This one of many guest posts here at Discovering Mandarin. This post/lesson is from my friend Megan (@megoizzy on twitter). I have actually been sat here talking to myself for ages after reading it. I implore you to do the same!
Mandarin Pronunciation Debacles
My first semester of learning Chinese was probably the most difficult one. Each week, my fellow wannabe Mando-philes and I were presented with a new series of 10 vocabulary terms, which our teacher went through painstakingly quickly every time. For the first month, I felt like I had missed a class somewhere. In true Chinese style, Zhu Laoshi never intimated the little pronunciation secrets that were my total bugaboos. It wasn’t the tones that were getting me, it was those pesky x’s and sh’s. I couldn’t understand why xian started with x but shen started with sh.
A background in linguistics and basic phonetics helped me to uncover the truth myself, and as the years finally took me to live in China, a local friend was able to help me unpack what was really going on between x and sh, q and ch.
First, there is a very important distinction to make.
x and q are always followed by high, frontal flat vowels like i and ue.
sh and ch are always followed by low, back rounded vowels like a, o and e.
This means that you can have:
xian or sheng but never shian
qiang or chang but never chiang
This might seem arbitrary. It did to me until I learned that there is actually a pronunciation difference between these - they are distinct sounds. And despite what most phrase books want you to believe (which is that x sounds like sh and q sounds like ch), the pronunciation difference between these sounds actually dictates why they are followed by different vowels.
Let’s play a game.
Open your mouth very slightly. Smile. Say the “sh” sound by blowing out the sides of your teeth rather than the front of your mouth. Keep your tongue lying flat. Don’t let it move! That’s the pinyin x. Now say xiàn with that same smile and blowing the air out the sides of your teeth. Keep smiling! You’ve got it.
So what’s the sh? Open your mouth again, this time wider. Purse your lips as if you’re about to plant a big smooch on your Aunt Mildred. Let your tongue curl up a little bit. Blow the air out the front of your lips and say the “sh” sound. That’s the pinyin sh. Now say shèng with those kissy lips still pursed. Keep ‘em puckered. You’ve got it.
This works the same way for q and ch. q is said with a smile, ch with a kiss. Try it now:
It’s fairly simple, but it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Don’t be afraid to feel silly. You’ve got to do things with your mouth that don’t feel natural and are not similar to how you use your mouth when speaking English. Don’t be afraid to really test this out. Shout at your wall! qian qian qian! cheng cheng cheng! Flat lips for qian, round lips for cheng.
Once you get your mouth retrained for Mandarin mode, this becomes much easier and feels much more innate. Until then, practice makes perfect!
Megan Eaves is the author of ‘This Is China: A Guidebook for Teachers, Backpackers and Other Lunatics.’ She has a degree in Intercultural Communication and has been studying and teaching Mandarin Chinese for the past 7 years. www.meganeaveswriting.com
Chinese New Year is next Sunday (14th Feb)! It is the year of the Tiger! (在虎! hǔ nián!) Happy New Year!! (新年快樂!! xīn nián kuài lè!!)
Chinatown in London will celebrate Chinese New Year on the following Sunday 21st Feb 2010 between 12pm-6pm. There will be dragon dancing, lion dances outside shops and firecrackers to mark the event.
In China the mythical creature Nian (年兽, nián shòu) is a beast that lives underground or in mountains (it also shares the name of a year). Once a year, around the time of spring and new year Nian is said to come out of hiding to devour livestock, crops,and even villagers, especially children. It is thought that loud noises and the colour red scare the Nian, which is where the Lion dance (not to be confused with the dragon dance) and loud firecrackers are thought to stem from.
That is the myth of the creation of Chinese New Year. The truth may be much more prosaic. In the middle of the long winter months, a bang up celebration is a good way to cheer everyone's spirits. Noise and fireworks always make a party go with a bang, and the colour red is the colour of celebration in China.
Here are some phrases that may be useful next weekend:
xīn nián kuài lè
Happy new year
gōng hè xīn xǐ
Happy New Year
shēn zhuàng lì jiàn
May you have a healthy body and great strength
xīn xiǎng shì chéng
May your wish come true
wàn shì rú yì
to have all one's wishes - 'best wishes'
gōng xǐ fā cái
Have a prosperous New Year!
hǔ nián xíng dà yùn
Good luck in the year of the Tiger
zài hǔ nián shù qiáns hù bù wán
May you have countless amount of money in the year of the Tiger
Hours (时辰 shíchen) within the Four Pillars of Destiny represent the final and most personal pillar. The secret animal is thought to be a person’s truest representation, since this animal is determined by the smallest denomination. It is used by fortune tellers that use the Four Pillars as the pillar representing information about one's kids or late age.
The hours are represented by the helpful 12 Earthly branches (and the same animal mnemonic as years, months and days within the four pillars) which were determined by Chinese scholars who charted the orbit of Jupiter. The Earthly branches also determine the calendar and compass points.
• 23:00–01:00: 子 rat
• 01:00–03:00: 丑 ox
• 03:00–05:00: 寅 tiger
• 05:00–07:00: 卯 rabbit
• 07:00–09:00: 辰 dragon
• 09:00–11:00: 巳 snake
• 11:00–13:00: 午 horse
• 13:00–15:00: 未 ram
• 15:00–17:00: 申 monkey
• 17:00–19:00: 酉 rooster
• 19:00–21:00: 戌 dog
• 21:00–23:00: 亥 pig
What is your secret animal? And what does it mean to you?
The day is the third of the Four Pillars of Destiny and in Chinese fortune telling represents information about the person him/herself, his/her adult and married life.
The sexagenry cycle was used in China since the second millennium BC (Shang Dynasty), as a means of naming days (just as western cultures use the days in the week). This use of the cycle for days is attested throughout the Zhou dynasty. More recently this is not as popular but is still used in Almanacs and calendars.
The 1st day of a new year in the sexagenary cycle should be the Lichun (節氣 lìchūn). The Lichun is the 1st solar term. It begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 315° and ends when it reaches the longitude of 330°. It more often refers in particular to the day when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 315°.
In the lunisolar calendar, New Year's Day might be before or after Lichun. A year without Lichun is called 無春年 wú chūn nián (no spring year). 無春年 is also known as 寡婦年 guǎfu nián (widow year) in northern China or 盲年 máng nián (blind year) in southern China. Marriage is believed to be unlucky in a year without Lichun.
I have found it hard to find the corresponding elements and animals of the days themselves, however you can use the calculator to find out your day on my post about the Four Pillars...
It is a horribly catchy song and after a while gets really quite annoying. But here is a popular Chinese children's song that caught my attention, I have translated it below. I hope you enjoy it. I have been singing along. (I think I successfully have annoyed my girlfriend, but learnt to sing a small amount of Chinese)
ní wá wá ， ní wá wá
Doll of Clay, Doll of Clay
一 个 泥 娃 娃
yī gè ní wá wá
A Doll of Clay
也 有 那 眉 毛
yě yǒu nà méi máo
She has eyebrows
也 有 那 眼 睛
yě yǒu nà yǎn jīng
She has eyes
眼 睛 不 会 眨
yǎn jīng bú huì zhǎ
but eyes that cant wink
泥 娃 娃 ， 泥 娃 娃
ní wá wá ， ní wá wá
Doll of Clay, Doll of Clay
一 个 泥 娃 娃
yī gè ní wá wá
A Doll of Clay
也 有 那 鼻 子
yě yǒu nà bí zǐ
She has a nose
也 有 那 嘴 巴
yě yǒu nà zuǐ bā
She has a mouth
嘴 巴 不 说 话
zuǐ bā bú shuō huà
But mouth cannot speak
她 是 个 假 娃 娃
tā shì gè jiǎ wá wá
She's a fake baby
不 是 个 真 娃 娃
bú shì gè zhēn wá wá
Is not a real baby
她 没 有 亲 爱 的 爸 爸
tā méi yǒu qīn ài de bà ba
She doesn't have a dear dad
也 没 有 妈 妈
yě méi yǒu mā ma
There is no mum
泥 娃 娃 ， 泥 娃 娃
ní wá wá ， ní wá wá
Doll of Clay, Doll of Clay
一 个 泥 娃 娃
yī gè ní wá wá
A Doll of Clay
我 做 她 爸 爸
wǒ zuò tā bà ba
I'm her dad
我 做 她 妈 妈
wǒ zuò tā mā ma
i'm her mum
永 远 爱 着 她
yǒng yuǎn ài zhe tā
love her forever
| Repeat from start|
Within the Four Pillars, the month (本月 běnyuè) that you are born is the pillar that represents information about the person's parents or later years in life. Many Chinese astrologers consider the month pillar to be the most important pillar in determining the circumstances of one's adult life.
The Gregorian (Western) calendar is used for day to day activities in most of East Asia, but the Chinese calendar is still used for marking traditional East Asian holidays such as the Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival (春節).
I had trouble making this table in html, but if you click the image, you can download the pdf with the full table.
Four Pillars Year & Sexagenary Cycle
六十花甲 liùshí huājiǎ or
Within the Four Pillars (Ba Zi) Years are the largest element. They are the most generic and least personal in fortune telling. The years are based off of the Ten Heavenly Stems (十天干 shí tiāngān) and Twelve Earthly Branches (十二地支 shí'èr dìzhī).
There are 5 'Elements', 五行 wǔxíng in Chinese Astrology,
* Wood 木 mù
* Fire 火 huǒ
* Earth 土 tǔ
* Metal 金 jīn
* Water 水 shuǐ
These 5 elements combine with yin and yang to make the Ten Heavenly stems 天干 tiāngān.
The 12 earthly branches were devised from the orbit of Jupiter (the twelve years of the Jupiter cycle also identify the twelve months of the year, directions, seasons, months, and Chinese hour in the form of double-hours.)
The more commonly known animals of the zodiac provide a mnemonic for remembering them. The animals of the zodiac in addition to the Ten Heavenly Stems give us 60 years with each animal and each element pairing up only once in the sexagenary cycle.
To explain how this cycle works, lets give both stems and branches by their numbers. We denote 1 by (1,1) or (甲,子), 2 by (2,2) or (乙,丑) and so on up to (10,10) or (癸,酉). But now we have run out of stems, so we denote 11 by (1, 11) or (甲,戌) and 12 by (2, 12) or (乙,亥). Now we have run out of branches, too, so 13 becomes (3, 1) or (丙,子). We continue in this way through 6 cycles of stems and 5 cycles of branches up to 60, which is (10, 12) or (癸,亥). The next number is then (1,1) or (甲,子), which starts a new sexagenary cycle.
Within the Four Pillars, the year is the pillar representing information about the person's ancestry or early age.
You can download the table below by clicking the image and saving the pdf. It provides the full sexagenary cycles between 1924-2044 with the associated elements and zodiac animals.
Four Pillars of Destiny
Even today, when people talk about Chinese Astrology, it is a common misconception that the animals assigned by year are the only signs of the zodiac. Many western descriptions of Chinese astrology draw solely on this system. In fact, there are also animal signs assigned by month (called inner animals) and hours of the day (called secret animals).
Four Pillars of Destiny is a Chinese term that comprises of four elements of a person’s destiny or fate. The four components are taken from the moment of birth. They are the year, month, day, and time (hour). Each of these elements are important in Chinese astrology, the zodiac and fortune telling.
The term Four Pillars of Destiny come from the Chinese:
Hour of the Eight characters
sì zhù mìnglǐxué
The Four Pillars Life-ology
zǐ píng mìng lǐ
The Four Pillars of Life
Commonly referred to by the shortened names of "Four Pillars" or "bā zì" these charts include both the element (Ten Heavenly Stems) and zodiac animal (Twelve Earthly Branches) of the year, month, day, and hour of birth, giving eight characters.
Ten Heavenly Stems are the yin and yang components of the Five Elements: Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire , Yang Earth, Yin Earth, Yang Metal, Yin Metal, Yang Water, Yin Water.
The Twelve Earthly Branches are more popularly represented by the twelve animals of the Zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
The culture of Chinese Fortune Telling (中华吉祥文化 Zhōnghuá jíxiáng wénhuà) is based on five principles that to the skilled can be judged from the balance found in the Eight Characters determined by the Ten Heavenly Stems and the Twelve Earthly Branches that are associated with the time and date of your birth. The five principles are:
• Lu, 禄 (affluence) for fame and recognition;
• Shou, 寿 (longevity) for health;
• Xi, 喜 (happiness) for joy;
• Cai, 财 (wealth) for abundance and riches.
There are a couple of online Charts available, although the real value in this style of reading is the readers themselves.
Try it out with this Bazi Calculator:
The following blog gives some topical readings about famous people and explores the readings in more depth. http://www.bazidiary.com/
I recently got a comment on my Heisig post from a while back asking how I was doing (as today was supposed to be my finish date if I had kept up with my proposed schedule).
I have got to admit I have been lazy, or if you like excuses; I have been so busy that I have ended up ignoring what I wanted to achieve. I have got about 600 characters into Heisigs method and despite a lot of effort have found my motivation waning. I read Greg's recent post about motivation in language learning add that to the sense of guilt I feelby not meeting my own deadline and I feel a much renewed sense of wanting to complete Heisig and start really pushing my learning forwards again.
jīntiān shì wǒ de shēngrì !
Today is my Birthday!!
I am going to an event which is setting off over 100 Chinese Flying Lanterns in our local park tonight (The Rye, High Wycombe @ 18:30) as a celebration of my birthday. :) Hopefully there will be a video of the lanterns, so I will share when possible, it should be an awesome sight.
Also I have seen other people do this and it seems interesting. So please feel free to ask me anything. http://www.formspring.me/charliesaidthat
Also whilst I am catching up a little... I thought I would share a way for all you blogger bloggers to change the little icon at the top there. I did it this week, and although my new 'favicon' isn't the most recognisable. It does set it apart from the rest of the blogger blogs.
So.. first off, you have to make your favicon. It is a 16px by 16px square, you can make it on your computer and save it as a .ico (windows icon) or you can use this favicon maker online.
You download your file, then all you have to do is insert the bit of code (you can find it here) in the head section of the html.
I used imageboo.com to host my icon, but it does support some very NSFW ads and annoying pop ups, if you can find a better place to host your icons for free let me know.
I bought some almond flavour dragon beard candy today from Chinatown, London. It blew my mind. I cannot think of anything that even comes close to describing the texture, taste or how great it is. It is soft and fluffy, but has a slight crunch to the crumbling crushed peanuts. The combination of odd textures is quite remarkable.
This is a truly rare and unique dessert which will leave you speechless. It is said that only recently have Dragon Beard Candy been allowed to be eaten by anyone other than the emperor of China. Although one feels that this could just be a persuasive sales technique to remind you of the quality of them.
My friend Jack likes to describe it as "like eating a hairy cloud full of almonds..." I like the cloud metaphor, it suits the sweet deservedly well. A disarmingly soft, melt in your mouth moment occurs (much like candy floss) but you do have some substance left with the peanuts.
There is a video of some Dragon Beard candy being made here. It is extraordinary how the sugar is so elastic-y and really is an artform unto itself.
Jack took a picture of one of our candies today. Simply gorgeous to look at, and although an odd textural experience, very tasty.
I did find a Dragon Beard Candy recipe, and it is one that I am definitely going to have to try out.
Does anyone know of somewhere in London that makes Dragon beard candy from scratch? Preferably so I can watch them make it too? I had some boxed ones today. And whilst they were lovely, I get the feeling having them fresh would be exquisite.
Jack on twitter
"We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China." Google blog post
I think that some of the reports being made from this blog post are a little misleading (like this Guardian article). I don't think Google want to leave operations in China, however maybe this is the leverage that could make the government change their mind?... ...I think not.
I really wonder whether the Chinese Government would allow Google to remove it's censorship? If they do I get the feeling they might take the step of ultimately censoring internet access further up the chain, from behind the scenes.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out. What do you think will come of this latest news from Google?
zài wǒ kàn lái
But I know from both the French & English, there are many ways to say this.
selon moi and d'après moi
or in English variations include:
"In my opinion", "In my view", "As I see it", "I believe that", "To my mind" etc.
So on Twitter I posted the Question. So far I have had several responses, it was interesting to see how different they all were.
So here are the suggestions I have had, below with Hanzi and Hanyu Pinyin:
wǒ de guāndiǎn shì
wǒ de kànfǎ shì
duì wǒ lái shuō
(as far as I'm concerned)
I (originally) thought - (but it turns out I was wrong.)
I would love to hear the ways in which you say 'In my opinion' and if there are required situations for each of the above...
Here is to a wonderful Christmas and English new years holiday to everyone that has supported me this year. I will be back in the new year, with renewed efforts to learn Mandarin. In the mean time, all my best wishes for a peaceful, wonderful time this Christmas.
Happy New Year
The following article is written by Karen, who lives in Canada and is part of my growing series of Guest Posts from people I have met online that are also Learning Mandarin. She founded the Chen Pan Ling Kuo Shu Preservation Group in Atlanta, Georgia with a friend. Without martial arts, she would never have started learning Chinese.
My Chinese studies all started with martial arts. My teacher in Atlanta, Allen Pittman, had studied with Chen Yun Ching in Taiwan in the 70's. My friend and I realized he was still alive. A friend's father agreed to phone him for us; then we communicated by fax, and arranged a visit. Considering Mr. Chen knew little English, we thought anything we could learn would be helpful.
We took a Chinese I class at the community college, and found a college student who tutored us. She drilled us on pronunciation- a good thing. At least if our vocabulary was small, people understood what we did say. It also allowed us to use a dictionary and pronounce words correctly.
Our visit was a success, but I think our Chinese failed us. We took our clothes to the laundry, and the clerk ended up calling the hotel to find out what we wanted. I think the surprise of strangers visiting the laundry was more the issue than our language. There were very few Caucasians around. Once we left Taipei for Taichung, we only saw eight Caucasians in two weeks.
With the help of Mr. Chen's translator, we started setting up a teaching tour in the United States. I needed to know more Chinese! So, more tutoring sessions, listening to language CD's, and eavesdropping on conversations in restaurants. I could visit our Chinatown and have brief conversations. My tutor told me she shamed an American-born Chinese because my Chinese was better than his. I also worked with a professor from a local university, to provide more language practice.
We have continued our exchange of visits with Mr. Chen. We have been to Taiwan two more times and he has been to the US twice. He is returning to the US in 2010.
My skills are about those of a three year old. Studying Chinese is fun. I don't think additional Chinese skills will help significantly in my martial arts training, but I like learning the language. It is satisfying to visit Taiwan and not feel totally lost. I feel comfortable touring around Taiwan (dictionary in hand!).
It's tough being a self-guided student, though. The encouragement of language-learning bloggers, the expatriates living in Taiwan and China, and my fellow Twitter tweeters has encouraged me. I am now using Anki for SRS. It is easier and more accessible than cards. Our library has an ESL program that provides speaking practice. I rearranged my lunchtime to talk with my Chinese co-workers. I am using more language immersion, and purposely listening to things beyond my language skills to get a better sense of the language. Sometimes I can tell what it's about even if I don't get the details.
I make up stories about what goes on in my life, as if I were talking to a Chinese friend. "I went to Chinatown last week. There was a Chinese college professor there. She had brought her students to the market. The girls liked the candy. Some of the students bought tea. All the students thought the freezer area was icky. I don't think they learned much at the store." When I translate it back to English, it's not too bad. Maybe I have progressed and now can speak like a five year old! I look forward to speaking something closer to my own age level.
This Chinese proverb is the same as the English proverb 'what's done is done' or 'Let bygones be bygones'. It means that things are too late noe to do anything about them. In this situation, it is wise to forgive and be prepared to move forwards positivley as it's too late to change anything now.
In this situation; the rice is cooked. It cannot now be uncooked, therefore this proverb talks about how you must let things be as they cannot be changed after it is happened. Just your attitude and perception of the event can be changed.
This Chinese proverb has a strong meaning for me today. It is the first anniversary of my girlfriend and I going out together. This proverb talks about how time flies, and resembles an arrow.
My first year with my girlfriend has gone scarily quickly, yet also seems like I have known her this way forever.
This Chinese proverb is similiar to the English proverb "All roads to Rome". It means that there are many ways to go about things and there is no one right way to do it. This is very relavant when talking about how people learn Mandarin. There are so many different ways to learn, and none is 'one and only correct way' all the different methods are valid.