Recently I was using Madonna's song "Music" with some of my ESL students. They picked up a few new words, like boogie-woogie, DJ, and rebel. But the one that really threw them was bourgeoisie. They picked up the meaning alright once I explained it, but pronunciation? Just couldn't do it. We tried repeating it several times, breaking it down into parts, saying it with our eyes closed (sometimes if they are looking at the misleading spelling it can throw them even on repeating after me) but nope, they were getting pretty frustrated with this word. Finally, I had a brilliant flash, and I wrote this on the board: 不抓Z. Immediately they could say it no problem! This was a rare case of Chinese character pronunciation actually being helpful in and English word. 'Course that word was originally French, but, hey. It's English now.
Reminded me (and one of my students) of those horrible textbooks that don't actually teach English, but just string together unrelated characters, so that when you say the whole string, it sort of-kinda-but-not-really sounds like an English phrase. Like this:
Good morning! (古的猫宁)
Good afternoon! (古的阿夫特怒)
Good evening! (古的衣服宁)
Of course that doesn't really work for actually learning the language, but it's a bit fun to try. To see more, see John Pasden's post on it.
Sometimes Chinese Pinyin can look like English, too. I remember down in Sanya I often saw a sign that read "Haitian Bookstore." I must have walked by that sign so many times, and every time I had a little nagging thought, "Why oh why is there a bookstore from Haiti here in China???" Finally one day, it dawned on me that I could read the characters in the sign, and they said 海天书店. Haitian was pinyin and it had nothing to do with a small country in the Caribbean.
For a bit of fun in our staff training the other day, I gave my Chinese coworkers a matching puzzle I found on Cantonstinople:
It's super hard, but slightly easier if you know what to do: Take the pinyin of the characters on the bottom row and read it as English. Then find the character in the top row that has the same meaning as the English word. So 么 in the bottom row would match to 我 in the top row. They had a lot of trouble twisting their minds around the concept of pronouncing pinyin as English, but there was a lot of laughter as they figured out each match! The ones that especially threw them were gong, bang, dang, and duo, as they didn't know what those meant in English!
Have you ever misread a word because your brain wasn't switched into the right language mode? Do tell!
- Twisting tongues