On the way to my last Chinese class, I walked across Main Quad at noon – peak tourist time. A lot of Stanford’s tourists are Asians, and I heard the sounds of Chinese floating on the air. The irony did not escape me – here, with a dozen conversational opportunities within a stone’s throw, I was instead heading for my Conversational (with a capital C!) Chinese class.
When I lived and studied in China, I also noticed this. In greater Xiamen, the ratio of native speakers to foreigners was probably 1,000’s to 1 . . . but instead, I was supposed to shut myself in a room where the ratio was more like 1:20. Not exactly the ideal learning environment.
This all just reminded me that the ideal learning situation isn’t one where you’re immersed in the language, but one where you take advantage of opportunities to immerse yourself. It’s a combination of both circumstances and attitude. I was lucky to have both during the year I lived in China, and when I look at what’s missing from my current situation, it’s more the latter than the former. (For heaven’s sake, I live with a girl from Sichuan. It’s embarrassing that I had to take a class this quarter in order to speak Chinese regularly.)