Learning Chinese is important but difficult. What are the right ways to study Mandarin? Making friends is definitely one of the best ways. Generally, language is an incredible tool for forming relationships. It grants the ability to literally communicate to people in new ways which can be incredibly powerful. For business, it can lead to important partnerships and for individuals, it can mean enlightening relationships with people across the world. No matter where you are from or your motivation for learning Chinese language, fostering friendships with Chinese people is an important part of the human experience!
Here are 8 tips and tricks that can make finding Chinese friends a little easier.
6 Tips for Initiating Friendships
Meeting people can be intimidating! Here are a few ideas to make those initial moments a little less scary.
1. Learn Friendly Phrases in Chinese
Knowing the right thing to say at the right time can go a long way when trying to make friends and build relationships. Although many people are forgiving to someone trying to learn their native language, if you sound robotic, rehearsed, or awkward it may make you difficult to approach. To help avoid being the awkward foreigner it pays to work conversational phrases into your everyday conversation. Here are some ways to spice up some common expressions.
Instead of “ni hao” you could try:
Hi everyone! / Dàjiā hǎo! / 大家好!
This is great for when you are addressing a group.
Have you eaten? / Chīfànle ma? / 吃饭了吗?
This is a kind of rhetorical phrase. Usually they are not actually checking to see if you have eaten, it's more of a way to see how you are doing. This is similar to “what's up?” in english.
When “xiexie” just doesn't cut it you can say:
Who me? / Nǎlǐ Nǎlǐ! / 哪里哪里!
This is a great way to express gratitude when someone is praising you. Since it directly translates to “where? Where?” it's like you are saying, where is this person you are complimenting because you surely can't mean me. it is an easy and cute way to respond to a compliment.
You are too kind! / Nǐ tài hǎole! / 你太好了!
Chinese culture is all about humility and serving your community. Comments like this are a great way to show deference to someone who is honoring you with a gift or a kind word.
2. Make Sure to Respect Seniority
Now that you are a master of navigating casual conversation it's time for the next lesson. Respect seniority. This is especially important for those who hail from the more laid back parts of the world. In Chinese culture things like age, seniority, and titles are very important. Forgetting to properly address your superiors is an easy way to cause embarrassment or even to alienate someone you respect. However, if you are careful to address people using the correct titles and honorifics it could quickly gain you a reputation for being mindful and respectful.
Here are a few examples of useful words to know:
You (formal)/ Nín / 您
This is great for when you are first meeting people. Whether you are unsure how to address someone or just want to show respect it will help you make a good first impression.
Teacher / Lǎoshī / 老师
As a student it is important to respect your teachers and to use the correct titles.
Doctor / Yīshēng / 医生
Whether you are receiving medical attention or meeting a doctor it is a good idea to address them by their title.
Executive / Zǒng / 总
This is a formal way to refer to your or someone else's boss and show deference to their seniority.
3. Familiarize Yourself With Chinese History and Culture
This meshes nicely with the last point. People’s heritage is a big part of their identity, and since everyone loves talking about themselves, some familiarity with history can be a very easy way to get a conversation rolling. China is an old country and as such has a very long history. Knowing important events, prominent personalities, and political histories will help showing that you have appreciation for their country's history. It's a first step toward showing people you care about them. Not to mention it can also help to avoid divisive topics that can make people uncomfortable.
Here are some links to explore some major cultural and historical events and People:
If you are curious to learn more about China’s complex history check out this timeline for a brief description of major historical events.
4. Don’t Be Too Direct
This one can be tricky, especially for Westerners or people who come from a rather direct culture. Reputation is important everywhere but it is especially so in china and people go to great lengths to avoid causing it’s undue defacement. In an effort to avoid tarnishing other people's reputation, many Chinese people will avoid making direct criticisms or compliments. For example, instead of criticizing a foreigner for their clunky chinese, they might compliment them on how good they are at speaking other languages.
This can lead to other conversational hiccups when giving compliments. Again, in many cultures directly praising someone for a skill or attribute is commonplace, however, because of their propensity to avoid direct conflict, compliments can be a little more complicated for Chinese people. For instance, if you compliment a coworker on their handwriting they might assume that you had nothing better to say about their work. In certain instances a poorly placed compliment can be as bad as a direct insult.
These kinds of misunderstanding often leave westerners baffled if a fun conversation suddenly seems to go sour. Don’t take it as a comment on your affability if you make a mistake, just try to take note of what might have gone wrong and improve the next time around!
5. Use Social Media Platforms
China has a highly complex online culture, and as a result many Chinese, especially younger generations, do a lot of their socializing online. China doesn’t have access to many social media platforms that might be accessed in other countries to try to pay attention to what social media platforms your peers are using. Many people consider we chat a must have if you are planning on spending any time in china. It can be used to make contacts and even has the capability to process monetary transactions.
If we chat just isnt the app for you there are plenty more to choose from. The important thing is that you have an easy way to connect and get ahold of the people around you.
6. Find a Common Interest
It's not uncommon to find blogs or social media posts about westerners who are having a hard time making friends in china. There are many reasons this could happen, some of which are touched on in this article, but an easy way to try and work past some of the messier parts of making friends is finding a common interest. In your haste to make new friends it can be easy to forget that no matter where you are you have to have something in common. Jumping into social situations while being polite and friendly is always good, but it's going to take a deeper connection to really stick the landing.
China has active local communities. Go online or look around town for postings for things you are interested in. Maybe you are looking for a class to deepen your knowledge of tea making, perhaps you enjoy spoken poetry, or maybe you want to check out a Dragon Boat Festival . Odds you aren’t the only one. Joining a club can make bonding over a common interest easier. Spending time with people will make them more comfortable with you and it will perhaps help you open as well!
Two Ways to Improve Your Long Term Relationships
The tips above are pretty fast and easy ways to get better at making friends, but what happens after you find your gaggle of bffs? While most of that is up to you, here are two tips that might be helpful to consider when trying to cultivate a long term friendship in china.
7. Prioritize Humility
In countries like America that prioritize individualism self promotion is often seen as necessary and even admirable when done correctly. A common adage for people in these spaces is “distinguish yourself from the pack”. It is a good thing to stand out. China sees success a little differently. If one person accomplishes something it is seen as a community accomplishment. Many Chinese people are very proud of their ethics of putting the group before the individual. While you may see self promotion as an important part of professional development, you may earn yourself a reputation for arrogance by speaking up about your own accomplishments. Instead, if you are ever recognized for good work, or a personal achievement, be very sure to bring attention to all the people who helped you along the way. It is a very good way to show appreciation and should pay dividends time and time again.
8. Be Aware of Your Own Culture
Taking some time to evaluate yourself and your own perspectives will go a long way when trying to ingratiate yourself into a new environment. It can be easy to make observations about the external environment but analyzing yourself and your own cultural priorities can help you understand the similarities and differences between you and the people around you. If you ever think that a person’s reactions or traditions are ridiculous, instead of laughing or remarking, take a moment to understand why people in other parts of the world might have a different perspective on it. Remember that you and your habits are probably just as mysterious to Chinese people as their habits are to you. Taking a look inward will help you empathize with the people you are trying to befriend.
Making Chinese Friends Will Help Your Learning Chinese Language
When you learn any language, you could benefit from your naitve speaker friends. If you can make Chinese friends, they will help your learning Chinese and speaking Mandarin better. You can ask them any questions about the language. They will also help you to understand the Chinese cultures. Most importantly, you can practice your speaking Mandarin with them if you meet together. Even if you can not meet in person, you can chat through social media, like Wechat or QQ. However, if you run into trouble to make Chinese friends, you may use Speechling for your speaking Chinese better like a native speaker. You can learn in a right way from the first day of your learning Chinese.
Now that you have these tips in your toolbox, go ahead and make Chinese friends either in person or online and boost your language learning!