Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’

Back to Mandarin I go.

February 7, 2012

So I finally did it, I finally returned to Mandarin study. Last night I attended the first of 12 classes in level 2 Mandarin. It became immediately obvious that I was too high for the class, but I will stick with it for a few just to see how it goes. Despite knowing most of the things covered, there was still a few things here and there that I didn’t actually know-  for example, something as simple as I’m thirsty (wo ke le), yet I knew I’m hungry (wo e le).

No matter how much Mandarin I learn, there’s always other ways to say the same things that I come across. I knew wo bu cuo (I’m ok), but not wo hai keyi – which apparently means the same thing. It’s all good though, the more the merrier.

For the past few years I studied in quite intensive bursts and retained most of the language knowledge that I had learned – yet I have gone through a lengthy period of retaining it, but not actually learning anything new. Hopefully, by attending this class; even if it is too low a level for me, it will motivate me to continue. I have a real passion for foreign languages, I don’t know what it is but as I have gotten older they have become fascinating to me. My goal is to eventually learn a few other languages, so I can speak as much of them as I can Chinese. I think that when travelling to other countries, it adds considerable depth to the experience, and an extra appreciation of the culture if you can speak a little of the language – and I don’t mean just hello and goodbye.

I will be travelling to Europe in May, going from Copenhagen to England to visit my brother, then off to Rome for a week, down to the Amalfi Coast then home via Bangkok and Koh Samui. I hope to write about it as I go – perhaps shelving the China theme for just a few weeks.

In the meantime, I am tired as hell from lasts nights lesson. It amazes me just how head-tired language study can make me. When I was flat out studying characters on Skritter – I felt like a zombie.

Anyhow, wo dei shi pei le, wo you hen duo gong zuo yao zuo 😉


*edit – and wow, that was post number 150! I remember when I first started writing in this blog, having returned from China at the end of 2008. I wanted to get a few posts under my belt as there’s always that awkward period at the start of launching a new blog where it either continues indefinitely or simply fails. Next stop 300!

Studying Chinese destroys my head!

July 28, 2011

It’s been a reoccurring theme here that I have been lax with my language study. Almost every element of studying Mandarin makes me tired – even just thinking about it. I came close to re-enrolling in a Chinese class a month or two ago, but was at that point still on crutches, enjoying a broken foot.

So now I am still limping around, my foot slowly rehabilitating, I feel beyond tired in a new role at work. It’s funny how the train of excuses never stops. Oh I can’t afford it this month, oh I have too much on my plate at work, oh the temperature did not exceed 10 degrees this morning, blah blah blah!

I love language. It is a dream of mine to become not just conversational in another language, but close to fluent. I would like nothing more than to be able to travel to another country and converse with the locals in their own language – or hell, in my case, I could do that in my own town, considering Box Hill has so many Chinese living in it, its practically a Chinese province itself.

Why does language study have to be so difficult! Why can’t I just go to bed and wake up with a massive understanding? Because that is what we call fantasy, but I wish I wish I wish!

I was really quite hardcore into learning Chinese characters at one point. I was borderline addicted to a website called Skritter – which is simply amazing for practicing Chinese or Japanese characters. At one point I had around 100 under my belt and was progressing well. At that same time I also felt ridiculously tired…mentally tired. I actually felt like my brain was exhausted from working it too hard – a type of tiredness I can honestly say I haven’t encountered very often.

I think that learning Pinyin is the best way to enter into the Chinese world, and then supplement it with Character study. A lot of people say that learning Characters is an important way to understand the language as a whole and funnily enough they are right. I often found little comprehensions appearing all over the place as I studied the characters – particularly when you found the smaller parts of characters (called radicals) appearing in other characters. It slowly, logically brought things together – yet at the same time, I could never imagine myself ever actually looking at a wall of Chinese text – such as in a newspaper – and comprehending it. I could only imagine myself baby-reading it, one character at a time – where a month later, I would have finished the first page.

The other element to character study is that like the spoken language, the grammar is all over the place. The Chinese words do not follow the same structure as English – so much so that in order to understand even part of what is being said, you really need some colloquial knowledge.

I was listening in to a guy beside me on the train, yakking on in Mandarin on his mobile phone. Don’t you love people who sit amongst strangers on trains, happily crapping on about anything and everything? At least if you’re speaking another language, most people present will not have any idea of what you’re saying.  Well I guess I was culturally eavesdropping this guy and found it quite satisfying picking up different words.

I was understanding random things such as the word for Saturday, him answering in the affirmative, and a bunch of other tiny things that made no sense individually, but were satisfying to recognize nonetheless.

The point of this post is there is no point. Like my language study, it is a ramble. Hopefully next time I check in I can report on some advancement. I will say at least, that I am impressed with the amount of words I do actually know and remember. While I can barely string them together, and are not remotely conversational, some way, some how, I have retained practically every part of the language I have studied. My wife Courtney is similar – while she doesn’t think she knows it as well as I do, I am almost certain she has retained it all too. I only wonder if by pushing on and retaining, if that is the key to one day achieving fluency. It’s likely not the size of one’s memory, but one’s ability to commit to what has been a very tiresome path.

Translate this! Fānyì zhège!

April 6, 2011

I was poking around last and found myself using Google’s translator. Once upon a time I used to use Babelfish, but in recent years, Google translator has seemingly become more convenient. I’d normally only use it to translate the odd Chinese character, or sometimes to translate entire articles on the Tian Yi Middle School’s website, just keeping up to date with the goings on at the school since our departure.

The translators themselves have always been pretty average. It’s near on impossible to convert entire sentences as there are simply too many structural and grammatical differences between English and Chinese. While translating individual words is mostly fine, sentences come out as absolute garble. It is better than nothing though, and you can usually get the general gist of a sentence.

Last night however I noticed that the Google translator must have received a recent Chinese overhaul. It used to only give you the English-> Character translation, either Simplified or Traditional. It now actually gives you the English-> Pinyin translation, along with an actual audio version you can listen to. I have to say, this little addition is freakin awesome!

I know a lot of Chinese words and am constantly looking for ways to expand my overall knowledge. This translator lets me not only reaffirm things I already know, but add to them. In a way it answers questions I have without needing to specifically bring up a dictionary – and/or ask a Chinese person.

While it’s still not flawless, if you break down sentences so that they are quite simplistic, the results so far have been quite accurate. For example – I already know that bored is wu liao. Plugging in I am bored gives me the correct Wǒ wúliáo, giving me the tones and letting me hear it. Very very cool.

Hi my name is Marcus – Nǐ hǎo wǒ de míngzì shì mǎ kù sī. Not that I have a Chinese name(yet!) but that looks pretty damned accurate to me. Colour me impressed 🙂

Mandarin Chinese – Frustrating fulfillment

February 2, 2010

I am trying my hardest to learn Mandarin. Years ago when I was in school, I studied French for over three years, and now, some fifteen years later, I can barely speak a handful of words in that particular language. With Mandarin however, I would say I have been learning now for at least two years, and while my progress has increased, I am still very much a beginner.

Unlike my French tuition; which were proper classes, my Chinese study has been purely based on my own initiative. I haven’t had to feel the need to endure classes and to do homework – and probably as a result have learnt a lot less. Though I know a range of different things, I feel that the all important conversation is still frustratingly elusive in that, every time I learn a few more phrases, they don’t seem particularly conversational. It is my goal to achieve a small degree of fluency – at least enough that I can hold a proper conversation and stumble on through it, rather than comprehending next to nothing.

My original incentive to learn Chinese was because of the fact we were going to live in China – hell, it doesn’t get much more logical than that. During the process of learning, both myself and Courtney developed a keen interest in the language itself, which has continued until present – some 12+ months after returning home. While we live in a suburb that has a particularly large Chinese population (one of the things that drew us here), and hear people speaking Chinese practically every day, we still feel too shy to actually use it.

The main problem is, we do not know enough to actually respond. While I might be able to surprise a Chinese person with my good accent and pronunciation with the initial question – when they actually respond they are rewarded with a blank look – not unlike a stunned mullet.

The bulk of my learning has been done via audio courses, where I will listen and learn in places like the car or train. We have also attended various classes – even some in China – though I find other students to be particularly annoying, as with Chinese it is critical to pronounce things properly, and when the whole class is saying it at once, you can hardly tell if you’re even close. It’s hard enough to pronounce most Chinese words even solo.

We also paid a local Chinese woman some money to teach us for a few weeks, though she moved away which took that particular aspect away. We sorely wanted someone to hear us speak, to help us speak, and to give us feedback. Recently I have discovered via a webpage a great online community which is full to the brim of people looking for language partners. Here people use Skype to communicate with each other, and you can practically pick any language and find someone to practice with. I have tried this multiple times now and while it is immensely satisfying to converse in Chinese, it also shows me precisely how little I actually know. Nothing clears the head faster than being presented with a real live native speaker! I am developing a knack for forgetting precisely everything I have learned each time I attempt it.

Regardless of all of the above, I absolutely love learning this language. If anything, I wish I had started years ago, so that now I would be at a much higher level. It is challenging, and feels like an unscaleable mountain, but with each little chip away at its side, I make small amounts of progress.

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