15 Dec

I have for some time wanted to write some more interesting blog posts than the frankly rather bland posts with pictures I normally get away with, but it can be difficult to give something of myself and write about my feelings, when I’m not exactly sure who I’m writing for (well, I guess it’s actually for myself), and people I don’t know very well will read it, so I’ll start with something simple, my second biggest challenge in Taiwan: learning Chinese.

I’m very interested in languages, and learning a new language is always an interesting and giving experience, and while it is a lot of hard work, and I sometimes feel like my Chinese is getting worse instead of improving, it’s also very funny, especially when you have the chance to learn alongside people as great and funny as Claire, Dasha and Devin.

In school, a lot of languages are always flying around in the air between us. Our main language when we speak together is English, spiced up with different funny accents (my favourite is the Russian), detours in French, unsuccessful attempts of speaking German from Claire and me, lots of Chinese words and slang, and all swearing (of which there is quite a lot) in Russian and Taiwanese. On top of that, we have a lot of private jokes, and codenames for all the people around us, and I’m sure nobody can understand anything, if we don’t want them to. This results in many funny episodes with language confusion, e.g. when Claire, Dasha and me had talked for a while about how good the ananas in Taiwan is, before Devin pointed out that it’s called ‘pineapple’ in English – it’s ananas in Russian, Danish and French, so none of us had noticed.

Another day, Dasha tripped over a stone and scraped her knee, and Claire, too worried to think said “Ca va?” to which Dasha looked around and very confused said “where??” – ca va means ‘owl’ in Russian.

My English is also suffering under the Chinese English (Chinglish?) used everywhere here, and I’m sure I’ll come home and think that things like ‘I very like’, ‘it’s very wonderful’ and ‘no why’ (an answer to ‘why?’) are completely legal uses of English. Sometimes the way the Taiwanese speak English helps me learn Chinese sentence structure though, because they use the same structure when speaking English. I really like Yuki’s catchphrase “you know I say what?” (=do you understand me?).

This is actually one of the better ones...

Generally we’re pretty language confused, and often one of us suddenly starts a sentence in our own language, or mix up Chinese, like Dasha, who, when she was given a gift, said ‘shower’ instead of ‘thank you’ – the person who gave her the present looked pretty confused.

Chinese is a very hard language to learn, not only because of the characters, but also because it’s a tonal language. Chinese has 5 tones, – (level), ´(rising), v (dipping), `(sharp) and * (short),  and a sound has different meanings with different tones, like ‘ma’ that can mean mother, horse, question mark, to blame/humiliate and a kind of sesame, depending on which tone you use when you say it. In reality the difference between the tones is very small, but crucial to the understanding, and in the beginning I had to use hand gestures while speaking to show the tones of every word.  I’ve still made many mistakes though, and it seems that every time one of us exchange students say something wrong, it’s very wrong.

Some examples:

A classmate was doing something Claire thought was dangerous (not uncommon, there’s a reason there’s no glass in the window in the door to our classmate, and we’ve found a chair broken to small pieces in one of the classroom’s 6 trashcans) and she said ‘dangerous!’ in Chinese, except for the fact that she used the wrong tone on one of the words, and said ‘flasher!’ instead (a man who is naked under a big jacket, and likes to open it to flash young women). Needless to say, a few people looked around.

‘I have a cold’ in Chinese with the wrong tones means ‘I fuck cats’ (even though the word for fuck is Taiwanese, but the languages are always mixed here).

A teacher here is always called their family name + the Chinese name for teacher, e.g. Chen Laoshi, and it’s polite to call anyone who’s a teacher this, even though they don’t teach you. So when Devin met one of our classmates’ mother who is a teacher and has the family name Lin he politely said ‘Lin Laoshi’ to her, which unfortunately is a very bad word in Taiwanese… Actually, it seems like all Chinese words sounds like dirty words in Taiwanese.

I think I took the prize for the worst mistake when writing a speech for a mandatory Chinese speaking competition arranged by Rotary. I wrote the speech, with a lot of help from my teacher, at first just writing down what he told me to write as I heard it, which made it pretty inaccurate. After giving the speech to my Rotary club, my host family and several others, I found out that I said the word ‘experiences’ wrong in the sentence ‘I have tried a lot of different experiences in Taiwan’. And of course, the word I said instead wasn’t one of the thousand innocent words that would’ve been okay, but ‘sperm’. Yes, that’s right, I said ‘I have tried a lot of different sperm in Taiwan’, which must be conflicting with at least 6 of the 4Ds of being an exchange student with Rotary…

Learning languages is fun!



4 Responses to “Languages”

  1. Penny December 15, 2010 at 17:26 #

    I agree that it’s so difficult to learn Chinese,but sometimes it may fun.And sometimes my grade in English is even better than Chinese lol keep going~ u can speak Chinese fluently in the future =))

  2. Maria Kortenbach December 15, 2010 at 19:06 #

    hahaha… We also had a lot of fun with the ananas/pinapple-thing here, in german, portugese and spanish its ananas too – english is the outsider here… And talk about spaeking odd variations of english – I have really taken in the hinglish-accent (?) (hindi+english), put the word only after every 2nd sentence and shake your head like a wobble-head-doll whenever you wanna agree, say yes, say a doubtful yes or say maybe 😀 rather confusing but it seems to work (!?!)

  3. Julia December 20, 2010 at 00:20 #

    Hej Lise! Tak for et godt grin – og prøv nu ikke for meget sperm!

    Du ønskes en god og speciel taiwanesisk jul
    Hilsen Lisbet, mor til Julia der er i Tai Pei.

  4. Rika January 16, 2011 at 20:51 #

    “Sperm” Aahahha 😀 That’s definitely one of the worst mix-ups!

    I’m going to Taiwan 2011-2012 and I don’t know any Chinese. Are there any programs you can recommend? Also, I heard about a phonetic alphabet called “bopomofo.” Have you learned it? How much Chinese did you know when you went to Taiwan? Any help would be really appreciated!


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