BEAR IN MIND Learn by saying things you shouldn’t
One of my students recently told me about an awful experience of his which, I think, might happen often to other Chinese learners.
Some guy, an American-born Chinese who is learning Chinese once visited his girlfriend’s parents’ house. His girlfriend is from Shanghai and all her family members are native Chinese. After a pleasant meal, his future mother-in-law proudly showed him a calligraphy work she made. However, before he made any compliments, he told her a truth, which shocked everyone: “很难看(hěn nánkàn),” which means “very ugly.”
His girlfriend was very angry indeed, not to mention her mother. Soon after, they realized that it was just a funny mistake he had made, as he was trying to say, “it’s very hard to read.” Therefore, after this embarrassing mistake, he learned that to say “hard to read,” one should use 很难看懂(hěn nán kàndǒng), or even 看不懂(kànbùdǒng).
Here is the same thing to avoid ambiguity: “hard to hear” is not “难听(nántīng),” but 听不清楚(tīng bù qīngchu);” “difficult to eat” should not be “难吃(nánchī),” but “吃起来很困难(chī qǐlái hěn kùnnan)”.
Misunderstanding in language sometimes causes tragedy. We hope this story can help as many people as possible.
TALKING POINTS A supplement for grammar practice
You may already know that 难看(nánkàn) means “not nice” and 难吃(nánchī) means “not tasty.” It’s good to know antonyms.
Basically, the term for “good” is 好(hǎo). Remember 你好(nǐhǎo) “Hello?” It’s easy to imagine that tasty or delicious could be 好吃(hǎochī). Therefore, 好看(hǎokàn) is good-looking or nice.
(Nǐde shūfǎ hěn hǎokàn.)
Your calligraphy is very nice.
Something interesting could be 好玩(hǎowán) with 玩(wán) meaning “to play.”
(Zhège dìfang hěn hǎowán.)
This place is very interesting.
Following this rule, some other expressions are:
smelling good – 好闻(hǎowén)
pleasant to hear – 好听(hǎotīng)
tasty (for drinks) – 好喝(hǎohē)
Do you want to learn more in Chinese? Check out cool video
CARTOON CHARACTERS Mnemonic devices that work
The meaning of some Chinese Characters is closely related to its components. In today’s case, 好(hǎo) means “good.” So a good 好 family should have both a daughter 女 and a son 子.
We have learned many expressions with 好, as above. Here is another very useful one: 好说(hǎoshuō) means “no problem.”
明天能来接我吗？(Míngtiān néng lái jiē wǒ ma?)
Could you come and pick me up tomorrow?
We mentioned the phrase for “raining” is 下雨(xiàyǔ). 雨 is rain. 雨 looks like a picture: Outside the window it is raining, right?
CANTONESE CORNER Guangdong conversation starters
gaau2 cou3(搞错) — The meaning of this word is “to misunderstand.” It is very common in daily conversations, especially in awkward circumstances. For example, if you realize there is a misunderstanding because of your poor Cantonese, you can say “Sorry, I didn’t mean that” (搞错了，我唔系这个意思! gaau2 cou3 liu5, ngo 5 m4 hai6 ze3 go3 ji3 si1). (For gaau, take tone slightly higher and stay steady. And then take cou from mid to high.)