The Most Embarrassing Moment While I Speak Chinese
National Pingtung University of Science and Technology- Marnus Cherry 

Language art and learning has its “perks” likewise its “snags””. I will never forget the one moment in which I thought of as most confident when speaking a foreign language. However, this moment happened to be the most embarrassing one ever. The talent of speaking more than one language has always been fascinating to me.

On arriving here in Taiwan, I embarked on the opportunity of learning Mandarin Chinese; I knew according to human population that Chinese was the number one spoken language in the world followed by English and then Spanish. A prior research had shown that being able to speak all three languages (Chinese, English and Spanish) would rate one at ninety-seven (97) percent of the smartest people in the world. My anticipated goal was to be part of that range of “the smartest people in the world”. I already had a strong foundation in the latter two languages (English and Spanish), and needed to only embark on the first one (Chinese).

 

There have been a series of embarrassing moments in my life while speaking Chinese, but I will relate to the one which occurred most vivid to me.  I can remember in sequence what transpired that day in midsummer, when my girlfriend came to visit me in Taiwan. I had arranged with a Taiwanese friend to meet with her for a girl’s date out to a manicure and pedicure spa in Kaohsiung. My Taiwanese friend called and she asked to speak to my girlfriend to make final arrangements for their date out. I had bragged to my girlfriend before about my latest, intriguing Chinese abilities, and I thought what better way to exert my potential than to put it into practice right in her presence. I answered the phone by saying “wei”. When my Taiwanese friend asked to speak to my girlfriend I said to her, “one moment wo zai wo nui pengyou de sang mian” quite confidently, when suddenly the phone line went dead. I called my Taiwanese friend and thought that my line had a problem, but there was silence for a moment on her line when she answered. I thought I had lost communication again and re-uttered her name. There was only a breath on the other line so I knew she was still there. But the sudden pause and silence was quite unusual of her. I voiced out to her again “wo zai wo nui pengyou de sang mian” after the short pause on her end,  I heard a faded voice saying softly “duìbùqĭ”, “duìbùqĭ”, I quickly said to her no “problem wo zai wo nui pengyou de sang mian”. She repeated the same word, “duìbùqĭ” but this time twice as fast and right after she hanged up the phone. I thought that was sort of strange and slightly rude on her part being I was the one who had called her. Without a doubt, I verified what I had just said and called my classmate to explain to him what had just happened. After I disclosed what had happened, he started to laugh hysterically, which by the way was quite contagious enticing me to laugh with him not taking heed as to why I was laughing. Then suddenly in between breath, I asked him “what was funny?” This was when he told me that I had just said to my Taiwanese friend “wo zai wo nui pengyou de sang mian” which means that “I was on top my girlfriend”. I should have said “wo zai wo nui pengyou de pang bian” which means that “I was beside my girlfriend”. I froze and could not believe what I had just conveyed to my friend. What was she thinking at that moment? What picture did I create in her mind? I mentioned to my girlfriend who was standing right next to me what had just transpired and her mouth was ajar and her facial expression showed that she was very much embarrassed as well. She immediately asked me to call my friend and apologize to her but this time in English rather than Chinese. I felt so embarrassed, timid and for a moment I did not want to face my Taiwanese friend again, but I did not hesitate. I called and apologize. I think she then noticed the faux pas that I had made. I have since then learned that there will be some days when a few mistakes like that will resurface, and I need to be prepared to handle these mistakes with an open mind. I certainly will not allow linguistic errors leading to such embarrassment to serve as a hindrance to my quest to learn Mandarin Chinese.