Category Archives: Language

China and New Zealand Work Together to Promote Mandarin Study

I found this article about a an ambitious program captained by the Confucius Institute at the University of Auckland to quintuple the number of students learning Mandarin in New Zealand.

From the article:

“Last year, the institute placed eight assistants in New Zealand schools to promote the language – this year, that number will be 18.

Under the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement, up to 150 Mandarin assistants can work in New Zealand at any one time.

“We are very encouraged by a near 40 per cent increase in Kiwis learning Mandarin last year and will be doing much more to generate interest in the language this year,” said institute director Nora Yao.

“I will expect a more significant growth, and even if we do not reach our target, I am confident we will get near there.”

This year, 18 schools will be hosting the Chinese language assistants, whose jobs will be to fuel interest in Mandarin among students and train local teachers to teach the language.”

First, kudos to the governments of China and New Zealand for undertaking this effort. It won’t succeed (a huge percentage of those who start studying Mandarin drop out before they learn more than a few phrases), but it is an admirable effort.

Question for the reporter: How do you train local teachers to teach Mandarin when they don’t speak it in the first place? Or, are there already certified teachers in place who are Mandarin speakers and readers?

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Learning Chinese on your iPod

Interesting link here for those who want to learn on the run (an excellent way to learn Chinese when you are busy)

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Newsweek Article on Learning Mandarin

Newsweek recently posted an article entitled “The Mandarin Scam: So you want to learn Chinese? Your best bet is to say at home.

The author takes issue with the quality of Mandarin language instruction, and the teaching methods used, in China. He concludes that a student of Mandarin Chinese would be better off using online options or staying home and learning.

While I don’t doubt that there are problems with the way Mandarin is taught in China (students who study Mandarin in Taiwan have their fair share of complaints), there is one thing I am sure of: It is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to learn to speak Mandarin fluently if you never live in China or Taiwan.

I suppose there might be a rare exception–someone who moves to an enclave of Chinese speakers abroad and learns to speak Mandarin that way, but for most, they will never achieve fluency until they live abroad in Taiwan or China and speak Mandarin all day, every day, for six months to a year.

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John DeFrancis

If you’re a student of Chinese and you don’t know who John DeFrancis is, you’re missing out. Dr. DeFrancis passed away a few weeks ago. An oustanding eulogy is here, at The China Beat.

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On Learning the Standard Tones of Mandarin

Hard-core students of Mandarin Chinese will be interested in this article on the subject of teaching and learning the pronunciation of the four standard tones of Mandarin, posted on the excellent Chinese learning site Sinosplice.

Toward Better Tones in Natural Speech

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So You Want to Learn Mandarin Chinese?

To be fluent in Mandarin Chinese, here’s what you need:

1. A great dictionary.

2. A motivating teacher.

3. The perfect learning method.

4. The proper texts and the latest learning technology (e.g. Podcats and language learning software).

5. Encouraging classmates.

Etc., Etc., Etc., Right?

Wrong.

If you want to learn fluent Chinese, you really only need one thing.

A deep, burning desire to learn Chinese. Another way to say this is you need a very good reason to learn Chinese, something other than “I think it would be cool to learn Chinese” or “Gee, I really should learn Chinese.” Even “I think learning Chinese will make me a lot of loot” isn’t a motive that will sustain you through the process. You must be absolutely, 100%, “you can pry my character flashcards from my cold, dead, fingers” dedicated to learning this language and learning it well, or you will do little but waste your time and spin your wheels.

If you’re looking for an easy road, go and learn Spanish or Italian. If you’re not afraid of a bit of a challenge, learn French, German, or Japanese. Only those with a serious jones and an endless fascination for learning Mandarin are going to actually learn it.

If you aren’t really sure whether you want to learn Chinese, you probably aren’t equipped with the motivation and fortitude to learn it successfully. You might take one course and see if you like it, but chances are, you won’t (like it). That’s because you needed to take a course to figure out whether you wanted to learn Chinese or not.

There is nothing wrong with this. Most non-Chinese people aren’t equipped to learn to speak, read, and write fluent Mandarin. That is why the ranks of Mandarin speaking foreigners, while expanding, aren’t expanding very quickly.

Think of it this way: How many people do you know who want to become professional writers? Dozens? Hundreds? Most of your friends and yourself? Okay, now how many of them are actually professional writers? None? I thought so. Why? Because becoming a professional writer requires the fortitude of Heracles and the work ethic of Paul Bunyan. That elimates 99.99% of all possible candidates. Lots of people want to write, but very few people have to write, and rewrite, and write again until their fingers cramp and their butts go numb.

The bottom line: If you want to learn to speak (and possibly even write) Mandarin Chinese fluently, you have to want it so badly that you simply can’t NOT learn it.

If you’ve got that, the importance of the method you use to learn Mandarin pales in comparison. You’ll get to your goal because you have to. You will not be stopped.

But be forewarned–many people learn to speak and read Chinese, maybe even write it, but still don’t sound like native speakers.

That’s because if you want to learn to speak Chinese like a native, you’ll need two other things:

1. An undying commitment to getting the tones and pronunciation of Mandarin syllables correct.

2. A natural talent for mimicry.

If you don’t have those, and few people do (these types are so rare that they are legendary among expat circles), you’ll always sound like a foreigner. That’s actually okay. There are plenty of foreigners who work as multi-directional interpreters who have foreigner-accented Mandarin. It isn’t really a huge problem, but I need to mention it because some of you have unrealistic expectations.

Uncle True doesn’t want to discourage you from learning Mandarin. I want to make sure you know what you’re getting in to. If you don’t have what it takes, don’t be hard on yourself. There are plenty of other endeavors in life that are just as rewarding and that you are probably better suited to.

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“The Pain and Joy of Learning Mandarin Chinese”

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Melody Chen at The Taiwan Journal has produced well-written, insightful article that brings up most of the relevant points for those investigating the cost (in time, money, and pain) of learning Chinese.

Here it is: The pain and joy of learning Mandarin Chinese. Enjoy!

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