The most embarrassing moment while I speak Chinese
National Chengchi University-Prosper Zombre 

Learning Chinese, like learning any other foreign language is generally viewed as a great opportunity to widen one’s horizons, experience new culture and discover new people, etc. This sounds really exciting and from my perspective, having the opportunity to learn Chinese is like a dream coming true, for this language is considered as one of the most complex in the world. I was then at the beginning of my Chinese classes confused by everything that was said or written by my teacher, but inspired and determined to overcome the mystery of what will become later one of my most admired languages.

Of course, learning Chinese have not been going so smoothly. There were moments when practicing conversation led to frustration and embarrassing situations. The complexity of Chinese language is to me enhanced by the different tones you have to pay attention to. Besides that, I am often running short of vocabulary or reversing the order of some words or expressions and obviously it is difficult and sometimes even impossible to be understood. I have three stories about miscommunication and embarrassing situations I have experienced so far.

On winter vacation 2009, while I was still a very beginner in my Chinese courses, one of my friends came from France for one week vacation. He didn’t know anything about Chinese or Taiwan, so I was his natural guide in Taipei where we spent time hanging out. As a guide, I was in charge of the conversation with local people everywhere we went and I was doing relatively good job ordering food in restaurants, asking the way to some places, buying some souvenirs, etc. My friend was impressed by my Chinese language ability I acquired within just few months of living in Taiwan, and I was also happy to hear him appreciating my language skills. The only thing really troublesome to me at that time was I couldn’t order hot tea in restaurants, because most restaurants systematically serve fresh tea which we were not used to. It sounds surprising but it is real, I didn’t know how to order hot tea! Anytime I had to order hot tea, we were surprised that we receive hot water instead, simply because I kept saying我們要喝茶” while being clear that we don’t like fresh tea. After the waitress tried hard to understand, we had just to enjoy hot water. This was embarrassing and my friend is still using that to bother me anytime he wants, by saying: “You still have to order hot tea for me so I can make sure you understand some Chinese…”

The second situation I suffered from communicating in Chinese was also related to ordering food. Because in my habits, I used to eat eggs only when they are well done (cooked), it has been very difficult to notice that many foods in Taiwan contain fresh like eggs. Therefore, I had to learn how to ask for well done eggs but it has not been simple until I can do it now. I first learned that I had to say “熟一點” (Shú yīdiǎn) but it didn’t work. Anytime I say “熟一點”, my eggs were done less than average and I had to throw away parties of the food dunked in fresh eggs. Then after I learned that I had to reverse my expression, that is, saying “一點熟”(yīdiǎn Shú). That was even worse… Then I was totally lost. To make life simple, I just decided I had to say “我不要雞蛋”(Wǒ bùyào jīdàn), that is, I don’t want eggs in my food. This was not actually what I wanted, but it helped me save my food and money because no need to throw anything away anymore.

The last embarrassing situation I experienced with Chinese language was when I participated into the last TICA Cup Chinese contest along with some other TaiwanICDF sponsored students in Ping-Tung University. Besides trying hard to come up with some words in front of the public during my speech, I also mixed up the expression “大部分” (meaning generally) with “部大分” which didn’t make sense and I could see that even my supporters and the jury were embarrassed. Of course, I haven’t been on stage after such a poor performance.