The Most Embarrassing Moment while I Speak Chinese
National Central University-Andre David Williams 

I arrived in Taiwan not knowing how to speak any Chinese. As part of my intention to embrace the culture, I decided that the onus is on me to at least learn the language. I enrolled in Chinese A class and everything seems pretty good so far. I soon realized that unlike English, there are four different tones used while speaking. Depending on how these tones are used, one word can have different meanings. These tones were a stumbling block in leaning Chinese (pinyin) and little did I know that these tones will contribute to my most embarrassing moment while speaking Chinese.
After a few weeks of taking Chinese classes I pretty much thought that I knew the basics of Chinese language to get by. I now began to order my food and ask for directions to get around in Chinese. I went to a book store to buy a Chinese-English dictionary but had difficulty locating the dictionary. A male clerk saw me idling and came to assist me. Wanting to show off my speaking Chinese skills I said “xi n sheng, w  xi ng w n n …”which means Mr. I want to ask... However because of the different tones, it came across as “xi n sheng, w  xi ng w n n ...” which translates to “I want to kiss you”... Of course I did not know this at the time of the incident and was appalled when the store clerk turned away and stormed off.
Witnessing what had happened, a woman standing close by guffaw loudly and she appeared as though she could not contain herself. Highly annoyed, I left the bookshop and idled for a while thinking about what has just transpired. Then the woman who had a good laugh came up to me and asked in English if I knew what just happened. Oblivious of my actions I told her no and she proceeded to explain it. It was then I realized that because of the tone I used, the entire sentence took on a different meaning. A meaning  would have never formulated in my thought pattern! The woman then apologized for uncontrollable laughter and walked away smiling. After that incident I was very mindful of four tones used in Chinese in an attempt to prevent such an embarrassing moment again or so I thought.

Two weeks after the incident, the tones struck again. While practicing the correct use of the tones in the classroom, our teacher will often ask us to memorize short dialogs and recite them in front of the class. So far all the students who went in front of the class made no mistakes. I was the last person to recite my dialogue and I  made the mistake. The dialogue I had to recite was very much simple and I thought it would have been a walk over. The first line of the dialog was “w i q ngw n Xi  l osh  z i b  z i?” I began by stating “w i q ngw n…”and immediately the teacher stopped me and said “I know you want to celebrate but focus on your tones first”. Apparently q ng means celebrate and I was used as an example to the entire class of how important the tones are in speaking Chinese. There I was in front of the class listening to the teacher giving a lecture on how important the tones are in speaking Chinese as a result of a simple mistake I made.