37. It’s all Chinese to me…

So…. Following the World Cup post from last week, it’s probably time to sink my teeth into a post which I have been dreading for a while: language. It perhaps seems weird for anyone that knows my background- a language degree- that I haven’t already said something. It may be because my Chinese is rubbish….


The Chinese language is fascinating. I say, THE, as if there is only one, but I am referring to the prevailing one Mandarin, spoken throughout China uniformly after the cultural revolution. The English name actually comes from the Chinese elders of the ‘Man’ people, the so-called ‘大人’ (da ren). Hence 满大人(Man-da-ren) or Mandarin. In fact, the language is often referred to as 汉语(Han yu) or the language of the Han people, which are the most prominent group within China today.

The truth is that I enjoy languages and consider myself fairly good at picking them up- it’s just nobody told the mandarin language of this fact, as I am struggling really quite badly. I’d describe my Chinese as a generous ‘passable’ even after nearly a year of battling with it. What does that mean? Well… I’m not dead and I have formed a limited bond with the fruit lady…. But then she looks at me like an alien when I speak Chinese so I’ve no idea how much I get across. Due to a gaff on my part, I’m pretty sure I told her that her daughter is ‘cheap’ opposed to ‘beautiful’, which is a bit awkward.


Chinese tones have been the bane of my linguistic experience and have helped to muddy an already confusing relationship with the aforementioned fruit lady. For those who are unaware, Chinese is very much a tonal language and they are essential for accurate communication. A little example at my expense? Very well…
The Chinese characters for ‘buy’ (买)and ‘sell’ (卖)are not only frustratingly close for a simpleton like me, but the pronunciation is also remarkably similar, separated by tone. So, imagine the poor lady’s surprise when I strolled up confidently telling her that I wanted to mài (sell) some fruit, and not mâi (buy) some fruit, as I believe is customary. I have a sneaky feeling that the Chinese stuck that one in there for a bit of a laugh at muppets like me.

I have managed to navigate my way around a little, however so it’s not all that bad!!

You may have noticed that I’ve got my finger out to write 3 posts this week, so it is a little short, but there will be more as ever next week!!

Have a great week everyone!


One thought on “37. It’s all Chinese to me…

  1. […] fake notes, so it was doubly painful. Having said that, we could have guessed that considering my ropey Chinese. Their mistake? To exchange their money in a market. OK, to average common-sensed traveler this is […]

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