On June 1, I met with Dandan Mao, another student from Shanghai. Mao communicates with a classmate of mine and was looking for more English speakers to practice with, so I was very glad to speak with her. Mao was much more open and expressive than Qingxian, and we were able to talk at length for an hour and a half. She has a wonderful grasp of English which made for a very natural conversation. There were a few miscommunications, but the majority of them were due to the imprecise translation of movie and book titles. Pop culture and media titles often consist of idioms and expressions that don't translate directly. A change in a single word even can cause trouble in understanding.
For example, Mao tried to tell me about a movie that she watched. It was a Japanese film that she said was called City in the Sky. She tried to explain what it was about, but it was difficult to describe and I thought that I just hadn't heard of the movie before. Eventually, I went to google it only to discover that she meant Castle in the Sky, a film by Hayao Miyazaki, a director that I love. I asked her if she'd seen Spirited Away, another of his movies, but she said she hadn't. Soon though, she was describing another one of his movies and eventually looked up a translation and typed the title into our Skype chat. To my surprise, the words "Spirited Away" appeared, but Mao didn't know how to pronounce it or what it sounded like so she hadn't realized that I was talking about it before.
The above clip is a small piece of our conversation about pets. It shows that despite her strong grasp of the language, she still makes some small errors that are similar to the ones I noticed from Qingxian. Again, plurals and word agreements are not always correct (as shown: "dog is very noisy..." rather than "dogs are very noisy"), and she sometimes confuses articles. At another point in our conversation, she mixed up "the" and "a" regarding a video she had seen. I tried to give her a simple explanation in English, in hopes that a description using the L2 will help her to make connections in it. Being able to understand the L2 as it relates to the L1 is necessary to start, but experiential connections must be made in the L2 to reach fluent production. Mao seems to already be thinking in her L2 rather than simply translating, and that is a great accomplishment and large step closer to mastery of the language.