Friday, February 13, 2009

Will Somebody Please Speak Mandarin To Me?

A week in Hong Kong is a true pleasure in so many respects...beautiful water, excellent seafood and dim sum, stunning cityscapes and rural vistas.

But then there is my one personal is so often the case...language! But this time there was a new twist.

For six months now, my approach has been to speak Mandarin whenever possible, which is basically all the time on the mainland. In Hong Kong, though, my Mandarin was received in a very different manner, to say the least. Usually the exchanges went something like this...

Me: [Fill in this blank with some basic question about price or direction, phrased in Mandarin.]

Hong Konger: Huh?

Me: [Repeat the above question, again in Mandarin.]

Hong Konger: [In English.] Wow! Your Mandarin in so much better than mine. So...What did you say?

Me: [Ask the question a third time, this time in English.]

I seem to remember reading or hearing that Mandarin and Cantonese are no closer to one another than German and English. All I can say is that, as a fledgling Mandarin learner, Cantonese is indeed a foreign language. "One Country, Two Languages," I guess!

And I haven't even touched on the differences in written language, between the simplified characters we have been studying and the traditional characters that are found on signs in Hong Kong. It truly would have been a week of illiteracy on all fronts had it not been for the fact that there is a ton of very good English spoken on the streets of Hong Kong. "God Save the Queen," indeed!



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