5 Times My Chinese Failed Me

Have you ever tried to prepare to visit a new country that didn’t speak your native language? You have the index cards, downloaded the apps, and you think you may have those survival language skills down packed—only for no one to understand you.

Learning new languages can be extremely difficult. Sometimes, I wish I had a different native language and then learned English as a second language, so I would bilingual—not the case though. My native tongue is English and since moving to Shanghai, I have been struggling to learn Mandarin—and I mean struggling. I was so excited and ready to learn that second language, but ten months in, I can barely give directions.

The Chinese language is beautifully intricate, which is one of the reasons why it is challenging to acquire as an English speaker. There is nothing to base the language on. You are learning not only a foreign language but an entirely new writing system. While you may be able to live without being fluent in the language, you still need some basics.

Picking up must-know phrases in my beginners' class, I thought I had gotten solid on the basics—not so much. The tones always get me. I’ll be so confident saying what I want to say, only to receive looks of confusion. Here are some of my Chinese fails.

Trying to order dumplings.

If you haven’t read that storytime, you ought to check it out. I spent six months trying to order pork dumplings—and never got pork dumplings. I just never knew what I was given.

Attempting to get directions.

I got lost, just as I usually do, trying to find a venue. Along the way, I found a security guard to ask directions from. He didn’t understand what I said. I didn’t understand what he said. I ended up walking around the East Bund for 3 hours and only found the venue by pure chance.

Ordering milk tea.

Milk tea is everywhere in China with every flavor imaginable. Out shopping, I wanted oolong milk tea but got a mango milk tea, which actually was pretty good.

Receiving a package.