Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

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Rem
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Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby Rem » Sat Feb 25, 2017 4:12 am

I’m now into the second part of my year abroad (China).

The classes here are pretty easy (especially from the reading/writing side) but, as usual, it’s my awful speaking and listening skills that are holding me back. :( I know that I need more exposure if I’m ever going to have any hope of improving but I’m just not getting it at the moment. I’ve heard of the English speaking bubble but I didn’t realise that it would be this easy to fall into and so hard to find chances to speak/hear Chinese while in China! In my short time here I've gotten good at ordering a coffee but not much else.

Because of the number of people in my class I hardly have any chance to speak Chinese there. The others are also a lot more confident than me, so the little that I do attempt to say generally gets drowned out.

I’m in a dorm of international students which means;
1. default = English outside of classes and
2. zero interaction with Chinese students.

There are no clubs that we can join…at least not that we’ve been told about. I’ve asked at the office and they have no idea if anything even exists. The few people I know here seem to hang out with other international students and go clubbing.

My Chinese isn’t good enough to find somewhere on my own and so far I’ve been too nervous to explore much by myself.

I haven’t even been able to continue my italki lessons because my internet is so unstable here, which also makes watching online videos/podcasts extremely difficult. I’m tempted to look into buying a TV. Seems a bit silly for my short time here, but at least I’d be able to hear some Chinese while I’m cooped up in my room. :(

In Germany they gave advice on how/where to find things. There were sports clubs and other groups to join which were held in German. They paired everyone up with a German student from the uni (admittedly I didn’t spend much time talking to them but it was reassuring to know that there was someone I could ask for help if/when I needed it). But there's been nothing like that here.

I know the solution is probably just to go for it and get out on my own, but I’ve been sat here thinking about doing that and so far the only result has been a knot in the pit of my stomach and a sinking feeling that, after a semester, I’ll be in pretty much the same situation that I’m in now with nothing to show for my time here. :(

________________________________

Another dilemma I have is that my teacher here has told me to move up to the higher class, but I don’t think I’ll be able to cope with the speaking/listening there. Adding to the confusion is the fact that my Chinese tutor back in the UK has suggested that I stay in the lower class. I’m genuinely not sure what to do for the best. Do I listen to them and stay in the lower class and hope that it will be good for my speaking and listening, even though I won’t learn a lot of the language? Or do I trust my teacher here, move up to the higher class and hope that, after some (probably a lot) of stress, the listening and speaking will eventually fall into place? :?
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby kanewai » Sat Feb 25, 2017 5:56 am

I've never taken a class overseas, but I've traveled both solo and with friends - and I notice that no matter how hard I try to speak the language, if I'm with someone else we fall back into English. The only exception to this is when we've made a pact to only speak the target language!

If you're in a safe area, then venture out on your own as much as possible. Take public transportation somewhere random. Eat out alone. Sit at a cafe alone with your books. That feeling in the pit of your stomach is fine, and we've all felt it when we leave our comfort zone. Nonetheless: do it. Ditch your friends and get off campus!

It does mean being a bit anti-social with your classmates, but this is what you came to China for, right?

And a final note: no matter how well prepared I am, it always takes me a few days to get into the groove of speaking regularly. I'll stumble over simple phrases, I'll sound like an idiot, I'll forget things I was sure I knew by heart. And then by day 3 I start to speak and interact more smoothly with people. If you can escape for an entire long weekend then I bet that would do wonders for your confidence
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby tarvos » Sat Feb 25, 2017 9:17 am

What part of China are you in? If you live in Beijing or Shanghai, this is an extremely common occurrence. I went to a private Chinese school in Beijing for a month and this is what tends to happen if you don't go out enough with other people. My first month in China also went this way, but I was in a dorm with Chinese people so I did get to use my terrible Mandarin with people there, and my classmates were German and Swiss so I spoke German and French outside of class as much as English.

The real way to get out of the bubble is to work and study in a place that is not Sanlitun in Beijing. I moved to Chengde and there I learned Mandarin - the hard way. Bad internet, lonely, only with the books I had brought with me from Europe and Beijing.

Look up the local words for clubs, join a jianzi or a Chinese chess club, something like that.
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby tiia » Sat Feb 25, 2017 4:57 pm

If your teacher already suggested you the higher class, could you just try it out one or two times before you decide what to do?
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby Cavesa » Sat Feb 25, 2017 7:12 pm

I understand. Even in a much less extreme and more natural situation, it is still hard to get a life in the target language. My French experience is a bit different, sure. But some things are universal.

I have been avoiding other foreigners. And a few recent facebook posts by other Erasmus students confirmed my suspicions: English was spoken there, or bad French. But it is hard to find equivalently welcoming groups of natives as everyone is busy with their lives already :-D
And living away from the hoard of foreigners helps.

Try local hobbies. It is a shame your school cannot advise you, but perhaps the internet can, or local sources of information for natives. A dancing or cooking class is an example of such an opportunity.

Widen your daily opportunities to live in Chinese. You mentioned ordering a coffee. Yes, I know how frustrating it is to not have opportunities for something more. But how about joining a local library? I don't know what your level is, of course reading in Mandarin is harder than in european languages, but perhaps you are ready to ask people there for advice on books? And on a book in Chinese, so it is clear no switching to English is desired. There are manga in Chinese too (translations or originals, but I know very little about the Chinese book market), perhaps those could be easier to read and easier to join a "bookclub" about them. Or buy newspapers. Not in a supermarket, but from a real person. Read them publicly in a café, perhaps someone starts a conversation.

Good luck and I wish you strong nerves.
................
If your teacher recommends a higher class, I think you might like to give it a try.
1.You will be learning much more, as you said. Too easy classes are counterproductive. And if you are having a trouble using your stay in China to the extent you had hoped for, why waste an opportunity to learn at least something?
2.Why stay in your current class due to your speaking level, if you don't speak that much there anyways? (as you wrote. and it is not a criticism at all, point 3 should make it clear)
3.Perhaps the higher class will be smaller and therefore give you more opportunity to speak. Or perhaps just changing the group may help. It is extremely important to have a good group. People who got to higher levels tend to be more serious, more interested, and more diligent. The lazy ones quit earlier. And perhaps the group will be more suitable to you "at a human level", so you will be more confident to speak.Also more time might be devoted to speaking in class, instead of the explanations of grammar and such stuff.
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby MorkTheFiddle » Sat Feb 25, 2017 9:38 pm

Probably many of us have been in your situation, but for sure I have been there and I understand your predicament. Not much of a talker in any language, nevertheless I worked out a few things. One is artificial in nature and perhaps a staple of the advice given for such a situation: ask someone in the street for directions to a place you already know how to get to.
Things I have done, not necessarily as a tactic for talking, but just as a matter of course.
Go to a department store. I hope department stores exist where you are. Or a book store. And ask any clerk where to buy, say, an alarm clock, or a copy in Mandarin of Harry Potter or of something by Proust. Ask questions about whatever object you said that you would normally ask. How does the alarm work (it is not always self-evident)? What kind of batteries does it take? How much does it cost? For the book, do you have anything shorter by a French author? Do you have anything in Mandarin by British (Spanish, Russian, Japanese, etc.) writers.
Other stores or departments to try are music, shoes.
Go to a museum. Ask at the information desk, and surely there will be one, what is a good exhibit to see?
What about the other students? Can you buddy up with one of them to go out Mandarin hunting? Just remember to avoid using English or any language other than Mandarin when you're out.
Best of luck.
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby Rem » Tue Mar 07, 2017 2:06 pm

I finished writing this post and realised how negative I'm coming across so I thought I should preface it with this: I may be extremely frustrated by how things are going at the moment but I haven't given up yet by any means. I'm still hopeful that I can sort this out and I'm sure that I'll be able to enjoy my time here when I do. I just feel like time is slipping away from me and I have nothing to show for it. I'm not here for long and I want to make it count.
_______________________________________

I’m in Wuhan. I’m finding it very dull here. According to the office there are no university societies or sports clubs to join at all. The only things we’ve been offered are a couple of touristy trips (walking around with other international students talking in English).

I’ve sat in coffee shops and eaten out on my own. I’ve taken the metro to random places but I’m still stuck in this darn rut. I’m starting to get used to having random strangers taking my photo but other than that nothing is really changing here. I feel like all I’m doing at the moment is wandering around aimlessly and stopping occasionally to drink coffee. I wouldn’t do that in the UK because I don’t enjoy it, but it seems to be the only thing that I can do here (honestly I think I’ve visited more coffee shops since I arrived here than I ever have in total in the UK). I’ve found some nice places to eat though. One thing I certainly can’t complain about here is the food (and I try to ask what something is called in Chinese when I like it…assuming the person selling isn’t too busy at the time). :)

The level of English around here isn’t great and I feel pretty isolated at the moment, but not just because of the language barrier. I’m isolated from people in general. Everyone else seems to be happy speaking English outside of classes and going drinking/clubbing. I’m spending most of my time on my own and have no one to talk to. I’m not really an outgoing person; I like having lots of time to myself, but not ALL the time. At least I don’t have to worry about ditching my friends; I don’t really have any (I have ‘acquaintances’ ). I think I’m starting to understand the concept of going stir crazy! :(

As for my classes; I’ve been told to look ahead in the book that we’re using if I want more Chinese study (which I’ve done) but it’s actually making the lessons worse. They’re already slow but now that I’ve gone through some of the material it’s almost physically painful and, obviously, it’s not addressing my main problem which is my poor speaking and listening skills. I try to explain that I’m struggling with my listening and I get told “but your reading/writing is really good!” (and comparatively it is, but even that needs a lot of improvement. I'm still using readers and I'm a long way off being able to read native material), but my listening and speaking SUCK! I honestly don’t know how to say that any clearer. Maybe I should just give up on speaking/listening and buy a whiteboard so that I can write what I want to say and get people to write their answers down the same way (just joking...well...mostly...). :?

I did take a look at the higher class but, although I might (?) be able to manage the reading and writing with a lot of work, I’d have precisely zero chance of understanding what the teacher was saying and following what was happening outside of the textbook. _There's just too big a gap between the groups. :(
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby rdearman » Tue Mar 07, 2017 3:02 pm

I wrote a post with suggestions one for someone visiting Russia and they wanted to try and get out and talk. So I gave them a few challenges. You might try those!

viewtopic.php?f=17&t=960&p=4190

If you read the thread you can see lots of other people jumped on with suggestions for getting out and employing the language.
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby Tomás » Tue Mar 07, 2017 4:33 pm

Can you take lessons in something? Like a group tai chi class, or guitar lessons, or a cooking class. This way you get to practice listening, and can interact with Chinese people who share your interest in that class.
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Re: Breaking the bubble (advice needed)

Postby Cavesa » Fri Mar 10, 2017 9:13 am

Well, it sounds to me like you need to pay someone to talk. It is really sad. I was considering the option briefly in France too, but my situation was still much easier.

It is a very unpleasant thought as you have already paid a lot to just study your normal classes there. And it feels crappy, like "am I really such a boring/horrible/unpleasant person, that people don't want to talk to me even under such ideal conditions?"

But it could work. Some native university students might be exactly what you need. Perhaps preferably students of other fields than Chinese teaching. Perhaps such investment could kick your listening and speaking enough to get to the higher class and more!

Yes, it is frustrating, the way teachers try to comfort students sometimes. I think they are so trained to comfort really bad and lazy students, in order not to lose customers, that they absolutely forget some people are striving for more. Encouragements like "but your reading and writing is great" in your case, or "but you are the best in class", or "you are doing great for someone learning just six months" and so on, all that is very bitter. I wish you strong nerves. And I cannot see any better way out of this all for you, than to pay people to talk with you and getting to the more advanced class.
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