We don't ALL speak English

Not coming from English speaking countries, my husband and I don’t speak English to eachother (duh). So it pisses me off when people hear us speaking something other than English, but when I address them in fluent Chinese, they still insist on replying in broken English.


I think it is something drilled into Taiwanese when they are young…on seeing a non Chinese face, they automatically try to practise their english with that person

Hi, Mrs. Off.

We’re talking about this stuff in the “honkeys, honkeys, honkeys” section.

There is an incredible “workaholic” attitude in Taiwan, and people have a “workaholic”/“studyaholic” attitude about English:


So when people see you and your husband the Macedonians in Taiwan, maybe all they think is English English English.
And there’s not much leisure time for a person to stop and think… “hey, Chinese is a really fascinating language. I bet it’s really important to foreigners who live here.” People just don’t stop to think. But once, I was in the bus station and a couple told me in Chinese that I had forgotten my back pack. They were in their teens, and teenagers are all very idealistic and think about things a lot more than adults. Maybe they had taken the time to think “maybe that guy knows Chinese and likes to speak Chinese, why don’t we just tell him in Chinese?”

O.K… now it’s time for me to get DIRTY
What really annoys me is COLUMBIA Langauge School. Their advertisements are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO tacky tacky tacky. They have these HUGE billboards in Taichung with a white person looking at you and it says: “can you only laugh when you see a foreigner?”

Another one had this white guy saying “ABC” to this Chinese guy and the Chinese guy was laughing.

Another one showed this little Chinese boy with masking tape over his mouth. On the tape was written “ENGLISH”. With the implication ‘this poor child was denied the English language’

I’ll write more about this and COLUMBIA English School’s awfully tacky advertising in “honkeys honkeys honkeys”


[This message has been edited by Big Dork (edited 29 May 2001).]

But, Mrs. Off, if the other party keeps insisting on using English, then it’s like you’re butting heads and fighting to see who wins the language battle. That is an unpleasant experience for both people. Someone has to give in.

Is your Chinese really “fluent”? It’s not broken Chinese?

Anyway, I try to speak Chinese to my foreign friends in public so that natives can feel more inclined to speak Chinese to us.


I can speak Chinese…I think fluently…although what is fluently ??

Anywho…if somebody speaks to me in broken English.I speak back to them in english…and if they don’t understand…I say it in Chinese.
Why ??
I can already speak Chinese and have loads of oppurtunites to speak it since I am in a Chinese speaking environemnt ie. Taiwan…they however do not have a lot of oppurtunites to speak english…so why not just help them out ???

My girlfriend says if there is one thing she dislikes is foreigners trying to practice their Chinese and trying to speak Chinese with her in the office…eventhough her english is fluent.
She finds this very frustrating and slow espically when discussing important business.

She says when they are stammering and stuttering over words…she is saying to them …why can’t you just speak english to me…but to them I guess it is an oppurtunity to practise Chinese.

I see language as a tool…if somebody can speak English better than my Chinese…I will speak to them in English…the whole point is communication so in situations like that it is best to use English as a tool.

Now completely off the point…

I was thinking last night how English is a very inefficent language compared to Chinese.
for one thing we have too many ways of saying things, and too many tenses, and other little thinks

why can we just say

same thing… what does the tense do here…I have stated the time so why have I to do it twice by using the future tense. Then there are Gerunds, prepostions and all the other stuff…


U HAPPY (grunt) where a grunt makes something a question…

English would be much more easier to learn !!

Chinese is much more efficent this way… I wonder why english developed to this complicated level…was it to confuse non-English people way back then ??
I think I am generalizing about all languages…but who dictated the complexity and development of languages ??
And why do people complicate languages?
Did language need to develop more as we evolved to develop for abstract things etc???

Dear Pissed Off,

My friend who speaks fluent Chinese pretends like he didn’t understand their English. “Ni shuo shemme? Huh? Wo ting bu dong? Ni zai jiang Yingwen ma?” I can just imagine how embarassed the people must feel after that. It might be really traumatic to them. They may never speak English again.

You know actually you could just think about it like they are trying to be closer to you, to speak your native language (enven though it isn’t). I would think that they probably could not tell that you were speaking some other language to your husband, or they just assume that all foriegners speak English.

Or you could think like this, they learned some English from school in Taiwan or from a trip abroad and they are just trying to use their English again. They may have been waiting for a forigner to come up to their restaurant or whatever for years or something.

Perhaps one day you might feel the same after you move back to your home country and meet a Taiwanese person who asks you directions in perfect whatever they speak in your home country. You might really be tempted to show off that you can speak Chinese in order to be able to chat with this person about Taiwan or so that they know you speak Chinese, or so that you can surprise them or something. Perhaps this is what the Taiwanese are doing too.

I totally understand what pissed off feels even though I am a native English speaker! I do speak what I hope should be considered reasonable Chinese (I have a Chinese degree from an Australian university and more than 5 years of studying/working in China and Taiwan). More than once I have been ordering food or something like that and I have been with my girlfriend who does not speak much English or with a white friend who could speak good Chinese but virtually no English and I have repeatedly asked people to speak to us in Chinese but even then they still want to speak English. This gets very annoying when you have to translate what has been said by a Taiwanren in bad English back into Chinese so that other people can understand it (don’t these people ever stop to think that I may have a reason for constantly translating what is said into Chinese…). That said I often think that the need to practice/show off ones English is the main cause here. I find often find that people who speak English well do not insist on speaking it when we have a reason not to. Another thing is that if I am not with my girlfriend or someone else who does not speak English I will speak English to people who speak it as well or better than I speak Chinese but as I mentioned most of these people are not the ones who insist on speaking English no matter what.

Because… if you really know English then you have no need to show it off. The show off thing is an insecurity - they feel if they don’t use it, they’ll lose it.

Maybe I get annoyed sometimes because my Mandarin isn’t perfect. If it was perfect, then would I have such a problem with this island of people not sharing the lingo with me? Maybe… but as my Mandarin improves and the longer I stay in Taiwan, the longer I’m able to grin and bear it.

Last time I was on the bus to the airport because of some stupid visa problem. I was annoyed. The guy who took my ticket said in English to me: “AIRPORT?” and then he did this silly little dance like tweety bird flying, flapping his arms and making buzzing airplane sounds. I just looked at him like ’ you are such an idiot’ with this dumb, numb expression on my face. He got that I didn’t get it and I wasn’t laughing. So anyway, that’s the bus company that I hate because they always do something like that “Ho Hsin”


Oh, hi, Mr. Other Side.

I sympathize with your Chinese girlfriend who speaks fluent English and has to deal with all these foreigners who speak broken Chinese to her.

If they want to practise, then they should do it at school, like she did.

I’ve had some foreign friends who do this with Chinese coworkers. I found it annoying, too. I spoke English to everybody because I didn’t want to be annoying like that. But there was also a third possibility that I saw in the work place:

A foreigner and Chinese friend would make a personal agreement to speak Chinese to eachother. This works, because they are friends and they have a special agreement. Sometimes my coworker (white girl) would speak Chinese to the whole Chinese staff.

Things got funny, though. An ABC from Los Angeles started working with us and she spoke all Chinese to the Chinese staff and everybody, and English to the foreign staff. I noticed that my white coworker spoke English to the ABC coworker even though Mandarin would have also worked.

So I can sympathize with your girlfriend. And as I’ve done before, I would speak English to her, unless I felt my Mandarin was as fluent as her English. But I can’t sympathize with Chinese teachers at my Chinese school who speak English to me. That really annoys me.

And it’s really difficult to learn Chinese when everybody wants to speak English to you. If you don’t have a family or a family of friends who help you learn, then the only way is to go to school or isolate yourself with a television and cassette tapes and talk to yourself all day long.

When I used to live in America, I belonged to the “show-off linguist” category. So I understand where people are coming from when they want to show me that they can speak English. I also understand where they are coming from when they INSIST on speaking English when I speak Chinese back. I understand. When I used to be like that in America (Spanish/German/Polish were my pet languages) I really thought that I was a rarity. But now that I’m in Taiwan, I see that the “show-off linguist” thing is not rare at all in the world; it’s only rare in America.

Big DORk

Originally posted by Helpppp: [b]I can speak Chinese..I think fluently..although what is fluently ??

Anywho…if somebody speaks to me in broken English.I speak back to them in english…and if they don’t understand…I say it in Chinese.
Why ??
I can already speak Chinese and have loads of oppurtunites to speak it since I am in a Chinese speaking environemnt ie. Taiwan…they however do not have a lot of oppurtunites to speak english…so why not just help them out ???[/b]

Oh. Yes I suppose I could be helpful. Allow me to explain myself. I’m a white guy. I am a walking, though not talking, English language promotion. Do you know how many people I would be helping out? Guess…

About the “Chinese Speaking Environment”: Yes, this is a Chinese speaking environment. But, as a white guy, I feel like I’m being kept in an English bubble within a Chinese speaking environment. People speak English to me: that creates the bubble. The most polite thing to do is to respond in English: so I recognize and stay inside the bubble. Then, I speak Chinese to someone and they respond in English: that just bursts my bubble. Are you a white guy? How do you get so many opportunities to speak Chinese? Don’t people speak back to you in English all the time?

I’m sorry, Mr. Helppp. Your idealistic linguistic charity is far too idealistic for me. I can only help out so many people in one day. I don’t want to be rude or discourage Taiwanese people from learning English. I just can’t be as charitable as you’re suggesting. Seriously, Mr. Helppp, even nuns and priests and missionaries study and use Chinese. I have even known a couple who get annoyed when people respond in English (and I personally feel that the missionary is at fault in this situation). But, you go ahead and do your charity thing, because for some reason you already have a family or a family of Chinese speaking friends to get your fill of Mandarin. I’m boring and I have no friends. Maybe your friends shield you by doing things for you to avoid people speaking English to you. But, man, I’m confronted by the English-Student-Squad on a daily basis. I can only help them out if they pay me in a classroom.


[This message has been edited by Big Dork (edited 30 May 2001).]

1 Like
Originally posted by Hobart: [b]Dear Pissed Off,

My friend who speaks fluent Chinese pretends like he didn’t understand their English. “Ni shuo shemme? Huh? Wo ting bu dong? Ni zai jiang Yingwen ma?” I can just imagine how embarassed the people must feel after that. It might be really traumatic to them. They may never speak English again. [/b]

Hi, Mr. Hobart.

Your friend is a jerk. I think this technique of his is very rude. It is rude because he is lying. He might hurt the other person’s feelings, and he doesn’t care.

What I do is this:

“I’m sorry. I took an oath not to speak English.” (“dui bu qi. Wo fa-sh wo bu jiang ing-wen.”)

It’s honest. It’s not insulting.

If your friend teaches English, he can say:
“I’m sorry. I took an oath not to speak English in public.” This is a more difficult oath because you can’t speak English to native English speakers in public, either: that would create a double-standard which is unfair. Perhaps,“I’m sorry. I only speak English to my good friends.” But that makes you unfriendly to the person. Anyway, I told you what I do. It’s strict, but it works.

(actually, I’ve had a couple of friends who are jerks like that, too - it’s hard to tell them that they’re jerks - but I had to tell you on this post. I don’t want to be all holier-than-thee or anything. Just let your friend know that his method is very culturally insensitive and rude, and there are better methods. Some people find my “oath” method to be too silly. But it works. And I don’t insult or lie to people)


[This message has been edited by Big Dork (edited 30 May 2001).]

Somewhere I once had a list of languages ranked in order of their ease of use to clearly and unequivocally express a concept. Swiss German (must have been written by a Swiss, as one of my German friends remarked) is at the top followed by English and the other western European languages. Starting from the bottom, after a few tribal languages that are grouped together as lacking exposure to technology, comes Chinese and Japanese and the other major Asian languages.

So maybe there is some purpose for those gerunds etc.


I am a white guy too. I read, write, and speak Chinese. When I ask about something in Mandarin, the locals mostly answer in Mandarin. Some times a broken english speaker might try to “help”, but they are usually sent packing by the person, I am speaking to.

I don’t really get the problem. At least, I don’t have it.

Ya, the problem is that my Chinese sucks and your Chinese is fluent. If you’re absolutely fluent, then you have this aura of confidence that cuts through the h0nkey -bubble. But if you’re not absolutely fluent, then you speak kind of softly and your body language shows a lack of confidence. I can talk but I can’t “raise my hand” because I’m not “sure”.

I suck I suck I suck. I’ll never post in English again. Then you can see how bad my Chinese sucks.



I SucK

Big Dork,

You have waaaaaay too much time on your hands. But LOL!!! Thanks for amusing me.

Take it easy big dork, I have been a nervous Mandarin student at Shida too…

I believe that you have to be assertive and firm in order to make the locals treat you the way, you want. The Chinese culture is a vertival one, meaning that the majority of interpersonal relationships are vertical, which implies that one is on the top the other.

If you don’t recognize this and aren’t assertive (but friendly) the most of the time, they will see you as some kind of martian (they’ll probably do that anyway). Speak fast( very important) and act as you own the place. (But always be a bit friendly).

In case you want some more information on the social peculiarities of the Taiwanese society, then Richard Hartzell’s excellent book “Harmony in Conflict” (Should still be available at Caves, if not try the author) is the best source, I know.

Well said Musasa.

I also think it’s admirable that there are so many Taiwanese who work so hard at improving their English. When I have been in Japan, Korea, or most of the rest of Asia for that matter, I have been struck by how few people in those countries can communicate in English compared with Taiwan. It’s really amazing. There are so many times when I’ve been at the information counters of major airports/ train stations, etc… and couldn’t find a single person who spoke any English, leading to me doing a convoluted chicken dance to try to communicate.

Since I am an ABC (American Born Chinese), I don’t have the problem of people coming up to me and trying to speak to me in English. I suppose if I was exposed to that on a regular basis, it could get really old really fast. On the other hand, if I was in Taiwan as a non-Chinese speaking person, I would be so relieved at the level of help I could find here in English.

Hey JL2000,

I have found exactly the opposite problem - NO ONE SPEAKS ANY ENGLISH HERE. I remember trying to find out something at Taipei Main Station and people just sort of stared at me horribly when I asked them a question.


I am white, I am not English but French, and I have to speak english every day. Then what !!
Only I remember one thing, I AM A GEST HERE!
and as Such I respect the people, the manners, and the way of life.
No one asked you to come, so …IF YOU DO NOT LIKE IT HERE, GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE.
And most of all I dispise people Impolite, using bad words, mabe you should learn proper education for a start !!!