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A really bad sign

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Yesterday evening I ate out at a restaurant alone. Had ridden my bike across town for a blind massage and had made no effort to hook up with friends after that for a meal. Went to a restaurant where I had been before, one which features 铁板菜 (food cooked on a flat-top grill, Japanese teppanyaki style.) You sit facing the grill, like at a bar, without needing a "table for one."

 

Got seated, looked at the menu, hailed a waitress. Told her I wanted this and that and asked about one other dish. She looked at me in surprise, with almost a frightened expression. "不好意思先生, 我不会说英语。“ Her body language made me wonder if she might run away or break into tears. 

 

Me (annoyed): 我不是说英语, 我是说汉语, 国语,普通话。

Her: 哦!那请再说一遍。

 

I repeated my order, she wrote it down, and I got my meal. No more drama. 

 

That had not happened in several years. I always took it as a sign that my tones and inflection and phrasing and speech rhythm and everything else were all screwed up. It was an unmistakable signal that I really needed to dig out a couple textbooks, hire a tutor, get with the program again, and without delay. 

 

It's about the worst thing that can happen to a language learner. It means you are light years away from your goal. I had become complacent. It was a wake up call. 

 

 

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anonymoose

A similar thing happened to me in Shanghai before I even started talking. I wouldn't take it too seriously.

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StChris

I think you're being overly harsh on yourself here. I've had a couple of moments when somebody has said something to me in perfectly good English but I took a second to realise because I was expecting Chinese (it's very rare that people will address you in English in Harbin, as it's assumed that you will understand Chinese). For some Chinese people that expectation can exert an even greater influence if they have never been spoken to by a foreigner in Chinese before. It's like one of those image puzzles where your brain interprets one colour when in reality it's a completely different colour.

 

It could have happened to anyone. That said, I recall that imron had a record yourself to improve your Chinese thread somewhere around here, and I believe that it's always worth doing. I'm long overdue for that myself and plan to dedicate a month of study time to improving my rhythm, tones, etc.

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DavyJonesLocker

Basically once a week for me. It's depressing ! Sometimes I think though "seriously can't you just work it out from context?" 

 

Even when I ask Chinese if my pronunciation is off, they say "no it's fine, not perfect but understandable". They tell me my problem is the word order is not authentic, so while no grammar errors , it's at times unnatural sounding"

 

I think that when a foreigner speaks Chinese there is often  an immediate nervousness or uneasiness with the listener as they often haven't had much exposure to non native speakers. 

 

However in my first point, I think many Chinese really struggle with context . I know I'm certainly not the first foreigner to say that! 

 

For example I often don't clearly say 饿 and 热. However! Last week , 38degs I had just eaten a large meal, everyone finished and food left over. I'm  sweating in the restaurant, patting my face with a napkin and say "我热死了!”  of which my friend says 多吃点.儿吧🙄

 

 

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889

Me too!

 

And yes, it's upsetting.

 

But it's also a reminder that it's easy to get lazy sometimes, and Chinese is unforgiving. You always have to work at it.

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Wurstmann

I think it had nothing to do with your Chinese. Based on your looks she was expecting English and probably was nervous because she doesn't speak the language and as a result she did not realize that you were speaking Chinese. Your expectations and fears can really mess with you. I was in her position before and if you 100% expect another language it really sounds like gibberish, even if you're both are fluent/native speakers of it.

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Tomsima

I was watching a video of a Japaenese person analysing the Japanese spoken by Dogen (of youtube fame). He watches a video in which he struggles to find any flaws with the impeccable Japanese spoken by Dogen. However, he says he suddenly becomes aware of his non-Japanese-ness when he notices the way in which Dogen breathes for air at the beginning of some sentences.

 

I'm mentioning it because theres a good chance you were tired and relaxed after a massage; when you went to sit in the restaurant and order, theres a chance that your body language rather than your actual spoken language caused a waitress to mentally prepare for an English speaker. We've all been there, puzzling with how to reply to "不好意思,我不會英語“. Sometimes I've had Chinese friends next to me that also didn't know why they said it to me either...

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Jim

Had this at a meeting yesterday, someone said pointedly, "You can speak in English if you want you know." So I did, hamming up my Gloucestershire accent a bit until they wanted me back in Chinese :D I do have terrible tones after all these years but rarely have trouble getting understood, here it was a case of saying something unexpected at one of those formalistic events where you're not really supposed to go off script.

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ChTTay
3 hours ago, Wurstmann said:

I think it had nothing to do with your Chinese. Based on your looks she was expecting English and probably was nervous because she doesn't speak the language and as a result she did not realize that you were speaking Chinese

Exactly this. 

 

It hasn't happened to me for sometime but I feel this might be down to the number of foreign guests here in Beijing rather than my (not so) excellent Chinese skills. 

 

On a few occasions when it did happen quite a while ago I was in 快餐 restaurants. I felt better when, after saying something twice or in different ways, other customers actually told the waitress what I was saying (and using my wording mostly). I felt like it was more them being like “how are you not getting this?” than impatience at my being slow or something.

 

I also went through a period where this one cafe always confused my 奶茶 with 拿铁. In the end, I think it was their problem as I even checked out my pronunciation on here! No other cafes had that issue.  It was quite maddening 

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murrayjames
10 hours ago, abcdefg said:

Went to a restaurant where I had been before, one which features 铁板菜 (food cooked on a flat-top grill, Japanese teppanyaki style.)

 

10 hours ago, abcdefg said:

It's about the worst thing that can happen to a language learner.

 

How was the food though?

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abcdefg
10 hours ago, ChTTay said:

On a few occasions when it did happen quite a while ago I was in 快餐 restaurants. I felt better when, after saying something twice or in different ways, other customers actually told the waitress what I was saying (and using my wording mostly). I felt like it was more them being like “how are you not getting this?” than impatience at my being slow or something.

 

I've had that happen too! Always appreciate the help!

 

It crossed my mind that maybe things like this happen more in Kunming than is more cosmopolitan cities because the "ordinary people" here are almost always speaking dialect among themselves. When an "outsider" comes in, they must switch to 普通话。 

 

Quote

How was the food though?

 

Haha! It was pretty good! One of my favorites there is lotus root slices 藕片 that have been stuffed with sticky rice 糯米 and breaded before frying on the griddle. Served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce, dusted with ground dry red pepper 干辣椒粉。

 

And when I'm eating solo, it's fun to sit right on the edge of the flat-top cooking surface and chat with the cooks while they make the food. I can ask what this is or what that is, so maybe I can order it next time. 

 

The restaurant is part of a chain. 飞扬铁板烧。

 

@murrayjames -- I'd forgotten you were from Chengdu, just up the road a short distance. I'll bet you have some "dialect stories" to tell from living there. 

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ChTTay
11 minutes ago, abcdefg said:

When an "outsider" comes in, they must switch to 普通话。 

Yes, and you obviously look like an outsider. Outsiders can’t speak Chinese. 

 

At least, that was always a problem in the past. I think (as you mention) the number of foreigners here and for a longer period has helped reduce this. Also, there are always foreigners with good Chinese on TV here now and on apps like Douyin. The idea that only Chinese can speak Chinese surely must be on the way out. 

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Dawei3

This can be a personality issue too.  I have a close family member (native English speaker) and if you say to her 5-oh-3 instead of 5-zero-3 she'll act totally dumbfounded like she has no idea what was said.  In conversations with others (in English), she sometimes completely misses what they say, despite sitting right across from them and seeming to pay attention.  With a non-native English speaker, she likely would miss huge amounts of what was said (and she's not a stupid person - she got her B.S. from a good college).  I don't know what the gap is.

 

Similarly, I have one relatively good friend in the US who's originally from 杭州.  She can't understand anything I say in Chinese - anything.  I was telling another friend about this (in Chinese) and she was really puzzled because most conversations with her are in Chinese.   

 

My guess is that every country has people like the above - for some reason they can't tune their thinking to the speaking of others or they do so to only a limited extent.    

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abcdefg
4 hours ago, Dawei3 said:

My guess is that every country has people like the above - for some reason they can't tune their thinking to the speaking of others or they do so in variable ways.    

 

Interesting observation! I suppose if I were running a restaurant I would try to find such a person a spot in the kitchen instead of out front taking orders from customers. 

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murrayjames
On 7/5/2019 at 7:57 AM, abcdefg said:

@murrayjames -- I'd forgotten you were from Chengdu, just up the road a short distance. I'll bet you have some "dialect stories" to tell from living there. 

 

When I first moved to Chengdu, Sichuanese added an additional layer of difficulty to my Mandarin studies. The Chinese I heard on the street was not the Chinese I was learning from the textbooks and tapes. I was confused to hear shi pronounced as si, bei as bai, hu as fu, 街 as gai, etc. Later it became much less of an issue. Many of my friends and co-workers in Chengdu were from northern China. My Sichuanese friends and co-workers spoke a Mandarin standard enough to prevent any serious miscommunication issues. Plus my Chinese improved and I got used to hearing Sichuanese on the street.

 

Sichuan encompasses many subdialects, some of which are quite different from each other. I understand some subdialects better than others. I can usually follow conversations in 成都话 or 重庆话. When my father-in-law breaks into whatever Sichuanese subdialect 射洪话 belongs to, I’m lost.

 

Visiting Yunnan is always an interesting language experience. Yunnanese Mandarin sounds a lot like Sichuanese but it is not Sichuanese. Since the sounds are so similar, when I hear Yunnanese Mandarin I feel I should understand more of the language than I actually do.

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abcdefg

I have a family of friends here in Kunming, the night watchman 看门人 and his wife, who were originally from a rural village in 重庆 municipality. They speak a dialect that even stumps most of my local Chinese friends。 

 

They are kind and helpful people, and I enjoy being around them. They sometimes invite me to dinner, which is always a hearty and spicy hot pot. The problem is that they cannot switch into Putonghua 普通话 when the need arises. They have very little formal education if any. Both are in their 70's. 

 

I tell myself it really doesn't matter what dialect they speak. But they are playing a large part in raising a granddaughter from one of their sons and a grandson from their other son. Both kids are only age 5 or 6. 

 

It's none of my business, and I do keep my mouth shut on the topic, but I think it might put the kids at a disadvantage to be starting school soon with that dense dialect as their only means of communication. Doubtless they will adapt quickly and learn more standard speech when pressed. So maybe  it doesn't really matter. I just don't really know. 

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Jim
18 hours ago, abcdefg said:

Doubtless they will adapt quickly and learn more standard speech when pressed. So maybe  it doesn't really matter. I just don't really know. 

I think that's going to be the case - my brother lives in North Wales, one of the last strongholds of the Welsh language, the kids learn it at school. You get a lot of complaints from incomers that this is a useless waste of time and effort but there's also plenty of studies showing it actually helps with other language learning, plus it means they'll have a secret language to use together when they head out into the world.

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Lu
19 hours ago, abcdefg said:

It's none of my business, and I do keep my mouth shut on the topic, but I think it might put the kids at a disadvantage to be starting school soon with that dense dialect as their only means of communication. Doubtless they will adapt quickly and learn more standard speech when pressed. So maybe  it doesn't really matter. I just don't really know.

This is really not going to be a problem. There are millions of children throughout the world who speak one language at home and another language in school, and the vast majority of them adjust just fine. The idea that children must grow up monolingual or be at a disadvantage has long been disproven.

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889

Aren't there studies showing that the main determinant of primary language is the child's peers, not the parents?

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ChTTay
4 hours ago, 889 said:

Aren't there studies showing that the main determinant of primary language is the child's peers,

I know my brother came back from high school with a new accent after about a month. My parents loved it 

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