Saturday, September 4, 2010

Studying Chinese

Yep, yep. Same hardship - another language.

I've survived the first two weeks of studying Chinese.

We have classes five days a week, and at this point we're still pretty much at the "Hi, my name is"-stage.

The first week we spent learning pinyin, which currently is the most used romanization system for Standard Mandarin. In other words: how to read and write Chinese in Roman characthers.

I still think it's pretty difficult, since many of the syllables are really hard to distinguish. They sound so alike! The teachers keep testing us by having small dictations, and hopefully with some time it'll come around.

Learning Chinese characters

I most definitely got a somewhat advantage from my two years of studying Japanese, considering I've already got the practise of memorizing almost 600 traditional Chinese characters.

But when learning Japanese you simply get told to memorize the character, without really knowing much about why the character looks the way it looks. I think, as a result of this, very few of the characters (only the ones you use most frequently) tend to stick.

As you might know, when writing in Japanese you're using a combination of three different scripts: Chinese characters (漢字), and two syllabic scripts made up of modified Chinese characters, hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ). The hiragana and katakana scripts consist of around 46 characters each, and 1945 Chinese characters are frequently beging used in written Japanese.

So, a sentence in Japanese can look like this:

私の名前はキーネです。(Watashi no namae wa Kine desu - My name is Kine)

The words for "I" and "name", "watashi" (私) and "namae" (名前) are written in Chinese characters. The grammatical particles "no" (の) and "wa" (は) are written in hiragana, and my name is written in katakana (キーネ - Kiine).

I'm a little off track. Let's move on.

Now, when studying Chinese, they actually explain more about how the characters are constructed, and hopefully it'll make it a bit easier not only memorize them, but also remember them. Maybe, I don't know.

This semester we'll learn around 500 Chinese characters. While the Chinese characters used when writing Japanese, they're all traditional Chinese characters, while in Chinese, they now use simplified ones. We're supposed to choose whether we want to write traditional characters or simplified ones, and we have to stick to either one, but we need to be able to read both. (example: 話 vs. 话)

Makes sense?

I think I'll memorize the simplified ones, since they are the ones used in our textbook and the ones the teachers write on the blackboard.

Chinese tones

Mandarin Chinese uses five tones, and boy, are we still struggling.

Japanese language hardly distinguish between tones, meaning that you can pretty much pronounce something however you want (within reason), and they'll still be able to understand you (if they want to, that is)

Sumimasen, onamae wa nan desu ka?
Excuse me, what is your name?

While in Chinese, a correct pronounciation is crucial

Qǐngwèn, nǐ jiào shénme míngzì?
May I ask, what is your name?

If you screw up on the tones, you're most likely to say something completely different than what you intended to.

I bet we'll cause a lot of amusement to our Chinese teachers and speaking partners in the future.

I too have a pretty hard time learning the tones. I feel I have a somewhat advantage from studying Thai, with its five tones. The problem is that the tone marks used in Chinese and Thai are similar, but the pronounciation is different: a word in Chinese with the tone mark ` will be pronounced with a different tone than a Thai word with the same tone mark.

Makes sense?

So, I still tend to mix up, sometime reading a word in Chinese with a Thai tone.

But I'll get there.


Long glances at the kids
who has just started to study Japanese

Chinese vocabulary

Boy, boy, boy. It was very difficult at times to memorize vocabulary in Japanese, just because it's so different from any of the other languages I've learned. Words like "kawaii" (cute) and "kowai" seem almost alike, and it took a long while in the beginning not to mix them up. (Aww, your baby is so kowai, ehr, I mean kawaii)

My hope is that Chinese vocabulary will be a bit easier to memorize, and get to stick, because of the tones, and that I can draw my own parallells between Japanese and Thai vocabulary that I already know, even though they might not really have anything in common. (Example: the Chinese word for "to be", shì (是) and the Thai word for "to be" chı (ใช่))

I'm so hot

Translating from pinyin into Chinese characters

I'm still very excited about studying Chinese, even though I very much expect a bumpy road for the first months/year - until I find my "strategy" on how to study this language the best way.

Hopefully I will get an interest for things like Chinese music, movies, etc., and in that way get a lot of language input "for free", compared to Japanese, where I had no interest in the popular culture at all. Academically I did exceptionally well, because I'm a diciplined student, but in the long haul, when studying a language, it isn't enough to just know the curriculum and nothing else.

If there was any doubt

Benedicte is very excited about studying Chinese

Dialogue about complaining about the weather
- that'll come in handy for us
Seeing as that's what we do


Hopefully next year I'll get to go to China!

High five! *voice of Borat*


Shiang Ying @ Shane said...

couldn't agree more about the confusion of tonality with Thai. Chinese, too, has 5 tones with the 5th one being called "light" or "no tone". Makes sense? ;)I admire your dedication in learning Chinese in a non-Chinese speaking environment. Recently I came to appreciate how lucky I am to be born in a multi-lingual society; most of my language skills is obtained unconsciously through osmosis.
There was a time when Adrian was learning Mandarin and I Japanese (which we both didn't keep up).It was then that I realize what a difficult language Mandarin is!! For your future challenge reference, try Cantonese with 9 tones!!
Stick to simplified if you intend to go to China. Only Taiwan uses traditional words (they too have begun to integrate some simplified characters).
Oops, look like my comment is getting blog-like. 再见!

Marie said...

Synes det er kult at du kan så mange språk! Jeg skal søke på japanske studier til neste år, så håper jeg kommer inn. Er snittet høyt?
Jeg er veldig interessert i popkulturen i Japan i tillegg, så jeg kan noen ord og uttrykk fra før etter å ha sett på anime, så håper det kan hjelpe litt.
Håper du kommer til å trives med å lære kinesisk!

Marie said...

Jeg studerer kinesisk nå og kom på at du gjorde det samme, så tenkte jeg skulle se igjennom innleggene dine fra da du var i Kina. Også så jeg at jeg hadde kommentert dette innlegget før også, haha :) Jeg studerte japansk i ca et år i Oslo, men så kom jeg inn på universitetet i England og studerer nå kinesisk. Veldig morsomt å lære kinesisk, selv om det er mye pugging som skal til. Bortsett fra tonene synes jeg nesten kinesisk er enklere enn japansk - iallefall når det kommer til gramatikken. Men jeg er bare på mitt første år enda, da. Kanskje det blir verre :)

Du er heldig som fikk dra til Beijing University, forresten. Kjekt at Universitetet i Oslo har avtale med akkurst det universitetet. Jeg skal være et helt år i Kina, men er mulig jeg havner i Wuhan, eller er mindre kjent universitet i Beijing. Håper så klart på Beijing, selv om det ikke blir Beijing Uni :)

Håper alt er bra med deg!