Chinese language meetups - tell us your thoughts!
As some of you are aware, we held a number of ChinesePod meetups last year in Shanghai. We were really pleased with the turn out and think there's a lot of potential for building upon the format, to make any future meetups both meaningful and fun for everyone who attends.
Given this, we are interested to learn your thoughts on "meetups". Has anybody been part of a Chinese learning group before, or perhaps a language exchange? What did you find most helpful? What attracted you to the group? If we started a meetup group, what kind of things would you like to see there?
Thanks! We'd love to hear your feedback. The more detailed and elaborate the better!
Edit: Just to clarify, this isn't about a meetup of the CPod community (it'd be pretty hard to pull off, considering people are from everywhere), but rather a generic meetup group gathered to learn Chinese.
pretzellogicJuly 08, 2010, 11:05 AM
Regarding language exchange: I've never participated in any of the Shanghai Cpod meetups. I tried an online language exchange a few times, where I was talking with a guy from China who was attending university in the US and I was contemplating heading to China. I used to be occasionally asked by Chinese people in Lanzhou to teach them English.
In theory, these activities should have helped me learn Chinese, or at least learn it a bit better, but in practice it didn't work. Or at least it didn't work for me because:
1) in the language exchange, we never figured who was supposed to get priority in the exchange; the Chinese guy trying to learn English, or me trying to learn Chinese. So we couldn't figure out what language to say or when.
2)it a bit like being at a cocktail party; you might like some of the people you talk to, and you might not. The language exchage guy and I actually didn't have that much in common, and I dare say there didn't seem to be a compelling reason for either of us to talk to each other.
3)we seemed to struggle for topics to discuss that interested the both of us that we actually wanted to discuss, or get insight into. He didn't have burning unanswered questions about the US, and I didn't have big unanswered questions about China.
So if there is a meet up, it would be helpful to have some idea of why everyone is meeting other than the common link for us that we're all part of the Cpod community. For example:
1) we're finally meeting with John, Jenny, Grace, Jason and the entire Cpod staff, including the unheralded actors and production team)
2)we can complain, bitch, and whine in person!
3)we can say thanks to the staff in person!
4)Cpod is buying everyone drinks!
5)Cpod is going to open up the Kimono a bit and tell us future plans for the Cpod website, the lesson production line details, and ask us for advice (in Chinese). Personally, I like this one :-)
Anyway, these are just some thoughts. Oh by the way, I realize that Cpod, being a small firm, doesn't have a significant travel budget. But if a meetup is just going to be in Shanghai over and over again, then I'm not sure what those people that are in other parts of China will take from that. Maybe nothing.
Hey, that's some great feedback. I'm not sure if Cpod would buy everyone drinks, but I'd buy you a drink if you wanted, just for this post.
Anyway, I'd like to clarify that I'm not talking about a gathering of the CPod community. Just asking for insight on people's experiences and opinions on Chinese learning groups. For example, the effectiveness of using CPod content at meetups.
Unfortunately, the logistics of having a meetup of CPod's online community might come at a magnitude larger than we what can consider. Kinda hard to organize a meeting for people all over the world.
Ok, Dan, i'll buy you a drink if you tell me what really happens when we give Cpod these lesson suggestions. Like for example, how does Cpod decide which suggestions are made into lessons? I won't tell anybody.
xiao_liangJuly 08, 2010, 11:15 AM
2)we can complain in person!
I can imagine they will be champing at the bit to have this happen. :-p
bodaweiJuly 08, 2010, 01:48 PM
First, let me have a little rant about Shanghai. ChinesePod is already way too Shanghai-centric, And Shanghai (as you know) thinks it is the centre of the Chinese-universe. For the record, in my experience people are way more interested in Beijing. Let's be clear about this - no-one much really wants to speak Shanghaihua (how many non-staff comments came in on the last Shanghainese lesson?), it's sad I know, but lots of people out there like to play with the Beijing accent.
Do I support the idea of Shanghai meet-ups? As it uses ChinesePod resources the answer is nup. Not unless they are fully priced to users. There goes the free drinks .. (sorry guys.)
Now - dragging myself away from the Shanghai thing (you do hang out these red rags) - more generally.. I don't see much point in language learning 'meet-ups' at all. I really don't want to meet a whole lot of Westerners learning Chinese. Sorry, it doesn't help.
Socialising with friends you might have met on the site - that is a different thing. But for language learning purposes, no. When in China I want to hang around with people who can't speak English.
Hey bodawei, I can't comment on ChinesePod being too Shanghai-centric, but I'd like to mention that you should expect to see a series on Cantonese to be up soon, and I've heard Beijinghua being mentioned around the office. Hopefully that quells some of your too-much-Shanghai sentiment.
Anyway, thanks for your feedback. Appreciate it.
Thanks for that danchao - actually the dialect lessons were not my agenda (it may have looked that way.) I think the shanghaihua series was a good effort - but it is so far from putonghua that it is no practical use for me (except on my next trip there.) I think that the dialect series (when there are several in place) will be a good fun resource for learners. But we are mainly here to learn Chinese.
BTW - thanks for clarifying your intentions above. They were certainly not clear from the introduction. It definitely looked like a discussion about Shanghai meet-ups.
I thought a bit about your complaint that CPod is too Shanghai-centric. Chinese people sometimes ask me if I like Shanghai. I always tell the truth, yes, but I would like to live in a city that has a more historical tradition someday. So I guess I'm saying, I feel no love for Shanghai, but I do feel "like" for Shanghai. That said, when I took Mandarin lessons in Shanghai, all the textbooks were published in Beijing, and it seems that they make little attempt to teach Mandarin that is not included in their Beijing sphere. Countless times I asked teachers about words presented in the text, and they would say that it is something particular to Beijing or the North. To give an analogy, it would be like ESL students in London learning from textbooks published in Texas that constantly say "howdy" and "y'all" (not that that would ever, ever happen). When I went to the bookstores, the situation was the same--all the books were published in Beijing. Now I don't have anything against the Beijing style of Mandarin, but since I am in Shanghai, I had hoped to learn more in the way that people speak here. That's why I am very grateful that CPod does lean towards Shanghai. But I must say, unlike the books from Beijing, CPod does try to attempt to introduce elements of spoken Mandarin from different regions. I also might add (from my anecdotal evidence) that the Mandarin generally spoken in Shanghai is more applicable to all areas of China than the variety spoken by the 老百姓 in Beijing as the mass influx of out of towners in Shanghai from all over tends to keep Mandarin neutral.
Anyway, none of this neutralizes your point. If I was more interested in Beijing, I would certainly wish CPod would head more in that direction. I just thought I would throw in another perspective.
That is all true what you say about text books and learning materials. Even my rubbishy story books I have posted about elsewhere were published by one of the universities in Beijing. So you could fairly argue that foreign learners already have a Beijing focus in their learning. In general I think that this is a good thing, because it represents a kind of Standard form that everyone can understand, although knowledge about regional differences could be valuable. For me, I don't want to be distracted by regional dialects too much, except in the 'wow - how about that?'/instantly forgotten way. I make no real effort to learn kunminghua, and it has never proved a drawback living there. Everyone at least understands putonghua.
My 'complaint' was a reference to the cultural references rather than the language itself (as I say, no gripe with the dialect series, as long as they do not chew up too many ChinesePod resources - I see them in the same light as one of our frequent beside-the-main-point-but-interesting threads we see here.
Eg. there are frequent references in dialogues and lesson material to things that do not apply in the rest of China. Many examples - I used to post about them but I have kind of got over it. Just the occasional swipe now. :) For people that don't know China reasonably well, the lesson material gives a skewed understanding of what China is like. One recent example: the lesson about bottled water. Not only was this biased by Shanghai experience, it was so 'middle class'. I guess it doesn't matter to most people. I am probably atypical - I really am attracted to the lessons that are most authentic, at least as far as I understand authenticity from my limited experience of China.
Thanks for your comments - I always appreciate them.
WillBuckinghamJuly 08, 2010, 03:44 PM
I'd agree that language learning meetups in China are probably not entirely useful, as it makes more sense to hang out with folks who don't speak English - although out of China they can be pretty useful if native-speaking environments are thin on the ground; nevertheless I do think that there's a place for social meetups as well. Certainly in the UK, where I normally live (although - can hardly contain my excitement - I'm writing this from Beijing, at the end of my first ever day in China), opportunities to meet with fellow language learners are helpful, given that back home I can't go round the corner, as I did earlier, and babble semi-incomprehensibly in bad Chinese about mobile phones and SIM cards to patient shopkeepers.
In fact, there's probably a case for a wider variety of meetups with different purposes in different places (free drinks or no free drinks!)
xiao_liangJuly 08, 2010, 06:57 PM
Regarding meetups, I'd like to meet some of the chinesepod staff, because they sound fun (and mostly normal). As for fellow poddies, there's certainly a few I'd like to go for a drink with, but not for language learning purposes! As someone said up above, the problem with language exchanges is that you both want to talk the opposite language :-p
I think it might be fun if you were in another country and the only common language you spoke was Chinese... um?
catherinemJuly 09, 2010, 03:05 AM
When I was studying German in college we had a weekly event with our professor called Kaffeestunde. Someone brought a cake and we all had coffee and we just spent the time chatting with each other. It was very low-key, but there was one rule: no English! It was a great experience because there was a wide variety of levels represented (a few ele's, a lot of upper-intermediates, and some very fluent people) so as someone on the lower end of the speaking scale I learned a ton.
It was also less intimidating than going out with my German-speaking friends because as a learning group it was normal to ask others to slow down, repeat something, or even explain a new term.
I mention this because I think that with a few rules (the no English rule was key) study groups can be a wonderful way to practice a foreign language and to improve your confidence when speaking. Obviously being around native speakers and practicing with them is ideal, but there are a lot of positives about being a part of a group of learners...