Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I was Chinese for 1.5 minutes today ...

I had lunch today with a friend from New York. He knows I'm learning Mandarin, so he got his one work colleague - a Chinese person - to teach him a couple of phrases before coming to London. The dialogue went roughly like this ...

NY:  This is the phrase I learned ...
Greg:  Go ahead.
NY:  wǒ​ shì​ huàn​ hé​chà​
Greg:  Uhm ...

So in my mind, I'm trying to work out what he said. And the thoughts are buzzing through my head ...
  • The sentence clearly begins with "I am" (wǒ​ shì​) - I can hear that. 
  • Next is huàn, which sounds like 换 (change/exchange). There are probably other versions of huàn, but right now I can't think of others. If I can work out the rest of the sentence, then maybe this part will make more sense. I'll come back to it ...
  • What on earth is hé​chà? I've seen a few words lately that begin with 合 (join/together/...)​, like 合适 (hé​shì=suitable), 合资 (hé​zī= joint venture), but what is hé​chà??
  • No, I really can't work out what he said. Let me ask him ...

Greg: Uhm, sorry.  I give up. What are you saying?
NY: wǒ​ shì​ huàn​ hé​chà​ ...

(Dear readers of Mandarin Segments, have you worked it out yet?)

NY:  "I like to drink tea."
Greg:  Oh ... you mean "wǒ xǐ​huan​ hē chá​" !
NY:  Yes, that's what I said.
Greg:  !!!

And this, ladies & gentlemen, is the moment when I experienced how Chinese people must feel when foreigners speak to them in Chinese. The words are wrong. The tones are wrong. And they (just like me) have no idea what is being said.

But I was flattered that he had bothered to memorise a short phrase for me, and it led onto an interesting conversation about tones.

And you know what? It's not so bad to be Chinese and hear a foreigner make mistakes when trying to speak Chinese. Why was I so nervous to try in the beginning?

You're not nervous, are you? I can say for sure, having been Chinese for 1.5 minutes, that you have nothing to be nervous about!

You're welcome to leave comments in English, but for fun, why don't you leave comments in Chinese - whether using hanzi or pinyin? Keep it as simple as you like, and take a risk. How many of you will dare?


  1. Awww, this was a cute post, Greg. I completely understood how you felt here. Nice one :)


  2. 我明白"喝茶",但是"shi huan" 我和你的想一样。


  3. I'm too scared! How do you say I'm chicken in chinese :P

  4. Kara: Given that you're learning in a class environment, do you find that you feed off each other? For example, if one of you pronounces a word wrongly, then over time more and more of you start making that same mistake. Have you seen that happening? (Same question applies to anyone else who learned in a class setting.)

    Niel: 哈哈!你的视频很好笑!

    Temujin: Your comment made me smile, because I am led to believe that 鸡/雞 (jī), although it is literally 'chicken' (the bird) it is also used colloquially to mean 'prostitute'. So be careful if you go around telling people "我是鸡" (wo shi jī)!! :-)

  5. 我是中国人,但是我父母没教我中文。所以我是学,但是我承认我不会都说这语,很不好意思

    Yeah, I'm not even sure about these sentences... Like the dou shuo, does that mean speak well?