Saturday, November 29, 2008

Learning a new language

Last week was the last week of our 6-week Mandarin Chinese course. The class was through Webster University and was downtown in the Old Post Office.

I am going to take the next class so I can continue to learn a bit more Mandarin. They are going to let DH audit the course since he already knows the language. :-) He's there mostly for moral support and to answer some questions I have.

So far, I've learned how to say some basic things, like asking someone how they are doing, and having a brief conversation about that. We have also learned numbers, immediate family members (mom, dad, sister, etc.), and some basic sentence structures.

I have studied several languages in high school and college. One of my degrees is in French. I also took a year of Spanish in high school, 1 Italian class in
college, and 2 semesters of German in college. I really enjoy learning foreign languages, and luckily, it was something that came easily to me.

Chinese, though, is quite different than any of the languages I have previously studied! There are a few things I find quite interesting about the Chinese language.

1) Verbs are not conjugated. In all the other languages I have studied, verbs are always conjugated. In French, it is "je suis" (I am), "tu es" (you are), "nous sommes" (we are). In Chinese, it is "wo shi" (I am), "ta shi" (you are), "women shi" (we are).

2) Adding on to number one, there are no tenses in Chinese. No past, present, future, imperfect, etc. Just the one. They use words like yesterday, next year, etc. to explain time. So, no matter when something happened, the verb is the same. (shi = to be, whether it was 10 years ago, now, or 20 years from now)

3) When you talk about yourself as being hungry, tired, busy, etc. the verb "shi" is left out. You wouldn't say "Wo shi lei."(I am tired.) The correct way to say it is "Wo lei." (I tired.) No wonder it is hard for those who speak Mandarin to learn English!

4) "Shi" means a LOT of different things! So far, we have learned 5 different meanings for this one word. It's a bit complicated! It can mean: to be, ten, room, and city. The characters for each "shi" are different.

5) The tones are a bit tricky to master! In Chinese, there are "accents" on many letters, telling you how to pronounce the word. One means to go up with your voice at the end of the word. Another is a flat tone. Another goes down and then up within the same word, and the last just goes down at the end of the word. It has been hard for us native English speakers to get this part down in class!


Trisha said...

That is really interesting!

I hope you share more of what you have learned in the future! :)

Karen - Lucky Me said...

This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing!

a.j.g. said...

As an English teacher, I find this very interesting!!!

Lorie said...

How great that you are learning Mandarin (and that your hubby is helping!) Good luck!

Coree said...

Wow, that's pretty cool! I wish I had paid attention when I was taking Foreign Language Classes in school. I regret not immersing myself in other languages. When I have kids, I am going to make them learn different languages when they are very young!

Mary said...

Kudos to you for taking Mandarin and it's even better that you can go to class together. I cannot imagine the switch from learning romance languages to something like Mandarin. But at least without conjugating and tenses, the verbs are a little easier? Just a little?