teachers so we had the opportunity to speak English in the class. We only had 1 or 2 hours per week of actually speaking English. We never really took the opportunity to speak English outside these classes. When we got to the latter years of study at university we didn’t have any English speaking classes.
I feel my spoken English is not so bad but I need to improve it a lot to become fluent. There isn’t much opportunity to use it. I like English very much because it’s exciting. It has opened a new and different world to me. Many of my friends who were learning English with me have given up; they have now forgotten a lot of their English. I don’t want that to happen to me. I am pushing myself continuously to learn and to improve my English.
My ambition for English is to improve and speak it well. I would like to study abroad in an English speaking country or working in an English speaking environment. Learning English will open up new horizons and can create greater possibilities for my future, not just in China but internationally.
Why did you begin a language exchange?
For many years I felt that my spoken English wasn’t improving so I decided to look for native speakers to help. I had already tried many courses and apps but the progress had been very slow. To find a native English to speak to directly, I considered, would help me much more. I wanted to find a person who was patient. They could help me improve my spoken English. In return I would help them with learning Chinese. I wanted to try something completely new and not study in a classroom anymore.
I asked some friends how I could to find native English speakers. They told me about a language exchange website – conversationexchange.com. I put an advert on it for free. Over several months I looked for people and found a few. I had many responses but I refused most because they didn’t say much about themselves, or never really showed much interest in learning Chinese.
What has been your experience of the language exchange?
Generally, my experience of the language exchange has been very positive. I feel so lucky to have found a person who can help me – I have learnt a lot from him. In the first sessions I felt that I wasn’t fluent in speaking but after several months I started to become fluent. Therefore, I hope very much that we can continue the exchanges.
I have also learnt much more than English. Sometimes, I talk about my life in English. It has helped me deal with problems in my life. We have also become friends. My current language partner has become a 良师益友 – liáng shī yì yǒu – which is the Chinese name for a kind of mentor. It can literally be translated as good teacher good friend.
We have developed a style of learning that changes and evolves. This is based on making the sessions interesting and supportive. For example, when I speak a sentence my partner waits for me to finish and then he corrects me. He does not interrupt me while I am speaking. Some people interrupt and also they would never correct me. And when we read a text he gets me to guess the meaning of the word or sentence from the context and to figure it out – with a little help from him. With this process I have to take responsibility for my own learning – which means having patience and finding my own solutions. You have to persist in doing the sessions and with time you will have results.
In teaching Chinese to my language exchange partner I tried to understand what he wanted to learn and determine his level, which was easy, because it was zero! I prepared many things before we started the sessions. I wanted my exchange partner to learn well and to make it a positive experience. I tried to make it relaxed and as well as serious.
I thought first it would be easy to teach someone with zero Mandarin but it has not been so easy. So I changed the teaching speed, and slowed down. We review everything repeatedly after teaching Chinese language points to him. The most important thing is to get to know your language exchange partner. Find out their level and their gaols. This will take some time. And you need a lot of patience!
How would you improve the language exchange sessions?
As far as my English is concerned we need to constantly find new things to talk about – change topics to make them interesting and relevant. It is important to have the right level for the sessions. I have intermediate English so it is not so complicated to find the right materials for me and speaking subjects. I need sessions that are not too easy but also not too hard, but somewhere in the middle. In this way I can improve.
As for teaching Chinese to my language partner, I have encouraged him a lot by showing him how to pronounce the sounds of the characters and sentences accurately – so I made him learn Pinyin. We do basic Chinese language structures; we repeat and review the same points a lot. Progress is slow but sure.
There is an old saying in Chinese
wàn shì kāi tóu nán
ALL BEGINNINGS ARE HARD
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