The Most Embarrassing Moment while I Speak Chinese
National Central University-Fiolenta Marpaung

Selected to write the most embarrassing moment while I speak Chinese is a little difficult to me. I could not select the most embarrassing moment in my life because I think I had a lot of embarrassing moments while I was speaking Chinese. As we have already known, Chinese language is the most difficult language in the world (based on I have ever heard from news and my friends who are studying foreign language). Chinese language has a lot of characters and most of it has similar characters which is difficult to recognize directly. The second thing, which makes Chinese language the most difficult language, is because it has five tones (4 tones and 1 tone as neutral tone). Using tones in my language is only used when we are going to emphasize something or want to speak politely while we are talking to older people. But the tones in Chinese language are very different! They use tones in everything single word! A word which has the same Pinyin character but different tone will have different meaning. These tones are very difficult to distinguish when I was listening something or when I was trying to speak something.

Trying to speak something in Chinese language or making conversation with Taiwanese is my daily life activities here. I have a lot of embarrassing moments when I was trying to speak Chinese. I always try to forget my embarrassing moment, but I could not forget it. Because when I was trying to forget it, I will make a new one again accidently. But as you also have known, a proverb said that practice makes perfect. So, I keep trying.

I have one embarrassing moment that I could not forget (because it just happened). I had a trip with my friends. We spent a week for winter break. One of my friends is fluent in Chinese because he graduated from Chinese Literature program.  He was our tour guide during the trip. We were so lucky having him because he was our translator. “There is no practice makes perfect for this trip” we said spontaneously. But a bad day had come. He asked me to practice my Chinese.

One day when we were in a convenience store to buy something and we were in a hurry to chase a bus, he wanted me to ask the lady directly. I did not have choice. I approached her and asked her in English. But unfortunately the lady could not understand me. So I tried to use my limited Chinese(beginner’s level). Having known that she is older than me, I was trying to make polite conversation. I used words which I have remembered and learned while I took Chinese class. I wanted to ask her where I could find toothpaste. I started with: ‘May I ask you..’ which Chinese version: “Wo (3rd tone) xiang (3rd tone) wen (4th tone) ni (3rd tone)....” But it came out “Wo (3rd tone) xiang (3rd tone) wen (3rd tone) ni (3rd tone)…!” The change tone of “wen” could be understood as ‘I want to kiss you’ or ‘I want to smell you’. After I said that words, she was shocked and raised her eyebrows. I suddenly realized she did not understand my bad Chinese. I repeated it again slowly with the same tone! She again looked angry and suddenly turned having a funny look when I said ‘wen’ with 4th, 2nd and 1st tone nervously. She realized and corrected me. But the embarrassing moment with her had not finished yet. I wanted to ask her where I can find toothpaste and I said “toothpaste zai (4th tone) na (3rd tone) li (3rd tone)!” But she did not understand “toothpaste”. I tried to explained “Wo (3rd tone) yao (4th tone) tong (2nd tone) zhi (4th tone) to brush my teeth!!I She was very angry and I was frustrated because I could not explained to her and I realized that I did something wrong again!! While I wanted to leave her, my friend came to help me. He was laughing when I said the same thing. He was explaining to me while the lady took toothpaste for us. He explained that in Taiwan tongzhi is commonly used to describe someone who is gay. I should have said dongxi (東西 – a thing) but it came out ‘tongzhi’. I was shocked, embarrassed and I directly said that I was sorry to the lady “Dui bu qi… dui bu qi (對不起)” many times. It was very embarrassing but I came to be my new vocabulary that I could not forget it.