A long time ago, I studied a bit of Mandarin Chinese. Then some years ago, I got back in the game with a 3 month Berlitz “immersion” course. I continued for several years with my tutor – Weixin – who came to my office once a week. And we would work on Mandarin.
Chinese is not as easy as it looks . . . . It can be challenging. There are four different tonal sounds such that each word can be pronounced four different ways — with perhaps a dozen different meanings depending on context. Thus one must be very careful – when saying anything. The only word resembling an English equivalent is the word “mama.” And that will only get you so far. . . .
After the Berlitz immersion and a few months of tutoring, I had the occasion to host several Chinese judges and lawyers at my Firm. I thought to myself I will wow them with my resurrected knowledge of Chinese. I took them on a tour of our offices and brought them into our Board room for a meeting. At one point in my presentation, I noticed some polite laughter which I thought might be a result of my excellent elocution or my Shanghai accent. However, as they were leaving, their translator pulled me aside and commented that when I tried to say “As one of the partners at Holland & Knight,” I had actually said “As one of the donkeys at Holland & Knight.” You should say lu shi — not lu zi. Partner. Donkey. Great. . . . .
I have a feeling that my contratemps was one of the highlights of their trip such that the story will be retold with smiles and great enthusiasm. Probably for years (sigh) . . . . .