URGENT HELP!!

jwavanzeijl
February 18, 2011, 08:38 PM posted in General Discussion

Hi, I am a user of ChinesePod and I love the way you teach us! But I have a question... Do Chinese people understand me when I'm speaking Chinese? I'm not sure, altough I study hard. And the tones are the most important... Please answer! Thank you!

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watyamacallit
February 18, 2011, 09:17 PM

How should anyone here answer that? I think you will need to ask a Chinese person yourself. I regularly ask questions of Chinese storekeepers.

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bababardwan
February 18, 2011, 10:34 PM

I agree with the suck it and see approach...that's naturally the best way of finding out but I'm guessing you live somewhere where there is little opportunity for that or you wouldn't be asking. I'm also wondering why it's urgent. Would I be right in guessing you've been preparing for a trip to China that's approaching fast and you're wondering how you're going to go? While I have no idea where you are at with your Chinese I'll share some thoughts. I think there are times where even if your tones aren't great context will get you over the line. To start with some simple examples, I think these are some situations where you have a very good chance of being understood even if your tones/pronunciation aren't great:

you walk into a store [or any other situation where you approach someone] and say 你好

it's Chinese New Year and you go around saying things like 恭喜发财, 新年快乐

you're leaving and you say 再见

someone gives you something or does something for you and you say 谢谢

..I think you get my drift. These are highly contextual situations and I reckon even if you muck up your tones/pronunciations they have a good chance of being able to "guess" what you were trying to say. From there I think there is likely every shade of gray. There will be situations with less and less context where your pronunciation will become more and more essential. I think however if you keep things simple you are likely to get simple requests understood. Don't forget there are other ways of communicating other that speech alone [eg having your hotel card to show the taxi driver].

In the end I think nearly every learner of Chinese will have times where they are not understood [and when they finally cotton on and they repeat what you were trying to say you'll be thinking...but that's what I was saying all along..why couldn't you understand, hehe], but I think you'll have your successes too and that is highly gratifying. Good luck mate :)

 

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chris.k
February 19, 2011, 02:27 AM

I've wondered the same thing... I find it a lot more psychologically difficult to actually go and *speak* Chinese than other languages, for whatever reason. I speak Italian at about the same level my Chinese has gotten to now, and if a native speaker didn't understand me, I'd look at them funny, because I can tell that there's nothing *too* terrible about my pronunciation or grammar. I don't have the same confidence with Chinese, and I always feel like I'll say something as simple as 再见 and get blank stares. Whenever I've actually been in a position to talk to a native speaker in Chinese, though, I've always been understood.

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mark

I suggest, just start trying to speak Chinese when you have an opportunity. I have certainly had my embarrassing moments doing this: having the recipient of my carefully planned sentence respond, "I'm sorry. I don't speak English." Discovering that the person I am talking too only speaks Cantonese, not Mandarin. Using English pragmatics in a Chinese situation with very awkward results. Just, to mention a few. However, none of these embarrassments have been fatal, and I think the improvement in my ability to actually communicate in Chinese was worth it. (My ability is still far from perfect, but it is a great feeling when I do succeed in communicating with someone in Chinese.)

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RJ

It is more difficult psychologically. That I am sure of. One of two things usually happens. I get the blank stare, or they understand and fire back with some machine gun Chinese and now its my turn to stare. (Note to self- study more). Occasionally it goes well and its a great feeling. Someday I keep telling myself, someday.

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tingyun
February 19, 2011, 04:28 AM

Hmm, oddly enough when I read the above post it feels like it was written by a Chinese speaker.  Though maybe I'm just tired and imagining things.

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rachelabc

It strikes me the same way. Maybe just trying to practice their English?

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bababardwan

虽然“虽然”拼错了而什么感觉我好像不同意是中国人。

可以说: “我给了疑点利益” ?

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tingyun

Haha, I make a great deal more spelling errors than that - rather, there's something odd about the way its phrased, as well as the manner in which the question is structured, that gives me that impression. Or perhaps the odd declaration of the importance of tones, that makes me think its someone trying to imitate what they think a learner might say. Like rachelabc I have the suspicion that its someone trying to practice their English, or perhaps test themselves and see if they can start a discussion pretending to be an English speaker, or perhaps just trying to waste people's time.

But of course I could be totally wrong, just guessing here. ;)

I wasn't sure what you meant by "而什么感觉" - did your last part mean something like ...,但我个人的感觉是他写得不像个中国人?

I also wasn't sure about the last part '我给了疑点利益' - 疑点 is point of doubt, 利益 is interest/benefit - did you mean something like the english 'give me the benefit of the doubt'? I was confused by this at first, then through the magic of google search I discovered a technical legal term (in the form 疑点利益归于被告 - benefit of the doubt goes to the defendant) but I'm like 95% sure you can't carve off the first four charecters and use it as an expression, and even in complete form I don't think its in the vocab of people (outside of whatever academics and legal types who decided to import the term) - but I could be wrong.

I would think something more along the lines of 我们不能无凭无据的错怪别人 would get that sort of idea across in a colloqual way - but your meaning is probably closer to 在没有确凿证据的情况之下,我就不愿过度怀疑别人 if you wanted to go a little longer and a little more formal. Obviously a disclaimer than the above suggested sentences are just what feels right to a fellow learner...

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bababardwan

actually "rather, there's something odd about the way its phrased, as well as the manner in which the question is structured, that gives me that impression" is exactly what I thought you were getting at [but I must confess I rather liked the opportunity to double the 虽然, hehe, and also apart from that pincuo I thought it was worth giving the benefit of the doubt that it's a native English speaker. If it isn't then I'd say their English is excellent for a non native with nothing much wrong I can spot.

"而什么感觉"..hehe, yeah, I didn't put much thought into that and did wonder whether it would be questioned....I knew I hadn't expressed it well. I meant to put it as 而让你什么感觉 but even that is pretty unqingchu. This was actually meant to be referring to exactly what you're saying in the bit I've just quoted...I was trying to say..."and made you have some sort of feeling about it"

"“我给了疑点利益” ?"

..yeah, I was trying to ask if you can express "I give the benefit of the doubt" in Chinese that way...or, in other words, is there an equivalent natural Chinese expression?

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chanelle77
February 20, 2011, 07:31 AM

Think this guy / gal might be Dutch, if I look at his name: j.w. van Zeijl, typical Dutch name :-) .

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bababardwan

ah, yes, I should have looked closer ...when you spread it out like that it's much more obvious...I never assume a username is going to be someone's real name

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chanelle77

this is NOT your real name *shock* :-) .....just kidding...

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bababardwan

其实,如今是我真实的名字因为我被改名契改变

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wotingyu

I am still convinced its a Chinese person.

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watyamacallit

What part of his message convinces you of this? His/her English is very good - I don't see any of the usual giveaway features of a Chinese speaker. The questions themselves are odd, but not the way they are written in English.

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yaosiyi

I think you scared him or her away, English, Chinese, Dutch, whatever...Probably thought, "Oh my god".

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chanelle77

Really? Why?

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bababardwan

哈哈,我觉得你是中国通

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chanelle77

哪里哪里!太过奖了!;-)

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yaosiyi

Sorry Chanelle77, I didn't mean you personally, I mean all of us questioning the validity of jwavanzeijl's post.

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RJ
February 26, 2011, 07:10 PM

One thing you must overcome when speaking with the Chinese is their perception, imprinted from childhood on, that speaking Chinese is an almost hereditary birthright, too difficult to learn as a second language. It belongs to them, and they are proud of that. This varies from person to person, but it is definitely there. You have to get them to "listen." Even better, get them to try and understand. I am often asked, why learn Chinese? This puzzles them. They are very clear on why they learn English, "opportunity", but an American learning Chinese? Why? Maybe because I don't like feeling helpless and dependent in a country where I don't speak the language, maybe because its a challenge, maybe because I don't like being left out of every conversation, maybe because I want to understand the people and their culture and ultimately better understand myself. These are western reasons, based in self-actualization. Not necessarily obvious or important in Eastern ways of thinking. You need to have them take you seriously, and I think this will improve, but it takes time. Its our job to change that perception. Don't be one of those crazy westerners wasting their time by butchering their language and thinking you are learning it. Granted, self-confidence is hard to muster in this environment, and you have to make mistakes to learn, so its not for the thin skinned, but it can be done. John, Jason, Amber, and others stand as shining examples. Don't give up. The longer it takes, the more it is worth. There is no turning back now.

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bababardwan

RJ,

I love the way you've put this:

"These are western reasons, based in self-actualization。Not necessarily obvious or important in Eastern ways of thinking“

...but I'm wondering how true it is and hope we can explore it a bit. 你实在觉得中国人没有自我实现的看法吗?

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yaosiyi

Nicely put RJ :-)

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bodawei

Gidday RJ. I've just returned to China after a month away and experienced a little epiphany (love that word.) I have always loved where I live because for the most part the locals don't speak English but they also seem very nonchalant about foreigners who speak Chinese. It is hard to explain why, but the atmosphere here is different to the other places in mainland China, Hong Kong etc. I stepped through Customs (where of course they never look at what you bring into China) and a uniformed official was concerned that I was standing there in no-man's land waiting for my wife. What I love is that he spoke to me in Chinese - Customs officials usually speak to you in English. He just assumed that I would understand him. I said I was waiting for my wife and he said 'stand here' (beside him) - then he asked where I worked (do I no longer look like a tourist??!) and we exchanged a few pleasantries before the wife arrived. Ah, home sweet home.

My epiphany .. :) Some Chinese don't go crazy when they see a foreigner and panic about understanding them or speaking to them.

Actually I have a corollary, lesson learnt, in HK last week. Not once, but twice, I spoke to a Chinese-looking person behind the counter at a shop and they replied in English 'sorry, I don't speak Chinese'. [You'd think you'd need to speak Chinese to work as a shop assistant in Hong Kong??] So, when you speak to a 'Chinese' person sometimes they won't understand you because they are Filippino or Vietnamese or something else? :)

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bababardwan

诶,朋友, 很高兴见你,好像好久不见,欢迎回来这里

旅途怎么样?

呵呵,你第一次留言是关于你的顿悟。。蛮好的开始

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bodawei

你好,朋友! 旅途还好. :)

我很高兴收到你发来的致以问候. 希望你的每天都过得开开心心...

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RJ

Welcome back, if I may speak for the Chinese. Great story. It happens, but we all know you live in "bizzarro China" where everything is different. hehe, One might suspect you exude a certain level of confidence and maybe you are even starting to look a little Chinese, or maybe you just look a little too comfortable. But then again, if all they speak is Chinese, its the only shot they've got. Actually I envy you, and I am more and more intrigued by this mysterious place you live in. I must visit. Dinner is on me. (No goat organs). I am an eattheirmusclesonlyarian, and you cant afford the amount of beer it takes to overturn that.

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toianw

Hi Boadawei,

I've noticed this too. Across vast swathes of China it's amazing how many Chinese just assume you speak their language, almost like it doesn't cross their mind that there'd be a reason you wouldn't be able to understand them. And if you don't understand, they'll often write it down in characters for you (presumably under the impression that you speak some other dialect of Chinese? - or perhaps that handwritten Chinese characters scribbled on a scrap of paper are universally comprehensible???)

Anyhow, welcome back!

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RJ

Interesting. Im guessing this is in areas where English is rare? Are you typically alone when this happens?

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toianw

yes, it's definitely more common in rural areas. And I think people are more likely to approach and try to speak to you if you're on your own.

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yaosiyi

For me the percentage probably about 30% just speak Chinese to me assuming I know everything, 60% "Freak Out" and 10% will try their English skills :-) Yeah I think it's funny when if you don't understand the Chinese they start to write in Hanzi.....Like if you can't understand me, read my pictures :-)

Cute!!!

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bodawei

RJ - you are most welcome in Kunming (I'll take 'bizarro' as a compliment).* We have quite a few visitors this year, (suddenly all the talk has gone and they've slipped into their wallets), so we should be quite good at showing you around. I can't recommend the beer but it is cheap, and I can introduce you to fellow drinkers. :)

* You must have heard of '云南十八怪寻踪' yun2nan2 18 guai4 xun2zong1 (a survey of/tracking the 18 oddities in Yunnan)? Or .. ramp it up .. '云南十八一怪一览‘ yun2nan2 18 yi1 guai4 yi1 lan3 (guide to the 81 queer things). We can reconcile these two sayings because there are 81 - 18 things that are queer about China in general.

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bababardwan

哈哈,精彩