Participate, Participate, Participate. When we had meals with friends, or their family, I would always try to have some sort of compliment, or conversation starter, ready to go. Also, when we looked at buying something, I always made sure I participated in the transaction. Either I would order the food, pay the bill, or ask questions about whatever we were looking at. This rule was especially important for me. With a wife who speaks the language it can be easy to just take a back seat and watch. This rule most importantly kept me practicing. As an added benefit, for any place that we went more than once I was building a good rapport with the staff. This helped me in other ways.
Don't hide in your apartment. This isn't the same as the first rule. It is easy to only participate once or twice a week, and hole up at home the rest of the time. It is hard to talk with strangers, and be open to new experiences. That is what I am doing. I am a remote worker, and our apartments, and hotels always had WiFi, but I still forced myself to work at a cafe, bar, bookstore, etc, at least a couple of times a week. I would frequent the same places most of the time. As I did this I got to spend less time doing quick orders, and more time chatting with people about random stuff. These act as substitute water cooler breaks. Like I would normally get at an office, but with an added bonus of language practice.
|Group selfie on our way to the waterfall.|
In Beijing interacting with the locals was easy. We had friends, there and they introduced us to their friends, and our friends parents introduced us to their friends. In Xiamen, this was a bit harder, because I had to talk my wife into meeting total strangers. She ended up finding us a kinda "make friends" field trip. A couple of guys put about twenty of us on a bus and helped us socialize, while driving us to an old tea village. From which we hiked to a scenic waterfall, had lunch and did more socializing. In Taiwan we are again around friends and family. There is no shortage of opportunities to eat at uncles house, or meet up with old friends. A note for people without the established connections we have. China, and Taiwan both have tons of meetup groups. There should be one there that matches your interests. I think I saw twenty that were just about locals and foreigners meeting up to exchange culture, or language.
Limit consumption of native material. Even though I am in Asia, it is still easy to listen to English music, and watch American movies, and English news. In order to combat this, I usually just substituted a Chinese version for the English version. Every once in a while I would get a hankering for Cheerleader, and give it a listen. I tried not to force myself to a hardcore regimen. The point is not to burn out, but rather make it easier to absorb the Chinese around me.
What have I done?For the better part of the last three months I have been traveling through China, and Taiwan. I have made new friends in Xiamen, and Beijing. I was able to participate in many conversations. Most of them I was not only understanding, but was also able to play an active part. I was occasionally able to use my Chinese to help people with various things, like directions or answer questions. Understanding the Beijing accent got a lot easier, and swapping to the southern Chinese accent wasn't as rough this time. Things are coming easier in general.
Where Next?So at this point I am at a comfortable level. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. This is good because for my day to day I rarely encounter a situation outside my comfort zone. For this very same same reason it's bad. My learning has slowed down. It is once again time to deliberately practice and learn. This means I need to again, start setting goals, and study routines.
My new daily routine will be a lot like my previous ones, but less intense. A bit of study time spread out here and there through out the day. I will do some Anki here. Work on a textbook there. Do a bit of writing in the middle, and listen to some Glossika. It isn't super intense, but should be enough to get me pushing forward again.
What about goals?
So this is a tricky one for me. I have been reading a lot entrepreneurial, zen, and confidence books lately. These books advocating big outlandish sized goals. Their point being don't limit yourself. But at the same time I am a huge fan SMART goals. So in the upcoming couple of days I hope to find a way to marry the two, while avoiding the two obvious extremes of overwork, and un-achievable. Some of the area's I want to cover are things like review my tones, some specific topics, and be able to better understand the nightly news. I also want to get my writing back up to par. I have slacked on it too long, I have forgotten how to write a lot of characters.
I plan to post some more about my trip to China over the next few weeks, and at the end of March, I will give you another update. I hope everyone has a fun holiday season!