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OMG! Meiyu
October 28, 2011 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Meet Jessica Beinecke. Her Chinese fluency and her bubbly personality make her a minor celebrity among young Chinese speakers. Her videos covers topics such as: Yucky Gunk ,which went viral. Fist Pumping. Badonkadonk. Yo, Homie. Mexican food. And her Thing. Brought to you by the Voice of America.
posted by hot_monster (54 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
"...only began studying the language five years ago"

"...only began studying the language five years ago"

AUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH

she's one of those people who effortlessly pick up languages fffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu

sorry I'm a translator and I've spent over a decade acquiring what pathetic skills I do have and effortless-appearing stuff like this just makes me want to flip the table and walk out of the restaurant

the restaurant OF LIFE.

But good for her, though, seriously. Very charming.
posted by pts at 8:10 AM on October 28, 2011 [21 favorites]


I want to hate, but the father in me wants to give this girl a big hug and pat her on the head.

She makes my ovaries hurt.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:11 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Needs more ukelele.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:16 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a 6-foot-tall blond friend who teaches english in China. I don't think she's quite this fluent, but I can confirm that she's extremely popular.

In fact, as a regular-heighted brown-haired male who can only say, "hello," "please," and, "thank you," I was pretty popular anywhere smaller than Beijing or Shanghai.

In fact, I've found that people everywhere love it when you attempt their language, no matter how inept.
posted by cmoj at 8:17 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the US instituted a rigorous nationwide program to introduce more foreign languages into earlier grades in this country's public schools, the dividend would be off the damn charts, including indirect benefits of enormous proportions, in the short term even. And the primary languages should be Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish.

We live in a multipolar, multilingual world, a condition not unknown to our fairly recent ancestors (whoever you are) or particularly exceptional on a smaller scale anywhere in the world but the United States of Exceptionalism. Even in the US, the real world value of multilingualism is extraordinary. One damn good way to improve your employability the US business sector right now (ahem, college students) is to become reasonably fluent in Spanish or Chinese.

So this may be propaganda aimed at the Chinese, but dammit we need it aimed back home as well.
posted by spitbull at 8:24 AM on October 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


Her videos make me go squeeeeeeeee!
posted by basicchannel at 8:32 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


She's no Miss Hannah Minx.
posted by chairface at 8:32 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


chairface: She's no Miss Hannah Minx.

I, um, I think that's a good thing.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:40 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've found that people everywhere love it when you attempt their language, no matter how inept.

Oh, how I wish that was my experience in Germany -- but as soon as I got two words of German out of my mouth, anyone I talked to would hear my American accent and seize the opportunity to practice their (flawless) English.
posted by a small part of the world at 8:43 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


but as soon as I got two words of German out of my mouth, anyone I talked to would hear my American accent and seize the opportunity to practice their (flawless) English.

To be fair, after waiting an hour for someone to get through two of what the Germans call "words" you'd be impatient to do something else too.
posted by DU at 8:47 AM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


And why doesn't she move the camera up a little? Disfiguring top-of-the-head scar?
posted by DU at 8:48 AM on October 28, 2011


In fact, I've found that people everywhere love it when you attempt their language, no matter how inept.

Not so much in Quebec. And some other parts of Canada and the USA where they'll mock or complain about people who can't speak English. But very true for Japan.
posted by Hoopo at 8:49 AM on October 28, 2011


If the US instituted a rigorous nationwide program to introduce more foreign languages into earlier grades

I really, really don't think this would work. As someone who was forced to take several foreign languages for all of K-12 and college...and never got past "May I please have a sandwich"...you just really need immersion to learn anything.

If I were king, I'd require every high school student to spend a summer in a non-English-speaking country. Parents would have to contribute for expensive trips to Europe and Japan, but the school system would cover the cost of cheap trips to places like Mexico, China, and Quebec. Students would be required to document their learning, and wouldn't get any credit for hanging out in English-speaking enclaves. I estimate the cheap trips would cost only slightly more than a typical two-year high school language requirement, and the students would learn far more.

Don't even get me started on the uselessness of college language requirements. Spend $5,000 to learn to say "Hello" in a foreign language! Blech.
posted by miyabo at 8:50 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, how I wish that was my experience in Germany -- but as soon as I got two words of German out of my mouth, anyone I talked to would hear my American accent and seize the opportunity to practice their (flawless) English.

Well, yeah, nearly everywhere after I sputter a mangled sentence fragment, they just laugh and speak English to you.

My favorite non-appreciative listener was an Italian waiter. Jack Daniels, unfortunately, is the only whiskey you can reliably find everywhere, and I was trying to order, "Jack on ice," but could only think of, "Jack sul..." So, we spent a few seconds at the table trying to come up with, "ghiaccio," but before we could, he rolls his eyes and says, "Jack on de rocks?" in his best fucking Americans voice. In retrospect, it was probably as much because I came to Italy only to drink whiskey, but hey, it was lunch.
posted by cmoj at 8:54 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really, really don't think this would work. As someone who was forced to take several foreign languages for all of K-12 and college...and never got past "May I please have a sandwich"...you just really need immersion to learn anything.

Hmm. This isn't my experience, but I think the quality and pedagogical methods of the instruction are key, so it makes sense that YMMV. I took Spanish classes 1-2 times a week in public elementary school (offered at low cost, before the school day officially started) and they were taught by a native speaker who simply refused (most of the time) to speak English to us. She stayed with us from first through sixth grade, and by the time I was in seventh grade, I was carrying on entire conversations in Spanish. By freshman year of college, I was translating on a bus in Spain for a confused Argentine who couldn't make out the local accent. I think that's all down to the fact that I started learning the language when I was six, in a semi-immersive (albeit only two hours a week) way, and so my brain had, er, laid pathways for it.

(Now, full disclosure: I started learning a new language at 17, studying it exclusively, and eventually, it kicked my Spanish speaking abilities right out of my brain. But I still can understand the language, for the most part.)
posted by artemisia at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


No way did she get that fluent in FIVE years.. That would be too unfair.. My chinese isn't nearly as good and I am an American born Chinese and have been trying to get better my whole life with Chinese parents and friends.

*sigh*
posted by pez_LPhiE at 8:59 AM on October 28, 2011


You need to learn early AND you need immersion -- they're not mutually exclusive. As someone who started language learning relatively late (age 13ish), and went on to study multiple foreign languages, I can say I would have been miles ahead had I started life as my boyfriend did -- in a bilingual world where friends/family all spoke one language and the rest of the world around him another.

As artemisia said, your brain sets 'pathways' for the language, not to mention some sounds are easier to master the earlier you learn them since your brain goes through a "dump the unneeded stuff" phase the older it gets.

I'm still relatively fluent in German (my college major), I can easily read French (my first foreign language), and I can make sense of enough others (studied Czech abroad for a year, then there are related languages I can figure out without terrible difficulty).

By American standards I'm a damn genius. By world standards? I'm average at best. I can't tell you how many of my friends in the Czech Republic routinely switched between Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and flawless English without even batting an eye. Yet they thought I was amazing because I -- their quotes -- "didn't just speak English."

It's sad, really, and it needs to be fixed.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:02 AM on October 28, 2011


...you just really need immersion to learn anything.

I had 4 years of HS Spanish. For the first two years, we did a lot of vocab drills, workbooks, etc and I couldn't speak it. (I couldn't even identify word boundaries when we went to Mexico--it was just a stream of sound.) Then I changed schools. For the first year, it was the same only less of everything (very laid back teacher). In the final year, he made a rule that we could only speak Spanish while in the classroom. It was an incredible difference. Even for just those 40 minutes every day, I could feel my brain changing.

I still can't really speak or understand Spanish, but if we'd had that rule for all 4 years (or 3 of them) and I'd been practicing since then, I probably would be able to.
posted by DU at 9:05 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can anyone tell us if she's actually good at speaking fluently? Or is there some kitsch to this?

Regardless ... Voice of America is one of the most underrated, underappreciated assets around.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:10 AM on October 28, 2011


Watching her I experienced, once again, that thing that I absolutely love about hearing my multilingual co workers talk with their friends and family; that effortless switch between one language and another for a phrase or two.

It's not uncommon to hear one of the ladies I work with, when talking with her sister, switch from Spanish, to Italian, and occasionally peppering in the odd "you know what I mean?"

I love it because I can't do it and it makes me insanely jealous.

So this may be propaganda aimed at the Chinese, but dammit we need it aimed back home as well.

If it is, it's brilliant. We need more cute and charming propaganda. It's a better way to swing people to a point of view than fear. And that it might be useful here at home as well just makes it that much better.
posted by quin at 9:11 AM on October 28, 2011


that effortless switch between one language and another for a phrase or two.

I didn't know my own stepfather was French Canadian for 5 years until I overheard him talking on the phone one day. It was a very "woah" moment, and drove home how I probably should have taken my French immersion more seriously growing up.

Also echoing what people are saying about learning early. When I was in Japan, I found I'd often blurt out a sentence in Japanese with a bunch of French words, and when back home in Ottawa my French would have Japanese in it. It's like because I hadn't considered learning a third language for 20 years or so, I only had room for 2 and everytime I learned a word in a third language one of the words in my second language would fall out of my brain.
posted by Hoopo at 9:27 AM on October 28, 2011



Can anyone tell us if she's actually good at speaking fluently? Or is there some kitsch to this?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:10 PM on October 28 [+] [!]


I had to take years of Chinese school, and did a year at university, and her accent's better than mine. Though it could be the cutsey voice thing that I don't do.
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:28 AM on October 28, 2011


there's something that bothers me about this but i just cant put my finger on it.
posted by liza at 9:33 AM on October 28, 2011


Can anyone tell us if she's actually good at speaking fluently? Or is there some kitsch to this?

Her accent's pretty good, but you can definitely tell she's not a native speaker. A lot of the vowel sounds seem slurred or just plain incorrect, and tones are all over the place. The quality seems to vary between different videos too. Caveat: I'm speaking from the perspective of a Beijing native and my putonghua is very much Beijing flavored. Her accent actually reminds me a little bit of pop stars from Taiwan or Hong Kong whose native dialect isn't Mandarin.
posted by kmz at 9:45 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I found I'd often blurt out a sentence in Japanese with a bunch of French words, and when back home in Ottawa my French would have Japanese in it. It's like because I hadn't considered learning a third language for 20 years or so, I only had room for 2 and everytime I learned a word in a third language one of the words in my second language would fall out of my brain.

Same experience, exactly. There's some part of my brain that reaches for "foreign language" so in the moment, I regularly toss Japanese into my French and French into my Japanese.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:46 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


(I've personally known a couple of Americans who managed to achieve fluency in Mandarin as adults after living for a couple of years in China. Mark Salzman's Iron & Silk is a first-rate book about the experience. The problem is that being literate in Chinese is vastly harder -- it's entirely possible that Jessica can speak perfectly, but can't read a newspaper.)
posted by miyabo at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


...it's entirely possible that Jessica can speak perfectly, but can't read a newspaper.

The WaPo link shows what looks like her email inbox, which is filled with Chinese.
posted by DU at 9:54 AM on October 28, 2011


pez_LPhiE: “No way did she get that fluent in FIVE years.. That would be too unfair.. My chinese isn't nearly as good and I am an American born Chinese and have been trying to get better my whole life with Chinese parents and friends."

Don't be too hard on yourself. If you had a native Chinese person to consult with you on your scripts and multiple takes to make sure you got everything right in addition to five years' training, you'd be doing pretty well, too. Not to disparage her Mandarin; it's really quite good, just that she also benefits from the format.
posted by jiawen at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've found that people everywhere love it when you attempt their language, no matter how inept.

James Fallows, a journalist who has spent years reporting from Japan and China, has casually addressed this topic in his blog
With allowances for obvious differences, it's useful (as I've mentioned before) to think of Japan's attitude toward its national language as being similar to France's, and China's attitude as being similar to America's.

That is: in France and Japan, the deep-down assumption is that the language is pure and difficult, that foreigners can't really learn it, and that one's attitude toward their attempts is either French hauteur or the elaborately over-polite and therefore inevitably patronizing Japanese response to even a word or two in their language. "Nihongo jouzu! Your Japanese is so good!"
...

The American attitude towards English is: everyone should get with the program, there are a million variants and accents of the language, all that really matters is that you can somehow get your meaning across. Because there are so many versions of Chinese in use within China, my impression is that the everyday attitude of Chinese people toward language is similar: You're expected to try to learn it, no one will spend that much time mocking your mistakes, mainly they are trying to figure out what you are trying to say. Probably both the U.S. and Chinese attitudes reflect the outlook of big, continental nations that encompass lots of internal diversity -- and in America's case, absorb huge numbers of immigrants.

I wonder how long it will take before it doesn't seem any less weird to see a white or black person speaking perfect Chinese than it does to see an ethnically Chinese person speaking perfect English.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:02 AM on October 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Her American is pretty solid, though.
posted by klue at 10:06 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never experienced French "hauteur" in either Quebec or in France. Even with my Parisian French in Quebec, and Mrs. B's French Canadian in Paris. We'd occasionally meet an asshole, and their assholishness would, rarely, find a linguistic focus, but really? Appreciated greatly in both places. I suspect that people who have this problem are conveying a lot of other things with their attitude than "I don't speak your language well".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:10 AM on October 28, 2011


Parlez vous Texan? Wo men shi De Zhou Ren.
posted by kmz at 10:13 AM on October 28, 2011


If the US instituted a rigorous nationwide program to introduce more foreign languages into earlier grades It probably wouldn't do any good: based on my own limited experience, there's very little motivation for young Americans to learn other languages. In a fit of idealism, I gave up a very good job teaching college-level EFL in Taiwan (I'm very creative, I love my job, and my Chinese students love to learn languages), sold almost everything I had and went to Jacksonville, Florida to get licensed in K-12 French and Chinese (ACTFL testing: native & near-native skills). I taught in three different schools, but I was greeted with widespread resistance and even outright sabotage, even at a gifted school (though most of the students there had great attitudes and did want to learn). Students at two different schools took extreme offense when I mentioned Malcolm Gladwell's speculation that the nature of the Chinese language makes it easier for Chinese to learn their times tables, thereby making math seem more approachable (EXAMPLE: "7*7=49" comes out as 9 syllables in English, versus only 4 syllables in Chinese: "seven times seven equals forty-nine" VS "qiqi sijiu"). A group of girls reacted by screaming: "Go back to China! We don't want you here!!!" I committed the unforgivable sin of damaging their self-esteem. Nobody is allowed to be better than they are.
posted by juifenasie at 10:20 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


To those saying a nationwide program to teach foreign languages in the us would not work, I don't understand your arguments. Saying it won't work because the classroom format is flawed ignores pretty much every other school system in the world, where it is routine. And saying it won't work because kids don't have the motivation - well, honestly, we don't really base curriculum choices on what kids have the motivation to learn. Starting foreign languages in middle and high school is ridiculous. A serious program to teach two foreign languages throughout elementary school would have huge benefits.
posted by Nothing at 10:32 AM on October 28, 2011


Her American is pretty solid, though.

totes magotes
posted by DU at 10:35 AM on October 28, 2011


Middle school is probably the worst possible time for poorly motivated kids to start a foreign language (especially if there is little encouragement from parents or community). Elementary school immersion programs (where subjects such as math or science are taught entirely in the target language) have a greater chance of success.
posted by juifenasie at 10:42 AM on October 28, 2011


I went to the Dominican Republic for the first time this year and I was worried that the employees working there would be annoyed with us tourists trying to speak their language. (I guess I am annoyed with what I see as fetishization of Latin culture (among other cultures) becuase of how its portrayed on TV)

But in fact the experience was the opposite. Sure there were people who wanted to practice their English, but the majority of the people in the resort and in the towns were happy to speak with someone who didn't mutilate their language (not me, rather my better-half, who is completely fluent in Spanish).
posted by bitteroldman at 10:42 AM on October 28, 2011


Parlez vous Texan? Wo men shi De Zhou Ren.

What's "De Zhou"?

Anyway I asked a Chinese friend of mine what she thought of her Chinese, but I haven't heard back.
posted by delmoi at 11:18 AM on October 28, 2011


I was pretty damn motivated to learn Spanish as a teenager. My Spanish-speaking uncle loaned me a pile of books (and I translated bits and pieces of the easier ones), I did practically every problem in a college textbook, I wrote a computer program to quiz myself on conjugations and vocabulary, and I even hung out on a Spanish IRC channel. That was all by age 14. But I just didn't have enough conversations to develop any kind of conversational fluency.

OH ALSO Language teachers should totally set up in-class Skype sessions with a classroom full of native speakers from the other country! OK, it wouldn't work for some countries due to the time difference, but Mexico and South America are in school at the same times as US students! Is anyone doing this yet???

* Except for 10th grade, second semester. My high school cut its German program and assigned the German teacher to teach Spanish. I learned a lot about Nietzsche from him...but that's when I got kind of depressed and gave up on ever learning Spanish.
posted by miyabo at 11:19 AM on October 28, 2011


Er, there was supposed to be a sentence in there that said "My teachers were great too*."
posted by miyabo at 11:21 AM on October 28, 2011


Cool Papa Bell: "Can anyone tell us if she's actually good at speaking fluently? Or is there some kitsch to this?"

Her accent is better than mine, and I was born in Taiwan. My parents would rather have her as a daughter, than me as a son, I suspect.
posted by danny the boy at 11:29 AM on October 28, 2011


I've found that people everywhere love it when you attempt their language, no matter how inept.
Oh, how I wish that was my experience in Germany -- but as soon as I got two words of German out of my mouth, anyone I talked to would hear my American accent and seize the opportunity to practice their (flawless) English.


Doesn't mean they didn't still love it that you were attempting German. Switching to English isn't necessarily a rebuke or anything. It can just mean "Hey, I'm learning a foreign language too! We have something in common!" Or "You seem nice and I want to impress you." Or "I've got something I want to communicate without being misunderstood." Or even just "Hey, so you know, I speak English too, so use whichever one you feel like using." All pretty positive reactions.

I think (anglo) Americans just have a weird attitude about language.* Or really we have a weird attitude about fitting in in general. We feel like we oughta be humiliated if anyone recognizes us as a tourist, and we have this (totally unattainable) fantasy that we could go anywhere in the world and be mistaken for a local. When maybe a better and more attainable reaction to aim for would be "So you're obviously not from around here, but you seem really nice. Wanna chat? Your language or mine?"

*I'm totally including myself in this. I speak okay Spanish, but big-city Texans who speak Spanish tend to also have really excellent English, so I get switched-to-English on a lot. It took me a long time and a lot of feeling-unnecessarily-awkward to realize that it wasn't such a slap in the face as it felt like.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:36 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Notes from a friend:

I am another non-Chinese student of Chinese. In my studies, I have adopted an integrationalist perspective: as my own parents integrated into the Anglophonie, so do I wish we could reconcile East and West.

There are a lot of gimmicks at play in this video: speaker of non-Chinese origin, of non-Asian (Western) origin, young, attractive, blond, female.

It is worthy of congratulation that she has acheived this degree of skill: she should be commended and encouraged to continue her study of the language. (Unfortunately, I think that the glamour of the spotlight often prove more attractive than the labour of intense study.)

I have less experience with the (Beijing?) accent she's attempting, but I agree with previous posters that her general accent and mastery of tones are sloppy and bit inconsistent. I would say that her Chinese skill should be at about expectations for a university student with five years of study. She's good but not very.

I am interested in the point that she sounds like non-Mandarin-native speakers from Hong Kong and Taiwan. I don't know about Hong Kong, but there are clear markings of Taiwanese Hokkien-native Mandarin speakers that I don't hear. (There's an interview with 豬哥亮 on 康熙來了 on Youtube that I think is a good example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNcKZS5AC80)

I know that expectations for Asian language study are so depressed in the United States, but I do not know why—

Personally, I wouldn't be too surprised if I met an American with this level of skill in French or Spanish, I would think it only the (laudable) result of intense study. If I met a Japanese or Korean student with this level of skill in Chinese, I'd be similarly impressed but unsurprised. I don't speak my family's language, and I struggle to remember sometimes that they did not learn English, did not even leave the old country, until they were university-educated adults. No one ever brings it up—they speak fluent, effortless English, with every idiom and every cultural and historical reference, indistinguishable from a native, but it is considered totally natural, wholly normal, nothing of note.

I think that if you head down to any large-city Chinatown, you are likely to find first generation immigrants who speak English and Chinese at a similarly high degree of fluency, and you may easily find elite immigrants who have similarly mastered all of the cultural, the rhetorical, and the aesthetic details. I have personally known second-generation immigrants who were at a higher degree of fluency and nativeness in BOTH English and Chinese than even their parents. (In my local Chinatown, I frequently meet people with very high degree of conversational skill in Mandarin, Cantonese, their own native dialect, and English. Unfortunately, accents suffer—I have met conversationally-fluent Mandarin speakers with far worse and far less comprehensible accents than even a first-year university student.)

I don't think I am alone among Asian-language students in saying that, while I would never want to discourage another student, I really wish I could discourage the culture of celebrity, the gimmick of the non-Asian Asian-language speaker.

I wish that expectations for me and for my peers were set much higher: to normalise our situation, to push us to actually excel, maybe even to allow us to appreciate true exceptionalism. (I am not myself exceptional, but I have met Them: poets and authors of great rhetorical skill, professors with intense knowledge of the history and the classics, translators of astounding fluency and clarity, students with effortless mastery of the obscure dialect. Conrad is said to have mastered English only in his later life and to have spoken with a thick, Polish accent.)

It seems very odd that those who try to reconcile, to integrate and bridge cultures, become just the more outsiders and the Other.

It shouldn't be this way.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:39 AM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


kmz: "Parlez vous Texan? Wo men shi De Zhou Ren."

Some of the most fun I had in high school Mandarin was practicing the dialogues in a Texan accent. Good times.
posted by jiawen at 12:01 PM on October 28, 2011


Also, in response to the James Fallows quote: While I see some arrogance in any assumption that any language is too hard for a foreigner to learn, I think it's more about imperialism. Cultural imperialism teaches people in the US that everyone everywhere should simply want to speak English; the periphery must bow to the wishes of the center. People in France, Japan, China and elsewhere are surprised when an American shows any sign of breaking out of that cultural imperialist mindset.
posted by jiawen at 12:09 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amazingly life-like. Although there's something about the eye widening algorithm that seems a little off.
posted by Relay at 12:40 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


"De Zhou"?

De2 Zhou1 == Texas.

I am interested in the point that she sounds like non-Mandarin-native speakers from Hong Kong and Taiwan. I don't know about Hong Kong, but there are clear markings of Taiwanese Hokkien-native Mandarin speakers that I don't hear. (There's an interview with 豬哥亮 on 康熙來了 on Youtube that I think is a good example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNcKZS5AC80)

Sorry, it was just a quick impression, definitely didn't mean it in any rigorous way. Probably some form of Beijing- or Mandarin-centrism on my part too. "All you non-Mandarin natives sound the same to me."
posted by kmz at 12:53 PM on October 28, 2011


Mexican food.

GODDAMN! THAT'S A BIG OL' BURRITO!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:27 PM on October 28, 2011


I had Mexican food a few times in Taiwan, once I started enjoying it I knew it was time to go home.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:31 PM on October 28, 2011


that effortless switch between one language and another for a phrase or two.

I have had the bewildering experience - when I was living in Italy and before I had any of the meagre (and now mostly forgotten) snippets of the language - of being out for dinner with two of my new found friends. They were very charming ladies that were English teachers at the local University (both with Italian fathers and English mothers as it happens) and were completely fluent in both languages. To the point that they had been working for a few years in simultaneous translation, usually at trade conferences. That has to be the hardest job of all - they are the ones on the other ends of those headphones while stuff is being discussed trying to keep up with the flow of the speech and not get tripped up by any industry jargon for the non-speakers of the language being spoken. Phenomenally hard.

The problem with Italian is that it is lacking in single descriptive words where English is rife with them. But Italian has some really good words that just...fit. So I was sat there with my Guinness as one was launching into this (very fast and emphatic) tirade about her arsehole boss and all the implications of this and the conversation just shifted Italian........English/Italian....English................constantly. Flipping between languages utterly seamlessly and completely randomly with neither seeming to notice they were even doing it. It gave me a bloody headache. Completely confusing.

It was an excellent way to avoid eavesdropping, though.
posted by Brockles at 2:12 PM on October 28, 2011


...but as soon as I got two words of German out of my mouth, anyone I talked to would hear my American accent and seize the opportunity to practice their (flawless) English.

I had the opposite experience - walking across a pedestrian bridge while I was stationed in Germany, a man asked (in German) if he could use my phone to make a call. I said something in (bad) German, and then we got in a five minute discussion/lesson on my pronunciation of the word "Ich" ("I").

It didn't help that we were both pretty fucking drunk.

And by the end, we both forgot that he wanted to use my phone, and we both went on our staggering way to the next bar.
posted by Evilspork at 3:55 PM on October 28, 2011


My former boss was English like me and had brought his family up here, his youngest daughter since birth. She attended local schools, so of course by age seven or so was a native speaker like an other, but with long blonde ringlets. They lived in a courtyard in the old town (demolished now I think) and she'd play out on the street with her friends as kids do, leading to some quite amusing double-takes from passers-by.
There's older people with a similar experience of course, like Fred Engst, who grew up here in the '50s and '60s and was a factor worker during the Cultural Revolution. He went back to the US for a time and eventually started teaching but students had trouble with his Chinese accent, apparently.
posted by Abiezer at 4:06 PM on October 28, 2011


I managed to learn spoken and written Chinese to a reasonable level of fluency as an adult, but I never get any credit for it because I'm Asian, so non-Asians assume I learned it in childhood and Chinese people think I don't speak very well. (my parents didn't speak Chinese of any dialect at home and I grew up speaking English).
posted by pravit at 7:28 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh god, my mother can never see these Youtube vids. My first language was Cantonese and my parents spoke Cantonese to me at home. Growing up, I had four years of Cantonese lessons and then four more years of Mandarin lessons. My parents desperately wished for me to be fluent. Now I can barely carry on a conversation in Cantonese, and can only speak about twenty phrases in Mandarin. Living in Canada, we had French classes throughout elementary and high school. Sadly, my French is about as good as my Cantonese. I guess I'm just spectacularly inept at learning and retaining any language that is not English.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:21 AM on October 29, 2011


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