8th March 2018
zhu kai

It is commonly accepted that Chinese is a difficult language. That is why when I first heard one of my American friends say "Ni Hao" to me, which is "good day" in Chinese, I was too shocked to respond. 

I'm not really sure if Chinese really is that difficult for foreigners or not, but it seems that English is much easier for my European friends, even those whose mother tongue is something else. One of my Italian friends told me that he has never formally studied English, he's just been picking it up. This is quite different to me, as I've been studying English in school for over a decade! I think this is because Italian speakers can pretty easily apply Italian grammar and pronunciation to English. The languages are linked. 

I once worked at the INFN in Italy for a few months. There was this young guy there would always say "Goodbye" to me in morning. It was super confusing! What did he mean by saying that to me when he first saw me? Did he dislike seeing me? Thankfully, this was not the case, which I learned later. The Italian language has a word that is used both as a greeting and as a farewell, "Ciao". This guy must have learned "Goodbye" first, and then assumed that it was a contextual word and could be used for both. This also happened a lot when people in Italy would tell me "Good morning!" at 5 pm in the evening! Same thing, since "Bongiorno" can be used interchangeably as "Good morning" and "Good afternoon". Amazing, right? I don't know if I should think of this linguistic contextuality as laziness or efficiency!

Like Italian, Chinese can be really difficult. Even we make mistakes, and it's our mother tongue! I don't want to scare anyone off from studying Chinese but I'll just say that when you run into the problem with "di (the third tone), di (the fourth tone) de" or "si ji yi" you'll see what I mean.

It's really funny seeing Chinese getting picked up by other cultures. I saw an American say "Ni Hao!" to a German at an international conference once. Imagine that!