Saturday, December 22, 2012

Serves me right?!

click for a full size version
Let's start at the very beginning, right?
The other day I was speaking to a native Mandarin speaker from the Mainland, who asked me who I practise with, given that I live in Hong Kong where the native language is Cantonese, and where spoken Mandarin is "non-standard".

He was shocked to hear that most of my time spent speaking Chinese is actually with Hong Kong people. In fact, he went as far as to say it would probably be better not to practise at all, than to practise with someone who doesn't speak "standard" Mandarin.

This makes no sense to me. If I want to learn Chinese then I need to practise, and in fact imperfect practice is better than none at all. This reminds me of a great ironic post by Khatzumoto (founder of the AJATT "All Japanese All The Time" system) - definitely worth reading after you have finished reading this post!

F*** me, right?
There is a great meme which comes from the movie Superbad, that features Jonah Hill (in the picture above). You can read more about the origins of this particular meme, and see many variations at KnowYourMeme and QuickMeme, but let me summarise as follows: The meme, in its various forms, implies that they were trying to do a good thing (written at the top of the page) but in fact people are being negative about that. Examples include:
  • I'm just trying to give you a better education.  F*** me, right?
  • I did what I was asked.  F*** me, right?
  • I'm doing 60kmph in a 60kmph zone. F *** me, right?
  • I want to make a living doing something I love.  F*** me, right?
I'm sure you get it now. Right?

So f*** ME, right??
And that was basically how I felt when I was being told that I shouldn't be practising my Chinese with people who don't speak perfect standard Mandarin. Right?

There's a lesson in here, right?
Well, when I mentally linked my conversation to this meme, I started wondering how I might say that in Mandarin. Frankly, despite speaking to several native speakers, I didn't get a (literal) suggestion that I liked. But Yi (thanks Yi!) suggested something that did feel right, although disappointingly it doesn't contain any swear words. F*** me, right?

She suggested the phrase 活该 (huógāi), which could mean "deservedly so" or "serves [you] right". I like this, and so my own variation of this meme - seen above - contains that phrase. I've added in the 吧 (ba) character to emphasis it's more of a leading suggestion than an actual question.

Naturally, when I want to make sure I remember a word, it invariably finds its way into my flashcard pack, and for your interest, this is the sentence I used:

     She ate too much and feels sick, serves her right
     ta chī tài duō le, gǎndào nánshòu, huógāi

Notes you might find useful, right?
  • If you don't know what a meme is, look here
  • "Standard Chinese" is how people commonly refer to the variation of Mandarin which is the official version - because there really are so many versions & dialects. In Mandarin you would use the word 标准 (biāozhǔn).
  • Some readers might notice that I use both the words 'practice' and 'practise'. This is not an error, in English one is a noun and one is a verb  :-)
  • If you have suggestions for alternative translations, especially ones that contain swear words :-) then please leave comments below.
I just thought you might be interested to note the above points. F*** me, right?


  1. As a Mandarin learner in Guangzhou I'm totally agreeing with you! It would cut out my practice time like 90% if I wouldn't speak with non standard Mandarin speakers. Hey, I can use this when a Chinese person asks me to practise English with me! ;) "Sorry, you just shouldn't practise with a non standard speaker."

  2. Haha - great one!! It's like one of my work colleagues who says, "Think how much work we could get done if it weren't for the clients!" :-)

    Funny thing of course is that if I'm surrounded by non-standard speakers, then learning standard Mandarin actually makes it a little harder to communicate with the people around me!

  3. That meme is hilarious! Oh my god. This was such a wonderful post, especially the link to the Japanese site. Thank you for the morning laugh, Greg :)

    I've decided to re-buy the textbooks that I learned Chinese from to help get me started on completing my Chinese education. I know I said before that I would do it following my PhD, but I think I want to get started earlier than that & start doing it now on the school breaks. I'm really wanting to complete it just because of how much I love it. I just thought you'd like to know. If you know any good language-learning resources online, let me know!

    Hope you're doing well, Greg! Happy Holidays, my dear friend :)

  4. Glad you enjoyed it all, always a pleasure to hear from you.

    Before beginning with the textbooks, have you considered doing something completely different? Or course, given how you started learning Chinese, textbooks were an important part of that? But if (hypothetically speaking) weren't allowed to ever used textbooks again, what would you do? Now might be the perfect time to play with other methods? Of course if you find that you were better with textbooks, then you can always go back to that. But in the meantime, it's worth considering ...

    All the best for the festive season. Catch you in the new year.

  5. That mainlander who told you not to practice is ignorant about language learning. That is an ignorant thing to say.

    1. Completely agree. But too many people like to give advice based on theory (their own untested theories), or with things on an "in principle" advice.

      I get lots of advice from people on how I should learn Chinese, especially from people who only speak one language :-)