If you've ever been a "foreigner" in China (especially in major cities), you may have encountered the intensity in which some Chinese people try to practice English with you. I certainly have. I've asked Europeans who aren't native English speakers, and they too have this same experience.

Regardless, I don't recall ever seeing a Chinese person practice English with another Chinese person, even though both may be keen on practicing. It's like there's some kind of unwritten cultural rule here: thou shalt not practice English with fellow Chinese people.

Question: Why don't Chinese people who are eager to practice English simply practice with each other?

  • 2
    I don’t know the reason, but I have a suspicion that people with the same native language tend to make the same mistakes in English, so they’re less likely to fix their mistakes by practicing English with native speakers of the same language. Regarding them doing this with any Europeans - I’d imagine life in China would be tough if you spoke neither one of China’s languages nor English. May 28, 2022 at 6:19
  • 1
    Doesn't seem specific to China. In France (where I'm from) you wouldn't find many French people trying to practice with one another either. One reason might be what Andrew mentioned, and another might quite simply be embarrassment (it might be an in-group vs out-group thing, I don't know, but the fact is that it can feel quite embarrassing for some to speak another language to members of their own group). What might be different between the two countries is the eagerness to speak English with foreigners...
    – user10134
    Jun 3, 2022 at 5:14
  • There's not much point in practicing with someone who is not a near-native speaker at least.
    – Lambie
    Oct 20 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


I am Chinese located in Shanghai/China, and so is my girlfriend. My girlfriend has been working in foreign companies since 2016, and I have been keeping using English as much as possible since 2014. My master's thesis (2016, ECNU) is about EFL writing, and I am developing a vocabulary acquisition application for language learners. What's more, we are both preparing for our next IELTS exams. I mean my girlfriend and I are the Chinese people who are eager to practice English.

The fact is that the method you mentioned/recommended is not that practical as it may sound.

In our 4-year relationship, my girlfriend and I have tried to communicate in English on WeChat(think of it as a Chinese version of WhatsApp for those who are not familiar with it), but quickly we switched back to Chinese. The reason was that the communication became more and more like a burden. Learning or practicing is not a happy or easy process, though it may lead to happiness and convenience. Communication should be as convenient and happy as possible, and hence English as a barrier should not block our happy bonding experience.

We have never tried to talk to each other in English even when we were joined by a native Anglophone in a conversation. Just because English widened our bonding/distance, and it's awkward. Imagine that a British man is having a classic British meal in a traditional British restaurant in London, and all diners there are British. The awkwardness may just be like the gentleman and only that gentleman is trying to practice using chopsticks. The learning goal does not match well with the learning environment, the learning content, the learner's characteristics, and the support provided.

Let me describe another experience of mine where I tried to practice English with a group of Chinese eager to learn English in a WeChat group.

I once organized an 'English corner' based on a WeChat group where most members are normal Chinese adults (not students) like me. Every morning, I tried my best to initiate an intermittent discussion on a topic such as favorite food etc., but what I saw in the evening in that group with about 50 members were all my own words with a few good morning greetings by others. An ex-colleague of mine once advertised her language learning project in the Philippines in the group in English, and we spotted many obvious errors in her messages. I encouraged them to speak in English by telling them that 'do not be so scared and hesitant to make mistakes when learning a new language because native speakers grew up making countless mistakes', but what I saw was just silence. Most of them cannot even construct a complete sentence correctly and dare not to attempt. Maybe we are more intolerant to each other for the fossilized errors.

I have never seen English practicing in any WeChat group for English learners, and I don't know if it is a culture issue specific in China. And I am also wondering if it would be appropriate for me to ask a new question on how people with the same native language and the same target language can practice with each other.

I just wrote above in a first narrative to explain why I usually don't practice English with another Chinese person or a group of Chinese. I am trying my best to continue searching for an appropriate method, and once I have some more expertise on this topic I will rewrite this answer. Hope this helps.


General points
Foreign language is usually learn in order to communicate with the native speakers of this language (in addition to passively absorbing information from sources in the target language). Although this might be not exactly the case for English, which is important as a language of international communication, the native speakers still remain the standard.

In addition, communicating in a foreign language between the people who share the same native language is usually difficult - first of all, because one is tempted to switch to the native/local language when lacking words or expressions, but also because one is likely to repeat the same mistakes and/or lack the same knowledge as the interlocutors.

Chinese speaking English
(The following focuses on Chinese, but applies generally to learning a foreign language, especially one from a different language family)

  • Pronunciation Chinese speakers learning English encounter major difficulties in the area of phonology/phonetics: both in terms of understanding the English sounds, as well as in terms of producing them. What is perceived as different sounds by an English speaker might not be differentiated by Chinese and vice versa. Since a Chinese speaker also speaks with a Chinese accent, improving phonetically is almost impossible when speaking to each other.
  • Grammatic structure Chinese grammatic structures (starting with the word order in a sentence) are very different from the English ones, and likely to be among the commonest mistakes reproduced by the same language speakers, and not easily fixed, since they do not cause incomprehension.
  • Finer language points A native speaker has a more refined vocabulary and range of idiomatic expressions, which simply cannot be encountered in a conversation with non-native speakers. Even vocabulary of highly proficient speakers of a foreign language usually lags well behind that of natives.
  • Access to native language speakers and original resources in that language. Books and other materials in a foreign language might be hard to find, even when it comes to English. Internet makes things easier, but the resources are often less adapted to ones level and/or needs/interests. English speakers are rarity in China - a fact perhaps less appreciated, e.g., by the Americans learning Chinese, due to big Chinese diaspora in the US.
  • [grammatical or grammar structure. grammatick is like 16th century or something.]
    – Lambie
    Jul 16, 2022 at 20:27

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