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realmayo

Characters with more than one reading, 多音字

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realmayo

Sorry if this is a rather trivial post, but I'm noticing all the time these days that if I mention to, say, taxi drivers or whoever, that I find Chinese characters difficult, the response always seems to be: "Yeah, absolutely, Chinese has loads of 多音字, makes it really hard, no wonder you have a hard time."

Now, for me, these 多音字 [characters with more than one pronunciation/reading] are far down on the list of reasons why Chinese characters are difficult (ie below remembering how to read, write, pronounce, understand just regular characters).

I should add that the tone is one of sympathising with me, or shared complaint, rather than lecturing me on the beauty and rich history of Chinese characters blah blah etc.

I guess the logical reason why I keep getting this response from Chinese people is that it's what they find most difficult about reading? Any other ideas? Am I the only one getting this reply a lot?

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anonymoose

Yes, I've heard similar things a few times, and I agree that 多音字 are not really a big problem.

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abcdefg
I guess the logical reason why I keep getting this response from Chinese people is that it's what they find most difficult about reading? Any other ideas? Am I the only one getting this reply a lot?

I also hear that often from ordinary working folks in China, just like you said. But I also have the impression that part of their commiseration with someone learning Hanzi has to do with the fact that they themselves find it difficult to write certain characters by hand. I see more and more native speakers having to pull out their mobile phone and review the possibilities before being able to write some things from memory.

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jbradfor

I'm not sure if it's the most difficult aspect to learning Chinese, but IMHO it is one difficult aspect, and, I think for many learners, one realizes the problem at a "critical" time.

To elaborate on the last point.

When one first learns Chinese, one is aware of such words fairly early (e.g. 行 and 重), but it seems minimal. Only a couple of odd cases to learn, not a big deal.

Then, after perhaps 1000-ish words, one starts to realize the scope of the problem. Even old friends, 好 and 都, betray us by having multiple readings. We start to realize that we need to unlearn things we thought we know faster than we are learning new ones.

This stage, I think, is also critical. It often comes after the first flush of elation at being able to read and speak (to some extent) such a foreign language is starting to wear off, and the realization of just how tall the mountain is is becoming more apparent. [And, I might add, even at that point we don't understand how tall the mountain is...]

Since these two stages I think for many happen about the same time, and perhaps the first is partial cause of the second, I think for many people it starts to feel like too much.

I know it did for me, for a while. I felt it was very discouraging. I did push through it, mostly due to changing my focus to learn words not characters. But the only real solution is to learn enough Chinese, and to get enough practice reading, that from context it becomes intuitive which pronunciation it is. But that takes years. And I still have problems with some, e.g. currently 當 is giving me no end of trouble.

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Don_Horhe

I agree with jbradfor, 多音字 can be quite a pain. It took me a significant amount time to internalize the difference between 为 wéi/wèi, and currently 当 and 转 are my worst nightmare.

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Shi Tong
at that point we don't understand how tall the mountain is

I'm just standing under it. hahaha.

Recently I joined Italki.com, (dont know if any of you are on there as well, as an aside), and started to do a lot of writing on there with notebook entries and things. What I've found is that because i'm using pinyinput.com to write up lots of stuff, I can read quite well, and with the predictive text, it makes certain ci really easy to find (like 認識 being annoyingly complicated to write or read, but just being able to remember the radical on the left and the same radical on the second zi easy enough to remember).

However, with the 多音字 question- I agree- and sometimes I'm getting really surprised by what I can already SAY and by what characters they turn out to BE, like 認為- where 為 changes to second tone (news to me).

So yes, I agree that 多音字 are annoying.

Another thing I'm finding difficult is remembering which "yi1" sound starts which ci off- for example: 以為, 已經, 一直, and while I know some of these are pronounced differently, hence it should be easy (ish) to remember which ones which- words like 一 are even 多音字, which is just confusing.

Hahaha.. yes they're annoying! ;D

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Hofmann

At first it looks like just a few characters here and there. As one gets more advanced, one learns stuff like 六 (lu4) 食 (si4) 若 (re3) and one realizes that there are very many homographs. At this level one has probably gotten over the hurdle of learning characters and is working on building specialized vocabulary. This is the territory of native learners, which might be why the native speaker found it difficult.

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xianhua

I've lost count of the amount of times I start 的确 with a 'de' and then think the 确 belongs to the next word. One of these days my eyes will jump ahead to the 确 and realise where the word starts and ends.

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Shi Tong

And 得了 when you first start reading it always comes out as a le at the end instead of a liao2.

grrrrr..

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realmayo

Sure, I agree they're a pain: yesterday for instance I bumped into a couple of old friends 露 and 冠, and also met for the first time 槛, though that character may well be rare enough for me only ever see the more common reading, I don't know at the moment.

But I can't imagine if someone at home asked me about Chinese characters that I'd reply: "It would be pretty easy if it wasn't for those pesky 多音字."

Perhaps we should be flattered that certain native speakers assume that given we can speak Chinese to a certain standard, we can comfortably read & write at a similar level too.

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Sarevok
I agree with jbradfor, 多音字 can be quite a pain. It took me a significant amount time to internalize the difference between 为 wéi/wèi, and currently 当 and 转 are my worst nightmare.

Same here, 转 is also my worst nightmare at the moment. And I would say, that I have not yet internalized 为 completely as I still occasionally swap its pronunciations when reading out loud (though I am well aware of their respective meanings now... it's hard to get rid of bad habits developed in the past).

多音字 are a major pain, at least for me. Another obstacle on the path to fluency (as there weren't enough of them already).

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anonymoose
And 得了 when you first start reading it always comes out as a le at the end instead of a liao2

得了吧,有时候就读le呀

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roddy

不得了了!

That one always gets me. There are some 长 words as well where to be frank I just guess.

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renzhe
And 得了 when you first start reading it always comes out as a le at the end instead of a liao2.

Haha, you really picked a good one.

I read that as déle, but you're right, it's read deliǎo when used in a complement phrase (and only then!) Here, both characters change pronunciation, depending on the grammatical use.

得 is one that I have had trouble with. The děi usage is quite easy, but I can never remember whether it's dé or de in set phrases.

And I would say, that I have not yet internalized 为 completely as I still occasionally swap its pronunciations when reading out loud

Don't feel bad. Many native speakers nowadays mix that one up too, for example, by pronouncing 因为 with a wéi.

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Glenn

長 and 重 are two that seemed straightforward to me, but have given me problems. The way I understand them is chang2 means "long" and zhang3 means "chief, head, leader; grow"; and chong2 means "duplicated, repeated, etc." and zhong2 means "heavy, critical (because of 重要)" etc., but there are times when they don't seem to work out that way, or maybe I just haven't looked into them enough (it's probably that, actually). At first glance I thought 成長 should be cheng2chang2, but it's cheng2zhang3, and that's pretty much what tipped me off to the "grow" meaning for 長. 傳 and 轉 (like others) are two more that bother me. 傳 more so at the moment because I seem to come across it more. 傳説 is fine, 龍馬傳 is fine (both are chuan2), but why is 外傳 wai4zhaun4? Isn't along the same lines as the other two?

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jbradfor

Yes, 成長 doesn't mean "to become/grow long", it means to mature, grow-up, that one confused me as well. 延長 is I believe the word you want if you are thinking "to get long“.

I'm not sure what your confusion is about 外傳. It means "unauthorized biography"; 傳 here means biography. 傳說 means "legend / folklore / tradition / it is said / they say that..."; 傳 here means to pass on, to transmit.

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Glenn

I guess the meanings just seem to basically be the same to me. I don't know. It's kind of "legend" either way to my way of thinking. I suppose that's the problem.

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Glenn

You know, I just realized that 龍馬傳 should probably be read long2ma3zhuan4, not long2ma3chuan2, considering the 外傳 thing.

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jbradfor

數數. That's a fun one. Any other words that use the same character twice but with different pronunciations? qingsheng doesn't count....

I'm having trouble with 行列. Can not for the life of me remember that it is hang2, not xing4.

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anonymoose
Any other words that use the same character twice but with different pronunciations?

好好

There's also a set of 对联 (antithetical couplet??? :blink: ) written 长长长长长长长 on each side, and 长长长长 on top. If you're interested, you can check out this page.

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