Saturday, July 29, 2006

Remembering tones from Pinyin

Six months - yes I have been tying to learn Chinese for six months, which means that I ought to write a progress report soon. That has provoked me into thinking more about my learning process.

Thinking about how some things are easier to remember than others I had a sudden realisation about tones and writing pinyin.

Thinking about [měitiān wǒ hěn lèi ] written with the tone marks it looks more professional. Written as [mei3tian1 wo3 hen3 lei4 ] it is easier to remember the tones (for me, maybe not for you).

After some thought about it I have realised that if I don't know the tones for something I am saying and I try to remember them from a memory of what I read then I have much much more chance of remembering if the pinyin was written with tone numbers. The number almost becomes a another letter.

Maybe it works this way for me because my first language doesn't have accented letters? The difference in the ability to recall the tones by 'remembering' the writing is significant.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Literal translation paying huge dividends

A while ago I posted about literal translation and how I thought it was a great aid to learning Chinese. Well as it happens I am discovering just how powerful it can be. In fact I can't understand why it is not emphasised right from the begining by everybody, as eventually it becomes a wonderful tool to aquire some of your Chinese vocabulary for free.

I have noticed that many Chinese words are composites of others, so you get many words like dian4nao3. Dian4nao3 is computer, but don't stop there, it is literally electric brain. Now what if you learn dian4nao3 = computer but don't fully absorb the electric brain meaning what do you lose?

You lost that aha! moment when you learn dian4hua4 = telephone (electric talk). But hang on hua4 is in shou1hua4 and even xiao4hua4 = joke (smile talk) and .... and ... ... and. I think you get the picture.

A couple of the many concrete examples that I have benefited from:

In one Chinespod podcast they introduced the word ke3ai4, I guessed it meant loveable (or cute etc.) straight away from the context and because the ke3 from ke3yi3 and ai4 (love) literally fitted together and made "can love" or "can be loved". I think that often these helpers are missed. A later podcast hits this word again and goes as far as loveable but not down to this sort of literal translation. To be fair though Cpod is more likely than most resources to give you a literal translation or other mnemonic to rember by (cheers Ken).

Next we have an example of a free word and they are increasing. I was looking up words for husband and wife and came across ai4ren2 (spouse, partner, even sweetheart). I decided to mostly ignore it, spouse is an old-fashioned word in English and I guess this wouldn't be high frequency. However I had already noticed straight away that a literal translation could be (love person), which effectivly memorised the word with no effort. About two weeks later and I am half listening to some Chinese radio and I hear a strange line in a song. The line was literally "ni3 you3 bu4 ai4ren2". That sentance was just wrong, surely it should be "ni mei2you3 ai4ren2" or similar??. Also maybe ai4ren2 is more common than I suppossed (store for later and ask someone). As luck would have it the two hosts on the radio station spotted it too and had a good laugh about it (I actually understood some of what they were saying as I had a context, they thought it was really funny). Now I am pretty sure this word and the grammar was wrong.

I did actually discuss this later with a Chinese friend, he thought it funny too. Apparently a lot of Mandarin songs are written by non-native speaker who sometimes get a little dictionary happy and do horrible things with the language.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Matt's subconcious monkey brain.

Alongside pandagator's strangely resonant common Chinese words list (see previous post), another blogger Matt, stuck a harmonic with his comment on subconcious development(specifically the need to give the brain a little simmering time).

Matt was reffering to his martial arts in the second part of this post, however I find a similar effect with my Chinese learning.

I manage to do something at least everyday, towards learning Mandarin. Sometimes if I have been pushing it though I can't take anymore of a certain aspect. Often I switch, maybe just spend a few days concentrating on one aspect that doesn't seem too hard or reading around the subject in a general way.

These periods usually coincide with a night or two of very heavy dreams, then when I return to what I was doing before, I find I have made significant progress by 'doing nothing'.

Common Chinese word list (Pandagator)

A nice list of common Chinese words here: list of common Chinese words at Pandagator

This list strikes a particular resonance as I know almost all the words on it. Many have been important words I have picked up in the past couple of months.

This tells me that most of these words must be truly high frequency (otherwise I wouldn't know them ;)). It also suggests that the few I don't recognise or have forgotten the tones for are worth assimilating. Nice one Pandagator :)