If you happen to be somewhere where there are no Mandarin Chinese speakers (if such a place exists I would love to know where it is out of pure curiousity) then how can you practice your Chinese ?
One place is online. Chinese LOVE to chat on the internet. If you plan to practice Chinese online you will probably need to install their popular chat program “QQ”. It’s something similar to MSN messenger except everyone has numbers instead of usernames. I think it’s a little insight into the culture too. Our chat programs use names which are more personal and individual. However in China inviduality doesn’t exist. Their culture is very different from ours in that way, being a “socialist” society and all. People here are “numbered” in many situations, so QQ using numbers instead of names doesn’t surprise me.
I don’t use it myself so I can’t say if it has any spyware or whatever, so I recommend caution in that respect. We know how the Chinese like to monitor what is going on so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something in there in that respect.
Anyways, that’s your sure bet way of connecting with a HUGE pool of Chinese speakers. Only thing is since QQ is a chat program you will need to understand Chinese characters. There is of course the possibility of being able to use voice chat via QQ, so if that was your plan then don’t be dissappointed. It’s very possible to practice spoken mandarin online via QQ and other mediums that I am sure you could find via a google search.
One thing to be mindful of though is that most Chinese will want to do a “language exchange”. So if you speak English or any other language of interest be prepared to divide the time into practicing mandarin and allowing them to practice their foreign tongue (whatever that may be).
You may also want to get your hands on some Chinese movies. Many of them are not interesting at all but I did see “Hero” with Jet Li (very hollywood and quite good) which you can get in original Mandarin with English subtitles. This can be useful for your listening skills, however when watching the movie I noticed a lot of dodgy translations in the sub titles. The meaning was basically translated correctly I guess, but in my opinion the translation could have been better. So be sure to use a dictionary to find the true meaning of the words and don’t rely on the subtitles alone.