“Killing The Panda” – Mandarin Chinese Tone Mistakes

By May 29, 2015Videos

The China Simplified team acts out a short comedy showing what might happen if you use the wrong tones for the word 熊猫 xióngmāo (panda).

One slip of the tongue and you’ve just said 胸毛 xiōngmáo (chest hair), earning yourself a place with other language students in the Chinese tone mistakes hall of fame.

Our book China Simplified: Language Empowerment light-heartedly refers to Mandarin as “the easiest (and hardest) language in the world.” What makes it so hard? Besides learning to read & write characters, many consider mastering Mandarin’s four tones to be a supreme challenge. But is speaking Mandarin really any harder than speaking English? To non-native English speakers, the differences between ‘bitch’ and ‘beach’, ‘dad’ and ‘dead’, ‘mommy’ and ‘mummy’, ‘bear’ and ‘beer’ are quite subtle, not unlike the Mandarin tone challenges faced by foreigners studying Chinese.

In other words, we can all empathize with others struggling with our native languages.

  • This is lousy pedagogy. In baseball it’s the “Don’t swing at the outside pitches” error. The batter who thinks “Don’t do so an so, Don’t do so-and-so” is victims to his own misplaced attention, and does exactly the thing at the front of his mind, that wicked, silly Son-and-so.

    The actual words spoken are a small part of communication. Nobody is going to confuse pandas with chest hair unless they’re zoo keepers worrying about the hair on some panda’s chest. (In that case, surprise, surprise, they are likely to be speaking the same language, be it Chinese or some other bunch of panda-keepers, so the problem doesn’t arise.)
    Context solves the problem.

  • This is a funny, simplified example of the very real issue of poor old lao wai using incorrect tones. I’ve had many strange looks from friends that have no clue what I’ve just said in the middle of a conversation. Even though we both are aware of the context. Otherwise, why would learning tones be necessary in the first place? Homonyms will kill ya!

  • kschang

    It’s an anecdote used to make a point, much like the “Eats shoots and leaves” joke for English grammar, also involving a panda. http://www.corsinet.com/braincandy/hanimals11.html

  • Sumatra

    Why when people change tones in these comparison videos they also change pronounciation? I’m pretty sure he said xong mao rather than xiong mao that second time.