The Most Embarrassing Moment While I Speak Chinese

National Pingtung University of Science and Technology- Edgardo Reyes

The most embarrassing moments while speaking Chinese, is a common but difficult topic to write frankly. Nevertheless, in the next paragraphs I highlight occasions when I have had extremely difficult situations while speaking Mandarin.

It is easy to make a language blunder in Chinese, especially, using the wrong word intonation. Because most Chinese words have four tones, using the wrong tone in a word, sentence, or conversation is something not completely uncommon, at least for me. I categorize my most embarrassing moments in two main areas: (a) not getting the message through, and (b) uttering an unintended “nasty” or inappropriate word.

Not getting the message through. It is embarrassing because Taiwanese, (venders, pedestrians, or policeman) always try to help when they see me bewildering. They bargain or offer directions, but without completely succeeding. Obviously, they “sense” my lack of understanding. Hence, I always leave the conversations with these well-intended fellows with a “guilty” emotion of not corresponding appropriately and accordingly.

The second category, the unintended use of inappropriate or “nasty” words has surely given me embarrassing moments while speaking Chinese. The phrase “good job,” or “well done,” or “you are great” whenever I had used it with the wrong tone, I had end up saying, “you are fat.” I became aware of my mistake when I tried to praise a Taiwanese classmate. After I said, “You are great,” in Chinese, I saw her annoyed reaction. She shook her head and frown her eyebrows. Immediately after, I asked, “what’s wrong?” She said with a stern voice: “I am not fat! You are telling me that I am fat, but I’m not at all.”

The other word that is more serious, and really provided me one embarrassing moment, is the word “to see” or “to watch.” For instance, I still remember when I was practicing my first sentences in Chinese, and I uttered, “I want to see. . .” Immediately after I said it, my Taiwanese classmates (boys and girls) who were seated next to me during one lunchtime, chuckle, and warmed me: “Never use that word with that intonation”, and never ever say it to a girl. . . Surely, it is impolite and rude.