I often consider myself fluent in English, not as fluent as native speakers but enough to impress them as a non-native speaker. However, I proved myself wrong.
When I watch English movies, especially American ones, I still need Chinese or English subtitles. I was satisfied when I could identify the mistakes in Chinese subtitles. But the truth is, I am not that good at English as I thought, and this could lead to serious problems.
I discovered this because of the phrase “hundreds of thousands“. I have probably seen this phrase over 100 times in newspapers, movies and lecture notes. However, it was only today, when I saw this phrase again, that I knew I have been interpreting this phrase wrongly. Strictly speaking, it means a number close to or bigger than 200,000 and less than 999,999. My wrong interpretation was that it ranges from 1000 to 9999.
I suppose this misunderstanding started when I just arrived in Singapore, when I need to check so many new English words that I did not understand at that time. And when I first encountered this phrase “hundreds of thousands”, I was probably still trying to translate it literally into Chinese. Then it occurred to me that there was an “exact match” from Chinese to this: a idiom called “成百上千“, which literally means “hundreds of, thousands of“. And I did not bother checking dictionary or whatever and “safely assumed” that this phrase means a number that has a upper bound of 9999, which is, relatively a small number compared to millions.
Since then, this wrong interpretation(or wrong meaning) of the phrase has been in my head all the time. As a result, my ideas and judgments of many things could have been wrong based on this wrong assumption. For example, when I read a news article on “hundreds of thousands” of people been killed in a war, I might be thinking, well, this is insignificant compared to World War II. Or when I read some articles about an App being downloaded by “hundreds of thousands” of people, I would think that the App is not that successful. Yes, that is how serious my judgement and impression could have been affected by this “simple phrase”.
Now that the effect cannot be undone to my memory, I could only be more cautious next time when I encounter new words and more importantly do not take things for granted. And I hope that anyone reading this blog would understand how severe the misunderstanding of a foreign word could be.
P.S. 1. The explanation of the meaning of “hundreds of thousands” could be found here.