The Most Embarrassing Moment while I speak Chinese
National Taiwan Normal University-Vanda William 

Language is said to be a complex system of communication. I have found that this statement is indeed a fact when it comes to the Chinese language. My name is Vanda William and I am a first-year student studying at NTNU. I have been studying Chinese for a few months now and I must confess it has been the hardest language I have ever interacted with much less to learn it. I have had the privilege of studying French and Spanish at school, which to me at the time thought was challenging. Also there were similarities in the languages which made it easier for me to learn as an English speaker. For one, they both have Latin background and two with my French Creole background, some of the French words were similar and hence easier to understand, and the Spanish was closely related to the English. Chinese however, (Chinese!) sounds like nothing I have ever heard and to top it off it has characters, tones and makes one bite their tongue more than any other language.


However it has been fun trying to learn the language and it has really fascinated me. Back in St. Lucia, I only heard Chinese in Kung Fu movies, at a Chinese store, or at the Chinese restaurants I went to buy my favorite meal, fried rice and chicken. I never thought that one day I would be surrounded by Chinese, learning, and practicing it. I have had many episodes of embarrassing moments when I spoke Chinese. The first one I recall was when I just began learning Chinese, my teacher taught us what we will need in terms of language for our survival and our day to day encounter. She encouraged us to go to the streets and practice, practice, practice, practice. So one day I here I was excited on practicing my Chinese, I boarded this bus and the driver said, “Where are you going?” in Chinese of course. In my overly excited voice I responded I am going eat Linkou. There and then I saw the driver raise his eyebrows, the passengers close to him began laughing and then the driver smiled. He said, “Linkou,” as if to say I knew what you mean, it was ok. I knew then that I had used the wrong tone since the word “che” means both to ‘eat’ and ‘to go’ and that only the tone makes the difference.  

Then there were moments in class where my lecturer makes us pronounce the words over and over until we get the tone right and the sound. The hardest one for me was ‘mama’ which was in the first tone. I remember saying this word over 7 times and couldn’t get the tone right, even if I felt like I was signing soprano with a choir and my classmates laughing at me. The higher I go the thinner my voice and teacher kept saying higher. It got to the point where I told her that I think all Taiwanese people can sing really high once they can meet that first tone.

One Saturday evening, my friend and I were coming from church and we boarded the bus heading in the opposite direction to where we live. We were still getting to know our way around especially to and from church since we were to take two buses to get to our destination. The drivers asked where were we going and we told him. We sat in the seat right after him. The bus had just a few passengers. He drove and drove and people kept getting off the bus until it was empty. I then realize that we were the only ones on the bus and the driver kept driving and nowhere looked familiar. The poor driver kept looking in at us in his rear view mirror as if to say where are you going, but hearing us speak English the whole trip and knowing we were foreigners didn’t say a word. So we asked the driver where this place in English was and he was saying something in Chinese. The only word I understood was Linkou and I could see that he was getting frustrated and we were getting frustrated. So we decided to wait until he got to where he was going. He stopped at his station that had many buses with the same number as his bus so I reckon it was where the buses came to their stop. We came out and some other drivers now came throwing Chinese at us, we were trying to say the little Chinese that we knew but we were getting blank stares as if to say “What the heck are you talking about?”  

We went back and forth with words until one of us got our school card and gave it to the driver. He took it, went inside and made a few calls and then came back to us. By then there was more sign language than anything else. He used sign language to tell us board the bus, which we did, and drove us back to our stop. All in all I was embarrassed at the fact that I didn’t know the name of my school in Chinese, I didn’t know how to explain where I live, I felt helpless . I then felt that I was in the country for 2 months already and should have been able to say certain things. It was there and then I made the vow to learn the language no matter what. I then realize that Chinese is not as bad as it seems because their grammar is pretty simple, all I have to do is learn the tones and the measure words. All in all it has been a very good experience learning the language and I have been trying to learn as much as I can.


Hope you enjoyed the reading!!

Záijián, Goodbye J