Monday, June 17, 2013

Advice to Chinese students on how to speak to foreigners?

Quite frequently in inner China, Chinese students will approach and talk to you on the street.
They want to practise their english, show off in front of their friends or they are simply being curious.

Most of the time they don't know how to start and keep a conversation.
They ask the wrong questions. Why is that?

  • They are being shy
  • They can't speak english well and simply repeat some sentences their learnt since primary school
  • They lack originality, creativity
  • They don't know how to interact with a foreigner
  • They don't know how to listen
  • They don't know some basic "western" rules: what is considered intimate, what is considered polite or not
  • They are childish...

Here are some advice from foreigners on how to speak to foreigners:

  • Don't ask personnal questions it is rude for foreigners. For instance "where are you from? how old are you? how much money do you make? are you married? do you have children? Where are you going?..."
  • Don't shout "Hello" to foreigners on the street. This won't start a conversation. And he might not even be a english speaker!
  • Don't ask sensitive questions. Remember that you don't know the foreigner. You just met him! For example: "my grand mother died last week, how do people arrange funerals in your country?"
  • Don't ask for the phone number or QQ number just after a few minutes chat with a stranger! This is weird
  • If the foreigner is wearing earphones or talking on the phone or even eating with other people don't disturb him. He probably doesn't want to talk
  • Learn how to make compliments! A compliment should not come out of nowhere. Don't compliment too soon and for no reason. A good compliment shouldn't be a compliment that you repeat to all foreigners. It should match one personn. For example don't say "you are very handsome".
  • Don't ask questions that are evident and for which you already know the answer. For instance: "do you like China?". Do you expect the answer to be no? Or the question should be what do you like about China? "What are you doing? I am eating my lunch..."
  • Don't ask questions that might make the foreigner feel like a fool. For instance: "Can you use chopstick?" "What do you eat to be so tall?" "Do you drink a lot of milk?"
  • Introduce yourself before asking questions
  • Take a hint. If I am answering your question in a short manner and not looking at you or even turning away from you it means I don't want to talk
  • Listen to the answer of the first question before asking the second question
  • Don't ask too general questions. For example: what do you think about China?" "Tell me about your country?"


  1. This advice was too full of DONTS and not enough material they could use. It's making fun of everything almost every Chinese person has done to try and engage in an English conversation with me.

    It's obvious that you don't want to talk to these guys.

    I have heard people get excited enough about seeing a foreigner to shout Hello across the street. My most favorite time was when a college age boy shouted Hello in a tone that sounded like an old English woman. He did it to make himself and his friends laugh.

    Personal questions - What are some good personal questions to ask someone? I know in China it's polite to ask "have you eaten yet?"
    Also many chinese take interest in the question "Where are you from?" because they are usually prepared to make a compliment or ask another question based off that topic.

    George remember if you completely shut down your students with a class like this, they will become more shy then before. You need to offer them advice on what to say, instead of what not to say.

    Learn how to take compliments - When guys tell you, you're so handsome brush your brow or beat your eyelashes at him. Stand proud or make a funny gesture, you've obviously made him feel a gay moment.

    1. Yes you are right I should have put less don't and more do.

      I think it is more about the way you ask the question.
      For instance:
      better to ask "what do you like about living in China?" rather than "do you like China?"

      Or maybe some different, more creative questions:
      "what color of clothes do you wear in France?" "What is the dress code in your country?" questions about food come more often but can be interesting...