Chinese is a beautiful language
Anyone who is seriously confronted with the Chinese language for the first time is almost inevitably faced with a mixture of fascination with the foreign and the uncertainty caused by the different. In order to promote fascination and to alleviate uncertainty, some observations about the Chinese language that one will come across as a learner are presented in this article.
For the most part, they are trivialities that should also show you that Chinese is not that different from German. It is to be hoped that one or the other learner will be encouraged to embark on the adventure of Chinese more confidently if he / she knows what to expect.
The prevailing realization is almost always that the difficulties one encounters are a matter of habit. The more and the more regularly you expose yourself to the unknown and new, the faster it loses everything that could keep you from delving deeper and exploring this fascinating language.
By making comparisons with other languages, the differences and similarities should be made aware and thought-provoking.
1. Chinese characters are more or less intuitive
Some characters represent an idea that is obvious at first glance. The middle can hardly be represented better than a line that goes exactly through the middle of a body (中). Many electrical devices require a power connection to operate. So what could be more natural than to use the character "with cable" (电) for electricity? The thought of looking out the window in heavy rain is just as easy (雨). A laughing face with a mouth and nose and narrowed eyes (笑) can be just as easily remembered and recognized as a crying face with wide-open eyes and a tear (哭).
As a child, learning to write usually starts with digits. Especially they, which for us represent a legacy from the Arabic language, are particularly unintuitive. Who could tell straight away that "1" is one, "2" is two, "3" is three, etc. if they hadn't memorized it. The Roman numerals already made their meaning much more obvious (I, II, III), and the same can be said of the Chinese (first three) numerals (一, 二, 三). All you have to do is turn the Roman numerals by 90 degrees. Rotating 45 degrees creates a connection between the two characters for ten: X and 十.
It is certainly a good idea to assign an obvious meaning to the respective characters in order to memorize them.
2. Many sounds in the Chinese language sound more or less the same
Indeed, there are many (to German ears) similar sounding words in the Chinese language. This is a consequence of the fact that many sounds that we are used to in our language do not exist in Chinese. (Almost) all words here begin with a consonant, followed directly by one or more vowels. The only exceptions are words that also end in "n" or "ng". This makes the choice of sounds much more limited, and many of them are used for different concepts.
In order to be able to express the same range of ideas with this reduced supply of sounds, the Chinese language uses tones, with the help of which words are pronounced in different pitches (high, rising, falling and rising, falling). As a learner, you first have to develop an ear because this distinction does not exist in German with the same objective. Tones are comparable to the habit in our language of raising one's voice at the end of a question (compare: "He left" (statement) with "He left?" (Question)). The choice of different pitches in Chinese does not only affect the end of the sentence, but every single word.
3. The Chinese grammar is comparatively simple
This is often the biggest surprise one comes across while learning Chinese. Compared to English, and especially compared to German, one could almost be tempted to say that there is no grammar. This is of course not true, because the Chinese language also follows certain rules, but these are much simpler compared to German.
The order of the individual components of a sentence largely follows the same rules as in Indo-European languages: subject - predicate - object.
- There are no articles (der, die, das).
- There is no declination (the man, the man, the man, the man).
- There is no conjugation (I am, you are, he / she / it is, we are, you are, they are).
- There are no irregular verbs (eat, ate, eaten).
- The time is not expressed by a modification of the verb (I go, I went, I have gone), but, if necessary, by an indication of the time (昨天 "yesterday", 现在 "now", 明年 "next year").
- With a few exceptions (for example 朋友 们, where the character 们 is added to the noun 朋友 "Freund" to mark the plural) there is no distinction between singular and plural.
It's like just choosing immutable building blocks appropriately and putting them in the right order.
At the latest when you listen to your Chinese friends struggle with the many rules of the German language listed above, which they do not know from their mother tongue, you will realize how many rules we have unconsciously assimilated when learning our own mother tongue.
However, it should not go unmentioned that there are actually peculiarities in Chinese that German and English only use very rarely and that we are forced to memorize when learning Chinese.
Numerous words: In German you can say that you are eating "a bread", and by implication you will usually mean a slice of bread. To put it more precisely, one would have to say "a slice of bread" or "a loaf of bread". In Chinese, the exact specification is a must.一 书 is incomplete, and an excellent opportunity to come out as 老外 right away. Every noun has one (or sometimes several) associated numeral, e.g. B. 一 本书, 三 只狗. The only exception: the noun itself is a number (天 "day", 年 "year").
二 and 两: It is not entirely foreign to German to have two different terms for "two" (compare: "all two" and "all both"), but in Chinese it is clearly specified when which of the two should be used use is.
Hierarchies: Chinese is a very logical language.
There is a fixed sequence for both spatial (addresses) and temporal (date, time) information: from large to small. For spatial information this means (using German terms): country, state, city, street, house number.
For time information: year, month, day, time of day, hour, minute. This strategy also has a positive side effect: if you name files on the computer (e.g. e-mails) with the date and follow the Chinese order, then the files are also listed chronologically in the table of contents.
4. You can gradually expand your vocabulary
An extensive vocabulary makes it easier to understand, but a few characters are enough for the first steps. There are also books for learners that deliberately limit themselves to the 300, 500, 750 etc. most common characters and that can be read and understood after a short time - even without the aid of a dictionary.
5. Not every character is a word
There are actually individual characters that embody a term or an idea (天 for "Tag" or "Himmel", 车 for "Wagen, Auto"), which also corresponds to a German word. Often, however, there are combinations of (mostly) two or more characters that are expressed in German with one word (天气 for "Wetter", literally "Himmelsatem", 火车 for "Zug", literally "Feuerwagen").
6. There are no spaces
Finding the conceptual boundaries while reading takes some practice, but since not every pair (or triplet) makes sense, the appropriate combinations can be easily identified. A positive side effect is that while writing you don't have to worry about where to split a word to insert a line break.
7. There are characters that are pronounced differently depending on the context
From the context it is almost always obvious whether one is using a le (了) or a liao as in "bu liao" (不了), a hang as in "yinhang" (银行) or a xing as in "hai xing" (还 行), a le as in "kuaile" (快乐) or a yue as in "yinyue" (音乐).
In German, too, there are words that are spelled identically, but pronounced differently depending on the context. H. stressed. Think of "translating":
- At this point I would like to translate (across the river), with an emphasis on the first syllable
- I have to translate this text, with an emphasis on the second half of the word
8. Many characters look alike and it takes some practice to tell them apart
When you learn to read as a child, adults usually give you books in which the writing is printed in particularly large letters. While you can't read a newspaper at first, reading such a book is quite successful.
It's the same with Chinese characters. If you have trouble distinguishing 我 and 找, 衣 and 农, 爱 and 爰, a larger font (or a magnifying glass) usually helps.
9. Chinese contains sounds that have to be learned first
Here, too, it is a question of practice how easy it is to articulate the right sound.
Chinese people initially have the same difficulty hearing the difference between "beautiful" and "beautiful" as we have difficulty hearing the different Chinese tones. So far, we have all had no need to distinguish these subtleties acoustically. Conscious, repetitive listening can train hearing.
In order to learn the correct pronunciation, you need a strict teacher who signals to what extent the utterance you have just made comes close to a recognizable Chinese word.
10. At first you don't see how a character is pronounced
That shouldn't be new for Germans. Or how can you tell a "1" that you pronounce it as "one"? Or "2" and "two"? Or "3" and "three"? Chinese characters are partially comparable with it.
- Characters consist of two parts. One of them transports information about pronunciation, the other information about meaning. The more characters you have already got to know, the easier it is to "guess" the pronunciation of a new character.
- If you invest a lot of time in reading Chinese texts, over time you get "a look" for the possible pronunciation of an unknown character.
11. Many different characters have the same pronunciation
In the course of the transition from traditional to simplified characters (on the mainland), many different characters with the same pronunciation were merged into a single new character. This further tightened the need to identify a term based on context.
But this is a problem that also exists in German. Many native German speakers have problems distinguishing this and that, a lot and fell, be and since, although there are clear rules as to when which word is to be used. This problem also exists in English (there and their, you and ewe, whether and weather).
12. There are verbs that are separated by an object and those that are not
This phenomenon also exists in German.
From "rework" becomes: "I rework the text". But "edit" remains: "I'll edit the text". There is something similar in Chinese as well.帮忙 "help" becomes 帮 你 忙, "help you", but 帮助 "help" or "help" remains 帮助 你 "help you".
So you can see that many of the problems you encounter while learning the Chinese language shouldn't be new to you. Up until now you were only not aware of them in German because you were familiar with them in your mother tongue from the start. When learning a new language, it is first necessary to learn the new rules before they anchor themselves more and more in the "subconscious" through repeated use.
Finally, a few tools should be mentioned that can help you with learning. None of these alone are suitable for learning a new language fluently, and not every tool is suitable for everyone. Those who are interested should rather try to find out for themselves - perhaps by trial and error - what helps them the most and promotes learning.
- Persistent curiosity and enjoyment of the new language is essential. By looking up words in the dictionary that you have read for the first time or heard in a conversation, you can expand your vocabulary "in passing".
- Vocabulary cards that have a term in the foreign language on one side and in the mother tongue on the other can be used conveniently to review while on the move. Something like this is also available as an app for the mobile phone.
- Many TV shows contain Chinese subtitles in addition to Chinese dubbing. This helps to connect the visually perceived character with its acoustic correlate. In contrast to vocabulary cards, you also learn the context in which a word can be used.
- Chinese-language radio broadcasts (e.g. on the Internet) facilitate hearing training. A disadvantage is that you cannot see the characters at the same time. The advantage is that listening can also be carried out in parallel to other activities (cleaning, washing, cooking).
- Building friendships with people who have the new language to be learned as their mother tongue not only allows you to get the learning material presented first hand, but also gives you the opportunity to gain insights into the (still) foreign culture, thinking and way of life to win. Visits to museums, folk and old town festivals, church fairs, bard meetings, game evenings, cooking and eating together, and, and, and ... are all common activities. (Source: China Today)
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