I don't know how to feel about it. Yesterday, I met friend of my older brother who has been staying in Taiwan for 9 years. He coincidentally was in a band in Taiwan. I wrote about them last year. Here is the video again.
We were a rock gig in my home town and started talking Chinese to each other. Although it was loud, I understood most of what he had to say and he understood me likewise. However, I felt a lot more comfortable talking to him than any Chinese person I've met. Of course in class, during my undergrad studies, I talked to the 老师, but outside of class I'm still really scared to test my spoken skills with native Chinese speakers.
The irony of it all is just so apparent, I'm kicking myself here. But I know why. I know why I feel more comfortable talking to laowai in Chinese. He has more limited vocabulary, knows what to emphasize and what to produce to make sure he is understood not only to me, but as someone who went through the same process in learning Chinese, he realizes what I'm going through.
Again, there is also the feeling of being judged on your speaking skills by native Chinese, that I feel is always present. I feel like I have to prove something. But speaking to laowai, we both know, we haven't mastered the language. So it's more relaxed. There's an element of humility and respect present.
I have to emphasize however: my exposure in speaking Chinese outside of class is very limited. I'm planning a trip to China in June/July. Maybe then I'll have more experience and this viewpoint might likely change.
Do you feel your confidence and speaking abilities change depending on the person? What about age differences? That could also be a big difference, and even relevant interests. Please leave a comment!