Tips on learning ChineseChinese is radically different from any Western language. As such, it is not easy to learn as a second language. It is even harder to learn without exposure to native speakers and Chinese media. Perhaps the best advice is to take the time to study in China. However, even that would not be enough on its own. The tips below are not Chinese lessons, but good advice for anyone interested in studying Chinese. They are based on the real life experiences of people learning Chinese as a second language, and the expertise of professional teachers.
Read Every Sign
Read Signs in English and Chinese to increase your speed and vocabularyOften in China, and in places outside of China that have large Chinese populations, signs will be printed in both Chinese and English. If a sign is printed in Chinese and a English, then your instinct will normally be to simply read the more familiar language. You may even laugh at how awkward the translation sounds, but you will move on without taking note of the original Chinese. Step outside of your comfort zone and read the sign in Chinese as well. Maybe you only recognize eighty percent of the characters, and maybe it takes you a long time staring at the Chinese to figure out what it says. That’s OK! Reading signs in Chinese provides a number of benefits. First of all, you have a translation right in front of you, so you can check to make sure you understand the characters. Second of all, you will note unfamiliar characters and maybe be able to figure out what they mean. Finally, the next time you see the same phrase on a sign that doesn’t have an English translation, you will know what it means. Here are some common signs seen around Beijing:
爱护环境 Love the Environment
禁止停车 No Parking
欢迎光临 Welcome I haven’t written the Pinyin for these examples because you probably won’t see the Pinyin on a sign. Nevertheless, you can learn what the characters mean. Take the “No Parking” sign for example. Let’s imagine that you know the characters 停车 mean “stop car” or “Parking.” You have never seen the first two characters before, but you can deduce that they must mean “No.” Now, the next time you see a sign with the characters 禁止, you will know that something is prohibited. You may go to a tourist sight and see the sign 禁止进入, and you will know that you are not allowed to enter a particular area. Reading signs is a quick way to build a vocabulary of characters that you will commonly see in everyday life.
Copy characters over and over until you remember them.
This is a very basic tip for beginning Chinese students. Like most basics, it seems very easy, but it is also very important.
It is a good idea when you first start studying characters to get into the habit of doing your Chinese studies at a certain time every day and in a set order. Learning characters takes a lot of time and effort because it is little more than memorization. One of the best ways to memorize is by simple repetition. Copy each newly learned character at least ten times—more if you don’t remember it right away. This process is time consuming and a little boring, but extremely helpful.
There are a few things to keep in mind while copying characters:
Do not simply copy characters while looking at a vocabulary list. After the first few times you have written a character, try to write it from memory each time. For example, write the character three times while looking at it, then write it seven times from memory. It’s okay to peek if you need to, but the more you force your memory to work the better.
Copy words, not characters. If you want to remember vocabulary better, copy whole words (two to four character compounds) at a time. If you need to learn the word 知道 zhi1dao4 “to know,” then copy it as a whole ten times. Don’t copy ten times 知, followed by ten times 道.
Do more than simply copy the characters on paper. While you are copying characters pronounce each word out loud. You may feel silly saying the same word repeatedly, but a character should be associated with its pronunciation. Anyway, repeating the words out loud will help you remember your oral vocabulary as well as the written form.
Once copying characters becomes a habit, you will find that it can actually be an enjoyable exercise. Memorization may always be boring, but it can also be relaxing. If you copy characters before doing the rest of your studying, then you may find that copying characters actually focuses your mind and helps you prepare for more taxing intellectual labor.
Write Every Day
Some might call the act of writing every day “homework.” Others might say “keeping a journal.” No matter how you think about it, writing a little bit every day is a great way to improve or maintain your writing level in Chinese
The best way to approach writing everyday is to look at it as journal keeping. Write about things that you did that day (or the day before, if you write in the morning), or write whatever is on your mind. You don’t need to write a lot. A few hundred characters per day is plenty.
If you are studying Chinese, then you should try to incorporate new vocabulary and grammatical structures into your daily writing. By using new words in real circumstances, you will be able to figure out how they fit together with other words, and hopefully they will stay in your memory as a part of your growing vocabulary.
If you are trying to learn to write, then it is important that you actually write by hand everyday. Some people prefer to first type their daily writing, but don’t be tempted by the ease of using a computer. You will remember characters better if you write them and build some muscle memory. If you are unsure of a character, type it first, but then copy it by hand.
Everyday writing practice does not need to be homework. You can do it for your eyes only. However, it is probably a good idea to bring some of your writing to a teacher or friend frequently enough that you can learn what mistakes you are making and how to fix them.
Even if you are not being corrected frequently, daily practice will help you remember characters and structures that might otherwise slip your mind. Don’t worry about being perfect all the time. Practice, practice, practice and you will find that you can recall more and more characters with relative ease.
Probably the most foreign and difficult aspect of spoken Chinese for students is pronouncing the four tones. Many students find it helpful to make up mnemonics, memory devices that help associate a word with its respective tone
Mnemonics are a better tool for remembering tones than physical techniques that many students employ such as the “finger method” and the “bobble-head” method.” Not only do students look foolish when they bob their heads or move their fingers through the air to represent tones, but these techniques are crutches that do more harm than good. If you try to represent tone physically, then there is less pressure to pronounce that tone correctly. In other words, if you see yourself drawing a tone marker in the air, then you lose the incentive to properly say that tone with your mouth. Mnemonics still force a speaker to pronounce tones, they simply provide a helpful reminder of what tone to pronounce.
A tone is more than an accent marker above a vowel in Pinyin, it is an integral part of pronunciation: pronouncing the wrong tone is equivalent to pronouncing the wrong word. Therefore, a mnemonic for remembering the tone should relate the meaning of the word to the way you pronounce it. Keep in mind that tones are not actually linked to meaning. Mnemonics are helpful aids, but there is no truth behind them. The pronunciation of a word is arbitrary, and its link to meaning is pretty much random.
Randomness aside, making up associations between meaning and tone can be helpful to memory.
The first example of tone differences everyone learns is the distinction between ma1 妈, ma2 麻, ma3 马, and ma4 骂. How can you make good mnemonics for these?
Ma1 妈 means “mother.” Theoretically, it is the first sound that a child makes, so you can remember that it should be pronounced with the first tone. A better mnemonic has nothing to do with tone numbers, but simply sound. When you yell for your mother as a baby, you do so in a continuous high pitch, which might be visually represented as “MAAAAAAAAAAAA.” Remember that ma1 妈 is what you call your mother.
A mnemonic for ma2 麻 must relate to its meaning, “hemp.” One possible device is to remember that hemp grows from the ground up, so the tone of 麻 should rise from low to high.
Horse, ma3 马, can similarly be remembered if you visualize a saddle has a dip to it. Because a horse’s back drops down and then rises back up, you can remember that the word for horse should be pronounced with a similar “sway.”
Finally, ma4 骂 is easy to remember if you think of the falling fourth tone as someone getting angry. When the mother scolds the horse, she does it directly and angrily, so the tone of her voices drops sharply, just like the tone of the word ma4 骂.
Remember that tones are not really related to meaning. Many different mnemonics can be though of for all different words. They can be very helpful when you first start learning to speak Chinese and when you have a hard time distinguishing between two words. Obviously, to always be thinking of little stories makes speaking quite slow, so mnemonics should not be seen as anything more than training wheels that should be discarded as soon as they are no longer useful.
Listen and Repeat
Listening and Repeating seem to be intuitive concepts for foreign language students. It is particularly important in Chinese because poor pronunciation can render your speech incomprehensible.
To make the most of listen-and-repeat, you should think of it as a technique rather than an instinct. In fact, Professor John Rassias developed rapid-fire listening and repeating of words and phrases into a technique for teaching foreign languages. His “Rassias Method” was originally developed for the Peace Corps, and involves small groups led by a highly trained instructor. In the absence of such resources, it is possibly to drill yourself on newly acquired vocabulary.
Here’s a good way to make listen-and-repeat work in class or in a conversation:
Step one: Hear a new word, or ask someone how to say something in Chinese.
Step two: Listen carefully to what a native speaker (your teacher, language partner, friend, lover…) says.
Step three: Repeat it back to them.
If the native speaker nods and says “dui4 对” or “en4 恩,” then you know that you were right. If not, keep having them repeat the word to you until you can repeat it back perfectly. Repetition and correction will help drill the vocabulary into your memory, while the excruciating pain of the process will encourage you to maintain that memory.
The following dialogue (rendered in Pinyin) should illustrate the listen-and-repeat process:
Student: “table” yong4 Zhong1wen2 zen4me shuo1
Teacher: (shakes head ) zhuo1zi
Teacher: en4. Zhuo1zi
Teacher: dui4le. Fei1chang2 hao3! Zai4 shuo1 yi4ci4.
It is not unlikely that it will take even more than four repetitions to get a pronunciation down. Do not despair. The repetition seems dull and you may feel hopeless, but the more you repeat a word, the more it stays in your memory. If you are going to remember a new vocabulary item, then it is better to remember it correctly than with problems that will be difficult to fix later on.
goldengrove Post time: 2011-11-21 10:29 static/image/common/back.gif
Write Every Day
Some might call the act of writing every day “homework.” Others might say “keepin ...
thank you very much ,in reality this is the way I have been studying chinese and I am happy I have been doing like that according to your instructions.It means my chinese learning instict is functioning correctly handshake Use each and every chance to speak with Chinese.