Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Students’ mistakes are much more fun (London)

A scenario in one of the textbooks used on the evening programme had the three student protagonists asking the teacher if he’d be free on Saturday.  

In my own first hand experience, an almost universal answer given by the Chinese when asked such a question is: “你有什么事 / nǐ yǒu shénme shì / "you have what matter" ( = What is it? / What do you have in mind?)  For some reason, the Chinese don’t seem to like providing information freely.

Sure enough, the teacher in the textbook scenario asked, “What do you have in mind?”

The answer was, “We’re having a birthday party on Saturday, and would like you to 参加.”

Now, 参加 means “to take part”, romanised in the Pinyin system as cānjiā.  The “c” in “参 cān” is pronounced “ ts’ ”, an aspirated explosive sound expelled between the teeth.  Beginner students who are still not that familiar with the Pinyin system almost invariably pronounce cānjiā as “kānjiā”, with the “c” being rendered as a “k” sound.  Unfortunately, “kānjiā” does exist, 看家, meaning “look after house”.

My perverse sense of humour always creases me up at this point, “No wonder the teacher was so cagey about telling them if he would be free on Saturday.  They only wanted him to housesit while they were throwing a birthday party and enjoying themselves!”

During a Listening Comprehension exercise, Italian student Sonia made a mistake which I found to be more fun than the original.  

The original was: 

stop by at the gift shop and 看看给张老师买点什么 /  “look look for Zhang teacher buy a bit of what”.  

Sonia, in repeating after me, left out the 给 gěi / “for”, so her version came out as: 

看看张老师买点什么 / “look look Zhang teacher buy a bit of what”, 

which is a nosey “Have a look at what Teacher Zhang is buying”, instead of “See what to buy for Teacher Zhang”.


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