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Learning Mandarin
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Learning Mandarin


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This is a basic introduction into learning Mandarin from an American POV. It was delivered to a student audience curious about the difficulties of learning a language so different from their own.

This is a basic introduction into learning Mandarin from an American POV. It was delivered to a student audience curious about the difficulties of learning a language so different from their own.

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  • 1. Learning Chinese American Style with Pedro S. Silva II
  • 2. Like most Americans my first exposure to Chinese was in Karate movies and Chinese food restaurants. All I knew was that the food was good and I wished I had moves like Bruce Lee. So when I went into the military I took a few martial arts classes. I did alright, but I’m no Jackie Chan.
  • 3. One day, I found out I had an opportunity to take a language skills test. This test could tell you how good you were at learning languages. I decided to take it and when I got my score back they said I could learn any language. I asked for Hebrew or Arabic. The military gave me Chinese.
  • 4. For many people learning a foreign languages can be pretty difficult. Many say that it is because of the difference in the sounds and grammar patterns. But from my experience, I think that the major difference is the culture or the way of thinking. Tortoise Shell
  • 5. China has a culture and The American Culture   history that goes back that we know didn’t over 4,500 years. really begin until after Archaeologists have the Revolutionary War uncovered primitive in 1776. And though characters written on the English language the back of tortoise had been around a shells that are 3,000 while, the culture that years old or more. A lot effects the way we use it can happen in that time. is still developing.
  • 7. The first obvious difference is that the Chinese  language doesn’t use an alphabet. Originally they used pictures that have evolved into the characters we see today. For instance, the sun was written as , the moon as , water was written as , and so forth.
  • 8. The second major difference is the sounds.  Chinese only has about 400 distinct sounds (English has 12,000). That means that the same sounds get repeated a lot of times, but can mean a lot of different things. For example the sound “xiang” could mean: ● To think ● A Countryside ● Rubber tree or even ● Elephant
  • 9. One way to tell the difference in what someone is saying is to listen for the tones. Chinese sounds have four pitched tones and one that is neutral. One is high. The second is medium. The third is low and the fourth is a falling tone. It can mean the difference between words like mother (mā) and horse (mă).
  • 10. Pinyin was developed in order for foreigners to  learn to pronounce Chinese sounds. So if I wanted to say, “The teacher is going to school.” in Chinese, I would pronounce it as: Lǎoshī yào qù xuéxiào. The Chinese characters for that sentence are:  老师 要 去 学校。
  • 11. The other way to identify what someone is saying is by listening for context. If someone is hungry, would it make more sense to offer them : A B or shuì jiào = sleep shuǐ jiǎo = dumplings
  • 12. When I was learning Chinese I found that the best way to learn it was to teach my mind to first get familiar with: The sounds.  The pronunciation  The characters  The culture  You’ll notice that I didn’t mention meaning. I figured if babies could learn a language without dictionary definitions, so could I.
  • 13. I started my Chinese self study by:  Listening to tapes in Chinese,  Reading lessons in pinyin out loud  Copying characters I never really tried to understand. I just kept familiarizing myself with Chinese until it no longer felt foreign to me. Eventually I recognized sounds and characters. This was laying a foundation.
  • 14. Chinese Characters are composed of smaller characters called radicals and are written out in a certain stroke order. Some examples are: 刀 quot;knife“  心 quot;heart“  人 quot;man“  手 quot;hand“  水 quot;water“  火 quot;firequot; 
  • 15. There are 214 radicals in all and they range from 1 stroke to 17 strokes. Like a puzzle, if you put different combinations together you can write all 30,000 Chinese Characters. 一丨丶丿乙亅二亠人儿入八冂冖冫几凵刀力勹匕匚 匸十卜卩厂厶又口囗土士夊夊夕大女子宀寸小 尢尸 屮山巛工己巾乡广廴廾弋弓彐彡彳心戈戶手支攴文 斗斤方无日曰月木欠止歹殳毋比毛氏 气水火爪父爻 爿片牙犬玄玉瓜瓦甘生用田疋疒癶白皮目矛矢石示 禸禾穴立竹米糸缶网羊羽老而 耒耳聿肉臣自至臼舌 舛舟艮色艸虍虫血行衣襾見角言谷豆豕豸貝赤走足 身車辛辰辵邑酉釆里金長 門阜隶隹雨靑非面革韦韭 音頁凬飛食首香馬骨高髟鬥鬯鬲鬼魚鳥鹵鹿麦麻黃 黍黑黹黽鼎鼓鼠鼻齊
  • 16. Bright Sun + Moon = Good Woman + Child =
  • 17. With these basics, you will be able to get started on teaching yourself basic Chinese. It just takes a little discipline and an open mind. Just remember that an open mind is like a door. It works both ways. So if you don’t keep what you learn in, it will walk right back out.