Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Translate literally.

If you want to learn Chinese grammar without learning Chinese grammar (and who in their right minds wouldn't) then 你和谁聊天 [ nǐ hé shéi liáotiān ] equals you with who chat?

A bit obvious this one but may not be immediately apparent if you have never studied a language before. I fall into that category, my French teacher at school used to throw things at my head to make me pay attention but in the end gave up and let me and my friend sit on an isolated desk and play hangman etc. It wasn't that I didn't want to learn French just that I quickly realised that learning lists of words and grammar by rote wasn't going to enable me to speak French. Oh well ...

I have quickly learnt that it is important to translate everything I can understand literally. Chinese grammar and sentance structure is different from English. As a beginner it may be easy to fall into the habit of learning to translate the meaning of whole phrases or sentances and feeling satisfied that you can recognise them. It is important though to pay attention to the individual words and their position in the sentance, otherwise you will pay the price later.

If you translate literally every time you hear something you understand you will learn how the sentances are constructed in Chinese, you will learn Chinese grammar without learning grammar (HOORAY.. a noble aim)and you will get some idea of how to deconstruct the sentances and build new ones all of your own.

So next time you hear 你和谁聊天 [ nǐ hé shéi liáotiān ] then hear You with who chat? before Who do you chat with?


Matt Whyndham said...

Hi Chris, saw your shout on Cpod. How are you finding pinyin entry? Got a decent unicode utility?

Mikke said...


just a comment. You mentioned in one of your posts that you don't live in China or know any chinese people, and it's hard for you to practise Mandarin person-to-person. I am also using Chinesepod, but in addition to that I have a weekly tutor, and it's crucial for getting your pronounciation right and to be able to ask questions to.

I have seen on the Internet that there are tutors available that would do a Skype session with anybody anywhere in the world, either only sound, or both video and sound. I think that's a brilliant solution.

Leylop is one such person (http://www.leylop.com/), but she is out travelling right now.

regards Mikke

Cara said...

Hehee... may be i, a native Chinese, could say this is the reason why i always have grammatical error in my English, speaking or writing.