Monday, June 6, 2011

Wow! You can speak Chinese. You are so good!

So, within the confines of our classroom at Wenzao we were gaining confidence, but our real life Chinese still needed a lot of work. Most of our meals were limited to rice boxes, where one only needs to point at the picture and pay, or the few nearby restaurants at which Jonathan's aunt May had translated the menus for us. All in all we had about 5 or 6 places which we were rotating, and they were getting old fast.

rice box

But somehow the people we met and talked to were always praising our Chinese.

"Wow! You can speak Chinese. You are so good!"

"No, no. My Chinese is not good"

"Yes, so good!!"

"No, really..."

Later I found out how to tell them they didn't need to be so "excessive" with their "praises", which in the end only impressed them more. Ay-yah.

But, were they actually impressed or just being nice? At first I wasn't sure, but as I met more and more foreigners who had been living here for years and still couldn't utter basic phrases like, "I want that one" I began to understand why my horrible (albeit new) Chinese skills were wowing the locals.

It is really terrible, and quite embarrassing how many foreigners here cannot speak simple Chinese. Now, I understand it's not an easy language, and many people work a lot and don't have time to take a class. However, when you move to another country you should at least make a small attempt at learning the basic words and phrases you will need, to get by if nothing else.

But how can one even learn, experience, and appreciate the real culture of a foreign land when communication with the natives of that land is so limited? How can people go on living here year after year, eating mostly Western food, socializing with mostly Western people, and not ever really leaving the comfort of their own bubble? Granted, many foreigners here do have Taiwanese friends (or spouses), but not many have Taiwanese friends with whom they only speak Chinese. And therefore, although there is still a link to gaining perspective on a culture, language plays a major role in developing deeper understanding.

For myself anyway, I couldn't imagine living here and not being able to understand what was going on. I think I would probably go mad without the ability for communication.

Have you ever in a situation where you couldn't communicate?

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