“Wô de zhōng wén bù haô!”
My Chinese is shite. To say that I ‘can’t speak a word of Chinese’ is misleading, but to say that I can ‘string a sentence together’ is even more misleading. My Chinese is like my French: très, très bad. My GCSE French teacher was surprised that I’d spent so long growing up in a bilingual country without learning how to construct a sentence in français. I might have learned to conjugate a few verbs in his classroom if it weren’t for the fact that I sat next to a ridiculously buxom blonde girl and I was too busy daydreaming about conjugating with her under the desk.
For me, conversations with Chinese strangers tend to go one of two ways.
Stranger (in Chinese): Nî huì shuō zhōng wén ma?
Me: Yī diân diân [“a little”]
Stranger: [A stream of Chinese that I don’t understand]
Me: Wô ting bù dong! [I don’t understand]
Stranger (in English): Do you speak Chinese?
Recently, the landlady sent a plumber to our flat so that I could greet him in my underpants and then we could baffle the shit out of each other for half an hour.
Google Translate is a great resource*, unless you want to use it to, say, translate one language into another for ease of communicating with someone in that language. There comes a point when you have to stop showing iPhone haikus** to each other and just resort to monosyllables like ‘Great’, ‘Fine’, ‘Fuck’ and ‘This’.
It is, however, surprising how easy it can sometimes be to communicate despite the language barrier. I once had a perfectly decent conversation with a female bus conductor despite the fact that I didn’t know the Chinese for “I am deeply dissatisfied that you’ve trapped my arm in the door” and she didn’t know the English for “Hey, sorry ’bout that. Totally my bad.” I’m always using Chinglish to successfully negotiate conversations on a wide variety of subjects: “I don’t like spicey food”, “these grapes taste like shit”, or “no I’m not related to Sherlock Holmes. Wtf are you talking about?”
“Wô bù yaò zhè gè” is one of the best phrases I know: “I don’t want this”. “Bù yaò” means (literally) “don’t want” or (less literally), “get the hell out of my face.”
“Hello, I am your landlord. There is mysterious leak in apartment. Can I send person round for one hour from now?”
“Wô bù yaò zhè gè!”
*(at least according to that movie The Internship: https://bentheforeigner.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/jobs-for-people-with-few-skills/)
**(“water flows downwards. I don’t know where it comes from. I go to work now.”)