Speaking the Language

Someone named Kristy left a question/comment the other day on another post. Kristy, since I don’t have your e-mail address, and I’m not sure if you’ll see the answer if I leave it as a comment, I thought I’d answer it here.

Question: If you don’t speak Mandarin, how do you communicate with the children. Are the older children taught English in your organization?

Our Mandarin isn’t that bad. In fact, our friends tell us that it’s good! We’re certainly not fluent and we can’t talk about deep or complicated subjects, but we can manage in day-to-day life and certainly communicate most of what we need to say to little ones. Besides that, with young children, so much of communication is non-verbal. But, the children do learn English here. Since almost all of them are adopted by foreign families, we think it is good for them to learn English so that it helps with their adjustment. The older ones (4+) speak a good deal of English! In the summer months when we have lots of interns, most of our older ones have one-on-one English lessons with a tutor.

PS: To jazz this story up a bit, I have a funny “lost in translation” story. The other day, Jacob was taking care of some business, and the man at the office asked him a question. He said it quickly, and Jacob didn’t catch one of the words, but he thought he asked if Jacob liked Chinese people. (Asking if we like China/Chinese food/Chinese people is a very common question that strangers ask.) Jacob responded with a hearty yes, and the entire room burst out into laughter. A friend who was with Jacob rapidly cleared things up and then explained the mix-up. Turns out he was asked if he liked Chinese women. ๐Ÿ™‚

And, since I always tell funny stories on Jacob, I should even it out a little bit. A few weeks ago, I was watching Julia at an event that we had attended as a group. I left her sitting at the table for a few minutes while I went to get my food. Knowing she would feel like quite the grown-up, I asked her if she would watch my bag (in Chinese). When I came back, she was happily sorting through the contents of my purse. I quickly reminded her that it wasn’t polite to look through someone’s belongings, and she looked at me with a surprised look. At that point, a Chinese staff member who overheard the whole exchange cleared things up for me in English. She said, “Carrie – you didn’t tell her to watch your things in Chinese… you told her to look at your things! She was only doing what you said!” It gave everyone at the table a good laugh, and I apologized to Julia for the mixup.

So now Jacob and I are even. To be perfectly honest — we know just enough Chinese to get us in trouble.

6 thoughts on “Speaking the Language

  1. Once, last year, my Mandarin teacher asked me a question. I started going on and on and on about the tree that fell over in our yard after the storm. I must have babbled for, like, ten minutes about it. Turns out she was asking me about a book. Heh. Shu1… Shu4… sigh.


  2. I've wondered a few times if the children are taught English and I'm thrilled to hear that they are.

    Thanks for sharing your translation issues! Too funny!


  3. Thanks for responding Carrie! I did see this…I've been reading your blog for some time, and thought I read way back when you couldn't speak Mandarin. I am glad to hear that you can, and are having some fun with it too. I just LOVE your blog and hope you keep it up. It is so…cool that the older kids do learn some English. I wondered, because it seems it would prepare them for their families! Keep up the amazing work. I personally hope you stay in China….:0) Kristy


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