Posts Tagged ‘Mandarin Chinese’

Mandarin continues…

February 16, 2012

Two Chinese classes down and it feels really good to be back involved with language study. I was a little worried after the first class that I was of a much higher level than the other students, though this second lesson had us covering things that I did not actually know. We went over various occupations and the like, looking at the words for things such as Architecture, Hair-dressing and the like, and I found it quite interesting the way the words broke down.

For example Architect is jianzhushi – where if you take the jianzhu by itself, it means Architecture, the shi on the end referring to a professional skill, or the like. Same deal with kuaijishi – accountant, the first component of the pinyin kuaiji is simple accountancy (or similar), the shi on the end again referring to a certain skill. This kind of thing, while sounding somewhat mundane, is nonetheless very interesting. (Please excuse the lack of tones :))

I have a bit of an advantage over my fellow students in that I have been studying the language since 2007 and have a firm understanding on the pronunciation of pinyin. For anyone learning Chinese, I cannot recommend how useful it can be to learn and practice the pinyin pronunciation early.

For myself however, I have another 10 weeks of study ahead of me. I really hope this time I can continue with it – might have to even fire up good ol Skritter again!

Perplexed by a name!

January 24, 2011

If there’s one thing you’ll learn early on when studying Mandarin, the Chinese ‘alphabet’ is pronounced differently to our own. You will become intimately acquainted with pinyin; a system developed to help Romanize the Chinese characters into something readable for us English speaking westerners.

Once you have pinyin under your belt, you can strut around with a certain arrogance, as you listen to sports commentators and news readers continually mis-pronounce Chinese words. In particular, anything that begins with letters such as zh or x are always cause for amusement.

It must then be a pleasure to commentate a tennis game with a player whose name as simple as Na Li, such as the current Chinese champion who is playing in the Australian Open. Though even Na Li – which as simple as it sounds, is still not correct Chinese – family before first name, aka Li Na, not Na Li.

Now I am very familiar with Pinyin, having once upon a time suddenly turned a corner and remembered most of the pronunciations. Which brings me to Li Cunxin, author of Mao’s Last Dancer – a book which at least five people will recommend to you every year, and a book I have to jump on the bandwagon and recommend myself. A book whose movie also did it absolutely no justice I have to add..but that’s another story.

This guy’s name simply does not make sense to me. Li – easy, that simply sounds like Lee. But Cunxin….this has me stumped. The proper pronunciation is supposedly, “Schwin Sing.” The Sing makes sense for Xin. Xin can either be Shin, or Sin, depending on which part of China you come from and your accent. Sing is obviously just another accent (it’s not a confusing language at all is it?)

But Schwin?! That I absolutely cannot understand. Cun to me should be ts-un. C in Chinese is usually the ‘ts’ sound, like the ts at the end of ‘cats’. So ‘ts-un’ as a sound would make sense. But where Schwin comes from….if anyone knows how that works, I would love to hear from you.

One year on:

January 7, 2010

I have just realised that this site is now exactly one year and two days old and damn, does time fly. Since that time, we passed the one year anniversary of our return from China which forces us to reflect on everything we have achieved since. Depressingly – well partially anyway – we haven’t come all that far since when we left off, and the whole venture to that other most interesting of countries, didn’t change as much as we would have liked.

On one hand, Courtney has changed more than me, though it’s funny how quickly we get back into new routines. I myself have found my way into a different industry, but the work itself is not what I would call ideal, and I had hoped things would be otherwise. Then again, we have just entered into a new decade, and with various activities on the side, I hope this next ten years brings considerably more change than the previous.

Beyond that, life is good. Both of us still maintain a heavy interest in Chinese culture, news and current affairs, and continue to spend time learning Mandarin. We’re still not conversational, but between us we know quite a lot now, and I would be interested to return to China to test just how far we’ve come.

We still struggle with actually speaking the language however, as even though we live in a suburb that has a huge Chinese population; so much so that when we go into town, we once more feel more in the minority (except this time we enjoy it!), and despite the fact we hear spoken Chinese all around us, we still never seek to actually use the language, feeling absolutely foolish whenever given the opportunity. I bet there are devout learners out there who use it to order meals in restaurants, or when dealing with various shop-keepers, but not us.

It cracked me up the other day how I specifically was talking to Courtney about random things we have learned. While we can not hold a proper conversation as such, we do know a considerable amount of Mandarin snippets. Is that your pen? Those adults are running. What is that? It’s a cat! How much is this? That’s too expensive! Where is the restaurant? Is it far? yadda yadda yadda…..specifically though, I said to her, “It’s funny, we know so many things, but never really anything relevant. Like we’d go to China and have no use for, How many people in your family?”

And then Courtney goes into Box Hill and is buying groceries from one of the local Chinese supermarkets. An old guy working on the register was super chatty and asked her specifcally, “How many people are in your family!”

And goddamn if we both don’t know how to answer that in Chinese! I definitely had a go at her over that one, talk about perfectly missed opportunity! Then again, I likely wouldnt have either, but…I wish I could have!

Anyway, happy one year and two days Life After China, sorry I have been neglecting you lately!

Happy Site Birthday!

Australia gets set to launch bilingual schools

November 15, 2009

In what I believe is a fantastic initiative from the government, four schools in New South Wales have been set to launch a new bilingual program. Starting initially in kindergarten and grade one, with hopes to spread across all year levels, young students will be exposed to Mandarin Chinese at a very early age. It is believed that the earlier a child is exposed to another language, the greater chance they have of soaking it in and truly becoming bilingual.

The students will initially be taught Chinese for an hour and a half per day, and along with English, will also coincide with other subjects such as history and art. The project is estimated at costing around $2.25 million dollars, and in my opinion, is a great step forward.

Too few Australians are fluent in a second language. If you look at your average European, they can know anything from 2+ additional languages. I guess it’s the result of living on the other side of the planet from approximately everywhere else, but it really is no excuse. Australians are one of the most traveled cultures out there, and having access to a second language would be nothing short of beneficial.

I myself have been struggling to learn Mandarin. Grammatically it is a simple language with far fewer actual words and a vastly more simplistic structure, though the tonal nature and almost inverted* (*compared to English) sentence structure makes it incredibly hard to understand. I have a real desire and interest to become fluent in Mandarin, but whether that actually happens or not is yet to be seen – made all the more difficult that over here I feel silly using even basic Chinese in Chinese run restaurants for fear of looking stupid. At least in China it was used out of necessity – which makes me think that you truly do need to live in a country for a certain amount of time to really master its language.

While I studied French for over 3 years in school, I can barely remember any of it, and it was started in my later student years. I would have liked nothing more than to have been exposed to another language from such an early age that the whole process didn’t feel so difficult to initiate as it now does. Though a French friend of a friend we were recently speaking to at a party got me thinking when he said that anyone has the capacity to learn another language, they just need to commit themselves – himself being a speaker of a good handful of languages themselves.

I often look at Chinese toddlers as they prattle away in Mandarin and think, hell, if that little kid can speak it, how can I not learn at least that much?!

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