The Most Embarrassing Moment I Speak Chinese
National Taiwan University–Jorge Delgado

I can not exactly tell how many times I have feel embarrassed while speaking Chinese, but I can certainly mention some memorable stories about it.

To start, I can mention the first two weeks we spent at the orientation course in Shida, because everyone was excited about learning and practicing Chinese, and at the beginning no one really cared on how it sounds, we were just trying our best and we felt like kids with a new toy, a new tool and trying to use it as much as we could.

I remember that by that time, almost every counselor we met already spoke some Chinese, and until now that I understand that they only spoke “some” but it was impressive for us when we just got to Taiwan.

First embarrassing experience was at the classroom in Shida, when we had an introductory Chinese course, our pronunciation was terrible and I was very embarrassed but I understood that it is part of the process on learning a new language.

When we left Shida we went to the real world, without counselors to help us get everything we wanted, or free tours around Taipei.

The first time I got to my room I went outside to look for something to eat, I went to this place where they sold local Taiwanese food, but the Menu was in English, I had no idea what to order, luckily they had some pictures of the dishes, so it was kind of embarrassing to be pointing, I felt like a little kid.

During the first week, I was trying different places to get my food, I was lucky when the owner of the restaurant speaks Spanish, but I had some embarrassing moments as well.

When we already started the Chinese course at school, I was doing my best to practice everything I learned. There was this time I went to McDonalds to buy my lunch and I was doing my best to explain the counter what I wanted in Chinese, and it was embarrassing when he repeated my order in perfect English.

Something I have to mention and I know is a barrier we have to overcome if we really want to learn Chinese is that we should not be shy to speak Chinese when we are with other foreigners that already speak Chinese or if they have a higher level.

Learning Chinese has been a process and once we get to know a little bit more we have to face another kind of embarrassing moments, for example: if we ask something in Chinese or if we understand what someone is asking in Chinese and we give a proper answer in Chinese, people assume that we already know a lot more than what we really knew, FALSE, after that, they speak faster or ask more “complicated” stuff for us, or for our level of Chinese.

I can be a little bit more specific with that example, at the tea shop, I know how to order the kind of tea I know, to ask the size of the cup, hot or cold, and how much sugar I want, but if I try to order some teas with noodles or with sugar bubbles or other “exotic” ingredients I feel that the seller is making my life complicated at that time, is then when I feel embarrassed and I regret and ask my traditional nai cha, hong cha, lu cha or the most sophisticated I know so far zao mei nu nai (strawberry milk).

Is also embarrassing when after one year and a half living in Taiwan, my professor from my Master’s degree or students who just arrived to Taiwan expect me to speak more than what I speak.  I know it is hard and it will be the same with them, but it is still an embarrassing moment when they ask me for help and I cannot make it.

Anyway, Chinese is so challenging and a completely different language than the western languages but I have to say that the language as a whole is an experience at the same time.