Vietnamese Embarrassment

By Jon Searle

I am from the UK and when I go on holiday, I like to try to get a basic grasp of the language before I arrive. But the words which we think we are speaking may not be being spoken at all. In many Asian countries they have ‘tonal languages’ which means the way you say the word, influences its meaning.

On a trip to Vietnam a couple of years ago, I was going about my holiday, trying to be as friendly as possible, “xin cháo!”, I would announce to the pretty receptionist, with a smug grin on my face. After a talk with my tour guide, I realised that I had been saying “Rice porridge” to her every morning. It turns out that the correct way to say hello is “xin chào”.

These two words look very similar but the accent on the ‘a’ changes the way it sounds. My perky English enthusiasm made the end of the word go up in pitch changing the word to ‘rice porridge’. In order to say hello the end of the word needs to go down in pitch.

Phonetically spelt it is “sin jowe”. Or at least to my distant knowledge it is.

There you go, you learnt something. Don’t attempt to flirt with foreign receptionists if you don’t speak Vietnamese, Spanish, or wherever you are!

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Posted on July 11, 2012, in About Life, Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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