“First seek to understand, then seek to be understood” ~ Stephen Covey
The first time I heard the N-word in China it came from a taxi driver.
“Did he just say what I think he said?”
It came out of no where and I wasn’t sure how to react.
I am meeting more and more black americans traveling to China. You probably heard this while on the street or in a meeting in China and did not know why someone would say the word “nigga” and no one else around you would react.
Let me explain:
The word you are hearing is 那个 meaning “that”. The pinyin for this word is NA GE, meaning it should be pronounced like NAH-GUH. If you are studying mandarin from a textbook, it would never show up.
The common oral pronunciation is where the difference comes in. When hearing spoken Chinese that word NA GE will sound like “NIG GA,” very close to the derogatory word, or the word heard in some songs too.
There is more….
Each language has its own filler words and sounds, the ones used to fill gaps in speech and give our brains time to think . In English we use things like “ummm” and “ahhh” or “like” or “so.” In mandarin, one of those words happens to be 那个.
So you won’t only hear the word when some says “我要那个” (I want that one). The word will appear while chatting at the water cooler, in meetings, during speeches, on TV shows.
What should be done?
“First seek to understand, then seek to be understood,”is what Stephen Covey said in his bestselling book. First understand why a person my be saying what they say, then be open to discussing and talking about your reaction to it.
I’ve explained the meaning of the word to colleagues and they now have a new understanding of how I could possibly feel when they say the word. This makes a difference as they are more aware of how their words have impact.
Is the reverse true?
Have you had any experience where a word from your native language turned out to be an offensive word somewhere else?
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