Hah! You can say that again..

Read this from “Toshuo.com” … It sounds all too familiar

I’ve been living in Taiwan for about 3 years now. I’ve been teaching English at least part time the whole time I’ve been here. I spent 10 months in language classes at a mediocre language school that employs audio-lingual drills and frequent vocabulary quizes, tīngxiě, and grammar-based tests. I have not been able to find the wealth of extensive reading materials for beginner or intermediate language learners that I previously found when studying Japanese or Spanish. Also, I’ve found that the bar is set very low for foreign speakers of Mandarin Chinese. Even a few weeks after I got here, when I could barely say anything in Chinese, people complimented my accent or just general “good Chinese”. Consequently, for Mandarin, it’s harder to get massive comprehensible input from the real world.

Many, many Taiwanese people try to speak English just about any time they’re talking to a white person. Many of those who don’t speak much English, will refuse to speak at all rather than simplify their speech for a foreigner. When I was in Guatemala, if I went into a store, the owner would definitely talk to me in Spanish. If I didn’t understand, he’d keep jabbering away in Spanish, but add hand gestures, or simplify his speech. That was nearly ideal for a language learner. In Taiwan, many store owners simply try to speak to me in English even if I speak to them in Mandarin first. If they do speak Chinese, and I don’t understand, they’re likely to give up all together. On one occasion, I went into a store in a night market to buy a fan. I asked the owner, “有沒有賣電風扇? (Do you sell fans?)”. Not only did he not understand, but he didn’t even bother to say, “聽不懂. (I don’t understand).” He just held up his hand, with his palm facing me, while shaking his head as if it would ward off the foreigner. So, I took three steps forward and repeated my question more slowly, more clearly and very loudly. At this point, he graced me with a “聽不懂”. I tried unsuccessfully one more time, and finally just grabbed a blank post-it note on the counter and WROTE, “有沒有賣電風扇?” Then, do you know what he did? He looked up in shock and said, “你會講國語嗎? (Can you speak Chinese)”. After this, he understood EVERYTHING I asked him, including the wattage requirements of the fan, and went on to ask me about all kinds of various things regarding America that he was curious about. When I left, I asked why he didn’t understand me until I wrote out my question for him. He answered, “喔,我以為你在講英語. (I thought you were speaking English.)”
In any case, whether it is due to the fact that I have been focused more on work than studying, or if it’s because of the comparative lack of learning resources, my progress with Mandarin has been much less impressive than my Japanese learning was. At this point, my speaking is so-so, and my writing is at about the 2nd or 3rd grade level. I think that the extensive reading and cartoon watching that helped my Japanese so much would help my Chinese, too. It’s just that I have to reach a high level of Chinese before I can find material that I can read easily without a dictionary. Likewise, the better my spoken Chinese becomes, the more enjoyable it will be for local friends to talk to me in Chinese. I’ll keep at it, reading the 國語日報 (a newspaper for kids), and doing additional study when I’m motivated. With a full-time job, though, it may be a long time before my Mandarin is as good as my Japanese was.

From Toshuo.com

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~ by flerick on April 18, 2010.

3 Responses to “Hah! You can say that again..”

  1. Yep, thats sadly how it goes. I remember me and a couple friends going to a restaurant in China, and we we’re all asian born foreigners except for our white german friend. So she sat next to my ABC friend and the waiter came to take the orders and when it was our german friend’s turn to order (and she speaks mandarin just fine), she said something which everybody could understand, but the waiter turned to our ABC friend ask what the german girl was saying. Needless to say our german friend was fuming. This is the thing in asian countries like China, Taiwan, Japan etc. They kinda refuse to acknowledge that a foreigner (white ones) can learn such a ‘difficult’ language. Also, people tend to be more eager to speak English with a white person than vice versa. They’re really good at pressing and insisting speaking English with you. 这就是这样,没办法啦。

  2. I’m the writer of the quoted post. Fortunately, it’s been years since I’ve had an experience like the one I wrote about in my blog. On the other hand, I have noticed trendier restaurants here and there that give me an English menu while giving a Chinese one to everyone else. They’ve been good-natured about giving me the normal menu when I ask, though.

    • Oh that’s good to hear then. Thanks for commenting, and nice article.

      It seems restaurants are also very strict about little things such as allowing one to bring a drink in from 50 Lan or even simply a water bottle. You’d think they’d let it pass since you’re coming in to buy an expensive dinner. And usually they do, but not after realizing that confronting their patron is not in their best interest.

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