The main point is practice makes perfect, but the wrong kind of practice is counterproductive. Language skills improve with repetition. Repetition develop habits. The wrong habits can be detrimental to one’s ability to communciate.

To take this example further using English, yes, a person could learn English by watching Downton Abbey. That person will also experience difficulty when speaking English with any person who is not from that time or place.

Any person who isn’t speaking a language in a way that meets the expectation of their audience will be met with some degree of bewilderment.

  • Yes, the audience may believe that person is less capable of speaking in appropriate forms (i.e., English according to Downton Abbey)
  • They audience may also believe the sender is confused about language. This is the same as when a native English speaker accuses a marginally-fluent immigrant of not speaking the lingua franca. For example, “You’re in America, speak English.” “Learn English.”
  • And they may possibly develop an incomplete or inappropriate mental model in order to efficiently translate why / how the sender uses language in this manner. With some degree of politeness, this can exhibit itself in the form of a question like,“Where are you from?” People may believe they are uncouth.

It may also manifest itself as an assumption, which locals have a tendency to do around here. Not all assumptions are harmful, although some of them can be perceived as negative to some senders.

Final words. A foreign Chinese learner can choose to ignore the local receiver’s point of view, therefore weaponizing their use of the Chinese language. Meanwhile, the receiver is often trying to figure out how to use English in a more effective way. Over time, this disparity can create friction.

Or as I wrote, one could “learn Chinese outside the classroom” and adapt, expand and expose themselves to the contexts in which they will use these language skills.

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Doing business from West to East, and now the other way around as an American high-tech researcher in Taiwan // philipchang.org

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