My blog is running a little out of sync. with real world events at the moment. Apologies, I tend to use it in a more holistic way than than as a diary, so may dredge things up a little out of sequence.
A significant extension to my Mandarin education has been to finally have the opportunity to talk with native Chinese speakers.
The obvious candidate for talking online to native Chinese speakers was Skype. I aquired a headset and the software a few weeks ago. The theory being there are loads of people living in China who wish to learn English, I want to learn Mandarin Chinese ...... a no brainer really. Rather than describe the entire experiance, here is the advice I would give to someone else in my position attempting this.
Sign up here: www.xlingo.com/ and here: www.language-exchanges.org/
These are both sites that act as find a partner services for language learning over Skype. All the other sites I tried were rubbish, these were active.
Make it clear that you are serious there are a lot of Chinese that are very serious about learning English and they keep running in to English speaking 'air heads' who just want to chat to someone in China, learn a couple of funky phrases and brag to their friends.
Take into account the time difference you may have to get up early or find a slot at lunchtime etc.
If you are a beginner like me, you really need a partner with good English, you can still teach them alot (idioms etc.) but two people learning from begginer level is painful.
Get a good headset, conversly if your language partner sounds a bit like "Stephan Hawkins" and keeps cutting out they are probably using a cheap desk mike. Leave well alone it will drive you mad.
Don't be afraid to pull out and find someone more suitable if the sessions aren't working for you.
Always remember to think about their needs too. If you have a strong regional accent and can't switch to more standard English then go and learn to. I love regional accents (have had two myself) but although it might be amusing for us to meet a Chinese person with a strong Scouse accent it isn't going to do their career prospects any good.
The end result I now have a very nice lady in Beijing who puts together interesting lessons for me. Great luck was smiling on me as she wants to perfect her English and teaching technique with teaching Mandarin to English speakers in mind.
Luck smiled on me again it seems. A mature Chinese student studying near me searched on the Internet and found this site. He sent me an e-mail and now we meet once a week over coffee to exchange language practice.
Most advice seems to be to get a conversation partner when you are already at a reasonable conversational stage (me not there yet). I think this doesn't apply so much to us self-learners. We can get a lot of our input from the Internet but once the 'Ear' for Chinese starts to develop we need to develop our voice and speaking with native Chinese speakers is helping me hugely, I rely strongly on the fact that they speak English much better than I speak Chinese, however in the distant future I will probably get a lot from helping out a Chinese learner whose English is much worse than my Chinese.