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Feeling Embarrassed to Speak December 22, 2006

Posted by Edwin in Cantonese, Mandarin, Motivation, Speaking.

In a thread from a Cantonese Learner’s forum posted a few days ago, several learners expressed their fears and frustrations when attempting to practice their learning language in public. Here are some excerpts:

“If … there is a big line behind me … I feel paranoid that people behind me are getting angry.”

“I once got laughed at once for reading something off the menu.”

“I don’t have much practice in public because I’m afraid people won’t understand or will reply with something I don’t understand.”

“I usually only talk in Cantonese to a few people I trust not to laugh at me in my personal life.”

I feel very sad upon reading these messages. I just hope that people can appreciate and encourage language learners around them.

I would often try to speak with my Mandarin-speaking colleagues (in closed settings) using my far-from-perfect Mandarin. Many times they would tell me that my Mandarin is quite good. I always find it encouraging although I know that it is far from the truth. This is the kind of encouragement we need to give out to other language learners, in particular, those who are acquiring your language. It means a lot to them if it comes from a native speaker.



1. 米蘭 - January 3, 2007

I think it comes down to the fact that most Cantonese speakers rarely see a foreigner (unless you’re Indian) having the ability or desire to learn Cantonese.

I am totally disgusted with those people who praise my level of Cantonese after saying 1 or 2 words. It doesn’t encourage me, it simply makes me angry.

In Australia, we are tolerant of foreigners speaking English. As we have so many migrants using English, it simply is considered normal. Even those who have poor English don’t feel embarrassed to speak as I think most native English speakers are capable of listening to broken English and make sense of what is being said.

Saying this, I am a P/T English teacher and have met varying levels of Hong Kong people’s English abilities. Only those that have travelled overseas for study or work, or those that pratically live at the language college have any decent level of fluency. The rest are poor. Do I laugh at the strugglers? No. I am quite tolerant of less-than-fluent English.

I once was lectured by an Indian on my pronunciation of 傳教士 cyun4 gaau3 si6. I was told not to speak unless I was sure on the tones. I might as well never speak because I’m bound to make mistakes.

2. edwinlaw - January 4, 2007

Hi Milan, thanks for your comment.

I have not lived in Hong Kong for many years, so I might be wrong. I have a feeling that not all Hong Kong people are like this. Make sure you hang around with those who are willing to support your language learning and want to see you succeed. Stay away from those who give you nothing but discouragement.

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