The Intertwining of the Chinese Language and Culture

Sidewalks are not safe in Shenzhen, China. For reasons that continue to baffle me, motorcycles are banned throughout this young city. Even though Shenzhen was built only 30 years ago, the city didn’t think it necessary to build streets that could accommodate two-wheeled vehicles. Therefore, bicycles and e-bikes have taken over the city’s sidewalks. Pedestrians are relegated to dodging honking two-wheeled vehicles and precariously walking on the uneven sidewalk tiles made worse by the excessive weight they aren’t meant to bear. Add a sea of people to the mix and even Keanu Reeves would find it challenging to navigate this matrix.

Now, a year and a half after arriving, sidewalks are still a struggle for me. Every day there’s a new hazard throwing me off balance. Lately, the sidewalk has been covered with a plethora of parked bicycles, an unintended consequence of the shared bikes that have no official parking dock. No. I don’t walk around Shenzhen with ease. But that doesn’t stop me.

Just like navigating the sidewalks in China, navigating the Chinese language is a constant struggle. When I first arrived, the characters and tones baffled me. I stumbled over simple words like “Hello” and “I don’t understand.” Even though I can say a few more things in Chinese today, the Chinese language often prevents me from doing the most basic things just like the honking e-bikes that often stop me in my tracks.

The other day, I went to the grocery store to buy some laundry soap. Sounds simple, right? There are many grocery stores near my apartment, and I happened to pick the one that didn’t carry the brand I bought last time. First step: find the laundry soap. There was an aisle, two end caps, and another display scattered throughout the store that had bottles of soap that appeared to be for laundry. I want laundry soap that doesn’t irritate my sensitive skin. Unfortunately, cleaning products are often unsafe and unscented is not an option.

I found a white bottle with a picture of a baby on it; generally, a good clue for sensitive skin. But, was it laundry soap? Was fabric softener? I had no idea. The characters on the bottle were written in a curved line, so Google’s translator refused to help me. I laboriously wrote two characters into my Chinese dictionary on my phone: Gold Spin (??). Also, not helpful. A bottle on the shelf next to my supposed sensitive skin bottle said “laundry sanitizer” in English. What’s laundry sanitizer? I looked up the characters for laundry soap (???). I couldn’t see these characters anywhere on any bottle, including Tide! By this time I’ve spent an excessive amount of time looking at plastic bottles of soap, and I still wasn’t closer to finding laundry soap. I left the store empty-handed.

Learning Chinese is not just about learning vocabulary, grammar, tone, and characters. Chinese is, at it’s heart, the culture of China. Every character is a piece of Chinese history. To find laundry soap I don’t just need to know the characters; I also need to understand that China has unsafe and ineffective products, especially cleaning products. I need to understand that in a tropical climate where people don’t have clothes dryers, laundry sanitizer is essential for preventing musty and moldy clothes. I need to understand that everyone wants fragrant products, except me.

I moved to China to experience living in another culture and to learn to speak another language. I had no idea how intertwined the two would be. Understanding a conversation in Chinese greatly relies on knowing the context. With more than 20 different characters that have the pronunciation of shí (second tone), the context is the meaning. Understanding the context often relies on knowing the culture. To me, speaking the same language doesn’t mean speaking the same words, but instead it means speaking the same meaning.

While I am still often frustrated when doing simple daily tasks, I also find it intensely rewarding when I am able to connect with someone. For me, asking for help is difficult. Yet, it is only when I ask for help I am able to connect with another person. In China, people love to help you, especially if you are a foreigner. Even though I’m saying very simple things like “Where is this?” and pointing to the Chinese word on my phone, I’m making a connection with someone. Yes, it’s humbling. But ultimately it’s these connections that make life rich and full. I came to China to learn to speak another language, yet I stay in China because of the connections I’ve made. Learning Chinese is still important to me, but not as important as connecting with lots of different people.

Jill Wigert

Posted in china, Chinese, foreigner, international travel | Leave a comment

Top 5 Ways to Improve Your Child’s French Skills Outside Of The Classroom

The ideas below are all geared up to improve your child’s French skills outside of the classroom, which I have encouraged other parents to do and have tried and tested on my own children! My focus here is for you and your children to practice speaking French together. Children learn best from you and will follow your lead. The ideas are all supposed to be fun and non-intrusive so youngsters don’t feel ‘forced’ to learn, but do feel happy to have learnt something new and maybe you will too!

1. Food
Food is a big incentive for children and it can be exciting to discover new food from a different culture. Here’s some ideas of French food to eat to encourage discussion in French about the ingredients, flavours and whether or not you like them… par exemple:

  • Quel est votre parfum de glace préféré ?
  • Make your own fancy ice creams with chantilly! I’ll have a chocolat liégeois – merci…
  • Croissants for breakfast… aux raisins, aux amandes…
  • Tartines after school with lashings of Nutella or Confiture.
  • Tarte flambée always goes down well with children .. I call it a french pizza.
  • Make your own citron pressé or sirop de… quelquechose.

2. À Table!
Sitting down to eat as a family is very important in France, it’s great fun to act out the traditions of another culture together but also children like routines and practising speaking French whilst doing an everyday activity helps to embed the language. We had a phase of only speaking French when we were laying the table so I would ask my children to come and fetch cinq forchettes, cinq assiettes and so on. Once seated we could ask each other for salt, pepper, la salade, l’eau etc For older children/ those more fluent in French try picking a topic for discussion during your meal e.g. Les différences entre le système politique en Angleterre et en France or perhaps something more fun!

3. Getting dressed
Depending on the age of your children, talking about choosing clothes
for the day can be a fun way to remember the vocabulary for garments and colours as well as positives/ negatives and good ways to ask for something..

  • Maman, au’jourd hui je veux porter mon robe rouge! Avec mes chaussures en argent!
  • Pas possible ma cherie, au’jourd hui nous allons faire le jardin.
  • Alors – donne-moi mon gilet bleu et mon pull vert, merci

4. Walking or in the Car
Outside in the fresh air with the wind waking up those braincells is a great way to have a little French session, or if you have the children trapped in the car they can’t get away! Either talk about the French words for what you can see, do directions, discuss something topical or play I-spy .. in French “Je vois avec mon petit oeil espion OR J’espionne avec mon petit oeil .. quelque chose qui commence avec.. “L”!

5. TV, Cartoons, Films and Books for very young or older children
Younger children will enjoy watching learning programmes, learning numbers or colours in the language. The Internet makes it very easy to find these now! Older children might watch a favourite film like Harry Potter but in French. My children also enjoy French cartoons – very popular in France but not so popular here like Tin-Tin and Asterix, try to find Version Originale with no subtitles.

beth nicholas

About the Author: Beth Nicholas is a professional writer for Lingos – the online language tuition community dedicated to pairing language teachers and learners, and providing a digital forum for learners to interact with like-minded students.

Posted in Language Learning, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

When in Spain..

madridI’ve asked today’s guest blogger, Sarah to talk about her experience living in Madrid, Spain. You know I love Spain.. along with many other foreigners. Here is what she has to say.

One of the most exciting yet daunting tasks of moving to a new country is learning a new language. Madrid is no different as an expat destination. When I landed in the Spanish capital more than 5 years ago, I knew nothing more than the basic greetings.You cannot blame me, I’m South African and was still learning the rest of the 11 official languages when I moved to Spain?. My initial experiences with the language and culture were cushioned by the fact that my social circles were made of my expat work circle. There were also Spanish colleagues in the group who became our designated translators in restaurants, banks, pharmacies, metro stations and so on. This was of course, a temporary solution, because one needs their autonomy and independence. I recall an awkward situation involving a Greek colleague who had needed the help of a Spanish colleague to translate a message she received from a Spaniard she met at a local club the night before. How awkward, but the girl needed to know!

I took Spanish lessons a month after my arrival at a languages school in Sol. The classes occurred in the evenings, after work some days were tougher than others as I had to return tired from work and then psyche myself up for some Spanish language learning. However, the ambiance was really nice and encouraging. My class consisted of various nationalities from Austrians, to Finnish to Chinese. Our teacher didn’t speak English and that facilitated our learning without any language to fall back on, not that the Chinese students would have minded.There are various Spanish teaching schools to choose from in Madrid.There are schools for the corporate crowd, others for the Erasmus student crowd and of course the rest for just about anyone. Other factors in choosing a school from where to learn Spanish in Madrid include fees, class sizes, school facilities and resources as well as location of the school. Most schools provide a free Spanish level test and a visit of the facilities. Other Spanish learning options include language exchanges or taking individual classes. In the 4 month duration of my introductory Spanish lessons, I learnt enough to communicate in a basic way in in my daily routines. That really helped me a lot combined with the fact that Madrileños (Colloquial term for people, mainly Spanish, who live in Madrid) are really friendly and always willing to help. My nervousness at speaking quickly melted away, because I had pleasant experiences like the one time when I asked a señor (senior man) in the street for directions and having him cross the street with me to leave me at the corner of the street, I was looking for. My relocation experience has indeed been positive. That being said, in general, Spaniards who speak English, are far and wide in between therefore learning Spanish can be the difference between really enjoying Madrid by socialising with natives and expats indiscriminately to only mixing with English speaking expats.

At the end of the day, learning Spanish formally is a good way to start and then its necessary to venture out and integrate into the Spanish society. For that reason, though after 4 months I stopped taking formal lessons, I looked for ways to immerse myself in the Spanish culture and to practise my newly acquired Spanish.I spent more time with my Spanish friends and asked them to correct me, I searched for a sharing flat with Spanish flatmates, I ¨listened to spanish songs¨, I attended traditional fiestas (festivities) like San Isidro (Patron Saint of Madrid) or La Cabalgata (Procession of the Three Wise Men in January), and even learnt to prepare some typical Spanish dishes like tortilla and paella. It is possible to continue with one´s hobbies and interests while still feeling integrated in Spanish culture in Madrid, think of doing sports at the various public sports facilities, joining clubs and groups of interest like the Toastmasters Group (The club also exists in Spanish), Reading Circles, Baseball Clubs, Liverpool Fans Club etc.
Fortunately, its easier to make contact with people and make friends nowadays through social media networks. Look out for language exchange (intercambios de idiomas) and social activities groups for a jumpstart to making friends. However, it necessary to be wary of the comfort zone of living and moving in exclusively expat circles. I know expats who have been in Madrid for decades and still speak Spanish poorly. At the end of the day it all depends on the objectives of every individual. Bienvenido a Madrid!

About the Author:
Sarah is a South African who has made Madrid home since 5 years. She writes a blog about social and cultural activities to do freely or very cheaply in Madrid. When she is not writing on the blog, she plays basketball, runs in Madrid short distance races, attends many of the free art and photographic expositions she and the blog contributors publish as well as learns French. If you are coming to Madrid and need some travel tips, comment on her blog and she will get back to you.

Posted in Expat life, language, language exchange, learn spanish, Spain, Spanish learning, spanish learning links | 2 Comments

Reflecting on Motivation for Learning a Language


I’ve asked today’s guest blogger, Lisa Stiefel, to help shed some light for those who want to get started learning a language. Lisa does Language Services like Language Training, Copywriting, Proofing, Editing, and Translation. You can check out her blog here.

So you’ve decided to embark on the great adventure that is language learning. You’ve bought flashcards for your vocabulary words, a bilingual dictionary, and you’ve sharpened your pencils.

You’re about to go in to your first class and/or your first language exchange session. It’s really exciting stuff to meet new people and learn new things!

Now might also be a good time to consider your motivation for learning. Having a good grasp on why you want to climb a Mount Everest of words and culture might give you a better idea of what your learning goals are. And once you’ve clearly outlined your learning goals, you can start your journey towards accomplishment on the right foot!

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to learn this language? Why this one rather than another one? (For example, why study French rather than Portuguese? Or whatever the case may be.)
  • How will knowing this language benefit me in the future? Will it help me pass an exam? Will it improve my chances of getting a better job? Will it make travelling easier?

Reflect on these questions and take some time to write out your answers:
Mastering a language is a long process, and it could be easy to get frustrated or discouraged along the way. This way, you can always refer back to your original motivation and expectations You might surprise yourself when you realize that you’ve accomplished far more than you thought you ever could- very encouraging! You might also find that as you go, your motivation changes, your expectations are different, and your goals take another turn than you had initially thought. That’s ok! It’s a sure sign of growth!

Get your teacher’s or language exchange partner’s advice:
An experienced teacher can give you feedback as to whether or not your expectations and timeframe are realistic. This can save you from putting yourself under an unnecessary amount of pressure so that you can have more fun learning.

Research done on different types of motivation for language learning indicates that learners can accomplish the learning task equally successfully whether they are simply trying to pass an exam or integrate into the society where the language is spoken. That’s good news for learners, because it means you can do it no matter what! (I, personally, contend that the learner whose motivation is simply the joy of learning will not only accomplish the task at hand, but also be much happier in doing so! We would need further empirical data to confirm
this though.:) )

Thanks so much for the article Lisa! Be sure to check out our Free Language Exchange Community if you are new to the site.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How to Find the Time to Practice?

clockI love the idea of language exchanges, of course this is why I created this Language Exchange Community. Although I do have to admit I’m not always ‘on it’ when it comes to practice myself.

I haven’t met with my in-person language partner for a few weeks now and I haven’t chatted with my friend and language partner, Maria on Skype for probably a month! These were my two main ways to practice. But life gets busy at times and it’s not always easy to practice. Even though practicing Spanish is important to me and fun, sometimes other things take priority.

Having a regular time to meet helps keep you on track. Maria and I would try to meet the same time every week on Skype which worked well for a little while, until the time no longer worked for me.

I wouldn’t say I’m exactly ‘slacking’, since most of my time is dedicated to improving an Online Language Exchange Community; so others can practice.:)But if slacking is the case for you, set up a regular time with your language partner and tell them a goal you have to learn and be able to practice by the next meeting. This will keep you on track with your practice and it will help show more improvement in your language skills.

At the end of the day, you have to want to practice and most importantly- have fun doing it. I love practicing Spanish to communicate with my Spanish speaking friends and to learn new things about their cultures. Even though I feel my language skills aren’t as polished as they were when I left Guatemala 2 months ago. I am confident that I can get it back very quickly.

How do you find time to practice with a language partner or friend? (leave your comments below!)



Posted in language, language community, language partner, practice languages | Tagged , | 3 Comments

RockStar Member Board

Ladies and gents.. I’d like to introduce some fine minds that I have found to help give feedback to your language exchange community. Find out how to join the team.

KristinKristin Nicole Ritchie — Dallas, TX,

Native Language: English
Practicing Language: Dutch


Michael DiGiacomo — New York, NY

Native Language: English
Practicing Language: Japanese

Lisa Lisa Stiefel — Dublin, Ireland

Native Language: English
Practicing Language: Danish


Dennis Henry — Dar es Salaam, Tanzaniadennis

Native Language: Kiswahili

Practicing Languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian & Croatian


If you are interested in being a “Rockstar” and giving input to creating the best language exchange community out there, leave a comment or send a message to

I look forward to hearing from you!

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Language Exchange Activity of the Week

Language ExchangeYou have your language exchange partner, but now what? Maybe you are both at a beginner level so it’s difficult to just start speaking. Look here to get a weekly language exchange activity. If you don’t have a partner find one in our Free Language Exchange Community.

Beginners: Describing Game (estimated time 30 minutes)

Who is it for? This one is for 2 language partners practicing at a (very) beginner level.

What you need:Your Language partner, Flashcards(or paper), and understanding of how to use the verb ‘to be’ in your practicing language.

  1. First write 10 adjectives on flash cards
  2. Then write 10 nouns(people, places or things) on more flashcards in another pile
  3. Now take a one noun and a adjective and form a sentence.
  4. Take 15 minutes to go through your cards.
  5. Now take 15 minutes to do the same for your partners practicing language.

Extra time?  (20-30  more minutes)

What you need? More flashcards and the understanding of how to form a question with the verb ‘to be’.

  1. Now use the noun and adjective in a form of a question. Example: Is your brother happy?
  2. Add more adjective and nouns if you feel comfortable with practicing more.
  3. Let your partner take a turn doing the same.

Bonus! Practicing using more verbs than ‘to be’.

Does it feel good to speak your new language out loud to a native speaker? I hope so!


  • Let your partner speak, but correct them if you aren’t able to understand
  • Have your partner correct your pronunciation.
  • As always make sure to divide the time evenly in each language.
  • Have fun!

If you don’t have a partner yet, join our Free Language Exchange Community now.



Posted in language exchange activity, language partner | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Travel/Work Abroad Resources

The other day I wrote about my experience moving to Spain after college and teaching English. I did it almost 2 years in of real world job experience.. oooh scary. The great thing is I meet people all the time that have left their routine lives for a change of pace and new experience.

Teaching English is a great option – but it’s not the only option! Here are some other good options for you to explore through traveling or living abroad.

Without the thought of dollar signs… WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB? Really, if you could do anything in the world, what would it be?

Here are some resources to get you hungry for your adventure.


Peace Corps

Concern America

Mercy Ships : Short term volunteer positions as crew members on a fleet of hospital ships that stop in over 75 ports around the world.


Here are some great places to start when looking for a jobs overseas. Expand your horizons. Search for a job you’ve always wanted to do instead of something you have experience in.

Global Art Jobs

Club Med – Tourism/Resort jobs

Easy Au pair – Au pair positions listed all over the world.

WWOOF – Farm work in every corner of the world.

Escape Artists – Website includes working and volunteer positions worldwide.

Working Overseas – Guide to working in other countries.

International Jobs – Subscription charge reasonable.

Expat Life

Expat Reunite

Expats Community

Expat Exchange

Expat Forum – Community of Expats


Check out these for a great cultural experience while staying with a local for free. (Don’t just use these communities for free lodging, do it for the experience.)

Global Freeloaders

Couchsurfing (My personal favorite)

Homestays For Peace

Experience culture, learn a language, live your life! Don’t forget to keep the ExchangeALanguage Community in mind while abroad for meeting locals and practicing languages.

Please share your experience or dreams below!

Posted in Expat life, international travel, Language Learning, Study abroad, travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Graduation.. Now What? Go Abroad?

graduation, now whatGraduation has come and passed for many University students. Some may have jobs, others still on the quest for that ‘perfect job.’ From my personal experience I have learned that it’s difficult for any new college graduate to understand what the ‘perfect’ job for them really is. I thought I knew what I wanted, but in reality, how can anyone know without experience.

One thing I did know my senior year of college is that I wanted to travel or live abroad. I asked everyone I knew graduating if they wanted to go anywhere… no one was willing to take the leap with me. I craved something different, but I lacked confidence to do something by myself at the time.

2 jobs and 1 1/2 after graduating, I had now gained confidence to do something different. I was extremely dissappointed with my ‘real world’ experience. I was told by many people(even books) that once I was making good money in a career path I would never want to leave. How wrong that was for me. After getting a taste for the corporate life, I couldn’t wait to start running in the other direction. Money doesn’t seem that great when you don’t enjoy your life.


So 1 1/2 after I graduated, I quit my job and moved to Spain. People always asked me ‘Why Spain? I replied, ‘Why not?’

I didn’t know anyone in Spain nor did I speak the language, but I signed myself up for a TEFL course in Seville, Spain and planned to take each day as it came.

It took longer than I thought to release all the attachments to working and making money than I had thought, but as time passed my pace of life slowed down. Not by Spanish standards of course, but my view on the world had completely changed. I had lived away from everything I had ever known without any study abroad support. My time abroad and traveling was not all fun and games like many people think, but I’ve never learned so much about the world and myself before that point. I can’t imagine my life without the experience.

I think traveling or being an expatriate is a great experience; Going alone can be even better. For the first time you don’t have to fit into anyone else’s box.

I recommend any new graduate to take the leap and have an amazing adventure in another culture. I promise you won’t be dissapointed.

Want to go abroad? I taught English while in Spain and found out I really loved it. Teaching can be a fun and easy way for a native English speaker to be an expatriate.

Here are some useful websites in looking for English positions all over the world:

With so many options, what do you choose? You really can’t make a bad choice. Any new cultural experience will teach you about others, the world and most importantly yourself. Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path.

Of course teaching English is just one of the options. Look for future posts to find resources for more options no matter where you are in your career.

And if you are looking for a cultural experience check out our Language Exchange Community to connect with someone in your city or on the other side of the world.


Posted in Graduation, international travel, Language Learning, recent graduates, Spain, Study abroad | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Can you Recognize the Language Greeting?

Here is a fun quiz where you guess what the language is. Hopefully it can introduce you to some new languages. languagequiz

Take the Quiz

Leave a comment with your results and/or thoughts.



Posted in language, Language Learning | Tagged , , | 5 Comments