Fun with Chinese – Pronunciation

During my final year in high school a couple of Chinese International Students joined my school. By this time, I had learnt some basic Chinese language and was eager to practice it. I said ‘hello’ (你好) to the students. One of the students was very pleased and complimented my ability. The other student wasn’t very impressed by my language skills, he told me to ‘just use English’. I continued using Chinese until I had exhausted my entire vocabulary (ie, Hello, how are you? I’m Fine thank you and you, I like Chinese Food”). I then excused myself and told him ‘zai jian’ (goodbye). Suddenly he was angry and asked “What did you call me?”, I repeated “Zai Jian”, and he became very angry. I tried again, more slowly and clearly – “zai jian”. He moved to hit me, I ran away! Later that day I asked a Chinese friend what I had done wrong. I told him what I had said and he laughed. He told me my pronunciation was wrong. I had said “Tai Jian” ( 太监) not “Zai Jian” (再见) – effectively calling him a eunuch. 

by Simon Appleton