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I'm pleased to see some enthusiasm for language learning as a way of connecting with people, rather than distancing oneself from others. Naturally, this suggests that one is interested in hanging out with certain people and not with others. English is a tool, as are all other languages. How this tool is used by you says more about you than it does about the language. I am a native speaker of three languages-and I say native because I learned all three well before my tenth birthday, so I think in these languages when I speak. I also speak, haltingly, in two others and am now trying my best to acquire a sixth language, Putonghua.|
China has been assiduous in teaching Chinese people Engliish for one simple reason. As early as the nineteenth century, Chinese realized the future world would use English and after 1948, began efforts to acquaint citizens with its use. Especially in the last thirty years, English has, for many Chinese-particularly in a position to engage in global business-become a very useful tool, indeed. Unfortunately, as a few people here commenting have pointed out, the opportunities for SPEAKING English are often lacking in China. In Chaoyang, Liaoning, where I stayed, for a while, a pidgin English is taught, called "Chaoyang English", which makes it difficult, if not impossible to understand a native speaker like me. I tried to remedy that by recommending certain websites, but in reality, speaking the language is the best way to learn. Since we can't all just pick up and go to the country of our choice to learn the language, we have to develop ways of learning on the spot.
I'll recommend one website as the best I've found for learning the strange and wonderful music called English (just remember, it is the American version....). This website is also very useful for English speakers wanting to learn Putonghua, since the Chinese explanations for English meaning and pronunciations are very detailed and throrough. That website is http://www.51voa.com/ and there are various links to pages explaining all kinds of phrases, meanings and usages.
For those of you who recognize the importance of speaking, I highly recommend making friends with English speakers wherever you can find them. It won't be easy if you live outside large expatriate commmunities like Beijing, SZ, or GZ, but even among Chinese, there are excellent speakers of English.
Unfortunately, I have little time to spare to speak with more people than those I already speak with, or I would offer my help, but I'll come back here from time to time and answer any questions you might have and suggest books or websites to visit for more help.
Don't be discouraged!! Learning a language, especially after you are twenty or so, is harder, but I am sixty and I will learn Chinese, so I think you all can do the same and learn whatever languages you want. Use your time well.