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Nobody understands me


I decided to come to Taiwan to get a short immersion experience and have been here for a week now.
The disappointing thing is that no one understands me ,however simple the mandarin, and I don’t really know whether it is the tones or just my British accent. Both maybe.
So I have reverted back to English most of the time.
My only bit of success was when I ordered a milk tea from a shop in Tamsui and I finally managed to get them to understand wei tang. That effort was a combination of English and Mandarin. That was a weird drink: iced puer milk tea.It doesn’t, quite work.


I had the same experience in the mainland of China. My problem is that people expect certain tones and I have problems with them. Don’t give up, but try to get better :slight_smile:


They don’t understand because you sound awful. Pinyin letters are not equivalent to English letters. Not at all. You can only understand this fact if you have a genuine non-condescending teacher (not the type that keeps saying: “your Chinese gooood” but doesn’t truly teach you because she believes like most westerners you can’t learn Mandarin.


When I first went to Taiwan I had a similar problem of people not being used to speaking with Foreigners. What worked with me was talking with everybody I could only in Chinese. Also when speaking with friends don’t revert back to English Instead ask questions in Chinese and just try to communicate. In the beginning you end up playing alot of charades when you don’t remember a word but staying in the language to learn the language is invaluable. If you have friends that speak English and Chinese Very well ask them to help you phrase things in a colloquial manner to get your point across. Sometimes misunderstandings come from Word Order mistakes more than wrong tones.either way use very Comprehensible tones and clear body language. People are more than willing to help when they see you are trying. 加油jīayóu add oil (keep going you got it)


Please be patient and perseverant (is that a word?). I assure you that one week is not enough immersion no matter how long you have been practicing Chinese. Stick with it for a full six months and then reassess how you are doing. It takes time and mostly it takes patience :slight_smile:


It took me a week just to get used to the scooters, heat, humidity and mosquitos when I went to Taiwan, let alone the language. But don’t give up after a week. I found that if I learnt how to say “what is that?” when pointing at something to buy, listening to their reply and then I’d use an app like Pleco and ask them to write the characters, which I saved and then practised saying, that helped alot. Some people weren’t to interested in helping, but it didn’t take long to find a number of locals who were very happy to help. And so I found my local tea shop, fried chicken shop, fruit seller etc etc all suddenly became my free chinese tutors. On the whole I found Taiwan folk brilliant and helpful, but I was in Taichung, not sure if Taipei would be different. And it’s true, if you try, they’ll help. Also, and I think it’s easy to miss this, you are learning and absorbing as much about their culture as you are the language. Go and sit in a park and see if anyone approaches you (do that while reading a book, not listening to music). Depending upon how long you’ll be there for, invest in some one-on-one language exchange. Taiwan is brilliant, even the milk tea! And as you can see from here, plenty of us have been there, both with the language and the place. So keep asking.


I tried again today with more success and I don’t really know why it worked today and not yesterday.
I had the same problem with Arabic and it took five years to learn how to pronounce it clearly enough for people to understand me. Arabs also think that their language is impossible for foreigners to learn.


If you have a dictionary app that plays back audio for each word, listen and repeat. Keep doing that. Record your voice and compare it to the voice in the dictionary app.

If tones are your main problem and you don’t yet have an ear for tones (this alone comes from loads of practise), you should work with a language partner/tutor who’s brutally honest and can train your tone comprehension.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the learning process that we forget to confirm what we’re doing is correct.


I have the IPad version of Pleco. It is a woman’s voice that I hear when I play the examples, very clear and not too fast. I am also hearing people speak wherever I go and the announcer on the metro train. There are a lot of people about, especially on weekends so I am optimistic. It took me years to learn how to play the piano well and I think learning a language is much the same.


I had a similar problem in Shanghai last year however over a month I mangaged to make myself understood in Mandarin in countless situations and coped with landladies, bus drivers ect. You will gain confidence and learn to move on if people don’t understand every time.