05 July 2007

On Speaking Chinese

Here's some info for anyone learning a bit of Chinese with the expectation of using it when they travel there. It is from John Derbyshire, who is nothing if not cosmopolitan.

Even if a foreigner can speak tolerably good Chinese, some Chinese people still have a mental block against processing Chinese-language input from a foreigner. Several times in China I have had the experience of addressing people in my tolerably-good Chinese, only to have them squint incredulously at me, turn to each other, say something like: “The foreigner sounds as if he’s speaking in Chinese. Is he?” “Yes, I think so. It sure sounded like that. Is that the weirdest thing you ever saw, or what?” then burst out laughing. Round-eye acquaintances whose Chinese is far better than mine report the same thing.

And you thought the French were bad.

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At 05 July, 2007 23:51, Anonymous Joey said...

In Japan, I got everything from nonchalance to "aww how cute the American is trying to speak our language"

Chinese will definitely be a challenge.


At 06 July, 2007 19:07, Blogger Clemens said...

A generation or two ago the reaction from the Japanese, especially older Japanese, was quite different, or at least so I've read.

But that's what made the Japanese so special.

At 06 July, 2007 21:26, Blogger jack perry said...

Different how?

At 07 July, 2007 00:27, Blogger Clemens said...

At least until the 70s the Japanese had a conviction that they were a unique people. Some still believed they were descended from the Moon goddess. But they had some real achievements to point to. Part of their unique identity was their language which some regarded almost as part of their genetic inheritance. There was even a belief that you had to BE Japanese to really master the language and certain elements of mastering the language led the Japanese to be, well, unique. Japanese.

Consequently they were made uncomfortable and were even offended when foreigners attempted to speak their language, which was the opposite of almost every other culture I know of.

Of course, I read this in a book long ago, and the author may not have known what he was talking about.

At 11 July, 2007 19:21, Blogger Elliot said...

I've heard that foreigners speaking Japanese get condescended to A LOT, even if it's good, and even if they've been living there for decades. Like Joey says.

At 11 July, 2007 23:48, Blogger Clemens said...

Yes. To this day the children of the children of the Koreans brought into Japan before and during WWII are still considered 'Korean' even though they only speak Japanese, look Japanese, and certainly act Japanese. But they are not 'Japanese.'

The bi-lingual children of Japanese immigrants to America also report getting a two-edged reception when they visit Japan.

And then there are the Burakumin.

All things considered, maybe condescension isn't so bad.


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