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Learning Chinese 学习中文 PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 17 July 2009 20:58

Chinese is not an easy language to learn! Here are some main differences between most Roman alphabet-based languages and Chinese:

  • Chinese is ideogram-based. Each character is unique, and a typical literate Chinese person has a command of around 3000-5000 characters.
  • Most words are built using a core set of motifs, so it's not quite as complicated as it sounds. For instance, the ideogram 提 means "to lift", and the ideogram 抓 means "to grab". If you look closely on the left side of both characters, they share a common motif that indicates an action carried out with hands.
  • Unlike most atonal Western languages, Chinese is spoken with 5 different tones, with different tones implying different meaning. For instance, 奔 and 笨 are both pronounced "ben" (using standard pinyin notation; they are not literally pronounced like the English name "Ben"), but 奔 is spoken using the first tone and means "to run", whereas 笨 is spoken with the fourth tone and means "stupid".
  • To use a Chinese dictionary, one must learn how to count writing strokes in each ideogram, and in what order they are written in. You can't just draw the ideogram any way you want!
  • Much like Spanish, there are many different dialects of Chinese. Although all dialects use the same set of ideograms (with the possible exception of Hong Kong Cantonese), some dialects are so unique that they are essentially a different language! Fortunately, most Chinese learn in school the official dialect of Mandarin, which is the local dialect of Beijing. PVCS teaches Mandarin Chinese.
  • There are even different Mandarin dialects! For instance, while most Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese can understand each other relatively easily, there is quite a bit of difference in everyday usage and slang. Mandarin is also spoken in Singapore, and they also speak Mandarin with a slightly different accent and slang usage.
  • There are two commonly used pronunciation systems. In Taiwan, the zhuyin system(注音符號)is used, whereas in Mainland China the HanYu pinyin system(汉语拼音)system is used. Most students from Western cultures prefer the pinyin method, as it uses Roman letters. "wo3 men lai2 xue2 zhong wen2" is the pinyin notation for "let's learn Chinese". PVCS teaches the pinyin method starting in Class 3.
  • To make matters even more complicated, Taiwanese use the Traditional Chinese character set, whereas Mainland Chinese use the Simplified Chinese character set. While 85-90% of the characters are identical, some are altered quite drastically. For instance, 厂 (simplified) and 廠 (traditional) are the same word. Due to accreditation requirements and other considerations, PVCS teaches students the Simplified character set. We would like to emphasize that this is a purely pragmatic decision with no political overtones; in fact, most of our families are Taiwanese.
Don't be intimidated! While challenging, Chinese is also a fun language to learn.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 22:35


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