As Westerners in Taiwan with no language other than English and some mild smatterings of French and German, and absolutely no ability to correctly pronounce Chinese words from a phrase book, we pretty swiftly realised that learning Mandarin so we can actually get by in life was high priority. As poor, unpaid teachers in LuoDong with peculiar and changeable working hours , we realised even more swiftly that a Mandarin teacher was out of our reach and what we really needed was a language exchange.
A language exchange means that you get to learn Chinese for free and arrange your own time and place of meeting, all that is required of you in return is to help your exchange partner learn English. A language for a language. Except, of course, living out in LuoDong, rather than in the capital, Taipei, meant that finding a language exchange wasn’t so easy. After unsuccessfully scouring the we-have-no-idea-we’re-Westerners-in-Taiwan forums on the internet, we gave a heavy sigh and went for coffee.
Lo and behold did we meet the awesome, Jessie, with a nifty amount of English, working in our favourite local cafe. On an off-hand comment about how she wanted to keep practicing her English, we gave her our e-mail and our language exchange partnership was made!
This week we had our first meeting with Jessie and her friend, Lily, who speaks English and is also learning Japanese. Our general conversation was held in English, and Luke and I finally got to hear the pronounication of the words and phrases we needed to get by in everyday situations. People now understand that we want to eat noodles, that we want a bowl of red bean soup, or that we want two milk teas, with a little less pointing and gesturing than before.
Learning some Mandarin was exciting – and finally being able to meet weekly with someone happy to teach us is even more exciting. Jessie posted an ad online as well, so that students at the local high school who want to exchange language with us can send us an e-mail and arrange to meet up :)
In the meantime, we’re keeping practicing – otherwise progress will be at a fairly glacial speed. We’re using Memrise.com, an addictive little website with tons of courses in Mandarin, all free, which teaches pronunciation as well as character recognition – highly recommeneded!