A Holiday from Mandarin

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

I have been quiet on the Mandarin front lately. To be truthful I’ve really been very quiet since the beginning of January. A few things have happened that have kept me rather far away from Mandarin for the last 5 months.

Goodbye Mandarin for a short while… Hello French…

I took a planned break from Mandarin as I felt sick of Mandarin. I really honestly needed a break and so did a French course at absolute beginners level – in class with a teacher. I was super excited when I started but it turned out to be a bit of a disaster. The course cost heaps and it didn’t pay off. We stuck to a textbook (religously) and made very little progress through the six week course duration. The teacher didn’t speak English because she really couldn’t and misunderstood students’ questions in English. We also received full answers in French when we asked questions in English about French grammar and it turned out to be very frustrating when you really wanted to understand something basic. I really went in to the course with only a few words of vocab known to me such as soleil, je taime, jardine, bon jour and bon appetite and bouillabaisse, croissant etc. I could perhaps add five more if I think really hard… cafe au lait comes to mind.

Anyways, I really tried to be positive about the classes initially but missed the last few classes because I actually just could not get myself to go to a class where I felt like I was wasting my time.

Dealing with some difficult questions

After this course ended – middle of April, I tried getting back into Mandarin but questioned why I was doing Mandarin and whether I should simply quit and focus all my time into my career studies. Logically this made total sense as my career related studies is far more important.

Cultivating an unhealthy mindset

I also felt a sort of nagging doubt – a kind of pressure I was putting on myself based on the expectations I thought other people had about my level of Mandarin.) I have decided since that this is the worst thing I could do or for that matter – any student could do – to care about what other people think of their language ability and to compare themselves with others. I’ve realised that ultimately I am responsible for allowing this kind of doubt to create an unhealthy mindset. I have since learned from my mistake and will not allow this kind of thing from happening again. Of course it would be interested in knowing how other students feel about this sort of thing too and how they handled it but it took me a while to decide how to think about it and I’ve made my decision and it’s firm. I guess it’s part of “growing up”. The only person that should care about my progress is me.

Shifting focus to bigger priorities

Life has been in the way of presenting bigger priorities such as studying things related to my career so it means that as a hobbyist learner – Mandarin has been receiving and will receive even less time than it did before. I know I don’t want to quit Mandarin. I’ve come too far to give up. I just have to set a slow steady pace for the future and make sure I keep progressing even if it’s at a snail’s pace. This will mean more focus on my career studies and less on Mandarin. It is perhaps not a bad thing for Mandarin anyway. It might prevent me from getting sick of Mandarin as I will have other priorities to look after too.

So I will aim to be a little more active on the blog going forward and will keep blogging about my discoveries in future. I have also updated my About page and have mostly rewritten that page as a lot of it ties in with what I’ve written here. In some ways I want to say 新年快乐 realising that I’m a few months too late. Better late than never right? ;)

Why Mandarin tones and pronunication are important

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

If you’re new to learning Mandarin you may wonder whether putting effort into Mandarin’s crazy tones are all that important. Your teacher might give you plenty of pronunciation and tone exercises and really drill you a lot on your pronunciation. If you’re lucky you may even feel your stomach muscles tighten as you’re getting a good work-out drilling those ch,zh and sh sounds. (I’m not really kidding.) Unfortunately pronunciation is important too.

I have a little story to tell you and yes this actually happened. During an introduction.

Below follows a conversation I’d like to share with you:

Chinese lady: “你叫什么名字?”
Laowai (with rusty Mandarin): “我叫 Fu Yi Tian”
Chinese lady: “哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈” / Hahhahahaha. (Gives no explanation for laughing.)

Twenty minutes pass and a group of Chinese ladies joins us.

Chinese lady (points to Laowai): “这是Fu Yi Dian”
Other Chinese ladies: “哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈”

My Mandarin is less rusty and as I’ve picked up on *some* of the tone and pronunciation miscommunications issues so I decide to speak next and clarify:

Peckish: “他的名字是福一田。 Like ‘Good fortune – one field’.”

Chinese lady: “Oh 哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈!
I thought it was 付一点 Fu Yi Dian like ‘pay a little money’.”

Everybody: “哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈哈!”

Stingy bastard.

Oh dear.

Did I also mention that it’s really important that you also really really really love Mandarin? ;)

Using Lang-8

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

Lately I’ve been dabbling far less seriously than I normally do. I guess you could say I’ve been taking a “vacation” from Mandarin. It feels great – if you wanted to know. I’ve also started with a French course which I may tell you about later but I won’t ellaborate on in this post.

So I’ll share with you just a few things that I’ve done at Lang-8.com. (Credit here to hackingchinese.com for making me aware of this tool at first. I know I’ve been ignorning this tool for far too long. Using Lang-8 to improve your Chinese)

Background: Lang-8 is is an online journal entry website where language learners submit their writing in the form of an online journal and have their writing corrected by native speakers. It doesn’t mean you have to keep a traditional journal. It really just allows you to practice writing in the language(s) you’re learning. It’s free and in exchange language learners can help and correct other learners’ writing in return.

Basically I’ve not been great at keeping the habit but for a period of two weeks last month (before I decided a vacation from Chinese was in order). I do plan however to do more writing in the future as I like to use it as a way to find out how something should be said.

Anyways, without further ado. This is how I’ve used Lang-8 on the days I were “comitted enough” to post an entry:

  • I aimed to write just a few sentences a day. This (roughly) was my goal. (The first day I was so excited though and probably wrote four different entries in a couple of hours :) )
  • I use Lang-8 to ask questions that are relevant to my written entry. For example if I don’t know what a hot-cross bun would be in Chinese, Lang-8 gives me the opportunity to ask that at the bottom of my written entry or I would quickly slip in a question when thanking a native speaker for their correction and hope for a reply. It’s great – because sometimes they’ll ask questions in return and it ends up being an opportunity for both parties to learn something – whether it be a cultural aspect , a piece of general knowledge about the culture or a language related snippet.
  • Sometimes I look at native speakers’ English entries if they provide a Mandarin equivalent and use that as a bit of reading practice (with the help of my Pera Pera toolbar of course). I must admit I didn’t do this much, probably because it takes effort and time – but if you think about it – you’re already inside the tool when you do your own writing so it actually saves you time trying to find other reading material on the web – if you want to give your reading skills some practice. In addition, what other learners write about in their entries, may not necessarily be as complicated as anything you’d see on a website or a news report – so it’s still pretty good “reading material” even if you just look at a few posts like these in a week or “glance” at them.

Other benefits (besides the more obvious):

  • Lang-8 is free and you don’t have to pay money for it. Because there are many tools out there to keep me interested in learning languages, I am looking to keep my language learning costs down – so it being free is fantastic. There is a paid option that would provide more benefits but I can’t see why I’d want upgrade at this point.
  • If you’re shy (like me) – Lang-8 can put you in touch with native speakers. (Being an introvert for me means that I appreciate connections not with the masses but just one or two people at a time. I’ve found that it can be a bit overwhelming to connect with other learners (strangers) and it still tough for me though I guess this is something people could find hard to understand unless they have similar personality traits.) The point I’m making is using Lang-8 can make it easier to “meet” people.
  • You can try out newly learnt vocab by writing a few sentences. It is a great opportunity to “construct” sentences – to think about what you want to say before you have to say it. There’s no pressure and you can use all the tools you have available like dictionaries and Google Translate before you submit your entry. In fact I’d sometimes identify between three and five new words and figure out a way to do a piece of writing that incorporated these words. Sometimes it meant that I just wrote five random sentences and that my sentences had not formed a cohesive whole. That’s the joy though – write what you please – just be polite :)
  • You’ll learn from your mistakes or you’ll find out just how hard it is to break a “bad language habit”. Don’t let this deter you though – and don’t take it too seriously – just enjoy it.

If you want a more comprehensive post – take a look at this post:Using Lang-8 to improve your Chinese.

Now that I’ve told you about it I think I will go and write another short post and I will share some of the corrections I’ve received with you in a follow-up post.

Some “final” thoughts on SRS and sentence mining

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

At the beginning of January I did a post on my new years resolutions and I touched on the frustrations I experienced in using Anki. I don’t want to talk about my frustrations till you are sick of hearing about it. That is not my intention with this post.

A few days after I made that post, I discovered an article by Jeff Bern (jeffben.com) that I’ve found myself nodding to and agreeing with for the most part – well to be truthful just about the entire article.

I don’t think I could have explained my frustrations any better and that’s why I provide a link to that article here:
Is An SRS Really Worth The Effort?

I also quote this from Jeff’s post:

” When you eliminate the SRS and don’t have the almost superhuman power that it bestows upon you, you’re forced to look more closely at what you want out of the language and what you can do on a daily basis without forgetting everything. What I like about this is that it leads you to interact with the things that will be most helpful. Namely, material that is easier. Or interact with the material in a way that will let you remember more of it, like repeated reading and listening. ”

It made me think of my childhood and how I learned and developed my ability in languages (both Afrikaans and English, some Sotho (an African language) and a bit of dabbling in Spanish when I was about fourteen). It made me think too about my general studies at school or university or at any other time in my life and I realised that I’ve never ever used flashcards for ANY studies EVER in my life. (If my parents showed me a picture book when I was a toddler let’s not count that because I definitely can’t actually remember any of that. ;) )

The point I’m making is I never ever used it to boost my long-term memory or ingrain any facts into my head – not for any subject field and most definitely not for languages.

When I first heard about SRS and sentence mining I was honestly skeptical for these exact same reasons. It didn’t feel like a natural method of studying to me but a lot of people had very positive experiences with it so I decided to give it a go. You can read some of the thougths and questions I had at the time here: How to sentence mine and SRS for Mandarin? That is the question. Reflecting now – if I’m honest – I think that I was in fact trying to convince myself of its effectiveness as a method even though deep down I knew it didn’t feel right as a study method to me. It never felt natural to me.

Will I use SRS again? My answer at this moment in time is – unlikely that I would want to. I might have to look at Yearlyglot.com’s website again and read these two posts specifically.
Why I don’t use flashcards (and you shouldn’t either)
8 ways to learn a language without using flashcards

Some final thougths:
If you are enjoying SRS – fantastic – then I say continue as long as you are enjoying it :) . I am not trying to discourage you. This is just me sharing my final thoughts on the method in this post as you might wonder why I’ve changed my mind about this method.

If you can’t gel with it like me, then you can take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. :)

If however you have any interesting insights and links to share with me, then please do. I would be most grateful too.

Update: My first comment in the thread below is an really an extension of this post. In addition I supply two additional links that I feel touches on this subject (written by Olle of hackingchinese.com). I think some or most of what he says applies – whether it is sentence mining, learning new characters or just learning new words or phrases. They are good articles – enjoy.

You can’t learn Chinese characters by rote

Spaced repetition isn’t rote learning

My Mandarin New Year’s Resolutions 2013

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

Wishing us a good mandarin journey

At the end of last year – call it end of the year blues – call it exhaustion – call it what you will but I felt sick of Mandarin, sick of studying it, sick of little progress and rather just sick of the whole experience of being involved in it. I even wanted to kill my blog and my Twitter profile. Yes indeed.

There were a few reasons for this of which a few of them can certainly be shared with you:

  • I sustained some rather major “sports related” injuries and other interesting side-effects that really messed up my last quarter of 2012.
  • During and prior to this – I believe I got so stuck into flashcards with Anki that just doing them constantly (ad nauseum ad infinitum) eventually led me to feel very frustrated with my language studies. I could explore this in another post but will keep it short and sweet for now – I just really wasn’t enjoying this aspect of studying anymore.
  • As I’m not a formal student with semesters and breaks in between, I had set no breaks or planned time away from my Mandarin studies and I never really “willingly scheduled” any breaks from it during the year unless there were certain unfortunate events that interfered. I was even doing flash cards on my holiday in South Africa and Singapore. I mean seriously – what the hell was I thinking? It was my first time I visited South Africa (my birth country) in four years.
  • When I wanted to study but couldn’t because I was too tired and my body was recovering from these injuries, I had also felt incredibly frustrated. It seems there’s just no pleasing me – I know. Please hear me out.
  • Of course the non-Mandarin environment counts against me and naturally has a way of putting a lot of doubt in my mind. Such as “if I don’t get any speaking practice – is this really worth it?” etc. etc.
  • My language exchange gem cancelled on me. I do prefer meeting in person rather than having online sessions with strangers…
  • Last but not least – I need VARIETY and I don’t think I am coming up with excuses: I even started “exploring” Korean. (Not something I regret and definitely not something I’m going to stop doing either – in fact I think I will explore it a lot more – but where Mandarin can be compared to a main course, I will think of and treat Korean as a tray of very spicy condiments on the side…)

So for this year – with renewed vigour in my veins, I’d like to say just two things about me progressing on this path in Mandarin. There are just two things I’d love to do this year with regards to my Mandarin studies: I’d love to relax a bit and enjoy the journey and ensure that I am ENJOYING every thing I’m doing that has anything to do with learning Mandarin. I will not focus on the destination nor will I allow any frustration to develop for me during this journey.

Secondly, I WILL at least write an HSK exam level 3 this year and if I feel I am ready and well prepared for a level 4 HSK test before 2014 comes around then great – fantastic – but I am not even going to allow any stress to affect the enjoyment I intend to derive from progressing in Mandarin this year.

I mentioned before that learning a language is much like the building of Rome. The latter wasn’t done in a day – not even in a few years. As I’ve said it – is about the journey – not the destination and that will be my reminder for the rest of this year. It definitely should be yours too!

Exotic Fruits in Mandarin Chinese

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

I’m not done blogging about fruits just yet. Really I just want to share with you some of the exotic fruits I’ve come across in countries like China, Malaysia and Singapore and I want to tell you that one of the BEST things about travelling or living in Asia is that you get to eat exotic fruit (异国水果 Yìguó shuǐguǒ) you’ve NEVER even seen before in your life. So if you’re visiting a country in South East Asia – hell yes go to your local fruit shop as you’re bound to go on a little adventure as you’ll be seeing some fruit and vegetables (蔬果
shū​guǒ /果蔬 guǒ​shū) you’ve never seen in your life!

So I present without further ado – a few of the exotic fruits that I may have tried personally :)

Durian fruit:榴莲 liú​lián: is a strong smelling fruit that’s very popular in South East Asia but they are very pungent – so much in fact that they are prohibited in most of Singapore’s hotels and the MRT. Their smell is sometimes compared to smelly socks and you can even get a fine for carrying it with you on the MRT in Singapore. Talk about 禁果 jìn​guǒ forbidden fruit. :) I’ve smelled this one several times and when I finally summoned the courage to try it on my last trip to Singapore – it was not in season. To be honest I kind of like the smell and would not compare it to rotten socks at all. I think I read too many websites about it that went on an on about the smell that it kind of spoils the fruit for you. To be honest it’s just a very pungent, acidic tropical smell. If I trust my sense of smell (which I do) then I am sure I will love it. Hopefully it’s in season next time.

Jack fruit or 菠萝蜜 Bōluómì is literally pineapple + honey and I have tried this one before. Not as pungent smelling as the Durian although I did smell it before I ate it and I definitely didn’t like the smell nor did I like the taste. Have you tried Jack Fruit and or Durian? If so how did the two compare in your opinion? Please tell me in the comments below.

If you’re curious about the jackfruit take a look at this video below:

Pomelo or Grapefruit depending on where in the world you’re coming from = 柚子 yòu​zi. These may not necessarily be considered exotic but their size is something that inspires photos – photos like posing with them next to your head and sending those photos to family members in far-off places. Honestly they are lovely especially in China and they are a real treat to eat! A picture can be seen here. (No it’s not a pic of me posing with it sorry.)

龙眼 lóng​yǎn longan fruit – literally dragon eye fruit. Yes because it apparently looks like dragon’s eyes – at least it’s what I was told. Who am I to argue? In my humble opinion, not a match for a litchi in terms of flavour and fleshiness though but it inspires nostalgic eating if there is such a thing…

Luckily I can get still get this in New Zealand.

枇杷 pí​pa loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica) / loquat fruit. Should you get a cold and a nasty cough in China try buying some cough syrup made from loquat leaves (after you’ve checked it with your doctor or TCM specialist please of course).

火龙果 huǒ​lóng​guǒ red pitaya / dragon fruit. This fruit I guess looks like it has flames coming out of it – not sure why there is a reference to dragon in the second character maybe it looks a bit like the beard of a dragon? It does really not taste like much at all but is fascinating and absolutely stunning to look at. Because of it being such a beauty but not with much (taste) to it – I share with you this idiom I’ve come accross- ‘华而不实 huá​’ér​bù​shí flower but no fruit (idiom); handsome exterior but hollow inside / flashy.’

To be honest though – this fruit is really as beautiful inside as it is outside.

I took this photo at the Singapore Zoo.

Photo credit: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-378.html

Rambutan 红毛丹 / hóng​máo​dān /rambutan or rumbutan – I only ever saw this in Malaysia and it’s certainly a bit a bit intimidating at first glance. It’s the fruit you see in the big image at the start of this post. It can be fleshier and more watery than a litchi and to me the taste was a bit of a mixture between an orange and a litchy but more watery and less sweet. The litchi though remains my favourite…

Chinese Bayberry / Chinese Strawberry 杨梅 yáng​méi is a fruit you’ll often see in China and I regret to say that I never tried this. Have I missed out on much?

Mangosteen = 山竹, shānzhú. I took photos of this in China and had no idea what it was. Don’t let this happen to you. If you get a chance eat it! Apparently this is really delicious… (A picture can be seen here).

Lastly if you really love your fruit and are keen to try some exotic fruits then I suggest you visit Malaysia. It seems there are a few fruit farms in Malaysia that appeal to tourists and have a variety of fruits that you can try at their farm. A specific one that comes to mind is Desaru Fruit Farm. Unfortunately haven’t had the chance to visit this farm myself but will definitely love to visit it one day. Check out the vid below that shows their awesome fruit farm.

So these are all the exotic fruits I’ve had to share with you. Apologies for not sharing more Mandarin with you during this post but I’ve been wanting to blog about this for such a long time so I just had to get this post out of my system.

Plus sometimes you just have to be Peckish :)

Getting Fruity in Mandarin

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

I realised this week I didn’t know how to say “Give me two kilograms of oranges please” in Mandarin as I didn’t know the word for oranges! So I thought I’d delve a bit deeper into fruits over the weekend and am sharing with you a few things I’m learning about fruit 水果 / shuǐguǒ as well as a few interesting asides about them.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s not always easy to know what vocab to focus on and I guess part of this exercise is to address that – to think about fruit and any related words that might expand your vocabulary on a chosen topic. So I decided to get fruity and I’ve learned and am learning plenty :)

The fruits I really should know:

Oranges: 柳橙 / liǔ​chéng OR 橙子 chéng​zi

Apples: 苹果 píng​guǒ

For the geeks: 苹果公司 / Píng​guǒ​ Gōng​sī = Apple Inc. and yes they actually refer to Apple using the Chinese terminology on Chinese radio instead of using English Apple. Weird! Right?

Bananas: 香蕉 xiāng​jiāo (fragrant banana) or just 蕉 jiāo.

According to MDBG.net a ‘banana’ or ‘banana person’ 香蕉人 xiāng​jiāo​rén can be used as a mildly pejorative term used by Chinese for assimilated Asian Americans / Westernized person of Asian appearance.

Lemon / 柠檬 níng​méng or just níng​ or just méng is a popular flavour in tea 柠檬茶 níng​méng​chá and a popular Chinese dish with lemon as ingredient is 柠檬鸡 níng​méng​jī lemon chicken or chicken in lemon sauce.

Grapes - 葡萄 pú​tao – when fermented you get 葡萄酒 pú​tao​jiǔ (grape) wine and when dried 葡萄干 pú​tao​gān or raisins.

Mango - 芒果 máng​guǒ – for obvious reasons difficult to forget!

Melon - the common name would be guā 瓜 and forms the basis word for all fruits (even veg) of the “same family”. 瓜子 guā​zǐ = melon seeds and 大傻瓜 dà​shǎ​guā is not a fruit but a term used to tell someone they’re a fool or a jerk / lit. a silly big melon!

A few common melons:

  • Paw-paw or Papaya – 木瓜 mù​guā – literally tree melon because unlike most of the other melon varieties that’s where it grows!
  • Honeydew Melon = 白兰瓜 bái​lán​guā. I believe 哈蜜瓜 hā​mì​guā is another name for it and the one that’s more commonly used. Possibly more of a transliteration from the English name as the second character refers to honey and hā​mì​ sounds like honey.
  • Watermelon = 西瓜 xī​guā – named so because it was apparently introduced to China from the west.
  • And finally a useful idiom? 种瓜得瓜,种豆得豆 zhòng​guā​dé​guā​, zhòng​dòu​dé​dòu = an idiom that means “Sow melon and you get melon, sow beans and you get beans (idiom); fig. As you sow, so shall you reap.”

Coconut: 椰子 yē​zi – 椰奶 – yē​nǎi (coconut milk) while 椰丝 yē​sī would be shredded coconut – two very lovely ingredients used in South East Asian cooking.

Mandarin – this one unfortunately seems to have a couple of names 柑橘 gān​jú / 橘子
júzi / 蜜柑 mì​gān…

Peach 桃子táo​zi and 桃色 táo​sè would be – you guessed it – peach colour.
Peachy news or 桃色新闻 – refers to news of illicit love and the idiom 艳如桃李 yàn​rú​táo​lǐ lit. means beautiful as peach and prune. Figuratively speaking it refers to a “radiant beauty”.

Cherries 樱桃 yīng​táo = cherries and 樱花 yīng​huā = cherry blossoms.
Sample sentence from MDBG.net:
The cherry blossoms come out in early April in Japan.
在 日本 ,樱花 在 四 月初 开花 。

Strawberry = 草莓 cǎo​méi and this can also refer to a hickey or love bite in Taiwan :)

Lime – 青柠 qīng​níng or 清柠檬 qīng​níng​méng or 酸橙 suān​chéng (lit. sour orange) and to refer to the colour you can use ‘青柠色 qīng​níng​sè’

Fig – 无花果 wu2hua1guo3. Lit. without flower fruit. I looked it up and aptly named because ‘While fig trees technically do flower, you’ll never see anything that resembles a flower.’ Source: Do Figs Flower? | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/info_8350047_do-figs-flower.html#ixzz2CcAW4kr3

Pineapple - 菠萝 bō​luó or 凤梨 fèng​lí

Litchi - 荔枝 lì​zhī

Apricot 杏子 xìng​zi

Pear 梨子 lí​zi

Nectarines 油桃 yóu​táo


Two useful words you need to know:

  • 成熟的水果 Chéngshú de shuǐguǒ refers to ripe fruit.
  • 未熟 wèi​shú (lit. not yet + ripe) or 不成熟 bù​ chéng​shú on the other hand would mean unripe when used with fruit.

Other fruit related vocabulary

  • 果子酱 guǒ​zi​jiàng marmalade / jellied fruit
  • 核儿 húr pit (stone of a fruit)
  • 果啤 guǒ​pí = fruit beer
  • 果蝇 guǒ​yíng = fruit fly
  • 果木 guǒ​mù = fruit tree
  • 禁果 jìn​guǒ forbidden fruit
  • 果农 guǒ​nóng = fruit farmer while 农夫 nóng​fū = peasant / farmer and 菜农 cài​nóng = vegetable farmer)
  • Dried fruit 干果 gān​guǒ is really popular in China and you’ll see dried fruit / candied fruit shops everywhere in China.

Don’t forget your fruit etiquette!

In Chinese culture, when visiting someone’s home – it’s normally the thing to do to take a small present with to the host – normally a gift of fruits or snacks or flowers. However be aware that certain fruits have certain connotations and so do flowers.

For example I just learned that you should never ever share a pear with a lover, friend or spouse as a pear / 梨 lí has the same pronunication as it’s homonym ‘离’ in 离开 li2kai1 (to leave). More about Chinese fruits and symbolism

I think I’ve not even explored 1% of the vocabulary related to fruits but if you’ve never had a chance to look at fruits (beyond the basics) as part of your Mandarin studies, this might be a fruitful start :)

Which fruits have I missed? As always – I am happy to be corrected on anything I share with you. Your thoughts are always welcome.

What’s your blood group?

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

At the beginning of this year I bought a small book ‘Making out in Chinese’ by Ray Daniels and as I leafed through it I found a section that dealt with Chinese zodiac signs and blood groups and how these two things are believed by some to “define personality”. It is certainly a well-known belief that Chinese Zodiac / animal signs “define personality”. Blood however – the precious critical fluid that flows through our veins and the belief that it might affect personality – is certainly lesser known. Considering that there are only four blood groups (and apparently two more that were discovered recently) – it’s still only half-way to twelve so perhaps blood groups won’t offer enough variety in its personality analysis I reckon…

What does this have to do with Mandarin you ask – this is a Mandarin blog right?? 有耐心吧!

Just for fun – take a look at the image below – a screenshot from my little book ‘Making Out in Chinese’ by Ray Daniels and tell me what you think? (Just for fun, ok?). I agree that these descriptions are general enough to apply a little bit to everyone and by no means am I saying I believe in this type of personality classification by blood group and neither do I suggest do you, ok?

Blood Groups in Asia

Blood Groups in Asia and Personality Traits

I’m here for the Mandarin remember?

Whether you find the above mentioned extract amusing or not – it is still good to learn some blood related words and phrases so I simply raise the idea here for you to ponder – or not.

Maybe after reading this post you’d be slightly better prepared for some conversations if you were travelling through Asia and if you encountered some Mandarin speaking individuals who wanted to know about your blood type:) (If it’s a vampire enquiring though – I suggest you skip the chat and run, ok?)

Also, I did ask a Chinese native today if she thought foreigners would ever be asked about their blood group and she said that it could happen. Not a big big chance she said – but at least a reasonable chance because there are some people in China who takes this stuff seriously as seen from her perspective.

Secondly, perhaps one or two things in this post might be useful elsewhere in your Mandarin life e.g. visiting a Chinese hospital (which by the way could be a scary experience especially if you were only able to speak just a little Mandarin.).

Some bloody basics:

At least consider the following phrases and vocabulary:

What is your blood group?


Nǐ de xiěxíng shì shénme?

Nǐ de xue4xíng shì shénme?

It seems that yes there are two ways to refer to blood – either xiě or xue4. I really don’t think there is any difference at all but if anyone could point out what I don’t know that would be perfect. Please.

He is a very passionate person.


Tā shì yīgè rèxuè de rén.

Blood is thicker than water.


Xuè nóng yú shuǐ.

This one literally ‘blood is concentrated (compared to) water’.

People with blood type O are universal donors.

O型血的人是万能的 献血者

O xíng xuè de rén shì wànnéng de xiàn xiě zhě.

Blood donor


Xiàn xiě zhě

And finally, did some Googling and found some phrases on TeachMeChinese.com’s website (http://teachmechinese.wordpress.com/tag/whats-blood-sweat-and-tears-in-chinese/):

“血汗 (xuèhàn) is the equivalent of “blood, sweat and tears”, and 血肉 (xuèròu) means the same as flesh and blood, but in the reverse order.”

And a fantastic sentence is provided on that blog:

“This is his hard-earned money.”


Zhè shì tā de xuèhàn qián.”


And offcourse the one I wanted to find but couldn’t would be an expression that matches this English sentence “Blue blood flows through his vains” referring to the blood “which flows in the veins of old and aristocratic families.” (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/69200.html) Any feedback or ideas welcome here :)

Another one I’d be interested is ‘You can’t get blood from a stone’. :)

Bloody thruths – I kid you not.

And now that you’ve done some very serious learning about blood groups – take a look at some of these fun articles that show *just how big* this blood group thing is in Japan. It seems it is so significant in Japan that it can even be a defining factor for placement during job interviews or the assignment of projects in the work place. It can also be useful or a defining factor during speed dating – Dating by blood type in Japan and it seems you can even blame your failings on your blood group. I should try that I think.

Happy reading! And as always – if you have a bloody phrase or two do share – don’t be shy – bloody hell. :)

TuneIn.com for Mandarin Radio

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , , , , ,

I realise that my last post was more than two months ago and I might explore that absence of posting in another post centered around motivation. Such a post though requires me to think a bit more about what I want to say so I’ll leave that topic for another day.

In the meanwhile, I’d like to share with what I reckon is a great find for finding online mandarin radio stations. I wrote an earlier post on a mini-experiment I had with listening to background Mandarin radio. Even though I did a fair amount of Googling to get a decent radio station or two, I’m really glad that I’ve found TuneIn.com – a website and mobile app, available on several platforms that allow you to easily search for radio stations.

What this app or the website does is allow you to listen to Mandarin radio stations from China, Taiwan, Singapore (or basically anywhere else on the globe) and even “locates” Mandarin radio stations in your country or city etc. You can do this by searching by region or you can simply type the keyword Mandarin into the search and then browse through the stations that are listed.

Example: Below are just some of the stations that are listed for Taiwan

I was aware of two Mandarin radio stations in Auckland for example and when I used this app and checked out local stations, I actually discovered two additional local Mandarin radio stations. Bonus!

So even if you don’t have any Mandarin stations in your city – you can still listen to any of these available Mandarin radio stations. (Best of all – if you get bored with Mandarin, you can do the same search but try searching for Japanese or Korean instead :) )

A few pointers that may or may not be obvious but that I’m highlighting nonetheless:

  • You can use the TuneIn.com website or download a mobile app for your phone (Android, iPhone, iPad etc.)
  • If you use any of the mobile apps, keep in mind that even though the mobile app you download is or may be free, you’re listening to a stream of audio which means that it will consume some of your (precious) mobile data. I can’t find any information on their streaming bit rates so have no real idea how many megabytes it would consume per hour of listening. If you have wi-fi – best to use that.
  • Stations that are listed, do not necessarily indicate whether the particular station is an all Mandarin radio station. For example – a station which appears to be in Mandarin in Taiwan for example may have programs in Hokkien or other local dialects at times – so don’t get confused if it starts sounding very unfamiliar or strange – just trust your ears. If it does sound a bit alien – try another station and switch back later to see if that programme is done.
  • Audio quality can sound tinny for some stations. Try a few stations and bookmark those you like. I discovered that I quite like this station because of the good well pronounced Mandarin – not considering the quality of the stream in my judgement – just the Mandarin :)Capital 95.8 FM which is a Singaporean radio station.

I hope this is useful. It certainly is to me. I discovered this website about four weeks ago, used it in the last week and here I am blogging telling you about it today. Hope you find at least one radio station you can use for active or background listening. Enjoy!

FluentFlix: learn Mandarin watching great video content!

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: ,

I’ve recently received a test invite from FluentFlix after I was one of the first ten people who commented on a similar post on the ChineseHacks website. I was really happy to receive the opportunity to try it out over the last week and my exact words were that it had “blown me away”. (It is still blowing me away if you were wondering…)

FluentFlix have offered me 10 beta invites for people reading my blog too – so the first ten people to leave a comment below will receive an invite from FluentFlix to try out their beta version of the product.

How does it work?

The FluentFlix concept is indeed very simple – in fact it is so simple it is simply brilliant!

I think their idea is incredibly ingenious. They’ve taken real life videos (sourced from YouTube) and provide the ability to learn new vocab as you watch the videos that match your level and interests.

Essentially you specify your categories of interest and your level and are then presented with suitable video content that you can watch. (You can obviously change your interests and level at any time. I’ve set my level to beginner and I am learning plenty!)

Screenshot 1: Watching a video inside FluentFlix

Learning Vocab with FluentFlix

Hovering over a word gives you an explanation. The vocab you've favorited to learn is highlighted in yellow.

Screenshot 2: Learning new vocabulary and sample sentences

Learning vocabulary with FluentFlix

Screen overlay shows favorited word as well as sample sentences - really great for sentence mining!

Just to give you an idea – I’ve watched and learned vocab from:

  • A kids’ story with a green frog and a tortoise that teaches a story about the idiom 井底之蛙 or, ‘a frog in a well’.
  • A video that makes fun of Siri
  • A Nike commercial with Li Na
  • A short film about a couple quarreling
  • One very teary BNP Paribas advertisement that actually had me in tears
  • The “You are the Apple of my Eye” movie trailer

Essentially this product as it stands now has my stamp of approval and my love. Yes – especially the latter. The only thing that remains to be seen is pricing. I think there are still a few improvements that need to be made but none of these for me personally are show-stoppers and I have already communicated some of these suggestions to Alan of FluentFlix.

Some of my suggestions or enhancements I’d love to see:

  • For someone who’s been dabbling in sentence mining with Anki, I think they should be including the full pinyin for the sentences they supply. Yes I know I can use Google Translate for example to get the pinyin but it’s yet an extra step I need to take to get the pinyin. I also realize that each character has its pinyin presented on mouse-over but if f they simply provided the pinyin right below the hanzi it would be 很方便.
  • They allow you to add words you’ve learned from videos to your main vocab list. However I can see for example that I might want to add a word to another list – let’s say vocab related to food. Or move a word from my main list to one called ‘studied’. Once I delete a word from one of these lists, it deletes that word from both lists. Once a word has been added to a list it should break the reference to the original word. This would be a significant change for FluentFlix and definitely is something I can live with but I reckon users should know how this functionality works.
  • Fluent Flix doesn’t have traditional characters yet – but from what I can gather from the ChineseHacks website this is something that Fluent Flix will be considering as a future enhancement. Naturally this doesn’t affect me yet as I’m learning simplified but I have to support the traditional hanzi learners and say that this certainly would be a crucial and core aspect required by students who learn traditional hanzi.
  • The final thing I’d like to see FluentFlix is allow users to submit requests for videos to become “course material”. Naturally, it would be up to FluentFlix to choose and decide which videos to include but having a feature like that would be quite good to have within the product . The other alternative is to allow users to submit videos and all users to vote on these videos. Then if a video is popular enough well then FluentFlix would not have a choice but to analyse that video for their users :) . A nice to have feature – but it would be kind of nice to have, wouldn’t it?
  • Now without further ado, please leave a comment below and if you’re one the first ten people to comment then you’ll have a chance to be blown away too and receive one of 10 beta invites to try FluentFlix before it is released to the public.

    All the invites have gone – no more left unfortunately.
    Thanks for everyone who’s read the post and commented. I will be forwarding your email address to FluentFlix and you should be receiving an email invite from them soon. I hope you enjoy FluentFlix as much as I am doing. :) Good luck with your studies! :)