27 September 2012

What You Shouldn't Say to a Chinese Major

I love conversation, and listening to others' opinions and ideas on various and sundry topics. Sometimes I can learn a lot from conversation, and other times, I get a secret laugh out of it. That's okay though! I'm very aware about my extreme lack of knowledge on many subjects. American football? The only player I could name would be Tim Tebow. Africa? I don't think I could even name all the countries, let alone fill in a map accurately. The French Revolution? I have vague memories of the aristocrats and the guillotine....but that's about it.

 I may have decorated a birthday cake for my professor with Chinese characters.

Other subjects I'm a little more passionate about, and well-informed on. I love studying languages, and, as many of you know, I majored in Mandarin Chinese in college. Now, that's not the most common major out there, so it tends to inspire comment. Some of these comments are very strange.

For example, someone recently asked "So, if you can speak Chinese, does that mean you can speak Japanese as well? No? Well how about Vietnamese? How much are Chinese and Vietnamese related?"

Here's an announcement for the general public: I know it's not immediately obvious if you have no experience of either language, but Japanese and Chinese actually sound nothing alike. And Mandarin Chinese is a completely different language from Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, and Bahasa Indonesia.

I've already written of how I feel about the most common way English speakers mispronounce Beijing, so there's no need to reiterate that here. My only recommendation is, when you don't know anything about a subject, don't guess. When, instead of guessing or offering your opinion, you say, "Is Chinese related to any other languages in East Asia?" you leave the conversation open for me to tell you about how many Chinese characters are used in Japanese writing.

Suppose I were to meet someone who has spent time in Africa, who loves the continent, and has a heart for it and history there. If I say, "Oh, Liberia! That's right next to the Congo, isn't it?" I show myself to be ignorant of the topic that is closest to their hearts. If, instead, I say, "Liberia? Now what part of Africa is that? What is the climate like? What language do you speak over there?" then, I haven't embarrassed myself with my lack of knowledge, and I've shown a genuine interest in allowing the person to educate me about their passion.

And, on a somewhat related note, try to avoid saying "Mexican" and "American" when what you mean is "Spanish" and "English." We may have our own vocabulary that is specific to our country or region but that doesn't mean the name of the language changes.


And by the way, fellow Christian bloggers out there, if you haven't yet, you should join Morgan's Quite the Bloggers linkup--she's trying to get all us Christian lifestyle bloggers together so that we can encourage each other. Check it out!
Angi said...

Hahah...I totally know what you mean. I took Japanese for 3 years in high school and got asked some of the same things. "Does that mean you can read Chinese too?" Uh, no. Not even close.

Lauren {at} Life.Love.Lauren said...

Haha you just made me think of my friend who is doing peace corps in Liberia right now! said...

amen sister!
i studied in english and i feel like i'll have a rant coming soon about things that drive me nuts!
i remember reading now that you studied chinese and that is awesome! not sure if i've said this before but my husband is part chinese and we'd both like to learn it some day!
and yes, i've learned that guessing can get you in trouble.
i feel like google has helped us all out, a little, but as a's so important that we thrive in what we're passionate about!


Kerry Cogan said...

You have such a great sense of humor come through in your writing--love it!

Kristin said...

Hahahaha! Truth.

Juneli said...

Hahaha, so true! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Juneli from Fashionably Yours

Unknown said...

oh my tell me abt it. i speak mandarin im of chinese descent. my aussie colleague n i went to a jap restaurant and she kept saying what does it say? i said i dont speak jap. she didnt get it and kept asking so what does it say? lol following ur blog rachel! x

Unknown said...

This was interesting. My three children were adopted from China and I tried to learn Mandarin. Ha! I finished half of the first year of Rosetta Stone - before we left for China. Haven't picked it up since we got back b/c I'm too overwhelmed with three kids. My hats are off to you for majoring in that language! :-) Stopping by from Super Sunday Sync

Unknown said...

Use your career opportunities wisely. See what are the college majors to find college tips. No matter what your college major is you should state your skills objectively.