Learning Chinese

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by baby duck monge, Apr 11, 2006.

  1. baby duck monge macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

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    #1
    Alright, so recently I decided to start doing some things to enrich my life a bit more, and after a trip to Belgium I thought that learning a language beyond Spanish would be a definitely plus if I wanted to keep traveling.

    My goal was to pick a language (or languages if it works out) that would make a lot of travel viable, especially when combined with anything my wife might learn. With that in mind, I thought that perhaps Chinese would be handy for any travel I wanted to do in Asia since there may be Chinese speakers all around, and at least I would have a familiarity with characters. That and my wife was thinking about French, so between French, Spanish, and English we could probably get around most any touristy area of Europe.

    That being said, what are the chances that someone motivated to learn Chinese could do so mostly on their own? And if anyone has tried, what suggestions do you have? I went to the library yesterday and picked up a set of CDs (they're alright), a couple books, and a dictionary to get started. If I make any progress (and I am still living in Knoxville), there are a lot of Chinese people that live next door to me that may be willing to help me out with my Chinese in exchange for assistance (for themselves or their children) with English writing or speaking.

    So yeah, any advice, words of encouragement, warnings, or languages I should be studying instead?

    Thanks.
     
  2. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

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    #2
    Westerners shouldn't try it on their own.

    That said, there are some expensive textbooks out there that might help you. I don't think the travel-oriented books are going to help much because there isn't a one-to-one correspondence of what you see. That's something that's reserved mostly for western languages in general and Romance languages in particular.

    You'll need to focus on a dialect. Mandarin and Cantonese are the most spoken but there are many, many more.

    Coming from Japanese, I find that most of the characters are still interchangeable but Japanese characters were simplified in the 1950s and Chinese characters for China were simplified in the 1980s along with the change in transliteration. Transliteration/Romanisation is the way things are written to convey the sound to people of other languages. Since the simplification of Chinese does not follow the Japanese way, there is more divergence than would be useful. Taiwan does not currently follow the simplication.

    It's a good thing you have local people to help. Hopefully, you might be able to just have them write a word a day and pronounce it for you. They may have children's books. They're a great way to build vocabulary and ease into any language.

    Good luck!
     
  3. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #3
    Grab yourself a Book + CD set, and brace yourself. :p Don't bother with the writing just yet. Honestly.....it's all memorization and you should concentrate on speaking and listening first. There are lots of illiterate Chinese people in China anyway, so it's not like they're doing much better. :p

    Learn Mandarin, and forget about Cantonese. Too many tones, and quite frankly, there are too many new Cantonese words made up each year. Mandarin has 4 tones, is more consistent, and you can learn to speak and listen using "pinyin", which is like a romanized way of pronouncing chinese words.

    If you really want to, you can learn Mandarin. Honestly. I've seen my friend do it, and he did quite well after 6 months.
     
  4. baby duck monge thread starter macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

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    #4
    I should have made it clear that I have chosen the Mandarin dialect, since it is the most prevalent from what I can tell. And I know what you're saying about the pinyin as far as at least conversational Chinese goes; at least I took enough linguistics in college to have a familiarity with the IPA - that has helped me a bit in trying to mimic the sounds that are described.

    I'm glad you mentioned the children's books, too, because I had not even thought of that! Since even a small child would have at least as good a vocabulary as I will for a while, that would be a great way to learn. Maybe I could even convince someone to read them to me when they read to their kids :D

    Fortunately, I have a lot of time to learn this (assuming I continue the process), and if I do travel in Asia I would probably start in Hong Kong (xiang1 gang3 - don't know how to make all the tones on the computer) where at least English is spoken in part. They even have a system where the police officers that speak it have a special tag they wear near their right (?) shoulder :D
     
  5. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

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    #5
    I'm not sure but HK and Canton province both use Cantonese, as I recall. So, it's probably less useful to try using Mandarin in 香港, though some people will understand.
     
  6. SilentPanda Moderator emeritus

    SilentPanda

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    #6
  7. baby duck monge thread starter macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

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    #7
    Nuts. I could have sworn that I read they used Mandarin in HK. I will have to look into that again to make sure. Though at least I would have a huge chunk of the mainland covered.

    And big thanks to silentpanda here who has got the major hook-up with the helpful links. I know what I will be doing when I get home from work today. :)
     
  8. devilot Moderator emeritus

    devilot

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    #8
    Great suggestion... I was just going to be a useless downer and tell you that books and CDs won't compare to a human but SilentPanda is much more helpful. :p

    FWIW, I was raised by my grandma who only speaks Chinese, and my parents who immigrated here from Taiwan-- took Chinese school from the age of 5 to 13, hear and speak Chinese everyday, and while all the nearby Chinese adults praise my Chinese as some of the best they've heard from a young person-- my Chinese still sucks.

    So don't get discouraged as you try to learn. It ain't easy.

    It's Cantonese. But that's all right because many (if not most) Cantonese-speakers still know Mandarin.

    But a lot of Mandarin speakers don't know much Cantonese (other than the names of some dim sum dishes :eek:).
     
  9. SilentPanda Moderator emeritus

    SilentPanda

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    #9
    I really can't remember *where* on the net I found it but there was a web site where you could hook up with speakers of other languages via voice for practice... a chinese person who wants to converse in English would also converse with you in Chinese. I never used it but if that's your only option... worth a shot.

    Since Chinese is a very tonal language, hearing it is probably more important than many other languages. Lest you call your mother a horse. Seriously.
     
  10. devilot Moderator emeritus

    devilot

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    #10
    Tee hee. Did you ever hear/learn that tongue twister? Mother scolded the horse... blah blah blah. I only ever remember the first part. :eek: :D
     
  11. baby duck monge thread starter macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

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    #11
    Yeah, I know that I will definitely have to have contact with [native] speakers if I am going to have any chance in the long-run. My plan was to see if I could get any basic stuff down (to see if I was even interested in sticking with it, and so I wouldn't be starting from 0), and then hopefully work out something with some of the people from graduate student housing next door. If things were to progress from there - or if I couldn't get anyone to talk with and still wanted to do it, I would consider taking some real classes (at a full-blown college, even) to really get into it. If there are places online where you can meet up with folk interested in the sort of exchange I had in mind for my neighbors, that would also be very helpful.

    Xiexie (add your own tones :p ), everybody!
     
  12. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

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    #12
    I believe that you can also use Mandarin in Singapore and Malaysia, though some people use Hokkien and other dialects.
     
  13. Stampyhead macrumors 68020

    Stampyhead

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    #13
    I can't help you much with Chinese, but in my experience with learning languages in general the best thing you can do to build your skills once you get to a basic conversational level is practice speaking to children. Perhaps your Chinese-speaking neighbors have children? Kids are the best tutors for learning a new language because:
    a. Their vocabulary and manner of speaking is simpler than that of adults
    b. They won't slow down their speaking for you like adults will
    c. They will make fun of you when you say words wrong.
    That last one is especially helpful because there is no better teacher than the humiliation of having a bunch of kids laughing at your pronunciation. You'll remember that word and never say it wrong again!
    When I did a study abroad to France while I was in college I asked to be housed with a family who had kids for this very reason. I spent as much time as I could talking to them and playing with them and my language skills grew in leaps and bounds.
     
  14. baby duck monge thread starter macrumors 68000

    baby duck monge

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    #14
    There are tons of little Chinese kids next door, and certainly some of them must speak Chinese. And hanging out with them might be fun, too. I can always see a bunch of them playing when I look out my window, and they always seem to be having a good time. :)

    The only hard part will be convincing their parents that it's not creepy that some guy just wants to hang out with their kids every day to pick up some Chinese... Perhaps they won't think it's so strange, but I know many people would.
     
  15. SilentPanda Moderator emeritus

    SilentPanda

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    #15
    Invite the family over for dinner a few times. :)
     
  16. balamw Moderator

    balamw

    Staff Member

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    #16
    I studied Mandarin for three years as an undergrad. One year of formal coursework and two years of weekly conversational sessions with a tutor. We used John DeFrancis' books which are quite decent for anyone who already knows how to learn a language.

    Then I went to HK for a visit and was surrounded in Cantonese, which my wife and her family speak. Since then, I can generally understand what people are talking about in either dialect, context is key, though many specifics go right over my head. I can recognize a few hundred characters, which has proven helpful even while traveling to Japan. I can't speak it well at all though, for some reason I get Mandarn, Cantonese and German confused in my head and sometimes I want to think of a word in CHinese and come up with the German word. :confused: I guess it's true that if you don't use it you lose it.

    One other thing to note is the various styles of writing that abound. In HK and Taiwan they still tend to use "traditional" characters, while the mainland has simplified characters, so if you want to learn to read, you need to pick a character set. The same is true for pinyin vs. bo-po-mo-fo a more traditional phoentic system used in mainly in Taiwan. Pinyin is definitely the most accessible to Westerners since it uses a modified alphabet.

    Recently my 4 year old has started going to Chinese school so that he will at least pick up some general knowledge of the language, and is learning Mandarin. As it is a preschool class there is a big emphasis on learning songs and reading picture books, and he enjoys it. Plus, it has the effect of rubbing off onto his little brother who is singing some of the songs as well.

    B
     
  17. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

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    #17
    If he says it incorrectly, they'll think him a cannibal. :p

    ma...ma?
     
  18. wingsky macrumors member

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    UK
    #18
    In hong kong, the younger generation will be able to understand parts of mandarin as it's becoming a mainstream subject over there.

    I would say cantonese is definitely harder to learn, but most of the chinese expats i know around here (UK) speak cantonese so... :)
     
  19. moot macrumors regular

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    #19
    Exactly why did you choose Mandarin. Don't get me wrong, I think it is a beautiful language but it is difficult to study.

    Firstly, it will not be that much of a help when travelling in Asia. In Singapour most people speak English. It is hardly any use in Malaysia (the Chinese who live there mostly speak a variant of Cantonese, I think)
    It is no use in Thailand. In Japan, again it is of absolutely no use. In Hong Kong, English will be fine. Nowadays many people can speak a smattering of manadarin in HK and their listening is good there but .... they will make an effort not to understand you. I'd stick with English.

    As for China itself, one would assume that Chinese would be useful for travelling. Well, most people you will meet travelling are able to speak some English. The rest will probably not be able to understand you at all. I've known some people who have studied Chinese at college and gone to China and found they cannot communicate at all. The Chinese will actively try to not understand you. They are very bad at deciphering what foreigners want to say when using Chinese. This is even true for some friends who have spent years studying in China herself. I myself lived and studied for 3 years in China and could only communicate to a degree.
    As for listening, most people in China speak very unclearly and it differs from place to place. I could mostly only understand my teachers, the TV and when my friends made a deliberate effort to speak in a standard and clear way.

    As for reading, it takes time and lots of exposure. If you are exposed to Chinese every day then you will learn faster. If it is only when you pick up your language book, then it will be difficult.

    Please dont get me wrong. I love the Chinese language and think it very worthwhile for people to study. But you have to know why you are doing it.
    If it is just for travelling then you need to give yourself time. If you want to study because you are intrigued by the Chinsese language then go for it.

    keneng wo yinggai zai shuo yi xia. qing bu wuhui wode yisi. hanyu kanding shi yi ge shijie shang hen piaoliang de yuyen danshi ruguo ni xiang chenggong ni yinggai meitian lianxi. metian shuo, xie he ting, ranhou ren hui chenggong.
    (ruguo ni kan de dong de hua, wo kenneng yinggai daoqian. wo zhidao wo xie de hanyu hen bu biaozhun. Zhege 4 nian wo mei yong hanyu yinwei wo xianzai zhu zai riben!)

    If you have the dedication then go for it and try to practice as much as you can.
     
  20. devilot Moderator emeritus

    devilot

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    #20
    Yay! Too bad I still can't recite all of them... I only get to the eigth one, 'luh.' :eek:
    So cheeky! :p Ma ma ma ma...
     
  21. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

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    #21
    Almost, except in Chinatown of the various cities.
     
  22. superwoman macrumors regular

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    #22
    It goes like this. But it's more to get you comfortable with the consonaut:

    bo po mo fo
    de te ne le
    ge ke he
    ji qi xi
    zhi chi shi ri
    zi ci si

    Chinese is a tough language. If you're not surrounded by Chinese settings and people, and if you don't converse in it everyday, it'll be difficult. If you can read, speak and listen to around a thousand words, then pat yourself on the back. There is some informal understanding that if you have a mastery of around 2 thousands words, you should be able to read Chinese newspapers coherently.

    By the way, in Singapore, almost every Chinese can speak Mandarin, as a result of more than 20 years of the "Speak Mandarin" campaign. Coming from Singapore, I've been to parts of China(Shenzhen, Canton, Beijing, Shanghai), Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and many Chinatowns. In my experience, Malaysia is the only place where I needed to speak Cantonese (But Malaysia is predominantly Malay). So Mandarin will put you in good stead should you travel abroad.
     
  23. bousozoku Moderator emeritus

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    #23
    Yes, I know that horse is ma because horse in Japanese is uma...and I knew someone whose family name was horse. :) I wasn't just being cheeky.

    It seems like Singapore has changed from a preference of Mandarin to English, according to people I know there, though a lot of them read and write English better than they speak it because they speak Mandarin a lot.

    Everyone I know (94 % Chinese, 5 % Malay, 1 % Indian) in Malaysia speaks Malay and English. Of course, the majority of Chinese Malaysians I know there say that they speak Chinese, which was incredibly helpful. :) Only one or two in East Malaysia claim Hokkien, along with Chinese. I do remember years ago a Chinese Malaysian in Philadelphia who was speaking to the waitress in Cantonese because most everyone there was from HK.

    I always find it easier to read and write because there is no dialect involved.
     
  24. balamw Moderator

    balamw

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    #24
    Speaking Chinese in Japan is absolutely useless, but being able to recognize and/or write few simple Chinese characters is priceless. Helped me tremendously.

    B
     
  25. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #25
    Depends on your pronounciation. :p I have a Japanese friend who learned Japanese by himself for 6 months, and my friends and ex-gf understood her perfectly. My ex was from Taiwan, and my other friends were from HK. Anyway, lets not get him down if this is what he wants to learn. Mandarin may be very useful as a 2nd language in a few years. I know lots of people who want to learn it, including myself.
     

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