My Virtual Conversation Partner in Taiwan

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.

Initially hesitant about intensive language learning online, I was pleasantly surprised by the pace of the class and various modes of learning TISLP offered to improve my Chinese speaking ability. Group classes are small and great for group learning and instruction. Although my classmates and I are states apart and we don’t have the opportunity to bond in person and outside of the classroom as we would during scheduled programming, I feel like we are friends as we speak and see each other almost every day on BlueJeans. In our breakout rooms, after having finished our conversation exercises, we have small conversations that help us get to know each other more “outside” of class activities.

In addition to small group classes, TISLP also provided me with a language partner that I meet with two hours every week. Having a language partner who attends National Cheng Kung University helps me improve my communication and conversational skills weekly. My partner, Anna, shows me around Taiwan’s night markets, train stations, amusement parks, and nature scenes whilst explaining to me Taiwanese culture and history. At first, communication was a little difficult because there were many words or phrases that I was unfamiliar with or have forgotten the meaning of. But, as we talked more, I became more comfortable asking her to repeat questions or explain words. Sometimes, I am still a bit perplexed and use Pleco as a last resort to understand Anna’s words. 

This was a completely new and challenging experience. I’ve had one on one conversations with many teachers and Chinese speaking friends of mine in Mandarin but didn’t realize how much I relied on English to communicate. If I did not know a word or phrase in Chinese, I would usually insert the English word/phrase to fully iterate my thoughts, and later my teacher or friend would teach me the word/phrase in Chinese. However, this was not the case with my conversation with Anna. I could not speak a random English word in the middle of a sentence and expect to be understood, so it took much effort to try to explain, in Chinese, the word that I did not know how to say. This experience helped me realize my use of English as a crutch to speak to others in Chinese and made me aware of my expectation of others to know English. 

Anna teaches me many new words as she shows me around Taiwan through video chat. Usually, she points her camera to an object or place and tells me what it is and gives me a brief explanation of her experiences with it or the culture/history behind it. She is very knowledgeable and patient with me and I appreciate it a lot. I even got to meet her mom on one of our outings! One day, when I get the opportunity to visit Taiwan, I hope I can meet up with Anna like an old friend, and she can help show me around Taiwan, once again, but in person.

By: Angela Nguyen

Program: Taiwan Intensive Summer Language Program

Term: Summer 2020

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