A new colleague of mine recently returned from a five year stint studying in the U.S. He's from Guangdong provence and speaks three Chinese languages and dialects. His English is excellent. In a discussion with him concerning language aquisition and motivating students he made a very interesting point regarding language environment which I also use as an anecdote when students complain about their pace of English language aquisition.
He said that during his five years in the U.S he made a point of making friends with locals rather than seeking a comfort zone with other Chinese students. He had noticed upon arrival in the U.S other Chinese students that had been studying there for two or three years had not much to show in regards spoken English ability. Point being that one can be given a great opportunity to improve, but one must also make the effort to take advantage of it.
Given the fact that not many people in English speaking nations learn Mandarin, let alone from such a young age as many of the locals here in China learn English, competition to practice would be negligible as compared to a native English speaker trying to improve spoken Mandarin in China.
I had one guy with sweat streaming down his face blurting out indecipherable dribble at the pace of Phar Lap and not listening to a word in English I was saying to him because he was too busy trying to figure out his next onslaught. I then spoke to him in Mandarin and he subsequently made his apologies and walked away.
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