Although some people see a sadomasochistic tendency there, the learning of the Chinese Mandarin due to its difficulty is a challenge for a part of the British population and can be daunting for the new learner.
Considered as one of the most difficult languages in the world with Arabic and Russian, the Chinese language can also help to boost your ego, take up a challenge or respond to a bet!
Far from the Latin alphabet, from the conjugation and from the English grammar, taking a Chinese course is not an easy matter.
But who wouldn't like to understand and to speak this language that seems so distant from ours?
Supposed to demand a particular exercise for the left and right brain for its learning, the study of Mandarin is even perceived as a therapy for the people with dyslexia (I feel this is going to interest the speech therapists).
So, rather than waiting to find out if we really see the Wall of China from the moon, why not payattention from now on to the official language of the Republic of China since 1956?
So, let's leave the Cantonese, the Shanghainese and the various dialects of China for later and let's concentrate on the language of the education and the media, which is plenty in difficulties of pronunciation and in the alphabet with corresponding tones and Chinese writing, but beautiful and powerful as a bamboo.
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How to Master Chinese Pronunciation
For those who are not intimidated by the idea of taking up this foreign language for their linguistic competencies, your language skills are going to be challenged with the difficulty of the pronunciation and the perception of tones…so it is possible to learn how to speak Chinese fluently?
The Chinese Mandarin is not considered, from an oral point of view, as a rich language, it's equally complicated, for a student whose English is his mother tongue, to understand the accentuation of the syllables in Chinese.
Beginners can extend their ear as far as that of Stanley Ipkiss in The Mask, however, the syllables containing 4 different intonations and those who contain no intonation at all will be undetectable during the first Chinese courses.
The problem lies with the variation between the lows and highs which doesn't exist in English, and your ear that has yet to learn how to help your mouth to reproduce the sounds (Yes, it's a sport!).
Certain teachers of Chinese will confirm you that to memorize tones is a plus. Others will say that is not necessary only if we wish to speak Chinese without an accent, to show off. They will even tell you that tones will not be an impediment in the Chinese learning to communicate in everyday life.
I think that since you are brave students, you will see another challenge there because a syllable can have four different senses following the tone which you use.
You can imagine the linguistic errors that you can make by expressing yourself with a tone opposite to the one that you wish to use.
Due to the lack of practice, we could find ourselves speaking about inappropriate things when we try to speak about Chinese food. Therefore, let's keep our English-Chinese dictionary close to us and let's continue our quest. This is one aspect of learning a language where a native Chinese teacher can really help to master the words and different greetings correctly.
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Reading and Writing: Learn Pinyin
On the path already full of tonal pitfalls in the learning of the language of the Dragon, another obstacle is added to complete your quest: Chinese characters…
For the foreigners who learn Mandarin, given that Chinese characters don't note the pronunciation, we use a phonetic transcription named pinyin.
Formerly, already one century ago, every country proposed its phonetic transcription of the Chinese Mandarin. You can imagine the complexity of learning this language.
Fortunately for us, this phonetic transcription was unified in 1979 by China and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) "to facilitate" the Chinese Mandarin learning. That will be a big help if you wish to work in China!
But… Because there is always a but… This transcription, in Latin characters is not pronounced as in English (Yes, you read well).
Here things get a little harder.
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For example, the "r" is pronounced as our British "g" and the pinyin "i" sometimes pronounces as our "e" and other times as our "o"…
Don't you understand anything? Me neither, I reassure you…
The general idea which it's necessary to seize lies in the fact that even phonetics can't help beginners. (Yes, it doesn't make a lot of sense…).
Therefore, it's necessary, from the beginning of your initiation for Chinese learning, to learn pinyin! Indeed, you have no other choice because the Chinese characters, renowned for their difficulty, leave no indication on their pronunciation.
This way, they are steeped in history and beautiful hieroglyphs, but very difficult to disentangle when it comes to understanding them…
For those who were after the challenge, in the learning of a modern language very distant from ours, as Tony Micelli said: Who's the boss?
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Learn Chinese Grammar
To pursue our immersion in the language of the Middle Earth, far from our English linguistic bases, let's continue with the grammar and the Chinese conjugation…
Indeed, this section would have been able to be the topic of the broadcast "Meeting with an unknown living language" (a personal remix of "Meeting in a strange land"), since we're going to have to deal with unknown elements of the Latin languages.
One of the big specific characteristics of Chinese is the absence of conjugation.
This unknown concept of the western foreigners is, however, a chance of a lifetime for all those who got lost in their long list of English irregular verbs to be learned by heart or still those who still hesitate between the conditional and the future tense.
No need of all this in Mandarin: here we will disregard numerous rules and useless forms to keep only the essential.
That will give for example:
- “yesterday I eat” ;
- “today I eat”;
- “tomorrow I eat”.
Don't be deceived by appearances, Chinese is a sophisticated and elegant language (just like the Chinese culture in general), only that there's no conjugation.
As for the Chinese basic grammar in the course of Chinese, this one is very simplistic. You will not find:
- inversion of subject to build your question,
- genres (masculine/feminine),
- numbers (singular/plural)
- and the words are invariable.
A language that does not really look like ours and even less like the Russian or the Arabic. Very simple and logical at the same time, the context plays an important role to know, for example, if we speak one or several things.
So, the place of every word in the sentence has to follow a logic opposite to ours.
Something to make our brain work differently in the course of Chinese.
Note: the grammar, more elaborated for the intermediate and advanced students, is in turn, highly complex. Well, as the Chinese proverb said: "to that who knows how to wait, the time opens its doors".
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Learning the Chinese Characters
You are still here? That's because you are still motivated to learn Chinese. You completed your first Chinese course without noticing it… Just by reading this article!
Shao (young person) who is learning to write Mandarin, here we are in front of the seemingly insurmountable challenge: learning to write Chinese!
If only more students would select Mandarin as their second language in school...
Having the oral part already occupying a lot of your energy, let's see if you still stay here to deal with what's next.
The Chinese writing, so different from the Latin writing, consists of words constituted by one, two or three characters (It happens that certain words are constituted by more than three characters, but let's not be pretentious at the moment).
These characters are very numerous and it's often difficult to memorize them from the first days of training. The most appropriate methodology is to learn every character separately.
Just like a choreography of Tai-Qi (a Chinese internal martial art), this will be a matter of learning, for every Chinese character:
- its meaning,
- its pronunciation,
- the order of writing its lines
- and the meaning of each line.
To follow the order of writing and the meaning of each of the eight fundamental lines (horizontal and vertical) of the Chinese characters, you have to have to refer to the 7 rules of writing Chinese.
These 8 simple lines can contain up to 29 variants in total to give what we naturally call "complex trait".
Thanks to those lines, you will be capable of writing up to 214 fundamental Chinese characters. Also called "keys", these particular characters can create an infinity of the other characters once combined.
Be sure that this meticulous work, that will require all your concentration of beginner, will become natural with the practice.
So, are you still enthusiast on the idea of learning Chinese? Feeling like going for a journey in China to test yourself? Let me know in the comments!
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