Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Advice to Chinese Language Beginners

Even writing this title, I feel a little strange - even a bit of a cheat. Who am I to give advice to beginners when I'm barely out of the cradle myself. That said, this October I'll be two years into my study of the language, and there is at least one thing that I would do differently that I'd like to pass on.

In a nutshell: Get over it.

I think I spent as much as the first 12 months marveling at - but also being intimidated by - the twin strangenesses of tones and characters. They are surely the two biggest differentiators between a European language and Chinese. And while it does take a bit of time to get the sounds and ideas into your head, I think I spent far too much time pondering this - to the point of letting it get to me.

So my advice to anyone who is just encountering these novelties now for the first time. Do yourself a favour: Be amazed, have your mind boggled, lose your intellectual footing - for about 2 weeks. And then stop. Don't give this aspect of the language too much respect. Treat tones and hanzi like they were the most natural linguistic artifacts in the world. In that way, they will become exactly that faster than you might think.

9 comments:

jp 吉平 said...

Very wise!

Chris said...

Yep I agree wholeheartedly.

I found that being attentive to tones and characters rather than actually expecting to "learn" them helped a lot. I don't think you can learn to work with tones you just acquire greater ability over time (assuming you immerse yourself enough).

Sharm said...

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Ric said...

HI!you probably said it in a previous post, but how do you study? privately or do you attend a class? I started out privately and then continued taking classes and hanging out with Chinese and eventually went to Beijing to give it a boost at University. sorry gotta go..see you soon!

Brendan Lawlor said...

JP - Wise! Blimey. I must finally be getting a bit of sense. Thanks ;-)

Brendan Lawlor said...

Chris - speaking sense as always. That's a good distinction to make, between "being attentive to" and "learning". It fits well with the different ways of listening that I was harping on about a few months back. There's something that gets lost when we try to grasp too hard.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Hi Sharm,
I have to say I'm typically quite skeptical of any correspondence that begins with the phrase "You have been chosen..." :-) I think I have received too many lottery letters from Malaga of late.

I'm even more wary of the idea of "representing" my country, as not only am I not particularly representative (how could one be) I can only claim to represent myself (and I have difficulty doing that at the best of times).

So I'll politely decline but keep an RSS eye on your well-intentioned blog nonetheless.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Hi/Ciao/Gruess Ric,

I started out with local evening classes given my an excellent teacher. I found Chinesepod after a while and this really helped. I've continued with private lessons from my local teacher (irregularly) and I used CP's Practice session this summer (from Italy as it happens).
Your list of interest languages coincides very much with my own: Arabic and Russian are on the agenda in the future. First comes this big trip which will take us to China amongst other places.

A presto.

Ray said...

I would like to recommend My First Chinese Reader. It is a good chinese learning textbook for kids. Really Helpful