Mandarin Chinese Meetup

If you are an adult living in the Blacksburg, Virginia area, are studying Mandarin Chinese, or are a native speaker interested in offering support, you are invited to attend this gathering.

We have devised activities that give people the opportunity to use the words they know and, thus, experience success, engage pleasantly with others, and enter a Mandarin Chinese-only world for an hour.

What? Mandarin Chinese Meetup
Why? To practice speaking Mandarin Chinese on a meaningful level. For our purposes, “meaningful” is defined as “the ability to speak, listen, write, think, feel, work, present, relate, collaborate, and connect in Mandarin Chinese.”
How? For an hour, we enter the Chinese-speaking world and live Mandarin Chinese!
Where? Lobby of 102 Hubbard Street, Blacksburg, Virginia
When? Friday, February 10, 2023, 5:15 – 6:15 PM
Cost? None. Attending the meetup is free.
For whom? Adults who are learning Mandarin Chinese and native speakers of Mandarin Chinese. Learners who know a minimum of 200 words can help keep the conversation flowing.
How do I sign up? Walk-ins are welcome.
How can I track my progress? You are invited to take the HSKlevel before you attend your first meetup. You can take it again at any time and track your progress over time.

Participants are asked to make this pledge:

“To optimize the learning of all, I agree to willingly use Mandarin Chinese only for the entirety of the meeting. I understand that interjecting English into the conversation may harm the learning of others. I understand that, if I use English once, I will be expected to correct myself immediately. If I persist, I will have broken my agreement.”

(For other examples of language speaking agreements, please see the language pledges from Middlebury College, Princeton, Georgetown and Auburn. Brandeis’s All Language Lunch requires a language pledge. Here is a 2010 presentation on language pledges.)

For the next meetup on Friday, February 10, 2023:

  1. Please write an open-ended, conversation-fostering question that invites engagement, belonging, and connection. Examples include these, these, these, and these (podcast in Mandarin Chinese with transcript of questions).
  2. Translate your question into simple, plain language, Mandarin Chinese.
  3. Bring 6 copies of the question in Chinese characters, pinyin, and English.

To begin, this is the first question we will take turns asking and answering:

如果你要临时纹身一个汉字,你会选择哪个汉字?为什么?
Rúguǒ nǐ yào línshí wénshēn yīgè hànzì, nǐ huì xuǎnzé nǎge hànzì? Wèishéme?
If you were to get a temporary tattoo of a Chinese character, what character would you choose? Why?

What is the format of the meeting?

1. At the start of the meeting, instructions will be given in English.

2. We engage in Mandarin Chinese-only conversation activities in large and small groups.

3. We return to English. To close the meeting, participants are asked to take turns sharing what they observed about their own process and the insights they gained.

In case of inclement weather or public health requirements, the Mandarin Chinese meetup will meet via Zoom. The link will be posted on this page on the day of the meetup.

Please note: The intent of this meetup is to enrich, rather than replace, an individual’s study plan. The meetup is not a class and the facilitator is not an instructor.

Why is speaking only in Mandarin Chinese so hard?!

People experience two levels of vulnerability. Any human conversation requires letting down one’s guard a bit. Then to use a language with which one is not confident or expert? Doubly difficult!

At a conversation table, people experience the vulnerability and complexity of conversations. They ask a question and see if anyone thinks it’s interesting enough to answer. They need to experience – and tolerate – the unease that comes from the uncertainty of not knowing what to say, of not knowing if someone understands what they mean, and if they understand what someone else means. Some attempts at starting conversations succeed. Some fail. Some result in lively sharing. Some don’t. These are the normal challenges with human conversations. To the table, participants bring themselves, their conversational skills – such as they are! – and their second language knowledge and just try!

Here is a guide to being a good conversationalist from Indeed.com.

Context

Adults who begin studying Mandarin Chinese are generally enthusiastic, determined and skilled at learning. They are willing to reorder their lives’ priorities – such as work, relationships, and families – to include time to study Mandarin Chinese in their already-full schedules.

However, case study data about adults and research data about primary and secondary school students suggest that the vast majority of students who begin learning Mandarin Chinese quit.

To attempt to address high attrition rates among adults, I am attempting to derive a replicable protocol for adults to learn Mandarin Chinese optimally and efficiently.

This gathering is an attempt to contribute to the learning of Mandarin Chinese by busy adults. We experiment with a variety of activities designed for efficient learning. To optimize learning, the activities are designed to synthesize and apply the latest research on cognitive neuroscience, memory, language learning, and the psychology of language learning.

Highlights include these findings:

  1. Gains from interaction exceed those from solo study.
  2. In non-beginners, gains from speaking the target language only exceed those from speaking both the native and the target languages.
  3. In adults, when intentionally engaging in the target language, thinking and speaking in the native language is a risk factor for impairing acquisition.

Why is no English spoken?

  1. ROI. Our return on investment (ROI) will be greater towards our end in mind from an hour spent speaking only Mandarin Chinese than speaking a mix of our native languages and our target language.
  2. Do no harm/altruism. We’re trying to help, not hurt, each other.
  3. Global citizenry and humanity. At the conversation table, we are not teachers and students, nor natives and non-natives. We are people speaking Mandarin Chinese together – however inaccurately and imperfectly – to try to communicate and connect with each other, person to person.

“I am neither an Athenian, nor a Greek, but a citizen of the world.”
– attributed to Socrates by Plutarch

Based on the way the adult human brain works, adult learners of Mandarin Chinese need to attempt to directly use Mandarin Chinese – to “think” in Mandarin Chinese – because translating back and forth between languages hurts retention and mastery. Linguists have a ghastly term for this phenomenon – parasitism! In fact, according to Li and Jeong, 2020, thinking in English, then translating into Mandarin Chinese, is a major risk factor for preventing “adults from acquiring a foreign language to native competence.”

Although the use of a learner’s native language – rather than the language they are trying to learn – may be well-intended, the result may be experienced as othering, an indication of not belonging and a form of exclusion. Our primary goal is to connect!

Finally, we are attempting to simulate total, 100% immersion and gain the “native-like brain processing” benefits it can offer to adults.

Why is speaking only Mandarin Chinese difficult?

When adults search for words in a second language, they experience vulnerability and ambiguity, the latter of which Wang, 2021, defines as “uncertainty of meaning, kinds of complexity, novelty, unexpectedness, or a lack of clear-cut solutions.” Ambiguity naturally creates stress and distress. Our activities are designed to help participants use what they know, thus reducing ambiguity and stress, and increasing ambiguity tolerance.

Interaction with open-ended questions

Since, as Li and Jeong put it, “[L]anguage serves a social communicative purpose and is fundamentally a social behavior,” our meetup will be interactive and we will attempt to ask open-ended questions.

Why ask open-ended questions?

Open-ended questions allow participants to use vocabulary they know, in both questions and answers, rather than struggle to answer specific questions using vocabulary they may not know. Further, open-ended questions invite exploration and discovery. Close-ended questions require only a yes-no or single-word answer. Being asked a series of close-ended questions can sometimes feel threatening, like enduring a test or interrogation, rather than engaging in a social interaction. The adult human brain seems to learn and remember best in a modulated state of safety and calm.

open-ended question
kāifàng shì wèntí
开放式问题

close-ended question (yes or no, this or that)
fēngbì shì wèntí (shì huò fǒu, zhè huò nà)
封闭式问题(是或否,这或那)

Mandarin Chinese learners

  • To foster conversational flow, if you wish to ask questions about the language, please wait until after the meetup ends.
  • Please follow the 4-second rule. Sì miǎo fǎzé. 四秒法则。A typical pause in speech lasts only about a quarter to half a second. If, within about 4 seconds, you can’t quite find what you want to say, please say:
    Qǐng xià yīgè rén.
    请下一个人.
    Next person, please.

Native speakers

  • If you wish to talk about the language or teach someone something about the language, please wait until after the meetup ends.
  • To foster conversation, please speak at normal volume and at a standard conversational speech rate, between 130-150 words per minute.

The facilitator fosters a structured, supportive, safe, non-judgmental environment.

“Advice, without invitation, can feel like criticism.”
David Kessler

This meeting is part of a larger effort to create synergy and community among local Mandarin Chinese learners and speakers. In particular, this is an attempt to find or create daily, in-person opportunities for adults learning Mandarin Chinese in the Blacksburg, Virginia area to practice speaking, listening, and interacting on a meaningful level.

If you have a local, in-person, Mandarin Chinese conversation opportunity to recommend, please contact Anne Giles.

If you study Mandarin Chinese using Mandarin Blueprint and are interested in a Blacksburg, Virginia area meetup, please contact Anne Giles.

Local, additional attempts to use the findings of research to help support adults learning Mandarin Chinese have included a 90-day workshop and a 30-day workshop.

This gathering is co-listed on Meetup.

About the facilitator

Anne Giles, M.A., M.S., L.P.C., is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, U.S.A., and a student of Mandarin Chinese. She has passed the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams. She took the pre-2021 HSK 3, passed the listening portion, but not the full exam because she cannot yet read characters well enough. She holds master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction and mental health counseling, and a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. As an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, she studied Chinese history. She took one semester of Mandarin Chinese at the University of Connecticut in 1981. She attended the National Chinese Language Conference virtually in 2021 and 2022. She has taught English at the middle school, high school, and college levels.

Last updated 2/2/2023

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