October 31, 2013

A key to learn Chinese

Got to understand the context

To me a key to learn Chinese (Mandarin) is understanding the context, knowing the background, understand why we say/write this and that, understand where things come from. It's the way I have always been - I (thankfully) never grew out of the "WHY" questions that you ask as a kid; I continue to do it. 

It's not the learning style of everybody, but it is indeed the learning style for me, and this is part of the reason why I am so happy to be in Taiwan to learn mandarin: The written language is the traditional Chinese written language, which means more lines but on the other hand a stronger connection to the history, not the least the history behind each character. When I allow myself the time to analyse each character and break it down to smaller pieces I get to something that sticks rather than just doing repetitions. For me, this is a must - it is the only way I can learn properly. On the other hand, when I do get my "why:s" answered I am a very fast learner. 

Most people I met outside school are extremely helpful and happy to answer questions. Still you need to use other resources as well.

That's why I am happy that there are so many other resources out there. The written language is the key to my learning - I wrote about it here - so I am very grateful to the man I study with who gave the the link to Zhongwen.com.  It is an excellent website that allows you to research the radicals that are common and helps forming the written language. Via ZhongWen.com I am able to track the meaning of the different words and when I know the meaning, they make sense, and when they make sense, I can learn.

(A radical is a building block and this is also where the characters are listed in a dictionary - there has to be some way of sorting even the chinese characters... Many characters can be broken down into radicals. Radicals are rarely used on their own but in the combination they mean something. )

A sign advertising peanut ice cream 

Peanut ice cream anyone? Peanut - huasheng - 花生. The first character, hua, which means flower. You can see the radical for grass - the top bit, the horisontal line with two cross lines. Grass. Most characters that have this little thing on the top has to do with something that is growing. Clever, isn't it?

When it comes to the ice, “bing" - 冰 is is the character for water (shue - 水 )but the two side lines, on the very left, shows that it is something frosen - and then you get bing. The radical for water is by the way the three lines you see on the character next to "bing" - water on it's own looks like "水" - three streems of water or a river coming together - shue. Water is however one of those things that can stand on its own but also is reflected in many other characters, especially characters that have something to do with some liquid - the three lines on the character after SHUI is the radical for water. When you see these three lines, two pointing up and one down, you can suspect it has to do with some sort of liquid.

See, once you start getting all these little keys it gets easier and easier.

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