- March
Posted By : talkingofchinese
I like skiing not chemistry!

I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had in Chinese that have gone something like this:

Random person: what do you like to do for fun?

Me: I like skiing (huá xuě 滑雪)

Random person: You like chemistry (huà xué 化学)???

Me: no, I like skiing (moving my head in a snake/wave like motion trying to get the tones that changes the meaning of “hua” from “change”/”covert”/”melt”/”dissolve” to “slide” and “xue” from “study” to “snow” right.

(Many people at this stage do figure out what I am trying to say but I have one conversation that went on as follows)

Random person: you like melting snow???

(So at this point I am halfway there – at least “study” has become “snow” but my “hua” hasn’t quite made it to slide yet.)

Me: no, no “hua” (massive snake-like rising head movement to try and get my rising tone – think of the tone you use when you say “really?” right).

Random person: ohh, you like skiing!!

It doesn’t seem to matter how much I understand tones in theory – in practice I am always doing chemistry.


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  • Well, I am doing nothing but charades, so hats off to you for your efforts at chemistry. Er, skiing. 🙂

  • I had a similar situation when I started learning Chinese. I was teaching my students the word ‘bamboo’ but apparently my drawing wasn’t getting the point or word across. I told them I would bring in some pics I took in ‘Xitou’ [the place!] A couple of minutes later, my Taiwanese co-teacher walked in and the students asked ‘Why is teacher Constance bringing in pics of washing her hair?’

    Another case of the same pronunciation, different tones.

  • That’s funny. One of my friends had similar tonal problems. She kept running around asking people to kiss her when all she really wanted to do was ask them a question. (请问 qǐngwèn vs 请吻 qǐng wěn).

    Ordering food became such a hilarious affair, because the waiters and waitresses were often confused and embarrassed by turns.

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