It's been about three months since my girlfriend and I broke up, and I must say that my Chinese language ability has grown more in these three months than in the entire previous year. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest reason was that her English was so damn good, we hardly spoke Chinese to each other, except to be cute. She also accompanied me everywhere and usually did the translation for me. In short, I became language-lazy. I was still making progress on my own time, but not as much as my single friends.
Now that I'm flying solo, I've really had to step up my skillz. I learned the Chinese necessities pretty quickly after I came to China and even when I was with my girlfriend, I was always making steady, albeit slow, progress. But language is more than just communication, it's also conversation. In the time since the break-up, I've gone out with a few girls, just to keep my game sharp ;-). Some of them speak little or no English, and of course we can't eat dinner or walk around the park in silence, so these situations have forced me to dig into my vocabulary and assimilate new words that I pick up. And with any exercise, it becomes easier with frequency. The girl that I'm currently rolling with doesn't speak any English but somehow we manage to have really enjoyable conversations together. Of course she teaches me new words and I return the favor but it's more satisfying to speak in Chinese, both for her and for me. Chinese people don't expect foreigners to learn Chinese well and it surprises and flatters them when a foreigner takes the effort to learn Chinese. Especially for the girls, because conversation is such an important part of a girl's life, and she will feel relaxed and excited if she can communicate with a foreigner in her native tongue. As Sinosplice John says, "Learn Chinese." Everything's sexier in another language ;-).
Speaking of sexy, my tattoo shop, which is primarily a make-up salon, had a body-painting show today. I'm sorry, I didn't bring my camera, but let me just say that slim, graceful Chinese girls with pictures on their bodies, painted or tattooed, are beyond hot.