(The reports of this blog’s death have been greatly exaggerated. )
To quote myself (again), I once said:
“As cliché as it sounds, the two ways people usually learn Chinese the fastest are:
- Get a Chinese boyfriend/girlfriend
- Go to bars a lot”
But since I haven’t had a (very long) romantic relationship with any Chinese girls, I decided to invite an American friend of mine (using her Chinese name) to do the first ever guest post! She’s engaged to a Chinese guy and has learned quite a bit of Chinese so far. But was it because of him…?
==== Begin Guest Post ====
By Xiao Yi (小一)
So you’re in China, you’ve been studying Chinese, and now you’ve even got this great Chinese boy/girlfriend who can teach you. You’ve got it made! You’ll be fluent in no time. Right? Not necessarily.
While it seems to make sense that having a Chinese signifiant other would quickly cement your language skills, my experience tells me differently. My fiance, Mr. X, is a talented linguist and a patient teacher, and being with him has certainly boosted my motivation to learn. But there’s a long list of people I would rather study Chinese with than him. Now, I realize that every relationship is different. It’s important to note what your default language is. Mr. X’s English far outstrips my Chinese, so our default language is English. That being the case, I find it counterproductive to use him as my primary language informant for three main reasons:
- The roles can get mixed. While I appreciate Mr. X’s occasional tips on pronunciation, I do not appreciate him correcting my grammar when I’m trying to vent my frustration about a bad day. When you spend too much time in teacher/student mode, it can be difficult to snap out of it and back into relationship mode. Good teachers consistently correct grammar mistakes. Good boyfriends do not.
- You turn into a zhongwen bandit. Just like you hate those random students who come up to you while you’re doing your shopping, trying to steal bits of English practice, your partner could end up feeling used. Interactions need to be primarily about building the relationship, not the language acquisition.
- The message is more important than the medium. We’re trying to build a life together here. We need real communication to happen, so we go to our default language: English. Neither of us want to waste our precious moments together waiting for me to fumble through an oversimplified Chinese sentence just because I need to practice passive voice.
This is not to say that we never speak Chinese together. On the contrary, we frequently have basic conversations and send text messages in Chinese. I’m quick to try and impress him with every bit of new ability I acquire. But I acquire it elsewhere. Your experience might be quite different, especially if your partner doesn’t speak English or your Chinese and her English are at about the same level.
==== End Guest Post ====
Any laowai-s out there with a Chinese significant other with anything to add to this discussion? Please feel free to leave a comment. If you ask Xiao Yi a question she might even reply!