My efforts to learn Chinese continue to fail.
No matter how much I try, the problem remains the same and the various people who have tried to teach me seem unable to appreciate it. I simply cannot hear the difference in tones in anything but the most ludicrously slowed down and over-enunciated speech. And I couldn't make them if my life depended on it.
They seem to think that I am, if not lying, at the very least exaggerating the problem.
I'm not. They say the words and I can genuinely hear no difference. I can say what I think is exactly the same word four times and they tell me that I have used all four tones and said four different things.
Why is such a problem? Well...
Last week we were doing a lesson which involved poetry. Most of the classes were unfamiliar with the word "poem" so I was trying to say it in Chinese. The Chinese for poem is shī (first tone). Now this is an awkward word. My online dictionary lists 385 different meanings for the word in its various tones. They range from "poem" to "be" to "ten" to "earwax" to "corpse" to "raincoat" to "turtle-dove".
And therein, I suspect, lies the reason that my attempts to say "poem" caused such hilarity. I have a sneaking suspicion that my shī (first tone) sounded more like shǐ (third tone) which has many meanings but which (all for the same Chinese character) can, among many many other things, mean either shit, earwax or snot.
That's the kind of trouble not being able to hear or say the tones gets you into.