Learning a new language requires humility.
When I first arrived to China in the fall of 2010, I didn't speak any Chinese. As one might expect, communicating some of of the simplest of things became either tirelessly frustrating or outright hilarious. I had no way of communicating to find an address or even the nearest restroom. I knew I needed to make an attempt at learning some survival Chinese.
China has many languages but two of the main ones are Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin, unlike English, is a tonal language, meaning that one sound like “Ma” can have multiple meanings depending on the tonal use of the word. Mandarin has 4 tones, while Cantonese employs 9 tones. So to give an example, "Ma" if used in the first tone can mean "mother", if used in the third tone means "horse", in the fourth tone it can mean to "to insult" and if in the second tone, it could mean "marijuana".
So some time went by- about a year, and during that time I applied myself to learn a lot of the basic phrases in Chinese. And one day, when teaching a business man in a private one-to-one English lesson, I had went to his company and was greeted by 4 lovely lady’s at the front of the office. They smiled and said to me in Chinese, “Hello teacher, nice to see you. How have you been lately?” I replied to them in my basic Chinese- “I’ve been great, I’ve just started a new job.” The ladies ushered me into a room where I waited for my student. When he came in he immediately looked at me and said “What did you say to the ladies out there?!” Nervously I look him and hesitantly recalled word for word the earlier exchange. “I said 'WO HEN HAO, WO ZUIJIN YOU XIN GONGZUO” Immediately the student started laughing… “I see, he said, you made a big mistake though” He continued, "You wanted to say 'XIN Gongzuo', which means 'new job'… but you said, 'Xing Gongzuo', which means 'a Sex Worker.' You just told those ladies you're a sex worker."
Since that day I've paid a lot of attention to my tones when speaking.