Friday, March 31, 2006

Pinyin (and Yaay I have been noticed ;))

Apart from the podcasts, pinyin (the romanised form of written chinese) is a key part of my learning strategy. I think you should consider it too, most westerners will learn the meaning of wǒ hěn kāixīn before and more naturally than 我很开心. I also got a mention on Chinesepod which is why 我很开心.

I have finished the phase "learning how to learn Mandarin" and think I have discovered enough to proceed with some confidence. As you have probably gathered ;) consuming podcasts will be high on the agenda. Incidentally I had a big Yaay!! wo3 hen3 kai1xin1 moment yesterday when I saw a post about my blog on the Chinesepod weblog. Watch this space guys I hope soon to be contributing back to the Mandarin learning community!. Some of the helpful comments from the guys who commented reminded me of how crucial pinyin is to my strategy.

Pinyin is a romanisation of written Chinese, I won't go into all the background and technicalities as they do it much better here. In summary as you probably know there isn't a chinese alphabet as such but there are thousands of characters that represent syllables/words. Pinyin uses an alphabet that westerners would recognise to spell out chinese phonetically. Bear in mind that the phonetics are consistent to pinyin but may or may not match those that you would expect for your particular western language. Pinyin is I believe the standard accepted romanisation for Chinese so unless you want to study older dusty acedemic texts (best left to older dusty acedemics imho.) I wouldn't recommend other schemes.

What if you only want to learn spoken Chinese? Then learn pinyin alongside, for most people it will be a vital aid.
What if you want to learn the Chinese characters? Then learn pinyin alongside, for most people it will be a vital glue between spoken and written.

Here are the reasons why I think pinyin is the best thing since eeerrrrr.... language podcasts....

  • Pinyin gives you something to visualise when you hear a Chinese word, and what you visualize ties in with how it is pronounced (a nice little feedback loop). when you are first learning a sound you translate it each time you hear it, eventually you will just get the meaning without having to explicitly translate, but unless you are very familar I find that you picture something however fleetingly.
  • Pinyin captures the chinese tones, when you start you have enough difficulty just hearing the tones and I find that my untrained brain tends to remember sounds ok. but looses the tone information. Remember the pinyin alongside and you have a fighting chance.
  • When it comes to learning characters the pinyin is another mental tag that you can add and may in some cases act as a bridge between the sound and the character.
  • On a computer many chinese character input methods are achieved via pinyin.
  • If you don't know pinyin how are you going to look up a word that you just heard

If I write 我很开心 for example it has no meaning even if you can speak and understand spoken Mandarin you need to actually know the characters (black and white or a least dark grey and dirty white). If I write [wo3 hen3 kai1xin1] or [wǒ hěn kāixīn ] with a little knowledge of pinyin phonetics and the tone marks, you can tell that I am very happy!


Serge Melnyk said...

Persistence is the most important thing in learning Mandarin Chinese. Thanks for listening to my lessons.


Samantha said...

I thought I found another pretty good site for free stuff and learning Chinese. It seems to be new. It's called Flash animated lessons, downloadable materials (mp3, PDF), interactive exercises. Check it out!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of a mandarin (character) sentences to Pinyin translation site?
There are useful mandarin to English sites, such as Google translate.
Yellowbridge ( ) has a great dictionary lookup that includes pronunciation, but doesn’t do sentences.