Making Chinese "net friends"
A sample skype session
Take advantage of the global Internet to practice with real native speakers
This Hub is about meeting native speakers on-line for language practice. My experience is in doing this with Mandarin, but much of what I have to say would probably apply to any foreign language.
First, the demand for practice speaking English is quite high in China. So, if you advertise too broadly it is easy to be overwhelmed with offers for mutual study (互相学习）. I have accumulated a few net friends over time, mostly via private responses to my, or their blog posts. If you wanted to meet people more quickly, you could create an account on a social networking site frequented by by Chinese people, but you would have to be prepared to filter out a lot of the responses. I wrote a Hub about the Internet in China which gives a description of some suitable Web sites. MSN is popular in China, as well. Many Chinese use Skype, it is much less popular than MSN or QQ.
Successful mutual study requires that both parties put effort into the study session, and making it really mutual study. If one partner's language skills are much stronger than the other's, often that partner will tend to get the lion's share of the practice. You can compensate for this by structuring the sessions to spend some time in each language, but this requires the stronger partner to prepare some suitably easy topics in advance, the weaker partner to be brave about expressing themselves in an unfamiliar language, and some patience by both.
It is good to have something to say after you get through the routine stuff. Being able to discuss your age, your job, and your family situation is all well and good, but a longer term relationship, and more in-depth language practice, requires a mutual interest. So, it is good to look for people with shared professional interests or a common hobby.
One net friend of mine works in manufacturing and receives instructions written in English. When she encounters instructions she doesn't understand, she will ask me to translate. Doing so is a good challenge to my ability to express myself in Chinese, and she is motivated to keep me supplied with such puzzles. Who knows, if you encounter some made in China thing that is not put together quite right, it is my fault, but probably not.
However, most of my on-line encounters have been short term interactions. After a few introductions, we discover we don't have much we want to talk to each other about. I think this is normal, and it takes many of these types of interactions to find a few people with mutual interests.
I helped one net friend apply to graduate school in the U.S. This led to a long term friendship, because we are in the same field.
I've run into a few office workers who don't have that much to do on the job. So, they look for strangers to chat with via IM. One had a job that was selling gold for WoW. Others had more ordinary jobs.
You might be afraid of being scammed, if you contact strangers on-line. The scams are certainly out there. You can look at my Hub on security, for example. However, my experience is similar to my experience meeting people in real life. Once you get to know someone, you can make judgements about their trustworthiness. Until then, be cautious. If you are not good at judging people's intentions towards you, well, you will have an interesting life, in real life and on the net. Maybe, you'll meet MC Hotdog (姚中仁) and he will get you to take off your clothes.
Another practical consideration is timezone differences. China is 15 or 16 hours ahead of US Pacific Time, depending on whether Daylight Savings Time is in effect. So, our early mornings and evenings are the best times to find Chinese people on-line.