“中午好你收到我发给你EMIAL AND SCRIPT”
This was a text message I received a couple of days ago. It was sent by Tiger, a humorous and easy-going American friend. I usually send English text messages to my foreign friends and students, and they reply to me with short messages in English. But Tiger is different. Every time he calls me, he greets me in Chinese first. “你好！ 忙不忙？” And he often texts me with Chinese and English. To tell you the truth, I never expected that foreigners would communicate with me in Chinese. So the first time when Tiger spoke to me in Chinese, I was interested and impressed. The interesting part was that Tiger spoke with a funny American accent, misused words, and had different sentence structures. The impressive part was that a person with white skin and blue eyes could talk with me in my mother tongue. But now I am accustomed to his way of using Chinese. When he says hello to me in Chinese on the phone, I always answer in Chinese, and I ask him whether he has eaten yet or not. This kind of greeting always makes us laugh. Besides Tiger, there are other foreigners around me who speak Chinese, such as Peter, Neil and Josh.
As a second language learner myself, I am used to thinking about what I can learn from other language learners. And it’s rewarding to learn from native English speakers interested in learning Chinese as a new language. When it comes to learning Chinese, they have some common learning attitudes and approaches. Let’s first talk about the good ones.
The foreigners that I know are not afraid of making mistakes when speaking Chinese. Peter, an American with his own business in Zhengzhou told me a story one day. “I once misused the word la ji (garbage)", said Peter. "It was at someone’s birthday party. After I put the birthday cake on the table, I asked where the la ji was. Actually, I wanted to ask where the la zhu (candles) were.” When you are learning a new language, don’t be afraid of making mistakes because without making mistakes you cannot make progress.
If there is a bad approach to learning Chinese that is shared among foreigners I know, it is that, from what I can tell, they don’t have a strong motivation to learn the language. I mean that they are interested in learning Chinese, but they don’t think it’s a must to learn. That may be one reason that they can speak a little Chinese, but fail to speak authentic Chinese.