Flashback: Aug. 25, 2000

24 Jul 2002
[Haha… It’s great to read about the language difficulties I used to have in China and know that they’re a thing of the past (well, at least on the communication level).]

> I saw my guard friend Xu on the way home from dinner with Qijue, and he invited me to the guardhouse again to hang out. I told him I’d be by later because I was waiting on a call from a friend. It felt really good, though, to know that they liked talking to me. It’s kind of hard to believe, considering that at this point my communication ability is quite limited. Xu is a really good guy, though. When the others are trying to tell me something that I’m not getting, he takes it upon himself to put it into simpler Chinese that I can understand, and say it slowly and clearly for me. Xiong (the first guard I met) is a nice guy too, but not as patient, and his accent is stronger* than Xu’s. Xiong also has the annoying habit of getting louder to “help me understand” (or so he thinks), but I think I’m weaning him of that. Xu just has a gift for phrasing Chinese in ways I can understand.

> Anyway, today we talked about a bunch of stuff, including American movie stars. Xiong kept naming movie stars (and some sports stars too) and asking me if I liked them: Schwartzeneggar, Madonna, Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie. The problem was he knew them by their Chinese transliterations, which are often pretty far off from the real English. Some of them took me a few minutes and some extra explanation. Mike Tyson was easier, plus the whole ear-biting stunt makes him easy to pantomime. Madonna, though, threw me for a loop. The Chinese pronunciation of “Madonna” is very similar to the pronunciation of “McDonald’s”. I couldn’t figure out why he was talking about McDonalds in the middle of a conversation about Madonna… I got it eventually, though.

> I know I’m going to learn a lot in that guardhouse. They told me to come back tomorrow. I will.

> *Neither Xu nor Xiong are from Hangzhou, and their hometown dialect influences their pronunciation of standard Mandarin. Even people born in Hangzhou (the city) don’t pronounce Mandarin quite the same way as Beijingers. They have a Zhejiang accent. Both Xu and Xiong pronounce the “h” as “f”, which is distracting, and Xiong also pronounces “sh” like “s” (typical of the Zhejiang accent), which can be very confusing.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

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