Graeme's Adventures in Learning Chinese - from the perspective of an English Speaking Australian learning a 2nd Language for the first time.
Graeme publishes Kaixin with his wife, Xiaosui
Hi, I’m Graeme and I'm Xiaosui’s husband (I'm the one on the right, not in the middle)
Obviously, I wanted to learn Chinese if I were to become part of a Chinese family and visit China regularly.
So, I started.
It soon became apparent that I would have to know PinYin. So, guided by Xiaosui, I learned PinYin. This is where the English alphabet is used to make the Chinese words so they can be pronounced.
A child in China does not have to know PinYin and learns like any child, by being immersed in the language. It is also well known that a child’s brain is ‘wired’ to learn language. That facility diminishes with age for most people. It certainly did for me.
Learning PinYin is not particularly difficult and becomes natural after a while. It is simply a matter of learning what sounds the English letters represent.
Xiaosui encouraged me to speak Chinese from the very beginning. I was not a good student. For most adults, speaking a new language is daunting, it challenges our sense of worth. It takes us back to being a child where we can only use the most basic words to try to communicate. Though, as adults learning a new language, we can at least do better than a baby. We can start with simple sentences such as, ‘this is a …’; ‘that is a …’; ‘Hello, my name is ….’
In your own language you have a whole range of words to communicate your thoughts. In your new language, at first, you have only one or two words .... and that can be very frustrating, not to mention amusing at times.
I thought it would be much easier if I were in China.
That is where I found ChinesePod to be excellent. It was like being in China, but being able to hit the pause button if I became lost.
So learn Pinyin and immerse yourself in China.
I meandered through ChinesePod for quite some time. As an adult, life often intervenes as well. I am now up to the Upper Intermediate level ..... just. The first thing I realised was that this is the level where you really learn functional Chinese. The previous levels had just been foundation building.
Yes, you could communicate on a basic, simple level but it was not particularly functional.
The lesson I have learned from reaching this level, is that I should have done it much sooner.
So if you are just starting in ChinesePod, I suggest you work very hard to get through the first three levels. Don't hang around too long in any of them because it has become comfortable. Push yourself into the next level as soon as you can ...... not too soon, but not too long. For each person this will be different.
You need to build a strong foundation, which the first three levels will do.
But I have now learned that you don't really start learning until the Upper Intermediate level.
Learning to Read and Write in Chinese
PinYin does have its limitations. For example the words ‘shi’ and ‘zai’ have many different meaning in Chinese. However each meaning has its own Character in Chinese. So, I decided to learn how to read and write Chinese script. That is more challenging, but it is mostly a matter of study and practice.
The first thing I noticed was that it was similar to English in some ways - it has an 'alphabet' and 'syllables'.
Writing in any language is just a series of squiggles and strokes. It has meaning if you have learned what those squiggles and stokes represent, otherwise it is just a series of, in effect, squiggles and stokes. .
If you have not learned to read and write in English then all these words have no meaning, they are random bits of ink on paper, random lines and squiggles on your computer screen.
If you have learned to read Chinese, then the above pictures have meaning to you. If you have not then they remain pictures.
China and 中国 mean the same, my brain now processes them in the same way. It takes the pictures and gives them meaning.
So, it becomes simply a matter of learning to give the pictures meaning. That is simply time, application and diligence.
The best way to learn any language is to read. That is what we were encouraged to do as children, read, read and read. Those who read the most became the best at English.
I decided to use the same approach to learning Chinese.
It is quite a buzz to go through an online lesson using only the Chinese characters.
Where and how to practise your newfound Chinese
Xiaosui helps me a lot, and I am lucky, but using basic Chinese is a bit of a bore for her. I found the best way to find people with time and patience was to join QQ (The Chinese Skype) and Chat to whoever contacted me. A lesson is structured, and very useful, whereas chatting to someone is not, so you are forced to dredge up words and phrases at random.
However, QQ can also be random, so if you really want to practise your Chinese, I suggest you either find a Chinese friends (although most just want to learn English) OR cough up and pay for a TUTOR at ChinesePod.
Believe me, you cannot learn to speak another language unless you use it.