Chinese is one of the languages people are often “afraid of”. It is regarded as one of the most difficult foreign languages you can aim at learning, possibly because it is so different to other tongues especially those of the western cultures (English, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, etc.). This is kind of a preconceived idea, as the people who believe that are not the ones who learn the language, so they don’t really have an objective opinion: they don’t base their ideas on actual experience lived, but on an imaginary conception of a language they never attempted at learning, not even remotely. So what’s to fear?
To begin with, China represents one fifth of the world. This means that at least one fifth of the world’s total population is made up by people who can speak Chinese perfectly. All human beings are the same one from another, there is no ethnic group with two brains or anything like that. In other words, we’re all physiologically capable of learning and speaking any language, at any age.
At any age?
Yes. Another common belief is that we’re only able to learn at a young age, or that the learning process is smoother than in adulthood. The truth is that adults have many advantages that children don’t when it comes to learning a language. The most important is probably willingness, and there is no power as strong as the power of will. Besides, a study showed that adults taking Chinese classes Washington were better at establishing language associations than kids.
What about the writing system?
The Chinese writing system is made up of symbols rather than letters. This stage is actually captivating: there is so much beauty to discover in these symbols and the hidden symbolisms depicting the Chinese culture and philosophy, that learning about them is really mind blowing for anyone, especially adults, who are better are cultural enjoyment and analysis.
When taking Chinese classes New York students count on the advantage of learning from native Chinese speaking qualified trainers, who are not only able to teach them the technical aspects of the language but also the huge Tao cultural picture behind it.
The Chinese script can be traced back to the oracle bones of the Shang dynasty (16th–11th centuries BC) that were inscribed with symbols representing words and used for divination. Despite changes brought about by different writing materials, Chinese characters have remained remarkably consistent. It is said that to read a newspaper takes knowledge of at least 3,000 characters but an educated person would be expected to know over 5,000. Since 1913 the official spoken language has been Putonghua (Mandarin) but there are many regional dialects. Although people from different parts of China may not be able to understand each other, they can use a shared written script.
Chinese Script May be composed of pictographic, ideographic and phonetic elements. The radical (or root), an element that appears on the left or at the top of a character, usually gives a clue as to sense. Here, in the character for “good,” pronounced “hao,” the radical combines with another meaning element “child.” The concept, therefore, is that “woman” plus “child” equals “good.”
Pinyin is a Romanization system that was introduced in 1956. While Pinyin will never replace the character forms, it is an easier method for children to start learning the language and useful for input to computers.
Chinese is not as difficult a language to learn as it may first appear to be — at least not once you’ve decided what kind of Chinese to learn. There are six major languages called Chinese. Speakers of each are unintelligible to speakers of the others, and there are, in addition, a host of dialects. The Chinese you are likely to hear spoken in your local Chinatown, in your local Chinese restaurant, or used by your friends of Chinese descent when they speak to their parents, is more than likely to be Cantonese, which is the version of Chinese used in Hong Kong and in much of southern China. But the official national language of China is Mandarin, sometimes called Modern Standard Chinese, and viewed in China as the language of administration, of the classics, and of the educated. While throughout much of China people speak their own local flavor of Chinese for everyday communication, they’ve all been educated in Mandarin, which in general terms is the language of Beijing and the north. Mandarin is less well known in Hong Kong and Macau, but is also spoken in Taiwan and Singapore, and among growing communities of recent immigrants to North America and Europe.
Chinese grammar is considerably more straightforward than that of English or other European languages, even Spanish or Italian. There are no genders, so there is no need to remember long lists of endings for adjectives and to make them agree, with variations according to case. There are no equivalents for the definite and indefinite articles (“the,” “a,” “an”), so there is no need to make those agree either. Singular and plural nouns are the same. Best of all, verbs cannot be declined. The verb “to be” is shi. The same sound also covers “am,” “are,” “is,” “was,” “will be,” and so on, since there are also no tenses. Instead of past, present, and future, Chinese is more concerned with whether an action is continuing or has been completed, and with the order in which events take place. To make matters of time clear, Chinese depends on simple expressions such as “yesterday,” “before,” “originally,” “next year,” and the like. “Tomorrow I go New York,” is clear enough, as is “Yesterday I go New York.” It’s a little more complicated than these brief notes can suggest, but not much.
There are a few sounds in Mandarin that are not used in English, but the main difficulty for foreigners lies in tones. Most sounds in Mandarin begin with a consonant and end in a vowel (or -n, or -ng), which leaves the language with very few distinct noises compared to English. Originally, one sound equaled one idea and one word. Even now, each of these monosyllables is represented by a single character, but often words have been made by putting two characters together, sometimes both of the same meaning, thus reinforcing one another. The solution to this phonetic poverty is to multiply the available sounds by making them tonal—speaking them at different pitches, thereby giving them different meanings. M≈ spoken on a high level tone (first tone) offers a set of possible meanings different to those of má spoken with a rising tone (second tone), mâ with a dipping then rising tone (third tone), or mà with an abruptly falling tone (fourth tone). There’s also a different meaning for the neutral, toneless ma.
In the average sentence, context is your friend (there are not many occasions in which the third-tone mâ or “horse” might be mistaken for the fourth-tone mà or “grasshopper,” for instance), but without tone, there is essentially no meaning. The novice best sing his or her Mandarin very clearly, as Chinese children do — a chanted singsong can be heard emerging from the windows of primary schools across China. With experience, the student learns to give particular emphasis to the tones on words essential to a sentence’s meaning, and to treat the others more lightly. Sadly, most books using modern Romanized Chinese, called Hànyû p∫ny∫n (“Hàn language spell the-sounds”), do not mark the tones, nor do these appear on p∫ny∫n signs in China. But in this book, the authors, most of whom speak Mandarin, have added tones to the maps, so you can have a go at saying street names, hotels, restaurants, and place names for yourself. And we’ve included the tones in these appendices.
Cantonese has eight tones plus the neutral, but its grammatical structure is largely the same, as is that of all versions of Chinese. Even Chinese people who can barely understand each other’s speech can at least write to each other, since written forms are similar China, with the aim of increasing literacy, instituted a simplification program in the 1950s, which reduced some characters originally taking 14 strokes of the brush, for instance, to as few as three strokes. Hong Kong kept the original full-form characters, and invented lots of new ones, too. Nevertheless, many characters remain the same, and some of the simplified forms are merely familiar shorthand for the full-form ones. But however many different meanings for each tone of ma there may be, for each meaning there’s a different character. This makes the written form a far more successful communication medium than the spoken one, which leads to misunderstandings even between native speakers, who can often be seen sketching characters on their palms during conversation to confirm which one is meant.
The thought of learning 3,000 to 5,000 individual characters (at least 2,500 are needed to read a newspaper) also daunts many beginners. But look carefully at the ones below, and you’ll notice many common elements. In fact, a rather limited number of smaller shapes are combined in different ways, much as we combine letters to make words. Admittedly, the characters only offer general hints as to their pronunciation, and that’s often misleading—the system is not a phonetic one, so each new Mandarin word has to be learned as both a sound and a shape (or a group of them). But soon it’s the similarities among the characters, not their difference, that begin to bother the student.
With China’s economy growing at an unbelievable rate, anyone who can communicate in standard Chinese (Mandarin) is set to enjoy a huge advantage in the international world of business in the future. China is also a big country offering a wealth of exciting travel experiences, and if you know some Chinese it will help you get by and get more out of your trip.
The Chinese language — spoken by more people than any other language in the world — is the official language of the People’s Republic of China, and is one of the four official languages of Singapore.
The best way to learn any language is to have fun with it and to speak it in context - giving Chinese language learners the perfect excuse for an extended trip to China.
By immersing yourself in Chinese language and culture, you will absorb a lot more than you would by studying alone or on a language course in your home country.
In China you can study at top universities or at private language schools, with courses available for all levels from beginners to intermediate and advanced learners.
Some courses last just a few weeks, while others are far longer. Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), for example, is the best-known university in China for teaching Chinese language and culture to foreign students. It offers short-term courses lasting 4 weeks, 5 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks or 20 weeks – plus long-term courses lasting either one or two academic years.
If you are keen to learn Chinese while you’re travelling, more for communication than for business, you could consider joining a study and travel programme, which usually combines language learning with travel and cultural activities, often pairing you with a ‘buddy’: a native Chinese college student who will give you plenty of opportunities to socialise with locals and immerse yourself in Chinese life.
Immerse yourself in the language
Wherever you choose to study in China, make sure that the course incorporates immersion teaching methodologies - where the majority of the classes are taught in Chinese in order to completely immerse you in the language from the start. The course should provide a balance of speaking, listening, reading and writing skills if you are serious about learning the language to a decent level, and class sizes should not be too large or you won’t get enough individual attention.
And after classes, when you’re not busy doing your homework, get out and about and visit local shops and markets to put your new language skills into use in everyday life.
The Chinese language, which is a communication system used by the Chinese people on a daily basis to accomplish various goals in life, unavoidably carries many features reflecting some of the commonly held social beliefs in their culture. Culture can be roughly defined as socially learned patterns of behavior and interpretive practices, in which language plays a most important part. In fact, the ways in which many Chinese words, idioms, popular sayings, metaphors, and neologisms are widely used among the Chinese correspond to the cultural beliefs and experiences that have shaped China as a country over the last three millennia.
Furthermore, the Chinese people, who have been in contact with many foreign cultures and languages throughout history, have also embraced and integrated into their own culture many foreign concepts and ideas. The structures of neologisms including many Chinese words of European origin and the morpheme–syllable Chinese writing system are examined together to show the importance of meaning in coining neologisms in Chinese. For example, the modern Chinese usage of culture representing culture was adopted from Japanese as it was first extensively used in Japan as a neologized lexical item representing the European word culture in the nineteenth century. In the nineteenth century the Japanese borrowed these two Chinese graphemes to create a new word to translate the European word culture into Japanese. Later, this neologized Japanese word was reintroduced into Chinese, or returned to China, to translate the same European word.
The Chinese character for “cloud” was written as in oracle-bone script and in bronze script, both of which have a curvy line in the bottom somewhat resembling a piece of floating cloud. However, after Chinese script was standardized after the Han dynasty, various Chinese graphemes can be analyzed in terms of strokes, i.e., lines, dots, and hooks that are draw non a piece of paper with a writing instrument, forming Chinese characters to codify words. For example, in standard script, the earlier undulant and angular lines were replaced by straighter and more regular lines that are more compatible with brushwork techniques. In so doing different kinds of strokes can be easily identified. A Chinese character is supposed to be written stroke by stroke. Chinese children are taught to write different strokes in each Chinese character by strictly following stroke order rules.
There are many practical reasons for students to learn these stroke-order rules. For example, writing is considered to be a form of art in Chinese culture. These rules may help students develop some necessary skills in placing various strokes proportionally to produce aesthetically acceptable Chinese characters. Moreover, one could not use many Chinese dictionaries effectively without knowing the order of strokes, as most dictionary index systems draw on stroke-order rules as a useful way to help users find the relevant entries of a given Chinese character. Even after the romanized spelling system was adopted, most Chinese dictionaries still provide an index relying on the number of strokes because there are many people who may not be familiar with either the romanized system adopted in a given dictionary or the pronunciation, or pronunciations, of a given Chinese character. For example, in the most widely used The Contemporary Chinese Dictionary in China, there is a two-step index system that is divided into two sections, “initial radical” and “radicals guide,” both of which depend heavily on the number of strokes. In this dictionary, that contains over 56,000 words, about 200 initial radicals are recognized. A user needs to count the number of strokes in the initial radical of a Chinese character, or the first Chinese character if the word has more than one Chinese character, to find the section that has all the Chinese characters with the same initial radical. Then, the user needs to count the number of strokes in the remainder of the Chinese character to find the page number where all the relevant entries beginning with the Chinese character will be listed.
The earliest fully developed Chinese writing that we know of today is the inscriptions on turtle shells and oxen shoulder blades, commonly known as oracle-bone script that appeared in the mid-second millennium BCE during the Late Shang dynasty.
Unlike a phonographic writing such as that of English where each letter of the alphabet encodes a phone, Chinese writing is a logographic system with each grapheme (or character) simultaneously encoding sounds and meaning at the level of the syllable. As a logographic system, Chinese writing has the great advantage that it is not necessary for a person who knows how to decode the writing system to learn to pronounce the characters in order to read the messages written in them.
Chinese writing is, nevertheless, not just a system of visual signs, or ideographs, representing various concepts or ideas totally divorced from pronunciation. A literary speaker of any Chinese dialect can immediately pronounce a Chinese character in her/his own dialect. The character, as a logographic form with a single-graph structure, does not represent any given phone within a word, but a syllable associated with a morpheme, Chinese writing as a system of morpheme–syllable representation is systematically phoneticized, i.e., the characters are readable.
In modern Chinese, graphemes, or characters, are known as hanzi, literally “Han-character” bearing the name of the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE). It was during the Han dynasty that Chinese writing was to a large extent standardized at a time when writing brushes, ink, ink stone and paper, wenfang sibao “four treasures in a study,” became the standard tools in Chinese writing.
Chinese Morphology is the study of words and word-making. Its goal is to understand the meaning in the relationships between words and the ways in which they are expressed, including how grammatical relationships are marked in different languages. For example, plurality is explicitly marked by an -s on English nouns, e.g., book as a singular noun and books as a plural noun. Furthermore, the relationships between words may require some morphological changes in different parts of a sentence. For instance, the verb form varies depending on the person and number of the subject noun phrase in an English sentence such as This book is very interesting vs. These books are very interesting in which the subjects and verbs have an agreement relationship, i.e., a third person singular, subjective noun corresponds to the copular verb is and a third person plural subjective noun to a different copular verb are.
Cross-linguistically, the minimal unit of meaning is commonly called a morpheme, and it is subdivided into two major types, bound and free. Bound morphemes primarily refer to affixes such as the English plural marker –s which only makes sense when attached to a nominal stem. Alternatively, a noun like book is called a free morpheme because it makes sense all by itself and refers to something in the real world, or is called a stem for an affix to be attached to.
Affixes are prefixes such as the English un- in unhappy and suffixes such as the English -able in laughable. Affixes can also be derivational or inflectional. In general, inflectional affixes refer to elements such as the plural marker –s in English and are fewer in number than derivational affixes as the former function to create forms of words with additional grammatical meaning such as plurality. Other inflectional morphemes in English include -ed indicating past tense, -ing progressive, -’s possessive, -er comparative, -est superlative, etc. Derivational morphemes such as -able in English tend to be more numerous than inflectional affixes in a language as they operate on a stem, or a root, like laugh resulting in a new word laughable. Other derivational affixes in English include re- in replay, -ment in establishment, -y in lucky, etc. Finally, not all bound morphemes are affixes, there are also bound roots such as –sist in English that constitutes the root, or stem, for derivational processes such as to generate words like resist, consist, subsist in spite of the fact that they cannot occur by themselves to make sense in a language, just like morphologically bound affixes. Although they are not free morphemes that make up most stems, they still provide a base form to shape new words with other derivational affixes in a language.
Compared to English, the boundary of a Chinese word is far from transparent, as many morphological markers like affixes are often non-existent because the Chinese language does not mark tense, or parts of speech, morphologically. The fluidity of the concept “word” in Chinese has even motivated some to claim (Hoosain 1992, Zhang 1992) that morphemes are more versatile in Chinese than other languages and more indeterminate with respect to their bound–free status. The notion of “word”, known as cı in Chinese, is neither a particularly intuitive concept nor easily defined. Furthermore, Chinese orthography requires no space between characters, regardless of their morphological status, i.e., no distinction is made in writing between free and bound morphemes, which obscures their existence in the speaker’s mindset. On the other hand, wenzı “characters” that are used to represent each morpheme syllable with a character regardless of its morphological status appear to be a more natural concept. Perhaps because of this reason, nearly all Chinese dictionaries list vocabularies through characters, instead of words. Thus dictionaries are most commonly referred to as zıdian, literally “character standards.”
Those with a grasp of (Mandarin) Chinese will have a cutting edge over others as China is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and in the times to come, Mandarin will exert an influence that nobody will be able to ignore.
Language specialist ESL offers unparalleled opportunities for those who have a desire to Learn (Mandarin) Chinese in China. The beautiful monumental city of Beijing has two partner language schools of ESL: Language School Mandarin House and Language School Sprachcaffe.
Language School Mandarin House in Beijing is located in the China Central Place, where there is no dearth of ultramodern hostels, shops, banks international offices and all that. The school offers optimal conditions to Learn (Mandarin) Chinese in China. The school has peaceful, professional and pleasant environment. The building is equipped with all modern facilities well-equipped classrooms and café, where students can relax and chat with other students after their classes.
Housed in the Cultural Palace in the interior of the Tartar city of the Manchus, Language School Sprachcaffe also offers Junior Chinese (Mandarin) courses in China. It features bright and spacious classrooms, a cafeteria, and almost all modern facilities that allow students to learn Mandarin in an intensive way in a relaxed environment.
Language School International house in Qingdao offers high-quality Mandarin courses focused mainly on communication. This school is divided into two course centres: East and West. Both centres feature well-equipped, air-conditioned classrooms, Internet access, cafeterias, spacious lounge, where students can relax.
Language School Mandarin House in Shanghai, which is situated at the heart of the city centre, near to the pedestrian Nanjing Road, is one of the best language schools to Learn (Mandarin) Chinese in China. It is surrounded by restaurants, cafés and shops that cater to diverse needs of students. The school has a qualified, trained and dedicated teaching staff that is always ready to assist students. The school has 22 well-equipped classrooms, a multimedia room that offers free access to Internet and WiFi.
Language school International House in Xi’an also offers Junior Chinese (Mandarin) courses in China. This school is situated at the center of Xi’an- the Capital of the Chinese province of Shaanxi. International House in Xi’an is housed in a modern, two-storey building and features 16 well-equipped classrooms, a library, a student lounge, a kitchen, a computer room with free Internet access.
The plethora of linguistic diversity of Chinese languages in the south and one unified Mandarin in the north might be related to the geographical characteristics of China’s north and south. “Mandarin dialects,” are spread across the Yellow Plain and the Loess Plateau which has a flat terrain that promotes travel and, consequently, easy contact among the people there. Ramsey observes that “this remarkable linguistic difference between a unified North and a fragmented South is a measure of how much life and society have been affected by geography.” As a result of this geography, a more uniform Northern Chinese area is created with mutually intelligible dialects. In contrast, mutually unintelligible dialects are spoken in the areas south of the Yangtze River because people there were barricaded by mountains and rivers.
The Northern dialects, with nearly 900 million speakers, are commonly subdivided into four major varieties: Northwestern, Northern proper, River, and Southwestern. The Northwestern variety refers to the dialects spoken around the Loess Plateau region with the ancient capital city Xi’an as its center. The Northern proper variety is spoken in the areas such as Hebei province, Shangdong province, and provinces in the northeast (Manchuria). This variety constitutes the basis of the standard dialect in modern China. The language was formed through large-scale immigration of the people residing in this area over the last several hundred years. Therefore, Northeastern dialects bear a strong resemblance to other Northern dialects as most migrants settling there originally moved from the Northern dialect area. The River variety spoken in the region north of the Yangtze River around the city of Nanjing was once considered the most prestigious dialect of the nation during and after the Ming dynasty. The Southwestern variety developed out of several waves of migrants settling in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou from central China after the Ming dynasty.
During the late eighteenth century the Qing emperors dispatched troops to settle in these remote areas permanently with their families and encouraged large-scale immigration from Hubei and Hunan provinces to reclaim the land in southwestern China. Consequently, the Southwestern variety in many ways resembles the language spoken in Hubei province. Northern Chinese typically has fewer tones than Chinese dialects in the south. However, the most remarkable feature distinguishing Northern Chinese from the mutually unintelligible Southern Chinese dialects is perhaps the lack of stop endings that are prevalent in many Southern dialects like Wu, Yue, and Min.