Demystifying Mandarin - Learn Chinese by Hutong School


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Jan Wostyn, Director International Relations of Hutong School, will give you a bird's eye view of the fascinating Chinese language, zooming in on different aspects of a language which many Westerners believe to be the hardest language in the world, until they actually get started, and discover the surprisingly simplicity of Chinese compared to most European languages.

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Demystifying Mandarin - Learn Chinese by Hutong School

  1. 1. Demystifying Mandarin by Hutong School June, 2012Jan Wostyn, Director International Relations
  2. 2. Overview Part I: Facts and figures about Chinese Part II: The Wonder of the Chinese Script Part III: How to write Chinese Part IV: Spoken Chinese Part V: Chinese Grammar and Vocabulary Part VI: Tips for learning Chinese
  3. 3. Part I: facts and figures What is Chinese? What is Mandarin? Where is Chinese spoken? Who learns Mandarin?
  4. 4. What is Mandarin? Mandarin = official standard language of Chinese Several Chinese „dialects‟ or „regionalects‟ exist, mostly spoken in the South of China:  Most well-known: Cantonese (Hong Kong, Guangdong, Guangxi)  Other: Minnanhua (Fujian), Xiang (Hunnan), Wu (Shanghai, Zhejiang)  In spoken form often mutually unintelligible Difference between a language and a dialect?  “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.” (Max Weinrich) Names for the Chinese language:  汉语 Hànyŭ 中文 Zhōngwén 普通话 Pŭtōnghuà
  5. 5. Map of Chinese „dialects‟
  6. 6. Where is Mandarin spoken as a first language? Mainland China (850 mio to 1.1 billion)  Younger generations all learn Mandarin at school, but will still speak their dialect as well in the South  Official policy: “Promote Mandarin, protect dialects”  Older generations, especially in countryside, may never have learned Mandarin and only master their own dialect Taiwan: about 4-5 mio speak Mandarin as their first language, but all Taiwanese learn Mandarin as official language Singapore: Mandarin is one of the official languages Overseas communities: usually migrated from the south, most speak dialects, not Mandarin (large communities in South-East Asia, notably Indonesia and Malaysia; smaller communities pretty much anywhere in the world, see map)
  7. 7. The Sinophone WorldSource:
  8. 8. Who learns Mandarin? Non-Chinese minorities within China:  Tibetan, Uygur, Mongolians, etc… Hong Kong & Macao:  Official language yet most speak it as 2nd language after Cantonese  Mandarin has clearly gained importance since 1997 In Korea and Japan, Mandarin may become as important or even overtake English as a 2nd language  Many Koreans learn Chinese characters at school  Japanese use 1945 common Chinese characters (Kanji)  lower threshold to learning Chinese Elsewhere:  Big increase in number of secondary schools offering Chinese in France, Germany, USA, …  Chinese government pushes Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms all over the globe
  9. 9. Part II: the wonder of the Chinese script When and why were characters invented? Traditional versus simplified Chinese characters How many characters are there? Different types of Chinese characters
  10. 10. When and why were Chinese characters invented? Brief history of Chinese script:  2000 BC: proto-writing: decorative carvings with meaning  „Inventor‟ of script = Cang Jie under Yellow emperor  Oracle bone script, Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BC) = first orthographic representation of language, not just pictures  Standardization of the writing system into the “Small Seal Script” (小篆 Xiao Zhuan) by Qin Shihuang (221-207 BC), after the Warring States Period. Chinese is characterized by a large number of homonyms  Many identical sounds have very diverging meanings  The Chinese people could not have invented the alphabet, it would have been useless to write down their language
  11. 11. A Chinese story…
  12. 12. Traditional versus simplified Chinese Although Mandarin is standardized in spoken form, there are 2 different ways of writing it Simplified characters:  Used in Mainland China  Introduced in 1956 by CCP  Mainly reduction of strokes  Also elimination of variants of same characters Traditional characters:  Used in Taiwan, HK and Macao
  13. 13. From traditional to simplified 車 → 车 觀 → 观 麗 → 丽 陽 → 阳 陰 → 阴
  14. 14. How many Chinese characters are there? 106.230: Yitizi Zidian (2004, Taiwan)  Includes also all kinds of variants of same character 54678: Hanyu Da Zidian (1989, PRC) 7000: Chart of Generally Utilized Characters of Modern Chinese 3500:Chart of Common Characters of Modern Chinese  2500 common characters  1000 less-than-common characters Don‟t despair !  With 2500 characters you can read 97.97 %  With 3500 characters you can read 99.48 %  With only 900 characters, you can read 90% of newspapers ! Highest level of HSK requires 2600 characters (Level 6)
  15. 15. Types of Chinese characters Pictograms = stylized representation of objects Ideograms = expressing abstract ideas through form Radical-phonetic compounds (80-90% of characters)  Radical: element that indicates meaning  About 200 radicals  Refer to „water‟ , „wood‟ , „hands‟ , etc…  Phonetic: element that indicates the pronunciation  Most phonetics are characters themselves as well
  16. 16. Examples of pictogramsSource:
  17. 17. Examples of ideograms人 -> 大 -> 天 person -> big -> heaven本 -> 末 root versus top女 + 子 = 好 woman + son = good !女 + 宀 = 安 woman + roof = safe !亻+ 木 = 休 man + tree = to rest !亻+ 本 = 体 man + root = body木 + 木 = 林 tree + tree = wood木 + 木 +木 = 森 tree + tree + tree = a forest
  18. 18. Example of radical – phonetic system巴爸吧把芭疤钯鲃 
  19. 19. Creative with characters 酒
  20. 20. Part III: how to write Chinese? The 8 basic strokes of Chinese writing Basic stroke order rules Writing direction How to write Chinese digitally
  21. 21. The 8 basic strokes of Chinese writing
  22. 22. Basic stroke order rules 1. Horizontal stroke (heng) before vertical stroke (shu) 2. Left-leaning stroke (pie) before right- leaning stroke (na) 3. From top to bottom 4. From left to write 5. From outside to inside and closing a frame with the last stroke 6. Middle first, then both sidesFor animated writing examples: see
  23. 23. Writing direction Modern Chinese:  Left to right, top to bottom  Just like in Western language Classical Chinese  Top to bottom  Right to left
  24. 24. How to write Chinese digitally Most Chinese use pinyin to enter characters digitally Pinyin = official transliteration system to write the pronunciation of Chinese characters in Latin alphabet For each pronunciation, all possible characters or character combinations appear Recognizing and choosing the correct character is all you need !
  25. 25. Part IV: spoken Chinese The 4 tones Do tones matter? Some sounds are harder than others
  26. 26. The 4 tones
  27. 27. Do tones matter? Yes, because a different tone will imply a different meaning  Mā 妈 = mother -> Māma, usually bisyllabic  Má 麻 = hemp -> Dàmá : marihuana  Mă 马 = horse -> usually monosyllabic  Mà 骂 = to scold -> as a verb, will be preceded by subject and following by direct object However, in basic communication, the context and the grammatical function will usually make clear what is meant, even if the tone is not pronounced accurately Make sure you know the tone of each character, but don‟t worry about mistakes in the beginning. The feeling for the melody will come step by step
  28. 28. Some sounds are easier than others Chinese has a relatively limited number of different syllables  Standard pinyin only has about 400 possible syllables  Western language have a multitude of possible syllables Most syllables are fairly easy to pronounce:  Māma, nĭ-hăo zhōng-guó, Shàng-hăi Some syllables and syllable combinations require practice !  Jī qī xī zhī chī shī jū qū xū  Zì-xíng-chē zì-jĭ qí-shí sì-shí-sì qī-shí-qī
  29. 29. Part V: Chinese grammar and vocabulary The simplicity of Chinese grammar What‟s different in Chinese grammar? Chinese vocabulary: makes sense ! Counting in Chinese: no exceptions ! Months and days of the week
  30. 30. The simplicity of Chinese grammar No conjugations: each verb only has one form No tenses No cases No plurals No articles No gender No variation of adjectives by number or gender Fixed sentence patterns, no inversionThanks to the Chinese characters, which are forms that never change, all the form changes of European languages can be omitted.
  31. 31. A French versus a Chinese verb
  32. 32. German articles versus Chinese
  33. 33. What is different in Chinese? Particles or sentence patterns to express tenses  了 le -> used after verb to express completion or past  过 guo -> used after verb to express past experience  快要...了 kuài yào … le -> construction to express something that is going to happen in the near future  Many other fixed structures that never change: some drilling does the trick ! „Measure words‟ (or „Classifiers‟)  In English, some measure words exists such as „a cup of tea‟ , „a pair of jeans‟, „a pinch of salt‟, ….  In Chinese, every word has such measure word  个 gè: generic measure words, can be used whenever you don‟t know  张 zhāng: for flat objects (e.g. sheet of paper, a table, …  座 zuò: for big heavy objects (e.g. a building, a mountain, …)
  34. 34. Chinese vocabulary: makes sense The vast majority of Chinese words have only 2 syllables They often combine basic meanings to form new words Examples:  电脑 diàn-năo = Electricity + brain = ?  电话 diàn-huà = Electricity + words = ?  电视 diàn-shì = Electricity + to view = ?  变色龙 biàn-sè-lóng =Change + color + dragon = ?  长颈鹿 cháng-jĭng-lù = Long + neck + deer = ?  橄榄球 gănlăn-qiú = Olive + ball = ?  网球 wăng-qiú = Net + ball = ?
  35. 35. Chinese vocabulary: hard made easy ! Many words in English have a Greek-Latin origin, especially scientific words, which makes them sound difficult and not readily understandable Chinese uses characters that are 2000 years old, but which have retained their basic meaning over time Examples  五角大楼 wŭ-jiăo-dà-lóu = Five + corners + big + building = ?  安乐死 ān-lè-sĭ = quiet + happy + die = ?  交响曲 jiāo-xiăng-qŭ = to cross + to sound + musical piece = ?
  36. 36. Counting in Chinese一 yī 一 yī 一 yī 一 yī 一 yī二 èr 二 èr 二 èr 二 èr 二 èr三 sān 三 sān 三 sān 三 sān 三 sān四 sì 四 sì 四 sì 四 sì 四 sì五 wŭ 万 五 wŭ 千 五 wŭ 百 五 wŭ 十 五 wŭ六 liù 六 liù 六 liù 六 liù 六 liù七 qī 七 qī 七 qī 七 qī 七 qī八 bā 八 bā 八 bā 八 bā 八 bā九 jiŭ 九 jiŭ 九 jiŭ 九 jiŭ 九 jiŭ十 shí 十 shí 十 shí 十 shí 十 shí  No exceptions, every number is formed the same way  One additional „unit‟ = 万 wàn = 10.000  Only 13 different syllables needed to count from 1 to ….  Example: 85327 = 8*10.000 + 5*1000 + 3*100 + 2*20 + 7 = bā wàn wŭ qiān sān băi èr shí qī  No need to worry about French calculations like 96 = 4*20 + 16
  37. 37. Months and days of the weekJanuary July 一月 yīyuè 七月 qīyuèFebruary August 二月 èryuè 八月 bāyuèMarch September 三月 sānyuè 九月 jiŭyuèApril October 四月 sìyuè 十月 shíyuèMay November 五月 wŭyuè 十一月 shíyīyuèJune December 六月 liùyuè 十二月 shíèryuèMonday Friday 星期一 xīngqīyī 星期五xīngqīwŭTuesday Saturday 星期二 xīngqīèr 星期六xīngqīliùWednesday Sunday 星期三 xīngqīsān 星期天 xīngqītiānThursday 星期四 xīngqīsì Once you can count till 10, you just need to learn the words for week, month and heaven and you know all the months and days of the week as well ! (13 different syllables)
  38. 38. Tips for learning Chinese Always carry a small notebook  Write down characters you see a lot  ask your teacher  Write down words or sounds you hear a lot  ask your teacher  You will easily remember these characters and sounds as they are connected to real-life situations Separate learning spoken and written Chinese  Learn to speak those words that are used regularly in daily life, but don‟t worry about the characters (yet)  Xièxie = thank you !  quite easy to say  谢谢  hard to write if this is one of your first characters, don‟t force yourself ! Learn the components first  Learn to recognize and write simple characters first, even if they are not commonly used in speech  口 kŏu = mouth  easy to write, also radical in many other characters, but rarely used as a word in conversations  木 mù = wood  idem, common radical
  39. 39. Tips for learning Chinese (bis) Make up stories about characters to memorize them  叫 jiào: to call or be called; my roommate was a fan of the football team Schalke 04 and looked at the character as ‟04‟. It was ridiculous, had nothing do to with it, but he did remember  楼 lóu: building  is a construction of wood (木) where a woman (女) is cooking rice (米) Use Chinese whenever and wherever you can, even if you feel you are using the same words over and over again Repeat 3 times 20‟ rather than once 1 hour Don‟t worry about tonal mistakes in the beginning, but always make sure you know the tone of each syllable Read aloud whenever you read something
  40. 40. Don‟t worry, anybody can learn Chinese !And for every worry, there is a Chinese proverb anyway !千里之旅,始于足下! A journey of a 1000 miles starts with one step !
  41. 41. Lost in translation…better learn Chinese !
  42. 42. About Hutong SchoolHutong School was founded in 2005 in order to provide Western students, graduates and young professionals internships and Chinese language courses in China. Hutong School is the school of choice for anyone who wants to study Chinese or find an internship in China. Visit our website for more information: