Taxi Driver in China

Taxi Drivers Are My Favorite Chinese Tutors

by Angela Efros on January 9, 2014

I can still remember when I first got to China, when I could only say hello, thank you, and good-bye. Before I left to go anywhere, a kind, bilingual soul, would write down an address so that a taxi driver could figure out where I was going. I had no idea.  I knew I needed to find some good Chinese tutors.

These taxi drivers, despite my obvious lack of Chinese ability, would always speak to me. At first I had no idea what they were saying. I would just shake my head nervously trying to show I didn’t understand and apologize in English and what I hoped was Chinese, but probably wasn’t.

By the time it should have been clear that I couldn’t understand a word they said, the drivers usually kept on talking to me until we finally arrived at our destination, at which point I would smile awkwardly and get out relieved pp04-driver-taxi-huaihuathat I’d managed to arrive.

After a few days I learned to say more basic phrases like, I don’t understand. I thought surely this would make the drivers realize. When I got into a taxi, and the driver started to chat, I used my best Chinese possible to say I didn’t understand, “Wo ting bu dong”. Even still, the driver kept chatting on about things I couldn’t possibly understand.

Taxi drivers love to talk. They drive around all day, and their best entertainment is chit chatting with their customers. Use this to your advantage. Instead of daydreaming while getting from point A to point B, use this time to practice your Chinese!

Drivers, and other Chinese locals, will all ask you similar questions. Where are you from? How long have you lived in China? How do you like China? Since you’ll be hearing these questions over and over, you’ll get a lot of practice with them really quickly. I remember feeling elated the first time that a taxi driver asked me where I was from, and I understood and could actually answer. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand what he said next.

Every few days I could understand and started to use a new phrase I’d learned in a taxi. After a few months of this, I started having more complicated conversations, not only with the drivers, but also with the people all around me.

So if you want to make rapid improvement with your Chinese, use these free teachers to your advantage! As I said earlier, you are just making good use of a time when, if you weren’t practicing Chinese, you would just be staring out the window. Use this time every day to practice instead and it will really make a big difference.

Keep in mind; you will never see the drivers again, so there is no need to be afraid of making mistakes in front of them. Just try your best. Chinese people are really happy to meet foreigners trying to speak Chinese; they don’t care if how well you speak.

There’s one more reason I think you should practice speaking with drivers.

Taxi drivers don’t usually speak very standard Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese). This might seem like a strange reason to practice with them, but I believe it’s a good one.

Locals don’t speak Chinese. They speak a dialect of Chinese. So communicating with locals all over China, you will realize that their pronunciation is a little different than what your Chinese teachers spoke. Don’t be discouraged. It just takes a little bit of getting used to. Just imagine if you were to speak to someone with a very heavy accent in English. You might have a hard time understanding every word they say, but the more you practice the easier it would be.

IMG_4394The more you practice, the faster your Chinese will improve. Never be discouraged, and speak every day! You’ll be fluent before you know it.

Angela Efros

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

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The Jewelry Store April 12, 2015 at 10:33 am

Nice article, It was helpful.


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