Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thai Experiment

I may be quiet here for a little while. I didn't start language learning until quite late in life, Mandarin was my first serious attempt but now I want to apply what I have learned to other languages (whilst continuing with Mandarin of course). For the last eight weeks I have been learning Thai. I have been keeping a private blog (over 20 posts so far) that will be made public soon (within two weeks at the most). I have discovered some surprising things about my language learning.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pinyin revisited


I haven't posted about Pinyin (the romanisation of Chinese characters) for some time. Thought I would raise a few observations for comment.

Remember the tones with 5 new letters

Here is the weird bit, tones in pinyin are represented with those fiddly little marks over letters that we don't use in English, we find them hard to remember. There are plenty of learners who learn a lot of vocabulary but don't know the tones, they can remember "hen" remember the sound but not the little tick mark that goes over the 'e'. Of course you get those that can but there are plenty of people that don't. Actually a lot of Chinese people that use use pinyin on a daily basis for texting or as in a hanzi computer input method never bother with the tone marks and don't know the rules for where to put them and probably don't know how to input the tone marks on a computer, they don't need them.

Now for the weird bit, all you need to do is add five more letters to your alphabet and you can remember the tone if you remember the pinyin spelling. ying1guo3 tells me how to say England and the tones to use. After all we use letters for numbers in number bases above 10 so FF in base 16 is 255 in base 10, so why not use numbers to help writing and memory? I never bothered setting up a computer so I could type those little tone marks. If I write pinyin with a pen or computer I use numbers and that really really really helps you remember the tones.

It is not a Crutch

It seems a popular misconception amongst some people who haven't learned Chinese or only been learning for some time, that pinyin is a crutch for learners. In reality it is a tool and a tool that Chinese people use themselves, it is used to enter Chinese characters into mobile devices, used as an input method for typing Chinese on computers by most Chinese people, used in Chinese character dictionaries etc. etc.

Older Chinese who don't know pinyin are at a disadvantage, they may have to use a writing tablet to write Chinese etc. etc. so investing time in learning pinyin and learning it well is not going to be a waste.

If someone doesn't progress to learning characters don't blame pinyin.

The Chinese advantage

In Chinese every syllable counts, has a meaning, is a building block. If you master pinyin quickly you can hear words and have a very efficient way to look up the words you have heard in a dictionary

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Pop-up Chinese Resource

Trying to remember to keep posting resources, this time we have Popup Chinese a whole bunch of stuff going on here including help with HSK testing and a variety of podcast lessons. I don't know much about the subscriber facilities for now but you can listen to the lessons for free.

Usually I would look to be practicing with Chinese radio or video now, but recent work pressures and another language project have loaded my brain somewhat, I have quite enjoyed listening to popup Chinese in the background on a few occaisions now. Even on the simpler elementary lessons it is still worthwhile because they tend to introduce a few less well know, more authentic words and phrases and because the speech can often be fast or involve people with accents (as in real life). The scenarios are often outlandish, which I like, it is the speech patterns and words that you need to learn if the scenario is a bit wierd I think that can help you remember.

Definitely worth checking out if you are learning Chinese.