At Harvard, English learners pay their tutors with Cantonese The weekly Cantonese-English bilingual chat at Harvard becomes language learners' new way of networking

Boston – While many language learners are complaining about the price of tutors, a group of Cantonese and English learners at Boston have found an alternative way of paying. They exchange their languages.

They soon became good friends during the “trade” which takes place every Friday evening.

Getting information about the weekly Cantonese-English meeting at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on the Meetup website, Julia Harmatz, a Boston counsel attorney at Broderick and Bancroft who was going to have a business trip to Hong Kong, planned to learn some daily Cantonese from the chatters.

She ended up exchanging contacts and taking selfies with Grace Tam, a Northeastern University undergraduate and a native Cantonese speaker who was eager to improve her English.

"Would Dandan and Grace like to come over and plan the dinner?" Ms. Harmatz asked on Wechat, referring to Ms. Tam and a deputy organizer of the meeting.

Started in April, 2015 by Maynard Clark of Global Health and Population of the Harvard Chan’s School of Public Health, the Cantonese-English Chat Group now has 79 members. People with different backgrounds, varying from university students to company bosses, came to learn one or both of the languages.

“Everyone has different vocabularies,” Mr. Clark, the main organizer said. He said by chatting in both Cantonese and English, every chatter could learn others’ vocabularies while improving their own language ability.

“You say a few sentences in your first languages, and then you follow that up with a few sentences in the second, you go back and forth,” Mr. Clark said.

A Singapore Chinese chatter, Weizhong Goh, said he loved Cantonese though he only knew it basically. He had been to a bilingual chat in Hong Kong and was eager to attend a similar event when he came to Boston.

But for many of the attendees, especially younger people, the chat room was also a place for socializing and weekend relaxing.

A Northeastern University graduate student, a native Cantonese speaker and a deputy organizer of the chat, Dandan Mai joined the group in 2016. Since then, she showed up every Friday evening.

Here in purple blouse, Dandan Mai was explaining rules of the "Mannequin Challenge," a game in which everybody should freeze with a specific gesture.

“I met many international students who asked me, how to get involved in the American society? I think this event really helps me get involved,” Ms. Mai said.

But the moments she remembered most clearly was when she and other chatters played games, like the Who’s Spy game and the Mannequin Challenge.

The socializing effect, however, was expected by Mr. Clark, which was one of the reasons why he continued to advertise the event on Eventbrite, Meetup and some other platforms.

“I thought it would be something more than just informal conversation,” he said.

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