Anyone who has learned Mandarin will be familiar with how encouraging Chinese people tend to be towards those of us who take an interest in their language. For the most part this is great. All we have to do is say 你好 in order to be showered with praise and encouragement.
But at times it can also be quite tricky to navigate the unwritten rules of Chinese polite culture. I invited three of my language buddies on my podcast to explore how Chinese politeness can impact language learners in both positive and negative ways. Listen here: “Wow! Your Mandarin is Awesome!” Decoding Chinese Politeness (Podcast) – I'm Learning Mandarin
Let me know your experiences.
It´s not unique to Chinese culture. Americans and Canadians can be overly polite/positive in this way too. Americans especially seem to have no problem throwing adjectives like “great”, “fantastic”, “awesome” or terms like “best ever” around quite a lot. It´s also just different from person to person and situation to situation. Someone may say your is great, but it´s in the context of you being in the process of learning it, rather than it actually being great etc.
Also to add to what Rokkvi said before I had begun to learn languages I didn’t know how hard comprehension was so If someone can speak well but not understand well or vice-versa it can give a false impression of your actual level. But yeah in the States people will throw around very exceptional adjectives to describe people’s English which in reality is just kindness being shown by the individuals giving the compliments.
Overpraising learners is not in itself unique to Chinese culture. But I think the extent of it and the specific nature of it is very different to other parts of the world. For example, Chinese people I know have never been praised on their language skills just for saying or typing “hello” to someone they’ve not met before. Yet this happens frequently to me, for example when I use the language exchange app Tandem and type "你好” to another user. This is partly due to expectations: Chinese people genuinely don’t expect foreigners to speak any Chinese so even a basic greeting can surprise them. But a bigger reason, as I discuss in the podcast, has to do with the Chinese culture of politeness towards strangers. There are lots of cultural differences like this which Mandarin learners from Western countries are often not aware of and which can become a problem for acquiring the language.
Yeah the expectations are different. The world sees English speakers as mono-lingual also ive heard that eastern asain natives believe their language to be near impossible to be learned by westerns so even just hello, how are you in a non butchered accent is impressive. Also they may or may not assume thats all you know, and there is the thought why would a westerner want to learn x language. Language learning is like fitness average people just think why? Why do that? This question is obv easy for learners to answer but to average people the thought hasnt crossed their minds.
It depends on the language. The French in Paris make fun of you or get annoyed if your French is not perfect but then glitch out if you speak English to them without making an attempt.
Spanish speakers are delighted if you try to speak Spanish to them.
I have heard but have no proof that Russian speakers love it when you try to speak Russian.
Mandarin is way in the future for me so I can’t say. But when I tried before to pronounce a couple words they just didn’t get it at all.
Anytime my Spanish has been praised, it has been deserved. Generally I have only spoken when I was reasonably good and they have never gone overboard saying something like “you sound just like a native.” For people that do not (or did not) speak as well, they still got praised, but still only to the extent it was deserved. Regardless of skill level and langauge, people always seem delighted when you try, provided they can understand you. (Exception: that thing about the Parisian French is something I have heard too).
I wish I hadn’t been praised for my English back at University so much. Although I could have figured it out myself, shining a little bit more light on my true level back then could have encouraged me to work harder. I needed that reality check, which I didn’t get and, as a result, became unnecessarily complacent, giving me a sense of completeness in the language, which later turned out to be misplaced and did me a huge disservice in terms of setting my language goals. Only now, after years, realizing how delusional I was, I am slowly working my way to the top, knowing that I am not quite there yet - that is important to acknowledge, as impressed as some people might be by my accent, for instance. I actually have a perfect accent, which typically outshines any potential shortcomings in other aspects of the language. I got hired multiple times just based on a 5 minute conversation, with the interviewer assuming there is no need to test me further. Well, there was no need as for the position in question, one doesn’t need a level as high as that, say, of a journalist publishing articles, but I’m pretty sure I was still overpraised in that short conversation.