Monday, December 04, 2006

mandarin: wo shi nan fei ren

years ago, when i´d started with my undergraduate degree, i recall that in my first semester, all students studying languages had been sent a flyer for the mandarin course at UNISA. given my interest in linguistics, the ability to learn a language which was so different from that which i already knew, seemed entirely fascinating. the sad thing was that i didn´t have time to study yet another language, as it does take a considerable investment of time and effort, so i put that aim on the backburner, telling myself that someday i would get around to studying mandarin. then, some weeks ago i received notice of intensive one-week courses happening at the language centre here, one of them being mandarin. i signed up, and voilà. today I attended my first lesson. as we´d started, part of me sat there feeling pretty pleased with myself for finally having gotten around to acting on this desire. another part of me wondered "how many years will this take?" as i got to grips with my first few chinese pictograph characters. oh my goodness. how my head hurts! i am soooo attached to my latin alphabet i find, for i can easily remember the phonetic (pinyin) forms, and their significance, but oh, those characters! what helped greatly was that i was able to, more or less given fuzzy memory, transcribe the sounds phonetically.

what was really amusing was seeing video of a group of six year old Chinese kids learning the language in school, since one looked at them and thought "right now they know more than what i do". Even funnier, was that we learnt some helpful language learning technique from them: they made gestures to accompany the four tones. it seems so rudimentary and so disposable, but it does help if you wave your hand (horizontally; then 45 deg angle from left to right (acute accent) ; then in the shape of a "v"; and finally in a 45 deg angle from right to left (grave accent), but the accompanying gesture is more like a salute since the sound is short/abrupt) whilst attempting to emit the four tones.

i guess i´ll post an update by the end of the week...

Some useful URLs:

Oxford: Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language
(pronunciation resource)

Mandarin Chinese Phonetics (Patrick Hassel Zein)

Writing Chinese Under Windows 2000 Professional/XP

btw: the image above represents "I am South African" in pinyin


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