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renzhe

This is a rant

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Hofmann

If they weren't associated with separate countries, some people would call Spanish and Portuguese dialects of the same language.

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rob07

Reminds me of this passage from that famous article - "Why Chinese is so damn hard":

I remember when I had been studying Chinese very hard for about three years, I had an interesting experience. One day I happened to find a Spanish-language newspaper sitting on a seat next to me. I picked it up out of curiosity. "Hmm," I thought to myself. "I've never studied Spanish in my life. I wonder how much of this I can understand." At random I picked a short article about an airplane crash and started to read. I found I could basically glean, with some guesswork, most of the information from the article. The crash took place near Los Angeles. 186 people were killed. There were no survivors. The plane crashed just one minute after take-off. There was nothing on the flight recorder to indicate a critical situation, and the tower was unaware of any emergency. The plane had just been serviced three days before and no mechanical problems had been found. And so on. After finishing the article I had a sudden discouraging realization: Having never studied a day of Spanish, I could read a Spanish newspaper more easily than I could a Chinese newspaper after more than three years of studying Chinese.

What was going on here? Why was this "foreign" language so transparent? The reason was obvious: cognates -- those helpful words that are just English words with a little foreign make-up.9 I could read the article because most of the operative words were basically English: aeropuerto, problema mechanico, un minuto, situacion critica, emergencia, etc. Recognizing these words as just English words in disguise is about as difficult as noticing that Superman is really Clark Kent without his glasses. That these quasi-English words are easier to learn than Chinese characters (which might as well be quasi-Martian) goes without saying.

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renzhe

Galician is considered a language separate from Spanish, and it is essentially Portuguese :tong

Yeah, of course they are very close, but come one. 30 minutes vs. 10 years?! :wall

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Hofmann

Well, it's not just 30 minutes here and 10 years there. It's however long you've studied Spanish + English, which has Latin cognates + German, which has Latin cognates + whatever language you use that has Latin cognates + 30 minutes of Portuguese. For Mandarin, I would guess, is only 10 years of Mandarin.

This can be compared to someone who speaks Cantonese, Korean, and Min Nan learning Mandarin.

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gato

Haha. I was going to tell you that Portgunese would be a piece of cake for you after I read your plans, but I thought it was too obvious. So when are you going to start 水浒? I bought a copy just to join your club.

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xianhua

I find it slightly embarrassing when people ask how many years I've studied Chinese and then I reveal the types of things I've achieved. The average non-elightened person will expect that having given so many years to one language I'll be reading ancient scripts and talking freely about nuclear physics. Perhaps years studying Chinese warrant their own system, you know, like one dog year equals seven human years.

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renzhe

Well, a few Latin cognates here and and a few there, but that doesn't help me with the pronunciation now, does it? Why is Portuguese so much easier to pronounce than Chinese? My mother tongue is tonal, so don't go there :P

This probably sounds like one of those "Chinese is so easy it has no grammerz" blissful optimist dreams, but I guess that at this speed, I can stop studying Portuguese and concentrate on my Chinese again in about four weeks. My textbook says "Lernen Sie Portugiesisch in 4 Wochen" = "Learn Portuguese in 4 Weeks".

I'm waiting for a Chinese textbook claiming the same :)

Gato, I have another 50 pages or so of 杜拉拉, then I'm going for it! In a week or so!

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renzhe

Maybe I should get a Portuguese translation of 水浒...

EDIT: Maybe I should WRITE a Portuguese translation of 水浒 :unsure:

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Gharial
Perhaps years studying Chinese warrant their own system' date=' you know, like one human year equals seven dog years[/quote']

You mean you study like a dog for seven years and only gain one year in real terms? :lol::)

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renzhe

Study Chinese for seven years, and you get a dog for free, and the dog speaks better Chinese than you?

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wedge

I avoided this discouragement by not learning any other European languages. So to me, there's nothing unusual about having studied a language for years and not being able to read a book or understand a TV show!

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anonymoose

As for reading, apart from the cognates, as someone has already pointed out, it think it has a lot to do with the writing system. I have been learning Chinese for quite a while, and have lived in China for several years, so reading normal things (modern books, newspapers and so on) doesn't pose a big challenge any more as far as understanding is concerned, but my reading speed is slower than reading other languages such as French or German, and takes much more effort, even though my Chinese is generally far better than those other languages. I think this is partly due to the extra layer of interpretation needed to convert the abstract characters into meaning in the mind. And by this, I don't mean the interpretation of characters one by one like a beginner, but just the subconscious process that goes on in the mind transforming the black and white on the page into meaning.

Now one may say, well, that is obvious, since you are more used to using the latin alphabet. But in fact, I also can read Russian quite easily (for example place names and people's names) even though I don't understand or speak any Russian. I think it is just to do with the much more direct way of transforming text into sound in the mind. And also, the fact that English and Russian separate words by spaces, it also parses the sentence nicely, making the meaning visually much more intuitive.

I think this has been discussed before (a long time ago) on these forums, how Chinese characters, representing primarily a concept, and secondarily a sound, give a much more direct route between text and meaning. In other words, you could in theory read and understand a passage of Chinese bypassing the aural aspect of it completely. I'm not sure if that's how Chinese people react to reading Chinese text. However, I think as a native speaker of English, and this probably also applies to native speakers of other languages written with an alphabet, that we naturally sound out text in our mind, and then formulate those sounds into meaning, much as we would when we listen to spoken language. Of course, after years of practice, this is a subconscious process, and we do it effortlessly for the most part. Even for unfamiliar languages, the conversion of text into sounds is not difficult. Whether you can understand the text or not depends on the second step of interpreting those sounds into meaning. On the other hand, when we are confronted with Chinese, reading using this psychological process is much less efficient, because characters do not translate into sounds as readily as words written using an alphabet.

Can anyone else identify with what I'm trying to describe here?

As for why understanding speech in European languages (portuguese or spanish, for example) even if we haven't learnt them is easier, I guess that is mostly down to cognates, structure of the language, and more familiar pronunciation. Understanding to a large extent comes from having a psychological framework in the mind of what is being said. Even if you can only understand 50% of the words you hear, if the structure is similar to another language that you are comfortable with, it is much easier to fill in the remaining gaps. On the other hand, since asian languages are so different from European languages in nearly every way, you really need to be understanding 98% of what is said to have a solid enough framework to fill in the remaining 2% of gaps.

Anyway, these are just my casual thoughts, and the statistics are derived from Roddy's book, but hopefully what I have said will resonate with some of you.

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roddy
Can anyone else identify with what I'm trying to describe here?

You could maybe look up subvocalization in Chinese - if I remember correctly when you hook 'em up to electrodes you find out Chinese people silently 'sound out' characters in exactly the same way everyone else sounds out words. And what do Chinese people think in, characters or sounds?

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anonymoose

I thought maybe Chinese people go directly from character to meaning, or at least don't rely on subvocalisation to the same extent as speakers of English. Anyway, thanks for that word, even though you spelt it the 'merican way.

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roddy

Maybe they do, I don't know, but I'm skeptical. Oops.

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wushijiao
As for reading, apart from the cognates, as someone has already pointed out, it think it has a lot to do with the writing system. I have been learning Chinese for quite a while, and have lived in China for several years, so reading normal things (modern books, newspapers and so on) doesn't pose a big challenge any more as far as understanding is concerned, but my reading speed is slower than reading other languages such as French or German, and takes much more effort, even though my Chinese is generally far better than those other languages. I think this is partly due to the extra layer of interpretation needed to convert the abstract characters into meaning in the mind. And by this, I don't mean the interpretation of characters one by one like a beginner, but just the subconscious process that goes on in the mind transforming the black and white on the page into meaning.

This makes quite a bit of sense. I've noticed that when I'm reading a lot in Chinese (say, studying a few hours per day for the HSK) my reading speed will get quite fast, and then if I slack for a few months, my speed will go down quite noticeably. I don't think this happens nearly to the same extent for languages that have alphabets. (But this is purely an observation).

As far as Portuguese, I've felt the same way. When I was in Portugal, I found that I could have basic conversations speaking Spanish and listening to Portuguese, and sometimes it's amazing to see how much one can understand, especially when the context is known. However, I'd guess that many of the harder aspects of the language (producing difficult grammar accurately, knowing lots of slang, strange nouns, dealing with accents) hit you at a later point, or even at the advanced levels (not unlike Spanish).

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Brian US

Not sure if I saw this somhewere on the fourms, but this is an inrseiettng look on reiadng Enligsh:

http://www.hakank.org/reading_scrambled_words/r_words.cgi?xxx=11749385.3894736&submit=OK&num_begin_chars=2&num_end_chars=2&sort_alpha=no&text=According+to+a+research+at+an+english+university%2C+it+doesn%27t+matter+in+what+order+the+letters+in+a+word+are%2C+the+only+important+thing+is+that+first+and+last+letter+is+at+the+right+place.+The+rest+can+be+a+total+mess+and+you+can+still+read+it+without+problem.+This+is+because+we+do+not+read+every+letter+by+itself+but+the+word+as+a+whole.+Cheerio.%0D%0A%0D%0A

Basically says we only look at the first and last letter of a word to find its meaning. Doesn't matter how scrambled the word may be, you will still read it without a problem. This probably helps in reading another language with similar structure as appose to pinpointing that character with a different radical.

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