Posts Tagged ‘Mandarin’

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? ;)

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 (Credit here to 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.

I very like Chinese-ordered English

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , ,

Maple leaves and Chinglish Dangerous - but COE is ok :)COE or Chinese Ordered English is a term I only discovered about three nights before on Wikipedia. (I found it when I browsed the web instead of finishing my blog post which, at the time dealt with another topic entirely.)

This “technique” is one I’ve been consciously, purposely and subconsciously using on an off ever since I started learning Mandarin. In fact my old Mandarin course books always indicated this type of direct translation alongside the “normal” English translation. (My text books never actually mentioned anything about COE and it never explicitly made it into a “thing” – it was just given as a way I guess to get familiar with Mandarin sentence structure.)

When you’re learning Mandarin and you’re applying COE, it essentially means you let your good English grammar fly out the window and you get all down and dirty and really translate a Mandarin sentence very directly – or as directly as you can into English. It’s a great way to get a feel for Mandarin sentences and structure and in my humble opinion is probably one of the best ways to do this. (Actually not sure how I would have tackled Mandarin had I not used such a method in the first instance.)

This Wikipedia article on Chinese-Ordered English has its own example sentence to illustrate the concept but I like to use my own – a sentence that at one point at least a few years ago in my life had been true and applied to my life, so I was happy to figure this sentence out back then: :)

Hànzì: 我每天在办公室吃早饭
Pinyin: Wǒ měi tiān zài bàngōngshì chī zǎofàn
COE: I every day at the office each breakfast
English: I eat breakfast at the office every day.
(As an aside: The logic in Chinese is that you first have to be at the place before you can complete the action. Time words too are also placed at the beginning of a sentence instead of at the end.)

Below are a few examples that illustrate COE in action (with my comments off course):

Example 1:
I know little about New Zealand’s affairs.
Wǒ duì xīnxīlán de shìqíng zhīdào yīdiǎn
COE: I toward New Zealand de matters know a little.

Example 2
My Mandarin is not as good as your English.
Wǒ de zhōngwén méiyǒu nǐ de yīngwén hǎo
COE: My Chinese not has your de English good.

Example 3:
I don’t agree with you.
Wǒ bù tóngyì nǐ
COE: I not agree you.

(My language exchange partner gave me this sentence but I am often tempted to say ‘Wǒ bù gēn nǐ tóngyì / 我不跟你同意) – it feels right to me but I’m not sure if this is actually correct. If you can shed light on this one please do…)

Example 4:
My house is close to that restaurant.
Wǒ jiā zài nàgè fànguǎn fùjìn
COE: My house at that restaurant nearby / vicinity.

Example 5:
What are you interested in?
Nǐ duì shénme yǒu xìngqù?
COE: You toward what have interest?

Example 6:
He goes to Taipei for business by airplane.
Tā zuò fēijī dào táiběi qù zuò shēngyì
COE: He sit airplane to Taipei go do business.

(Once again the logic is that first you get on the airplane then you go the country and then you do can do your business.)

Example 7:
Where do I get off ?
Zài nàlǐ xià chē?
COE: At where off car?

Example 8:
There are people in the room.
Wūzi li yǒu rén
COE: Room inside has people

Example 9
There is a chair behind me.
Wǒ hòumiàn yǒu yǐzi
COE: My behind has chair.

This one is funny – cause if you literally translate it, it’s like this – ‘my behind has chair’ – except that my behind does not have a chair on it, neither is my behind actually on the chair. It just means there’s a chair behind me.

Example 10
I want to drink (a cup of) coffee.
Wǒ xiǎng hē yībēi kāfēi
COE: I wish drink one cup / a cup coffee.

Hopefully your understanding and grammar of the English language remains intact after all of that…

If you’re not using COE – then by all means let me know why not and how you’re coping, cause I VERY like Chinese-Ordered English. :)

I can’t quite imagine studying Mandarin any other way, i.e without applying COE. So share with me your thoughts if you wish :)

The concept of “fluency” in Mandarin

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

Like every other Mandarin learner I dream of becoming a “fluent” Mandarin Chinese speaker, but this goal can seem pretty unattainable and daunting if not broken down into smaller achievable milestones. You can also dream as much as you want about it but if you have no plan of action and no regularity in your schedule, you won’t get or go anywhere. So this is where I’m currently at – defining what I need to do (at least roughly in the next 6 months) to get me one step closer to becoming “fluent” in Mandarin. If I’m going to want to get anywhere with Mandarin in the near future – I have to put some stakes in the ground (a couple at least). I have to define what my goals are so that I know what I’m aiming for.

Fluency….? Have a laugh :)

“Fluency”. Yes there is a hint of skepticism – hence the use of quote marks. I’ve often wondered about becoming fluent in Mandarin and I have had so many questions about it:

Is it even possible? Do you need to live in China for a number of years to become fluent? At what point would I know that I am fluent? Is fluency relative, defined by what you want to achieve with the language? It seems such a vague concept at times. When I struggle with the basics I often ask myself whether I am crazy studying this language… If I didn’t have this burning desire / passion in my heart I probably would have given up ages ago. (Oh wait, sorry – forgot – was out of action for nearly 2.5 years – life got in the way…) Well at least I rekindled the flame, didn’t I?

Some conversations I’ve had with native speakers have left some doubt in my mind too – comments like “Not even Chinese people are fluent in Mandarin”. Another reply that also left me rather puzzled about the validity of the concept of “fluency” in Mandarin was when I asked a native speaker why they said “shenme” so much in a conversation and whether they ever had difficulty understanding one another. To this question, I was answered with, “Oh us Chinese don’t always understand what’s going on”. Baffled I was. If statements like these don’t leave a Mandarin learner confused, then I can only present another inspiring example (smell the sarcasm): “200 Kilometres (from here) and we won’t be able to understand one another if we speak Mandarin – no point for foreigners study Mandarin! Better if Chinese people learn English!”.

When you think it can’t possibly get any darker and gloomy though :) , along comes a Mandarin angel, who puts back the silver lining around the (damned) dark cloud: “Don’t worry so much about the pronunciation and tones, even though China is so big, if you put the words together in a sentence, people will be able to understand you. Your pronunciation and tones don’t have to be perfect – just close.” This last statement which I had heard from a native speaker very recently, is certainly very encouraging especially when compared to the statements I had mentioned before. It also however confirms the idea that standard Putonghua is not something everyone conforms or even aspires to – but I’m pointing out the obvious – none of this is news. I suspect it’s known already and not just by me. In this case though this last example is rather comforting. I’ll be an optimist and keep with the last person’s words in my mind as I continue on my path.

Getting back to my point though – all of these questions aside – I reckon one should simply decide that negative comments will not be allowed to discourage. When feeling overwhelmed – the only thing to do is to be realistic and break the end-goal down into several achievable milestones and as for me, I have to define what I’m aiming for and how I’m going to achieve it, with the time (and other resources), I have available to dedicate to this beast. :)

I also need to define what I think fluency means to me. I reckon if I can close a business deal in Mandarin I’d consider myself fluent. For now though, I have rather more rudimentary obstacles to conquer.

Patience is a virtue.

A virtue I (for the most part) do not possess.

What’s the worst that can happen?

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: ,
Tomatoes fānqié 番茄 / xīhóngshì 西红柿

Tomatoes: fānqié 番茄 / xīhóngshì 西红柿 - I think I'll take Kit Kat next time...

The comments in the last post ‘Accidental conversations in Mandarin’ inspired the post for this week ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ when having/starting conversations in Mandarin – a question posed to me by Greg from Mandarin Segments.

In my last post I also mentioned that I met a Chinese lady on the bus who offered to lend me some of her daughter’s Chinese books and I got a chance to meet up with her yesterday. I also promised myself that I’d be better prepared mentally to have an actual conversation with her in Mandarin at our next meet-up and I think I was actually slightly better prepared… progress… I have also tried my first Dr Pepper… literally…

If you’re not familiar with the Dr Pepper ads then here they are: brilliant – have a laugh before you continue on with my lengthy post – sorry I know I take a while before I get to my point!

Now that you’ve had a laugh, I’ll tell you how my visit went to my new Chinese acquaintance and I’d like give an answer to the question / statement: “Have a Mandarin conversation – what’s the worst that can happen?”.

Right. A few things apparently :)

1) You can forget your manners – leaving out ‘qing wen’ when asking someone’s name in Mandarin can have somewhat serious cultural implications – especially when people are older than you are. I was corrected and gently told that Chinese people use ‘qing wen’ when asking names instead of just asking ‘Ni jiao shenme?’. I mean I know this and I know it pays to be polite – and by NZ standards I’m always far too polite. In this instance, I wasn’t at all intending to be impolite – I guess I came over as abrupt and hence impolite. I think I just had a more casual approach in mind. Kind of like ‘I’m called [name]. What’s your name?’ Terrible of me? I don’t know but felt really bad for a few minutes then decided to get on with it and impress them with my sparkly personality and good humour :)

2) You can misunderstand a question, give an answer and inadvertently without intending to do so – tell a lie…

Knowing that I’m never supposed to go empty–handed to a Chinese person’s home when I visit them – I took a humble gift of vine tomatoes and avocados.

I’m not too sure what happened but when I was asked a question about the tomatoes I answered yes – realizing the moment I had replied that I had in fact lied – that I had confirmed that I had been growing the tomatoes myself (which I haven’t done). The tomatoes I gave as a gift were ones I bought but I also do grow tomatoes myself. So this confusion made me a liar – the Chinese lady was so happy and excited about these lovely big tomatoes I had “grown myself” that I felt the timing wasn’t right to correct her about it. It being insignificant in the bigger scheme of things – I left it at that – I mean small white lie right and completely unintentional? When she later showed the tomatoes to her husband and told him that I had grown the tomatoes myself – he was in awe too – and my immediate reaction was to steer the subject in another direction because I couldn’t look her husband in the eyes and misrepresent my tomato growing skills, neither was I ready to deny at this point in time what I should have denied / corrected sooner. Next time I’ll take some Kit Kat or something other with – anything I can’t possibly have grown myself. I am an idiot … most of the time…

Besides me showing the tendencies / initial symptoms of being a habitual liar and forgetting my manners, overall I thought the visit went well, we chatted for 2 hours – way longer than the quick visit I anticipated it to be. Some of the conversation was in Mandarin and most of it in English. It was enjoyable and I walked home with a big smile on my face as I felt so happy to have met these wonderful people.

What will I do next time about the tomatoes if they ask me again? 我不知道。

I feel like this experience of coming over as impolite and “lying” is almost worse than “my most embarrassing Mandarin moment to date” – I guess I actually feel like I’m a bad person…

As for point 1 – knowing about potential pitfalls, cultural sensitivities and the like is important and I think language should never be studied in isolation of a culture.

As for point 2 – well heck I should just improve my listening skills and react faster I think.

Have you ever gotten yourself into a predicament when you tried to put your best Mandarin foot forward and it didn’t quite have the desired outcome? I’m talking about specific situations e.g. misunderstandings like getting tones wrong and telling your best friend you like his mother instead of his horse? Embarrassing or odd stuff like that. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Have you ever been or felt like an idiot yourself?

For those of you have commented before – thank you :) – I love hearing your thoughts. I’m hoping I’ll hear from you again. If you haven’t commented yet – you have an invitation :)

If you’ve got a good link to share – please share that in the comments too – 谢谢你!

Useful phrases?

Did you have a good weekend?
    Pinyin: Nǐde zhōumò hǎo ma?
    Simplified: 你的周末好吗?
    Literal translation: Your weekend good +question word

Have a good weekend!
    Pinyin: Zhù nǐ zhōumò yúkuài!
    Simplified: 祝你周末愉快!
    Literal translation: Wish you weekend happy!

I am going to Singapore in the near future.
    Simplified: 我最近要到新加坡去
    Pinyin: Wo3 zui4jin4 yao4 dao4 Xin1jia1po1 qu4.
    Literal translation: I near future will to Singapore go.

What are you interested in?
    Pinyin: Ni 3 dui4 shen2me you3 xing4qu4?

  I am interested in learning Mandarin.
   Pinyin: Wo3 dui4 xue2 zhong1wen2 you3 xing4qu4.

He is not interested in cooking.
    Pinyin: Ta1 dui4 zuo4 cai4 mei2you xing4qu4.

Useful vocab:

Tomatoes – 2 options:
    Pinyin: fānqié OR xīhóngshì.
    Simplified: 番茄 / 西红柿

For an explanation on when to use which one please see this answer
In what dialects does Chinese use the word 西红柿 (xihongshi) versus 番茄 (fanqie) for tomato?”

Small Victories: my progress in learning simplified characters with Heisig…

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

I recently started working through James Heisig’s & Timothy W Richardson’s book – “Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters”.

I’m only 225 characters in (out of 1500) and thought I’d share with you how I’ve been finding it thus far.

Well… I LOVE IT and I seriously hope my love for it remains until I reach the end of the book because I’ve still got a long way to go… I think it is a great method for learning characters and I SO wish I had known about this sooner!

My stats thus far show that I am actually retaining what I’ve learned pretty well – this is really promising I think (even though I’ve only studied the first 225 characters in the book.):
Mature cards: 100.0% retention
Young cards: 90.0% retention
First-seen cards: 90.0% retention

I have to acknowledge and point you in the direction of Greg’s blog – Mandarin Segments. If it wasn’t for his blog and his success with Heisig I may never even have started down this path.
Instead of me reinventing the wheel – I suggest you have a read through Greg’s posts for an overview on Heisig and some tips and tricks on using Heisig visualizations – there are many posts all useful but I recommend this one in particular: Tips & Tricks for Heisig Visualisations.

Reading the Mandarin Segments blog made me realise it was ok to let my own mind guide me a little bit where needed, so I will share some of my personal findings with you below.

Finding #1: If the Heisig story doesn’t quite “gel” with me – I aim to make it more personal and change the story so that it will work best for ME. I know my mind and I know there is NO point in me trying to remember a story if it doesn’t “gel” with me…


#133 Swim 泳
You see the primitive for drops of water to the left and to the right the character for eternity. Heisig suggests an eternity of bliss best represented by an expanse of water to swim in without a care in the world.
I needed to make the visual image stronger for ME so my story goes something like this instead: If I’m in water e.g. the ocean – a never ending mass of water – what would I do? Would I drown or would I swim? Well I’d turn into a mermaid and swim forever :) .

#147 Yangtze 江
Heisig’s story has a number of images just a little bit too ‘alien’ for me e.g. water and i-beam and bringing Huck Finn into the story just further complicates it for me so I changed it to:
Water primitive + the character for work = the biggest water ‘work’ in China which I’d answer with ‘the Yangtze’ – easy enough for me :) .

#178 lluminate 照
I use Heisig’s idea as a basis – making something obscure evident for example the process of glazing a pot where you put it in the oven to “fire” it and in the process illuminating it. Instead I think of how the Lord of the Rings ring starts glowing (being illuminated) and how it reveals its inscription when held to a fire. (This works better for me than the Heisig version because it’s just a little bit more visual and personal for me).

Finding #2: Drop the Heisig primitive meaning if you can replace it with another meaning that more closely matches the base character’s meaning. (NOTE OF WARNING: try at own risk and use sparingly – I am not necessarily advocating this).

I know this one’s a tad risky and I’ve done this in only one instance thus far – but so far so good…


#166 Chinese inch 寸
Heisig suggests glue / glued to as a primitive meaning. I changed its meaning to measure / measurement instead. This not only helps me with remembering additional characters but it also helps me remember the meaning for this character 寸.

This is how this change in the primitive’s meaning works out for me in some of the characters that follow:

#167 Seal 封
Earthly measures of importance in historical China could for example have been a red wax seal with the Emperor’s signature that was used on his messages and scrolls. These sealed scrolls may have been burried with him in the dirt to accompany him in the afterlife but in actual fact these “eartly measures of importance” may not have had much importance in the afterlife.

#168 Time 时
The sun is the reason we can measure time (all creatures need sun – we cannot exist without it).

#169 Buddhist temple 寺
The soil /ground where people go to in China to measure themselves (figuratively and morally speaking that is) would be a Buddhist temple. (It helps that Buddhist temples are everywhere to be found in China.)

Finding #3: That sometimes but rarely I can’t come up with an alternative story to the Heisig one, but in thinking about a story of my own I inadvertently memorize the primitives and characters anyway – it ends up being a simple “addition” to get to the result.


#129 削 candle primitive + saber primitive = peel
Makes no sense whatsoever I know but in my breaking my head trying to make up a different story I’ve memorized it anyway without really intending to do so.

#133 奇 big + can (ability) = strange
I was just totally lost after reading the Heisig story involving St Bernard Dogs with kegs and nails etc – it was too much for me – and now I remember it because there’s just no other way to do it anyway – it’s already ingrained in my memory.

Finding #4: Drop the story altogether if you can see a strong enough visual in a hanzi. It means less memory work :-) . This one gets interesting. Again I’ll use this one sparingly.

#187 Lovely 丽
Well this one looks like the lovely collar bone of a woman (top horizontal stroke) and well … her two lovely breasts (two shapes below the collar bone). I don’t ever imagine boobies but in this case I can’t really help it – the character almost lends itself to the idea – yes and I know they are the wrong way around but that shouldn’t matter because apparently all types are lovely.

And no we’re not going to start a debate on that last statement please ;)

It’s obviously not all I can share with you and naturally there are some characters that I do struggle with – I think listing those though would require another post :-)

On another note…

I was browsing through some old photographs taken during trips to China in 2007 and time spent there in 2008 and found a photo of a building which I (from memory) believe to be the Shenzhen train station – see below. (Don’t know if I entered the same building or one nearby to go through HK customs – sorry if I’m confused. )

Before Heisig, I was only able to read the 3rd character for ‘mouth’. Now after studying these few characters in Heisig’s book, I know the meaning of the first one too – which is ‘silk gauze’. (Small victory – small smile).

Even so, I have absolutely no idea what that would mean in the context of the Shenzhen train station :-)
If you do know – please let me know. That would be appreciated. :)

Shenzhen Train Station?

Shenzhen Train Station???

If you’re also studying characters using Heisig – share your findings in the comments please! I would be interested to know if you too change and twist the stories a “teensy bit” to make it work for you…

Mandarin around the world… You say Guóyǔ, I say Pǔtōnghuà

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

As far as I know it’s important to be aware of the different regional names / words that exist when referring to Mandarin – and even better to know which one to use when speaking to Chinese people from different countries. Certainly, here in New Zealand, it is useful to know, as I meet Chinese immigrants from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.

I think you’re very likely to offend a Taiwanese, if you asked them whether they speak Pǔtōnghuà and vice versa likely to offend a mainland Chinese if you asked them whether they speak Guóyǔ. (Yes I realise we’re speaking of one and the same language – minus the accent and perhaps “slight” regional differences.)

Anyway, to start with it’s important to know a little bit about those countries where Mandarin Chinese is an official language:

  • China (the People’s Republic of China) Zhōngguó (中国; 中國)
  • Taiwan (Republic of China) Táiwān (台湾;台灣)
  • Singapore Xīnjiāpō (新加坡) (one of the four official languages)

In China (including Hong Kong special administrative region & Macau:

Mandarin is known as Pǔtōnghuà (Simplified 普通话 ; Traditional普通話)

Meaning: common speech (of the Chinese language)

Cantonese is largely spoken in Hong Kong, thus I suspect there is a Cantonese word for Mandarin that may be more prevalent than the Mandarin word Pǔtōnghuà when referring to Mandarin. Any corrections on this would naturally be welcome…


Mandarin is known as Guóyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 国语; Traditional Chinese: 國語)

Meaning: national language’

Singapore & Malasia:

Mandarin is known as Huáyǔ; (Simplified Chinese: 华语; Traditional Chinese: 華語)

Meaning: Chinese language (in a cultural sense).

I suspect it may be kosher to refer to Putonghua when speaking to a Singaporean, but I still think it’s best to refer to Mandarin as Huáyǔ when speaking to a Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese simply because it is the word they themselves are more likely to use (and I guess therefore would be more respectful).

Zhōngguó huà (中国话) and Zhōngwén (中文)

These two words can also be used to refer to Mandarin. However the difference between these two is that

Zhōngguó huà refers only to spoken language i.e words e.g.

Wǒ huì shuō zhōngguó huà


Zhōngwén (中文) refers to the Chinese Language in the sense of both the spoken and written language:

wǒ huì shuō zhōngwén


With the latter, you’re stating that you’re learning both how to speak Chinese as well as write it.

Hànyǔ (汉语 / 漢語)

Of this one, I’m not entirely sure at all – it seems that Hànyǔ is very much interchangeably used with Zhongwen, however this may not always be the case and I don’t know whether there are any exceptions.

It also seems that Hànyǔ is the preferred option for academic / educational purposes. Most courses refer to Mandarin as Hànyǔ and not Pǔtōnghuà

Apparently, 汉语also refers to the language spoken by the Han nationality, i.e. Pǔtōnghuà the standard contemporary Chinese language.

Well, I hope this is just slightly useful. I still need to do some more research into the last one and see if I can find anything more concrete…

Inspirational People – Who’s Your Laowai Hero?

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

My interest in Mandarin and China had been in place well before I discovered my inspirational laowai(s). It is good to know that the little seed that grew into a much larger interest had been planted and nurtured by me.
I can’t take all the credit though for any progress I’ve made in my studies, nor the fact that I’m still interested in Mandarin after several years – because I’ll admit – it can be a frustrating interest at the best of times.

Sometimes it is necessary to find inspiration from a source to fuel your own dreams and interests – someone or something to look up to – someone that can gently give you a proverbial push in the right direction before you throw all your toys (or Mandarin materials) out of the cot in frustration.

These people are some of the few people I’ve stumbled across that have inspired me (and are still inspiring me):

Da Shan 大山:
Canadian Mark Henry Rowswell is my first Mandarin hero ever. Da Shan is to Mandarin, as Jean-Claude van Damme is to Martial Arts.

If Wikipedia’s information on Dashan is anything to go by, then “Dashan is the most famous Western personality in China’s media industry. He occupies a unique position as a foreign national who has become a bona fide domestic celebrity.” If you Google his name you’ll find plenty of Mandarin courses being presented by Da Shan, in mind I say – excellent pronunciation. The most memorable of his courses for me would be the sports series that aired on CCTV prior to, and during the 2008 Olympics.

I imagine plenty of Mandarin learners might turn a funny shade of green when listening to him flash his Mandarin skills – as for me, I remain starry-eyed and envious. This link looks potentially follow-worthy – I shall add it my list of Mandarin stuff myself.

Marc van der Chijs
According to his website, Marc is a “Dutch serial entrepreneur & angel investor in China, Chief Evangelist @ Spil Games, co-founder of a.o. and”.

I recently “rediscovered” him again online and am very much interested in reading up about him. He is inspirational to me simply because he’s made a life for himself in China and is successful in his business endeavours in China. Needless to say it’s an even more fickle online business world over there in the Middle Kingdom than it generally can be, therefore I consider him a true entrepreneur and success story.

I have no knowledge of Marc’s Mandarin capability unfortunately – but I would be twice the fan I am today if I discovered that he knows how to speak some Mandarin.

Charlotte MacInnis (AiHua)
Charlotte MacInnis / AiHua is an American women who moved from the US to China with her parents when she was 7 years old. Like Da Shan, Charlotte is fluent in Mandarin, very knowledgeable on Chinese culture and also a familiar face on Chinese TV programs. I think she’s an inspiration to any Mandarin learner and probably a great example to expat kids who spends much of their childhood in a country with a culture so very different from their own.

When I’ve got some extra time, I give my listening skills some practice by following ‘Growing Up in Chinese’ (成长汉语), a series of short 15 minutes episodes presented by Charlotte on CCTV

So I’ve shared my laowai heroes with you.

Do you have an inspiring Laowai story to share with me? Let me know who’s been inspirational to you. I’d be keen to hear.