The difference between friendship in Chinese and friendship in English

Nankai Rob has some insightful reflections on the differences your choice of language makes when doing friendship in China:

“Anyone who has made relationships that utilize no English at all will back me up when I say they’re immensely rewarding, but also immensely difficult.

“Why? You can carve this in stone: it’s hard because I no longer have control. And I don’t just mean control over what I say, but rather control over interpretation, culture, meaning, the whole bag. When you’re used to having control, when you’re used to everyone wanting to converse in English and thereby putting you at the reins of everything that happens, switching into Chinese is not simply a change in language; it’s a hierarchical shift.” [Link: Taiwan, part 7: What You Can Learn When You Don’t Understand]

2 thoughts on “The difference between friendship in Chinese and friendship in English”

  1. I agree with that statement, but I have a follow-up question. It seemed to me in China that the Chinese students wanting to learn English were more willing to try speaking English than the American students learning Chinese would want to speak Chinese. Have you encountered that? Why is it?

  2. My guess is that the motivations for studying the other language are typically different. Short answer: those students want to learn English more than foreigners want to learn Chinese; they have more pressure, more perceived need to learn it. Foreigners are more likely to study out of interest — even if it is to enhance their careers, it’s not seen as necessary for their and their family’s future well-being. Many Chinese, on the other-hand, are unbelievably driven to succeed by any and all means, and for some pursuing English is seen as a necessary component of their future success and their family’s future security. They (and their mothers!) can get downright obsessive and obnoxious about it.

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