learning Chinese

China Travel Blog

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Studying Chinese for me was not difficult. We had 20 hours of class time a week, Mon-Fri, 4 hrs a day the afternoons were for electives(non-required). I did the HSK prep class two afternoons a week and attended the Mandarin forum one evening a week in the international dorm. Other than Zhu laoshi our head teacher (He taught Grammar)there were 3 other teachers for the subjects of reading, composition, and conversation. Our reading class was taught by a crusty old duck from Beijing. She was awful proud of her "proper" Mandarin pronunciation which is basically alot of ers added to every word ending it's not only dreadful sounding it's unintelligible to most of the population let alone foreigners. I never put much thought into tones (there's 6 tones in Chinese I think) man she was such a nitpicker. I never bothered to learn tones I just go by ear and get along fine, I'm not tone deaf, for me it's easy to imitate a pronunciation once you hear a word. Writing, on the other hand, is a chore. Chinese has a pictographic charachter system with over 5000 symbols, what a headache! Fortunately as a Jap I get a 2000 kanji headstart,  the meanings are the same the pronunciation is different. The non-Asians had real problems with the writing class "How did you learn?" they always ask. Well I'm sorry to say I have no shortcuts, I only learned by rote.  Here's the procedure: take a notebook with lots of squares, write one character at a time, say the pronunciations (however many) aloud, do this the whole line down, go to next line and next kanji, fill out whole book, go on to next book.  Sound boring? Sound repetitive? It's a great punishment for misbehaving kids or something they can get a "re-education".  If it's any consolation, only 3000 symbols are in common use even for ther HSK. Conversation is my favorite I love talking in a foreign language! Grammar bores me to tears I just go through it so I can get on with the communicating bit. I always have poor grammar but luckily Chinese has a very flexible grammar with lots off possibilities. Pronunciation and rapidity/fluency are always thing I work on and often with quite marked success. When I want to communicate like a local I listen and observe. Through listening I pick up the sounds and tones and observing I see the gestures and body movements. With Chinese I slur words together, use colloqiual words and slang, put on a casual/indifferent tone, and assume a confident air, most locals think I'm one of them they totally miss my speech errors. For me it's a lot like acting, if you look like you know what you're talking about (basically sounding "natural" to the locals) with intermediate level you can get by great. For me, communcation is the key to any relationship to build one of trust and depth with the locals I talk their talk.

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