March 17, 2013 | Mandarin
Chinese constructs words in ways that are sometimes logical, sometimes creative, and sometimes just plain fun.
Mandarin is full of such interesting combinations of words into new words. The word for “thing” or “things”—dōngxi—is a combination of the words for “east” (dōng) and “west” (xī). “Cell phone” is shŏujī , which means “hand” (shŏu) plus “machine” (jī).
I Can’t Not Learn ANY Chinese Characters
Now that I have the directory of language-learning reviews up, I have turned my attention more fully back to my Chinese studies. I believe I will have to add another month, because otherwise I will be too sad. There is so much to learn about Chinese—the tones, the pinyin, more vocabulary, at least some characters—and I can’t abandon it in 15 days, I don’t think. I’m sorry if you were sick of reading about Mandarin.
But since it is becoming clear to me that this blog project will never end this summer as planned, I am okay with that. There is time.
And languages galore. (That’s merely an observation—not a commitment.)
I just purchased and am listening to VocabuLearn Mandarin (the first level only), which I bought through iTunes. I have used this product before for other languages. I have a feeling some people would strongly dislike VocabuLearn. All it is is vocabulary—words and expressions—enunciated for you slowly and then translated moments later—sometimes English to Chinese, sometimes Chinese to English. I happen to like it for my meanderings about town, or for when I am buying groceries, because I don’t have to think too hard, and if I miss a word, I just pay attention to the next one.
Because of the way Chinese sticks things together, in VocabuLearn I can often guess at pieces of bigger words or expressions based on what I have learned so far. That makes the VocabuLearn fun—kind of like a quiz show without a host, audience, or other contestants.
I am also making my way through Fluenz as quickly as I can. I am about halfway through levels 1+2 (that’s how they write it, like a little math problem). I am quite fond of it at the moment. Even though so far I am not convinced Fluenz is helping me much with speaking, it is helping tremendously with pinyin and my grasp of the tones, and in that sense it is a wonderful complement to Pimsleur.
In Fluenz lesson 20, Sonia—my optimistic, white, non-natively speaking guide through Mandarin—told me that the number four is considered very unlucky in Chinese because it sounds like the word for death. “People from very diverse backgrounds take this seriously,” she warned, “so if possible, try to avoid having too many fours in your phone number, address, and the like.”
I am not superstitious. After hearing that from her on my computer in a local coffee shop, I walked back to my apartment building, where I got in the elevator. A guy came in after me and pressed the number for his floor: 13. Many buildings in New York do not have a thirteenth floor. Or at least they pretend they do not have a thirteenth floor. Any building without a thirteenth floor that has an elevator button for 14 does in fact have a thirteenth floor.
I got some satisfaction out of that ride on the wild side.
In my Fluenz I am often having trouble reading the tone indications in the answers. They are too small. Sometimes I try without glasses, sometimes with an old pair of glasses, sometimes with a new pair of glasses, sometimes I bring the screen up to my face. I still can’t always read the tones.
Is it just me?
Now, this may sound insane, but after going through my (totally oral) Pimsleur lessons without doing enough simultaneous work in more visual sources, I decided earlier this week to go back almost to the beginning to see whether I now might be able to do a better job of (a) grasping the grammar in the lessons and (b) associating the words and sentences I hear with pinyin images in my brain, thus ensuring better retention. So I returned to lesson 10 in the first level, which is probably bonkers since I was almost done with the third level, but I can’t help myself. The review is going fast, and I am hearing things with new ears and “seeing” them with new eyes.
I have also returned to the book Learning Chinese Characters by Alison Matthews and Laurence Matthews. As I have mentioned elsewhere, they use mnemonic devices—little pictures and mini-stories—to help you learn letters. Some of the pictures and stories are silly (doesn’t bother me whatsoever) and elaborate (elaborate does bother me). My brain rebels against elaborate mnemonic devices. But I am going to give it a shot.
Hanging out with relatives today, I was trying to demonstrate my new grasp of Chinese tones. I observed that my lack of singing talent was getting in the way of my tonal abilities. In our conversation, we ended up circling around the syllable ma, which, as I believe I have mentioned previously, can mean four different things depending on the tone you use.
I decided it would be a good idea to try the Chinese version of “The mother scolds the horse,” which I am guessing—please correct me if I’m wrong—would be mā mà mǎ. Same consonant and vowel combo with first, fourth, and third tones respectively.
This sentence did not go so well for me, but perhaps it will go better for you! You can check your tones with the sound clips here.