Chinese Resources

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Good Joke

This morning I pulled 《幽默漢語》( Chinese Humorous Stories) off the shelf and opened it for the first time ever. I really need to better understand Chinese humor, and I figure this is as good a starting point as any. I was drawn in by "不安" (Uneasiness), a joke about a thief. It goes like this:


Brilliant right? The book is actually quite good. It has a bunch of vocabulary I've never seen before, and each "lesson" is only a few lines. Heading to breakfast I started tossing around the idea of memorizing a bunch of these jokes. You know, add a few icebreakers to my "routine"... anything to help get me past the "Your Chinese is great! How long have you been living in Taiwan" part of meeting people. But then, I thought, when was the last time I heard anyone tell a joke? It's been longer than I could remember.

The gods must have heard my plea. The minute I finished eating, the breakfast shops owner walked over and asked me if I wanted to hear a "冷笑話" (cold joke). The joke went a little something like this.
There were two ants, a mother and her son. One day as they were looking for food and found a nice pile of shit to feast on. As they were eating the son looked up to his mom and asked, "Mom, why do we always have to eat shit." The mother looked up from her meal with scorn as said, "child, you know you're not suppose to talk about that sort of thing during dinner!"
WOW! 超冷. Now it was my turn. I cleared my throat, and began to tell the story of the thief and his uneasiness. In my excitement I forgot the fact that the thief was talking to a judge. I forgot the the whole "珠寶" part, and totally butchered the tones on “假貨." Basically, my joke sucked hard. After I corrected the tones and added the whole "talking to the judge" thing, my audience got it, and even laughed (I think they were giving me face), but I felt like a fool.

And then it dawned on me, telling a good joke is no easy task. The delivery has to be perfect, you can't mince words, and you certainly can't mess up the punch line.

I think learning to speak a language at a near-native level is very similar to telling a good joke. There is a difference between being able to simply say what you want and talking around what you want. There is a difference between hearing "I know what you mean, but we usually say it like this," and simply saying it how a native speaker says something. And there is certainly a difference between "not sounding like a foreigner," and "sounding like a native."

As I learn Mandarin, it is nice to be reminded of what it takes to tell a good joke. I might be able to talk about a thief feeling uneasy about something being fake... in front of a judge (almost forgot that part)...

But that is still a long way from delivering a perfect punch line.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Eight New Words

I just finished reading a New York Time's article about the latest greatest iPad. In the spirit of this blog I read the article in Chinese. Armed with my PeraPera popup dictionary I was ready for whatever wacky words the NYT Chinese translators were ready to throw at me.

I enjoyed the article and what it had to say about the propensity of tech companies to release new products every year. I also enjoyed the commentary about what this could do to the industry, especially since most large tech producers are all aiming for products that are more-or-less similar in design and feel. As a language learner, however, I had to quell the urge to "learn" everything I didn't already know from this single article. Instead, I asked myself what was important, and what kind of language would actually help me talk about similar topics with my friends?

In the end, I would estimate that I used the popup dictionary on roughly 50 Chinese words. Out of those 50 words, I decided that only eight actually fit the "talk about similar topics" criteria. They are:

矩形- rectangle
計劃性淘汰- planned obsolescence
更新- replace (I didn't know it was pronounced gēng)
營銷策略- marketing strategy
高端產品- high-end goods
款- version of software, device etc.
把戲 - trick
壽命- life span (who knew it could be used for inanimate things like phones?)

As for the other 41 I had to look up... maybe I'll learn them the next time they appear, but for today I can say with certainty that I learned eight new words. And that's good enough for me.
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