My Mandarin has never been as bad as it is now. I mean, it has always been bad — I was a chronic F9 case in school — but it’s really bad now, if you can imagine anything worse than F9.
I can do very basic conversations like, say, discussing a shopping trip with the girls, if I’m allowed to pepper my speech with English words.
But ask me to be interviewed in Mandarin, on national TV no less, and I am suddenly struck dumb. I mean that quite literally.
That was actually what happened last week.
I received a call from my manager:
“Channel 8 news wants to do a segment on POCC (Power Over Cervical Cancer) and they’ve requested to interview you in your capacity as POCC ambassador.”
“Um… um… in Mandarin??”
“My Mandarin is very bad. I can’t do it.”
In the end, I was talked into doing it. I would be given the questions and a list of key terms I would need to use in Manadrin.
On the night before the interview, I received a list of six questions. I typed my answers out in English and attempted to translate it.
It took me an hour to translate just the first two lines because I couldn’t figure out how to structure my sentences correctly. I had about 35 lines to translate.
First: “Cervical cancer kills one to two women every five days.”
The only way I knew how to say it was: “每五天,子宫颈癌杀死一到两个妇女。”
Well, at least my Mandarin is good enough for me to know that THIS IS VERY BAD MANDARIN.
For my non-Chinese readers: What I did was a literal translation almost word for word. But what results in Mandarin raises an imagery more like: “Cervical cancer picks up a chopper and hacks one to two women to death every five days.”
Simply put, very crude.
Here’s another example of my butchery of the Chinese language:
“The earlier people know about this, the more lives we can save.”
My translation: “如果大家越早知道这个消息，就会越少人死。”
If you can read that, you now understand why I rejected the interview right off the bat.
Actually, I wasn’t even aware that my Mandarin had degenerated to this degree. I had eventually agreed to do the interview because I believed if I could prepare my answers beforehand, I would be able to do it.
It was only when I was attempting to translate my answers that I realised my Mandarin is now effectively 87 keys short of a piano.
I finally sent out an SOS on Plurk, Twitter, Facebook. I received lots of good translations for the two sentences above. But no one offered to help me translate all 35 lines of my answers.
Thankfully, I managed to get a friend to help me. By the time I received the two pages of translated answers, it was midnight. The interview was the next day. And I’d only had two hours of sleep the night before so I was rather exhausted by then.
But I had two pages of Chinese to memorise. It wasn’t simply a matter of remembering the points. I had to memorise everything word for word because, if I were to answer in my own words, I would come out with something embarrassingly rubbish like: “POCC 希望会有两万个人去他们的网站支持他们和子宫颈癌打架。”
I didn’t have enough time to memorise everything so I had to wing it and hope I didn’t look too bad.
If you happen to watch Channel 8 news this Sunday, and you see me stuttering on TV and looking quite bimbotic, you know why.
To compound matters, my laryngitis had not totally recovered, so I was still sounding rather hoarse.
Maybe with clever editing, Channel 8 will manage to make me look halfway decent, but I’m not too hopeful about that.
Look, I think my Mandarin is even worse than Ris Low’s English. So that’s why I never laughed at or criticised her. We can’t all be good at everything!
In any case, I think I’d better not accept anymore interviews in Mandarin. Or I’d better go back to Chinese school.
Now I hope I won’t set POCC’s efforts to reach out and save lives back by a millennium because of my disastrous Mandarin.
I mean, I hope people won’t see me on TV and say, “She sucks,” and then not watch the rest of the segment. Lives could be lost because of that!
Seriously. I’d feel really bad!
Anyway, it’s this Sunday (July 11), 10 pm, on Channel 8. I don’t know what time the POCC bit will be aired but it’ll be a short segment. Around five to 10 minutes.
I don’t think I’ll dare to watch myself.