If you are about to learn Chinese, and want to learn the language quickly, it is important for you to find out how different the language is from yours.
This can help you to become more targeted in your learning strategy.
With the knowledge, you’ll be able to identify the areas that you have to pay more attention to. Going by the 20/80 rule – you will get to see the results of your learning effort quicker.
As the 20/80 rule goes, if you can manage the most important 20 percent in whatever you to, the remaining 80 percent will take care of itself.
Let’s use English as an example, how different is English from Chinese?
If you are an English speaker, what do you have to know about Chinese in order to learn the language more effectively?
To begin with, Chinese is clearly different from English in three important aspects: sound, tones and learning of characters.
First, let’s look at the sound.
The ways Chinese pronounce words are rather unique. While there are sounds of the Chinese language that are pronounced in similar ways like English, such as ‘b’ as in ‘bed’ and ‘p’ as in ‘pen’, there are many others that are pronounced in a very different way.
The words with pinyin (the Chinese phonetic system) ‘can’ and ‘women’ are good examples. They not pronounced in the ways that English speakers are familiar with. Specifically, they are pronounced as something like ‘chan’ and ‘war-men’.
Second, it is important for you to know that Chinese is a tonal language.
When you speak English, you may change the tone of a word freely, in order to render more emphasis or convey emotion.
When you speak Chinese, you’re not allowed to do that. Changing the tone of a syllable in Chinese can change the meaning of the word — sometime thoroughly. In can convey a totally different meaning, resulting in serious misunderstanding.
The Chinese language consists of many dialects. Among them, Mandarin is the one that you are likely to learn, as it is spoken by almost every Chinese. Mandarin, in this case, has four tones.
Using the syllable ‘ma’ in Mandarin as an example. When the syllable is pronounced in the first tone, it could mean ‘mother’. When it is pronounced in the second tone, it could mean numb. When it is pronounced in the third tone, it could mean ‘horse’. When it is pronounced in the forth tone, it could mean ‘scolding’.
Can you see how different a change of tone can change the meaning of a syllable in the language? So if you want to learn Chinese effectively, master the tones to the extent that you can use it as a second nature.
This is critically important — if you do not want to be misunderstood.
If you can get the tones right before you speak the first word in the language. This will put you in the right mental mode, and save you a lot of trouble for re-learning later.
Third, you should recognizing the Chinese characters as far as possible. Unlike English, which is written somehow phonetically, there’s no way for you to guess the sound of a Chinese character.
The Chinese words are not written in the alphabet, and you’ll need learn the character one by one. This, of course, can be a great challenge.
You can use a different approach to recognize the Chinese characters. One of the effective ways to do this is to appreciate the Chinese character as pictures, as I always get my students to do.
If you can focus on the difference of Chinese as a language, you will know where the major challenges are, and come out with a strategy — which is specifically yours — to learn the language quicker.