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Mind-set and self-talk


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Self-talk is what you say to yourself silently as you go about a task. Examples are: “I know I can do this” or “This is fu@#$%* impossible, I must be nuts to even try.”

When I engage in a complicated conversation with someone I have not met before I sometimes will silently affirm that even though I would never be mistaken for a local native speaker, I can pretend I am Chinese from a distant province with a somewhat weird accent. Alternatively, maybe I have just come from the dentist or burned my mouth last night eating hotpot.

Sure, my pronunciation and phrasing are not quite right, but if my interlocutor makes a little effort, I am confident that he or she can figure out at least 98% of what I mean. Of course I must make an effort to speak clearly and distinctly, but he or she must also make an effort and meet me halfway. Some amicable Q&A between us can clarify the fuzzy areas.

But sometimes that person is too busy or otherwise disinterested in trying very hard, and the conversation fails. Then I just move on without any gloomy feelings of defeat. After all, that particular communication breakdown was partly their own damned fault.

You may find this attitude arrogant, but I have no desire to be a role model and am just telling what I actually do here in China day to day.

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I wanted to return today and edit this post so I don't come off like some kind of Language Nazi. I am perfectly willing to repeat things that were not clear or rephrase utterances that were not understood or write words on my hand or do that special Chinese thing in which you use component words in other familiar combinations that make meaning more transparent ("No, not 单子的单, 我是说鸡蛋的蛋。)

What I am no longer willing to do is just roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders, and walk away without a bit of struggle.

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I have noticed occasions where communication breaks down for language reasons even between native speakers of Chinese, so it's not surprising as foreigners, even if we speak Chinese well, to encounter similar situations.

On the other hand, one odd thing that seems to happen quite a lot in Shanghai is that a local shop customer will talk to the sales staff in Shanghainese, yet the staff, presumably being from another area, will reply in Mandarin. Nevertheless the exchange continues, and both sides seem to understand each other, even though they are speaking different languages.

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On the other hand, one odd thing that seems to happen quite a lot in Shanghai is that a local shop customer will talk to the sales staff in Shanghainese, yet the staff, presumably being from another area, will reply in Mandarin. Nevertheless the exchange continues, and both sides seem to understand each other, even though they are speaking different languages.

Interesting observation. I've seen something similar here in Kunming where there are lots of dialect speakers, especially older people from the countryside. What I think is happening is that one of the people, often the shopkeeper, can understand dialect even though he or she can't actually speak it. So they carry on a two-language conversation.

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