“Do you speak foreignish?”

Illustration: Ruth Silbermayr-Song

Illustration by Ruth Silbermayr-Song

I’m at the supermarket. A little girl who’s probably not older than 5 is playing with the cup you usually use for putting rice into a plastic bag. I ask her:

“Can I borrow this for a moment?”
She says: “Sure.”
And then, after looking into my face: “Wow. Are you a foreigner?”
I: “I am.”
She: “Do you speak foreignish?”
I: “I do. I speak German.”
She: “Where’s your home?”
I: “In Austria, where’s yours?”
She: “In Shaanxi. Did you come here on a plane?”
I: “I did.”
She: “Why would you want to come to China?”
I: “I like it here.”

Have the questions of a little kid ever thrown you off guard?

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15 thoughts on ““Do you speak foreignish?”

  1. I think you might have made a typo. It’s probably “Shanxi”.
    People in Shenzhen are from all over the places lol.


      • It is spelled like that in English-language China guidebooks. I still always get the two confused. I always asked “Taiyuan Shanxi or Xi’an Shanxi?” 🙂

        Also, wouldn’t you just translate 外国话 as “foreign language”?


        • It’s hard to distinguish the two, but being aware of the similarity already solves half the problem.

          You could definitely translate 外国话 as “foreign language”. I’m neither a professional translator nor a linguist, but I thought that the word “foreignish” better suited the context in this situation. In my interpretation what the girl wanted to know was if I spoke a foreign language in contrast to Chinese, but without her actually differentiating between different foreign languages, that’s why I chose “foreignish” instead. Of course I might still be wrong in my assumption and I’m influenced by German, which has a word that would directly be translated as “foreignish”.


  2. @dave,
    Are you just trying to find mistakes here? …
    First with Shaanxi, then because she didn’t capitalize the first word letter….

    Anyway, how cute are these small conversations with kids, they ask simple questions that for them are very interesting.


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