It was a really good evening, with about a dozen Mandarin students and four native Chinese speakers. The skill ranged from beginners who only knew the basics through to advanced people who had lived for a few years in China.
I was slightly nervous - not knowing how the evening would work out. But it was fantastic. I would say I spoke Mandarin over 80% of the time, covering topics such as:
- what is the Chinese word for "gherkin"?
- does "ying guo" mean England, or the whole of Great Britain?
- why people learn faster when they want to learn, rather than when they have to
- (and of course the usual stuff like what's your name, where are you from, what do you do, how much do you earn, and who is that masked man?)
Only in the movies ...
For those of you who have listened to more than a few Chinese podcasts will have heard a dialogue exactly like this many times ...
A: ni shi na li de ren? (where are you from?)
B: wo shi ri ben ren (I'm Japanese)
Well, last night it happened. That was exactly the one dialogue I participated in, when a Scottish 'Don' was speaking with Japanese 'Tea'. Classic.
I really don't want to take a fun evening and make it dry by over-analysing, but I know there will be others like me that wonder how they will cope, will their vocab be good enough, etc.
Observing the conversations during the evening, I note there are several sentence structures that came up really often. So if you're not already fully comfortable with these, I recommend you learn them, and use them, soon.
xiangji de xiang / suoyou de suo / gualian de gua / etc.
- There were many occasions when someone used a word, and you wanted to check that you heard them correctly.
- So I recall hearing someone using the word "xiang" and I wanted to check if it was the same "xiang" as in "xiangji" (i.e. camera)
- So I asked "xiangji de xiang?" - and they confirmed.
- if ... then ...
- and because Chinese can get really simple, sometimes (usually?) it's good enough to say "X, Y" - and people will get what you're saying
- X and thereafter Y
- because ... thus ...
If you haven't been to one of these meetups, I can recommend it. Try find one in your city - you can start searching the above link for groups near you. And if there isn't one, try create one.
And for those who regularly meet up in groups like this, I'd love to hear from you about what "format" you find works for such meetings.