Daily food

At a Christmas party this week I was chatting to some Vietnamese people about food and one of them asked whether the meal we were having (chicken, potatoes, veg, etc) was what we have as our “daily food”. I couldn’t work out what she was talking about as the phrase “daily food” was pronounced so quickly and was unusual anyway. At first I thought it was a word or phrase in Vietnamese, so I asked her to repeat it several times and eventually she explained that she was asking about food we eat every day. That was when I realised what she was saying. Even slight differences in pronunciation and novel constructions can throw you like this.

When you’re speaking a foreign language it can be frustrating when people don’t understand what you’re saying, even though you think you’re pronouncing things correctly. When people realise what you’re trying to say and repeat it, you often think, “Isn’t that what I said!?”

This entry was posted in Language.

11 Responses to Daily food

  1. Dreaminjosh says:

    This happens to me in Swedish when I start throwing pitch accent all over the place. I finally learned after my first trip that staying relatively mono-tone (Finnish style I guess) will allow people to understand you. By the second trip I started to pick up the pitch in most words, but I still mess up and get “HUH??” expressions every once in a while.

  2. LAttilaD says:

    That’s the problem, in reverse direction, for me in English. I have a literature level English knowledge. I wrote papers and articles in English. I read lots of text in English. But I can’t understand even a short text in spoken English, because I cannot distinguish words. I know how to pronounce most words and I have an acceptable pronunciation, but when hearing them I don’t know what is what. For example, they say something what I hear as “er”, and while I’m trying to figure out it was “her”, “were”, “where”, “hear”, “here”, “are”, “there”, or just a small part of a longer word, they’re a chapter further and I can’t catch them up…

  3. formiko says:

    @LAttilaD: Join the club. 🙂 Language comprehension is really just recognizing a series of seemingly arbitrary sounds. Just keep listening to good AND bad English 🙂

  4. jdotjdot89 says:

    This happens to me, too–but on the receiving end, when non-native English speakers try to speak English and I just have no idea what they’re saying. It can actually be quite embarrassing for me, such as when it’s a professor saying a particular phrase in English to the class that I don’t understand, and it can appear that I’m insulting their English.

    (Context: I’m studying in Spain right now.) What’s most interesting about this is that when the professor may say a phrase or sentence in English, the other Spaniards will understand the poor pronunciation though I will not, because it’s the same (poor) pronunciation they would use. Thus I didn’t understand “khapikhower”, though all the Spaniards in the class did, until someone was able to translate it to “Happy Hour” for me. Very interesting.

  5. LAttilaD says:

    Thanks, formiko – I believe I won’t. I’m satisfied with written communication. I have to talk very rarely in English, in fact, there was only one occasion yet. My family had a several hours long conversation with a young Dutch expert of a special topic, wheelchair modification, for which I didn’t know the English terms and the gentleman had a staggering accent. He said “sheet”, and after a while I recognized it was “seat”. For my great luck, I wasn’t the only interpreter present, and the other gentleman knew the appropriate terms and understood the accent, too. I managed my part. But I’m glad he was a Dutch and not a British or American person. Those who learnt English as a mother tongue can speak so quickly and naturally what doesn’t leave much chance for me. And of course, they’re using idiomatisms not found in the dictionary.
    By the way, your nick means “ant” in Esperanto. Saluton. That’s the other language I learned well, once upon a time I knew it better than English. Now my English is better.

  6. Lydia says:

    I’ve had an experience like this. One time I was conversing with my Mandarin teacher and at first we were talking about birthdays, and at the time I was sixteen so in Mandarin I would know to say “shi liu” with fourth tone on “liu”. But then the topic changed to “shi liu” (second tone on liu), I found myself misunderstanding her. I was talking about the number sixteen and and she was talking about a pomegranate. Beforehand though, there was a lot of confusion mutually. 🙂

  7. Lydia says:

    On second thought, excuse me, the tone was neutral on “liu”. lol.

  8. formiko says:

    @lAttilaD:Ó, te magyarul beszélnek! Szeretem ezt a nyelvet!
    My nickname is Hungarian is Hangya 🙂
    Anyway, I was speaking in Spanish to a friend of mine who was from Spain, and he kept using the English word “yuppie”, but he kept saying juppie. He even spelled it, and I had NO CLUE as to what he was saying (and I’m a native English speaker). He even gave me the definition! I still had no idea. We moved on. but not until about 10 minutes later did it occur to me what he was saying! In the middle of our train ride I blurted out “Yuppie..you were calling him a yuppie!” He had forgotten the conversation by this point, so it never really mattered 🙂

  9. LAttilaD says:

    Wow, formiko. 🙂 It seems you’re using Hungarian for a long time, since your grammar is almost perfect. The second sentence is. But “beszélnek” is a plural form (they speak); to say “you speak”, use “beszélsz”.
    I believe your friend has learned the word from a wrong source. It often happens in Hungarian, for example, they mix J with Y. I read (New) Yersey a lot of times, even in books. But I never read Yohn or Yennifer… 🙂

  10. Tommy says:

    This has been mentioned in other contexts, but the more you know about the tendencies of your conversation/interpretation partner’s native language sound system, the less challenging these apparent audio confusions become. To take the “yuppie” example, many native Spanish speakers tend to pronounce English words spelled with an initial y- as a “j” sound, like yuppie, New York, and any personal names that begin with Y.

    The “daily food” example is interesting on a different level. When I see this English phrase coming from a Vietnamese speaker, it makes me wonder where they learned this construction and if it indicates anything about Vietnamese grammar or vocabulary. Off the top of my head, “daily” as an adjective comes before food-related words only in a few situations, like daily bread, daily vitamin, daily amount of something, etc. It would been much clearer for this Vietnamese person to have rearranged the idea into “the food that you eat daily/on a daily basis” but maybe “daily food” is less tedious, although potentially more confusing.

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