Chinese Corner: 1/17/2014 – Introduction

January 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

Welcome to my first feature: Chinese Corner!  Chinese Corner will be posted on Fridays!  I was inspired by the various ‘English Corner’s that I was often invited to during the course of my stay in China (and the fact that I am the new Coordinator of Chinese Corner at my University every Friday!).  It always amazed me how many students on GZNU’s campus wanted to practice English in more of an informal setting.  Everyone was welcome, from all majors, but it was normally students who were majoring in tourism or English (obviously).  Though I’m going to modify it for my own Internet-purposes, the theory was just to go and talk in the target language with peers, no judgment, mistakes welcome.  Sometimes teachers and native speakers were there to assist and answer questions.  To be honest, I think I learned more about English in these informal speaking sessions than any formal English class I’ve ever attended!  And that was just from answering questions!

So, for my purposes here, I’m going to modify that a little bit and this is where I’m going to teach some basic Chinese!  My theory is that those of you interested in learning the language can use this as a springboard, fostering a desire to learn more.  Of course, I can’t teach you everything, but I would encourage those interested into looking into taking some formal classes and exploring some other options.  There are some online programs available to use, but be warned that they can only take you so far.  I truly and honestly believe that immersion is the key to learning and retaining a language.  In an immersion environment, you can adapt better to the speed at which native speakers will speak.  That being said, I know that not everyone has the opportunity to find a full-immersion program.  But there are always other options available.  Check and see if your community has center for people of Chinese and Chinese-American descent.  One thing that I learned and experienced wholeheartedly was the desire for Chinese people to help increase my Chinese speaking level.  Most of them were impressed that I even wanted to learn Chinese and jumped on board to answer any questions that I had.  Try it yourself and see!

So, without further ado, let’s talk about Chinese as a language.  (I think that’s all we’ll do today.  The introduction is quite lengthy!)

  1. When people talk about ‘Chinese’ they are normally talking about Mandarin Chinese.  There are two major Chinese languages: Mandarin and Cantonese.  Mandarin is spoken by about 90% of the population, while Cantonese is spoken almost exclusively in Guangdong Province, the eastern part of Guangxi Province, Hong Kong, and Macau.  Fun fact: Cantonese is the 3rd most spoken language in the United States.
  2. In addition to the two major languages spoken in China, there are countless dialects!  Each city has its own special brand of spoken Chinese.  Standard Mandarin is spoken predominantly in Northern China.  The farther you get, the more different it will sound!  Here’s an example.  In Beijing, “go” is spoken as [“qu”] (pronounced kind of like chew, but is a little different.  We’ll cover more of this next time!), but in Guizhou, “qù” is commonly said as “kei” (pronounced keh).  For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just be doing Standard Mandarin, or “Putonghua”.
  3. Chinese is not a phonetic language.  It is a pictographic language, which means that instead of letters forming words (phonetic), each word is depicted in symbols (called characters), normally one or two.
  4. Chinese can be broken down into three distinct parts.  Speaking/listening, reading, and writing.  Spoken Chinese is a tonal language (we’ll go over this next week).  This means that every “qù” is not pronounced exactly the same.  Speaking and reading are linked through a system called pinyin, which is the romanization of characters.  To use the example from above, “qù” is the pinyin for the character 去 which means “go”.  Most Chinese texts nowadays read from left-to-right, but ancient Chinese texts were either written right-to-left or top-to-bottom, right-to-left.  Reading and writing are linked obviously by the characters.  Written Chinese follows a specific stroke order, which we will also cover in one of the following lessons.

TL;DR?  When learning Chinese, you have to remember five things about a specific word/character: the pinyin (how it’s pronounced), the tone (which is indicated within the pinyin), what the character looks like, the stroke order (i.e: how to write it), and, most importantly, what it means.  I’m not going to lie.  It’s difficult at first.  But keep at it!  We’ll have our first (in)formal lesson next Friday!

Next Friday: Spoken Chinese – Initials, Finals, and Tones

PS: This feature was supposed to go up on Friday, but real life happened, sorry!  This feature will normally post on Fridays.

~~LIV

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