Although I am a bad singer, I still made up my mind to try brawl with the Chinese tone concept and learn at least a little bit of colloquial Cantonese. ‘Hey, I have my own three Chinese to practice with at home, so why not? It is the perfect opportunity!’ is what I thought, but far wrong.
Because of different circumstances, I started to live together with Mr. Panda and his parents for quite some time. As communication proved to be difficult sometimes because Chinese dad only speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and some Fujian dialect and Chinese mom’s German is restricted to basics, I thought about learning Cantonese in the beginning. My decision to learn at least a little bit was not only because I wanted to talk to them more, but also because I wanted to leave a good impression on them.
Soon after, I bought a language learning book with a learning CD, and started highly motivated with the first lesson. Mr. Panda practiced the tones with me and after a week or so I could already recognize the few words I have learned so far in their daily conversations when we sat all together for dinner in the evening. Eventually one word that all of them commonly used in almost every sentence caught my attention: ‘ci sin’.
Example dialog for better understanding:
Chinese dad: xxxxxxxxxxxxx.
Chinese mom: ci sin! xxxxxx.
Chinese dad (angry): ci sin! xxxxxxxxx! ci sin!
Mr. Panda (irritated): ci sin xxxxxxxxx.
Chinese mom (heated up): ci sin! XXXXXX!
Chinese dad (laughing): ci sin! Hahahahaha.
After some time, I asked Mr. Panda why they used ‘ci sin’ all the time, or if it was a grammar word to indicate something? No, it is actually not. A little bit ashamed, he finally told me the meaning of the word 黐線 (ci1 sin3) actually means ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’. So they told each other they are crazy or insane in almost every sentence – regardless the topic, whether they talked about something funny or were fighting. But in eight out of ten conversations they started to argue, and I was actually relieved I did not understand what was going on.
So one of the reasons I do not speak Cantonese fluently yet is definitely 黐線. At least I understand the basics and can order food I like. And I can tell Chinese grandma that I am not hungry and don’t want to eat anything. Good enough for now. I have read a lot of others who are married to Chinese and actually spoke Chinese before or decided to learn Chinese after they got together. Jocelyn from Speaking of China wrote about whether to learn a dialect or not if you only needed it for a few days a year. Although it is a lot of work, she decided to learn at least a few phrases which makes grandma happy, and I have also made the same experience in Hong Kong. Although I am far from having decent conversations, they are glad I know at least the basics. Still, I decided to learn more in the new future, the latest when we decide to get a child. At least my child should be able to talk to its relatives and learn about its heritage.
Do you think it is really necessary to learn it if you do not need it for daily life?