Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Wackiest, Wildest Dictionary I Have EVER SEEN

I love 李開榮(hereafter to be refered to as LiKaiRong). It's a sick and twisted kind of love, but I can't help myself. I often think of him and wonder what colour the sky is in his world, and if he has categorized it as he has everything else in the world...

LiKaiRong is the author of Chinese-English Classified Encyclopedic Dictionary, which I picked up at the Taipei 101 Eslite a few years ago. Don't let the generic title fool you...this book is sick, it's addictive, and at only 200NT, it's a bargain at 10 times the price for hours upon hours of fun. For years upon years.

The Chinese-English Classified Encyclopedic Dictionary, or LiKaiRong's Extravaganza Bonanza as I like to call it, is 1657 pages of cagegorized lists of anything and everything you can imagine. The Table of Contents alone is 64 pages long. It's 3" thick, a literal brick of a book. Each page has roughly 75 words on it, so it's got about 125,000 words and phrases. It's not so much that it's a categorized dictionary, it's what he's categorized and how, something I could only imagine doing:
a)with a team of 100 plus biddable minions working around the clock for a year steady
b)on a permanent acid trip

Take, for example, one of my favorite lists in this book (although I'm constantly discovering new faves, I always come back to this one), "Minute Details of Daily life". Many of the entries are singularly bizarre. I don't know about your daily life routine, but mine is pretty boring and mundane, especially when juxtaposed to LiKaiRong's, who apparently does these things (and assumes the rest of us do as well?) on a daily basis:

walking(/running)unsteadily in a zigzag
dragging somebody along against his will
having a snowball fight
twitching the eyelid
feeling too ashamed to face people
pouting one's lips
hitting somebody on the right side of the head
giving presents to one's elders or superiors
itching all over
picking one's ears

and, my personal favorite (well, it was a toss-up between this one and "dragging somebody along against his will", which is certainly an activity I try to fit into my daily routine)...

hanging oneself

The above is just a sampling of the many puzzling activities on this list, but even more puzzling is the fact that the list does not solely consist of verbs or verb phrases, which you might assume it would. Maybe it's just me, but I see "details of daily life" as requiring an action (to achieve the repetition that "daily life" implies). But LiKaiRong thinks differently (understatement!), and includes nouns (bound feet, a pot of porridge, monstorous lie, wicked idea) and adjectives (careless;crude;coarse,foolish looking,crafty and evil), with a few random proverbs thrown in for good measure.

If you look at the Chinese characters, you see that he orders them by stroke order/radical, i.e. (一, 八, 大 小, 三, 上, 巴,etc.) but this still doesn't explain how most of these words or phrases a)came to mind or b)seemed remotely suitable. (I know many native Mandarin speakers, none of whom could have compiled this list, or the thousand others like it).

There are so, so many other lists in this book which I would like to call your attention to, but for now I must go....but should you want to buy a copy of this wonderful book, it is hardcover, a 5x7 brick 3" thick, with a red and blue (and green stripe at the top) jacket. Its Chinese name is 漢英百科分類詞典, and it was published by 萬人出版(tel:(02)298-0501), in 1996. Last seen in Eslite, but that was years ago. Please, somebody, find it. Buy it. Love it. I can't be the only one to appreciate this gem (well, maybe I can be, and indeed am, but I sincerly hope not and am fixing to start a fanclub as soon as I hear back from any of you soon-to-be converts!)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Learning to Read - Baby Steps!

Web Dew
Originally uploaded by Reiffhaus
So you've decided to learn to read and write Chinese - or if you're still on the fence and looking for a few more reasons to, read this.

But if you don't know any characters, how do you start? It seems a bit daunting!

I've developed a way for beginners to learn to recognize characters, based on the books I've written (with the help of my two wonderful editors, both native Mandarin speakers AND Chinese teachers). This set of books is comprised of a textbook called Very Practical Chinese - 45 Conversations to Know (VPC for short), which includes 16 hours of MP3 compatible audio, and its companion, the VPC Study Guide, which breaks down each line of the dialogue. Our books focus on everyday conversations and making grammar easy and accessible. They also have a huge glossary, heaps of slang, idioms, tongue twisters and jokes. You can read more about them here.

Once finished, I started to think about supplementary materials to help my readers learn to read and write. I came up with "Black Out" Photocopiable Templates that let the reader cover parts of the dialogue in order to test their memory. From here, I made "Fill-in Pinyin" Templates, printable worksheets where the Pinyin and English gloss are whited out, leaving space for you to write your answer and test yourself!

From there, it struck me that for beginners, bigger would be better! That, and a way to be interatctive with the characters, which seems to be a better way to memorize new information than just passively staring at it (think of the "Memory" card game we all played as kids), and so the "Line-by-Line Flashcards" were born. I've got Chapters 1 thru 9 done (more are on the way). The idea is to arrange the cards while listening to the dialogue, or from memory. Then see if you know the tones for each of the characters in every line (best accomplished by using on of the "Fill-in" Templates at the same time). Finally, flip them over to see the tones!

If you've already learned a few hundred characters, these are too remedial for you, I think, but if you're brand new at it, they're a very good way to cut your teeth and ease your way into memorizing characters!

Best of all, you can try my system for free! Simply:

1. Open a Sample Chapter from the VPC Book (Ch.1, 2, and 3) are online and its accompanying audio files. (You'll find the Study Guide Notes for each here as well.)

2. Go to the Line-by-Line Flashcards for Ch.1, 2, 3. Print them on double sided paper.

Give it a try and see:) I'm about to post new worksheets on my website that I call "Fold-over" Vocabulary Reivew Sheets, which will be great to jump to after you've gotten a few hundred characters memorized using the Line-by-Line Flashcards.

For those of you who prefer to review new words and characters on your computer, Online Flashcards for the VPC Chapters (through to Chapter 24), which were created by my industrious student, Bruce, are now available! He has graciously made them available to other students at Flashcard exchange, for which I am greatly indebted to him. Check out the VPC Online Flashcards here!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Five Reasons YOU Should Learn to Read and Write in Chinese

1. Your curiosity has gotten the better of you.
Admit it...you want to know what all those neon street signs say. You want to be able to read the menu, instead of looking at the pictures. (The latter is far more likely to impress your date!) You're not illiterate in your native tongue, nor would you likely learn to only speak French or Italian."Oh", but you say, "Chinese is different!" You might not believe it, but trust me...

2. It's not as hard as it looks.
Take a look around you, and say to yourself, "If they could do it, so can I!" Of course, having learned as children, they had something of an advantage, but on the other hand, with technology where it is now, you don't have to tediously copy characters dozens or hundreds of times (like they did). YOU can...

3. Learn to type, (not handwrite) characters
It's a hundred (if not a thousand) times easier to recognize a character when it's in front of you than it is to recall if from memory and re-create it stroke by stroke. You could, of course, learn to painstakingly handwrite characters if you're a purist (or a masochist)...but why, when it's soooooo much easier to type, using a phonetic system, either Pinyin or BPMF, to input the sound, and then choose the character (or compound word) you desire from a list.

4. Literacy opens up your study options
Once you can read and type, suddenly so many more study avenues are open to you. You can keep keep a diary, write letters, and go online to find a ton of websites, online dictionaries and newspapers... CSL (Chinese as a Second Language) is really starting to emerge as a field of interest, and it's only going to get more popular as more and more people study what is destined to be THE language of the 21st century.

5. It's not all work...
Texting, MSN, chatrooms, blogs - once you can read and type, you can communicate in Chinese! Whether texting your language exchange buddy to ask what time your lunch date is, reading (and replying to!) an interesting blog, or chatting with someone next door (or half a world away) on MSN, once you are literate you can be a social butterfly! (Or a Don Juan!)

How to get started:
Granted, if you can't read a lick of Chinese it might seem a bit daunting, but I have a plan for you! Read this!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mastering Tone - 1st to 4th Combinations

For a good first to fourth tone transition, you're required to start with a rock steady first tone. To do this, spend a bit of time to find "your" first tone pitch. How high or low it is depends entirely on your voice and tonal comfort range. A good base first tone is one where you can easily move two notes (steps/levels, if you prefer) up and two down, without straining your voice.

Once you've established your base first tone, practice a clear, confident first tone that does not waiver or falter. I'd liken it to walking in a straight line/on a balance beam, but that's too slow, and implies too much effort. Your first tone is clear and effortless, so imagine you are floating down a river, being carried along by a brisk current in a smooth, tranquil river.

To go from this steady clear first tone to fourth tone, imagine you're gliding down the river, only to suddenly be carried off the edge by the waterfall, landing into the pool "two steps" below.

The trick is the making the pivotal point where you transition from first to fourth as much like a 90 degree angle as possible. You have to totally shift gears and drop like a stone from a clear, melodic sing-song first tone with no hesitation whatsoever.

Some first to fourth combinations to practice are:

bing1kuai4 冰塊 (icecube)
gao1xing4 高興 (happy)
fa1xian4 發現 (discover)
gong1zuo4 工作 (work)
yin1yue4 音樂 (music)
ba1gua4 八卦 (gossip)
sheng1ri4 生日 (birthday)

Also practice 4 - 1 - 4 combinations, where you have to fall swiftly and emphatically from your first tone to fourth, then you have to JUMP UP again to first, only to fall right back down to fourth. The most important aspect of this combination is the jump up to first. If there is even the slightest hint of an upward climb (slide, veer, amble, digression...), you've suddenly made your first tone into second.

So visualize: Falling down - jumping up (like you're Superman, or the superhero of your choice, leaping effortlessly to the top of a building) - then gliding along effortlessly in the river of first tone, only to and fall down again into the cool waterfall!

Some 4 - 1 - 4 AND 1 - 4 - 1 combinations to practise are:

Ni3 yao4 chi1 dan4bing3 ma? 你要吃蛋餅嗎? Do you want to eat danbing?
Yi4 bei1 dou4jiang3 一杯豆漿 a glass of soy milk?
Fei1lv4bin1 菲律賓 The Philippines
Wo3 dui4 ba1gua4 hen3 you3 xing4qu4 我對八卦很有興趣. I'm very interested in gossip.
Wo3 dui4 peng1ren4 hen3 you3 xing4qu4 我對烹飪很有興趣. I'm very interested in cooking.

Try taping yourself and listening with a critical ear. Also, if possible, have a native speaker critique your tones. Repeat until he/she is satisfied with how you're saying times (this could take 5 times or 25 or 50 times - but if you have someone patient enough listen to and correct you, take advantage of this opportunity!!)

Good Luck! 加油!!!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Number Slang!

tokyo night walker.
Originally uploaded by brewskizzlr
In my book, Very Practical Chinese, I've included a whole page of number slang. I find this concept fascinating - we have our own "number slang terms" in English - to be "86'd"; "69" or "420" (a popular one in Vancouver:) to name a few, but Taiwanese people have us beat, as they have dozens upon dozens of number combinations that many use on a daily basis to send a quick text/email.

The first one I encountered was "88". 8 is pronounced "ba" in Mandarin, and thus "88" means "Bye-Bye" (an English loan word). There's also the slightly more Chinese sounding "881" (Buh-bye-eee).

My editors and I have compiled a list of 30 of the most common number expressions. Each number corresponds to a similar sounding character(s). Sometimes it's a bit of a stretch...in these cases they might sound more like the Taiwanese pronunciation. Sometimes, interestingly, they rhyme (as with "di", which rhymes with the pronunciation of seven, i.e. "qi").

At any rate, here is a list of numbers 0-9 and some of the characters paired with each:

1 - yi (一one, 意meaning, 依to rely upon) and sometimes ni (你/妳you)
2 - ni (你/妳you), e (餓hungry)
3 - xiang (think/miss sb.想), sheng (生born), shei (誰who)
4 - shi (是to be), si (死death), xin (信believe), shi (世world)
5 - wo (我I), wei (唯only),
6 - nian (念miss), la (啦particle - enthusiasm/impatience), liao (bored), lao (老old), le (了particle)
7 - qing (請please), qu (去go), cai (猜guess), qi (氣energy; anger)
8 - bu (不no), bian (變change), bao (抱), ba(吧particle, indicates uncertainty, sometimes used to soften the tone of a statement/make a suggestion; bie (別imperative, i.e. don't ___),
9 - zou (走walk; leave), jiu (酒alcohol)
0 - ni (你/妳you)

And here are a few of the number slang expressions. There are many more in the VPC textbook, available at:

0452 妳是我唯一 "You are my only one."
0748 你去死吧 "Go to hell!"
360 三念你 "Thinking of you."
520 我愛你 "I love you."
596 我走了 "I'm off; I'll be going now."
729 去喝酒 "Let's get a drink." (lit: go-drink-alcohol)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Have you seen my baopi?

What's in my bag?
Originally uploaded by loupix
The first week I was in Taiwan, my then-boyfriend and I went out for dinner with a group of expats and their Taiwanese friends. Late in the evening, and many bottles of Taiwan beer later, another foreigner came in and started speaking with great intensity to the group. Half of our group was composed of native English speakers, so I don't see why he spoke to us in earnest Mandarin, (which seemed, to our virgin ears, at least, to sound pretty good) but he did, and we sat their mystified as the people at our table all turned red and looked at their feet. The explosion of hilarity that followed on the heels of his departure was explained by our new friend Don as follows:

Apparently, the man had left his "baopi" right here on this table and had we seen it? His "baopi" was very important to him and he needed it back, and would we please call him if we saw his "baopi", etc. etc.

I'm unsure as to why no one corrected him - perhaps no one wanted to let him lose face (in the process losing face themselves) or, more likely and less charitably, perhaps they just liked hearing a man talk about how much his foreskin meant to him - not a topic you hear every day!

Anyone studying Chinese has mixed up the syllables of compound words, but few combinations are as memorable when you mix them up as this one, so remember:

pi2bao1皮包 = wallet
bao1pi2包皮 = foreskin

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mastering Tone - 4th to 2nd Combinations

Certain tone combinations seem harder than others for beginners to get a handle on, some of which are more surprising than others. I would have thought that 4th to 2nd would be pretty much an open and shut case, but it's proved to be a challenging combination for my student to (consistently) master.

The problem doesn't seem to be with the 4th tone syllable, which is swift, emphatic, and drops enough in pitch, but rather with his inability to start his ascent from the precise point where his 4th tone ends.

If this sounds like your problem too, try visualizing this scenerio:

Imagine that you are diving into a pool. A perfect dive (like the picture on the right) where your voice falls in pitch as quickly and effortlessly as your body would cut through the water.

You must touch the bottom of the pool. Only after you have touch the bottom do you turn, crouch, and then push yourself up.

Now,let your second tone rise, as effortlessly as your body would seamlessly be propelled to the surface of the water.

Some 4th - 2nd tone combinations to practice are:

wen4ti2 (問題problem)
lu4cha2 (綠茶green tea)
fa4guo2 (法國France)
Yin4ni2 (印尼Indonesia)
Tai4guo2 (泰國Thailand)
Yue4nan2 (越南Vietnam)
da4ren4 (大人adult)
er4shi2 (二十twenty)