A few weeks ago in my English classes, I was doing lightning safety (it was stormy here, ok?). I ended up using the following joke in each class.
One of the tips from the students would inevitably be: “Always wear shoes if you’re outside.” I would follow that up by asking why. They’d say something about the shoes being made of plastic (which I thought was strange) and I’d say (in English), “No they’re not. The bottoms of your shoes are made of BANANAS!” The class always thought it was hilarious.
Someone would correct me and say, “rubber” and I’d make a big mockery of myself saying things like, “Oh no! Oops! I guess I made a mistake with my pronunciation!”
Now, here’s what I want to know from any Chinese reader(s):
Were my students laughing because:
2. They actually imagined someone walking along the street wearing banana peels on their feet?
I know it’s asking a lot to tell me what my students were thinking. But perhaps you could just give your own response to my little joke. Which did you think of?
For us laowai, here’s the point:
Regardless of why Chinese speakers laugh (or don’t laugh) at that little joke, that’s a little taste of what it must sound like to them when we’re speaking Chinese and we get a tone wrong.
It’s not like in English when you put the stress on the wrong syllable and it’s a little harder to understand (for example saying “relatives” with the stress on the second syllable instead of the first). No. When we get the tones wrong, it’s a whole new word that could be just as nonsensical to Chinese listeners as shoes made of bananas. So we’ve got to get those tones right.