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Harpoon

Multiple meanings for characters?

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nipponman

Wow Altair, you definitely have done more work than I have.

Where I wonder about Nipponman's advice is that learning 3000 characters will actually give you surprisingly little functional ability to read or write anything, unless you already know some grammar somehow. 3000 characters is also quite a large number to learn and probably exceeds what the vast majority of the non-native posters who visit this forum can read or write.

3000 is a big number though. Matter of fact, I don't use character lists anymore because, believe it or not, I rarely come across characters that I don't know the meaning for. I might watch the news on AZNTV (it will always be I-channel to me!) and I will occasionally come across a character that I don't know, but I'll just look it up in a dictionary. Your right though, 3000 is a lot, but you have to understand that my advice only comes from my exprience. It didn't take me more than 6 months to learn. Really 3000 is misleading though. For example I think the number should better be around 2300-2700. Because there are characters in that list like 蓉 and 蓮 that are redundant and seem to me to be useless (at least rong2 is). As a matter of fact I am surprised that I still remebered their tones and pronunciations after all this time! (probably because they were so strange to me when I was learning them)

Furthermore, your right, you should introduce grammar into your studies. I made my list back there a little too strict. Once you get the first 300 characters, you should definitely begin grammar learning, that's what I did anyway. But I still mainly focused on characters at that time. I think there are many ways to do this, but if you don't have the same love for characters as I do (I love writing you see), then you should probably follow Altair's advice.

nipponman

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skylee

蓮蓉 = lotus seed paste, which is commonly seen and used. It is a major ingredient of some traditional chinese snacks/food, like moon cakes and lotus seed paste bun.

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Altair
Your right though, 3000 is a lot, but you have to understand that my advice only comes from my exprience. It didn't take me more than 6 months to learn.

After expressing all my opinionated views, you now have me truly curious, embarrassed, and awed.

What exactly were your learning methods that allowed you to learn the characters so quickly and hardly ever forget them? There is hardly a personal or geographical name I can recall how to write, unless I happen to recall the meaning of the characters independently of the pronunciation. I am especially hopeless with Japanese names, because of the greater complexity. As I have also expressed, I am really not sure that my English spelling is really much better, except that I have so much greater need to process so many more words than I do in Chinese.

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nipponman

蓮蓉 = lotus seed paste, which is commonly seen and used. It is a major ingredient of some traditional chinese snacks/food, like moon cakes and lotus seed paste bun.

I stand corrected! There is a use for this character.

To Altair:

What exactly were your learning methods that allowed you to learn the characters so quickly and hardly ever forget them? There is hardly a personal or geographical name I can recall how to write, unless I happen to recall the meaning of the characters independently of the pronunciation. I am especially hopeless with Japanese names, because of the greater complexity. As I have also expressed, I am really not sure that my English spelling is really much better, except that I have so much greater need to process so many more words than I do in Chinese.

As far as learning methods goes, to this day I have trouble remembering them. I think they were rote memorization but I remember midway through learning that I found that this didn't work. My problem wasn't learning the characters shapes, but their pronunciations. Even their meanings are easy to remember most times. But I think I can recall some of my techniques. Daily I would learn around 60-120 characters, ten by ten. But before moving on, I would review after about 5-10 minutes of not thinking about characters. This, I believe, is the fastest path-way to long-term memory. If I were to see a character now, it would probably have to fall within the 2300-2700 category that I stipulated earlier for me to recall its pronunciation. Also remember, I wrote the lists that I learned from, from scratch. So that might have helped alittle bit.

Admittedly, last night I was writing some grammar down, and I forgot (or thought I did) how to write liang2/liang4 (all this talk about forgetting must be hurting my memory!:) 量 So I tried to write it down, and I got it right, but at first I wasn't sure that this was correct. This hasn't happened to me for a long time! I don't try to learn Chinese/Japanese personal names, they are too hard for now. Plus I have read that their is a system to Japanese names, that aids in reading them. Hope that helps!

nipponman

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Glenn
Plus I have read that their is a system to Japanese names, that aids in reading them.

Really? The only thing resembling a system for reading them that I know of is to read family names with kun-yomi, but even that doesn't always work (like 佐藤, although it is common). With given names you're mostly up a creek, so to speak.

However, I'm now curious as to what's hard about Chinese names? Is it just that they often use unfamiliar characters? Or are there also multiple readings for some names that are written the same way? One of the things that I thought would be nice about Chinese is that there's only one reading per character, but that appears to have been an oversimplification.

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skylee
However, I'm now curious as to what's hard about Chinese names? Is it just that they often use unfamiliar characters? Or are there also multiple readings for some names that are written the same way?

Take a look at this thread -> http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/41-short-courses-in-china37

One of the things that I thought would be nice about Chinese is that there's only one reading per character, but that appears to have been an oversimplification.

Indeed. Take a look -> 大家复习一下多音字吧

Also -> 《普通話異讀詞審音表》

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Altair
One of the things that I thought would be nice about Chinese is that there's only one reading per character, but that appears to have been an oversimplification.

I think Skylee's links go the heart of the matter, but I can add some subjective impressions about the difference in learning the general parts of the two languages.

When you learn Japanese characters, you have to learn a bunch of different readings for each, but this is really more an issue of vocabulary than of writing. It would be much worse if each reading had its own character, perhaps along the lines of what happened originally developed in the traditional Vietnamese script. There is, of course, the issue of learning the skill of supplying the correct readings as one reads text; but the kana help so much, along with the usual overlap in meanings, that the system feels more cumbersome than hard.

Chinese gives the overall impression of single readings for each character, but there actually is a significant percentage of characters with different, but usually similar readings. There are small books that are dedicated to them and distinguishing their usages. Skylee's links give a good picture of the situation.

The problem with the multiple Chinese readings is that there are many cases where context gives no obvious clues to a language learner that they exist. In some situations, there is no way to predict which reading is appropriate without immediately consulting a dictionary, even if you can deduce correctly what the characters mean. Books dedicated to character lists almost always list all possibilities, but they often cannot indicate the criteria needed to decide when to use which reading. Only good dictionaries can do this, and only when you suspect something may be afoot and know to consult one.

All this is not much of a problem at a beginning stage or even at an intermediate stage in language learning. The number of characters where this is an issue is just too low. The issue does, however, begin to become a major irritant if you want to become advanced in your Chinese. It is not a do or die issue like in Japanese, but it is something that an advanced speaker or reader really cannot ignore.

Even for less well-educated native speakers, this issue can apparently be a potential source of embarassment if they are forced to read something in public and trip up on a wrong reading educated people should be expected to know. Hence, there is a minor demand for the little books on this issue that people worried about such things can use as references. I get the impression that this is not a real issue for most educated Chinese, who need no such resources. Perhaps the equivalent is the extent to which English people use dictionaries to determine pronunciation of words. This is a pretty marginal need for most people.

Another unpleasant, but less significant, surprise for you will be that there is more variation in Chinese pronunciation than is suggested in most of the language materials. Beyond the issue of regional accents, which have some significant pronunciation differences, there are variations in tones that are not particularly well documented. Whereas English resource materials almost always indicate when words have alternate pronunciations, the equivalent Chinese materials seem more oriented toward setting a standard and often do not indicate whether alternate pronunciations are current. On the whole, though, this issue is probably no more significant than the difference between U.S. and British pronunciation habits, or the variations within each.

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shibo77

I never learned Chinese as a foreign language but as a native language, and it's how I like to learn foreign languages. Start with Pinyin and learn some new words. You associate the sound with meaning. For native speakers this is mostly taught to us from our parents and peers. Then we read short stories in our textbooks which gives a list of new characters at the bottom along with their pinyin sounds. You associate sound with the new characters that you learn.

First comes listening and speaking, then comes reading and writing. Many people, native or foreign, can live through their whole lives without knowing reading and writing. I know that many foreigners who knows only how to listen and speak Chinese or Japanese but have little idea how to read and write. Many times when they are training interpreters at the Foreign Institute, they just put them in language labs for 4 hours a day, and all they learn are listening and speaking. All they have are phonetic alphabets and they take very little notes. It is so much easier, for me, to learn through sounds on a language CD than through words on a language book.

I think characters may look cool at first and you may want to learn some from the beginning, but I think it's probably best to learn solely from a cassette tape or CD from the beginning, while you can note new vocabulary with a phonetic alphabet, such as Hanyu Pinyin. Also I think it would be best to keep the full words such as nouns, verbs, adjectives in Hanyu Pinyin, but when you learn a function word which is part of the grammar of the language, learn the character also.

Like this sentence: "Wo3 chi1 过 ping2guo3." I have eaten an apple.

Another thing that might help, most of the "homonym characters(syallbles)" are:

(1) initials: j- q- x-

(2) nasal finals: -an -en -in -ang -eng -ing -ong

(3) syllables with single vowels. (monophthongs?): bo, fu, ge, li, yi, zhi...

I have never learnt Chinese as a foreign language so it is just my opinion.

-Shìbó :mrgreen:

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gougou

I started learning characters right away, and don't regret it the least.

The main reason is more of an ideological nature, characters are (for me, at least) the most intriguing characteristic of the Chinese language, and give me the feeling to acquire something truly different from what I learned before.

Furthermore, they open a much wider range of possibilities to acquire new bits of language: many dictionaries I've seen give example sentences without pinyin, and also the occasional shot I take at Chinese jokes or fairy tales (heavily dictionary-dependent, of course) wouldn't be possible on a pinyin-only basis.

I should add, however, that I am a very methodical learner and crave deep suspicions about "intuitive" learning approaches. For somebody who is fine with these, starting with an oral focus would probably come more natural.

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Altair

In my earlier posts on this thread, I realize I may have sounded too discouraging a note for those neophytes who might want to tackle characters early, but now might hesitate to do so.

If you have the right resource, acquiring the first few hundered characters can actually be quite easy. Books that explain the character elements and tell little stories can make learning the first few hundred quite painless and usually fun. I think I recall learning my first 100 characters in a week of casual reading and zero study. The problem is with mastering the system, not tackling it. Mastery takes sustained effort that inevitably takes away from other things. Whether that tradeoff makes sense to you or not is an individual matter and depends on what you find interesting and motivational.

I think the default is that one should tackle at the beginning most agressively the aspects of the language that are toughest, when motivation is highest and confusion most risky. These really are the oral and aural parts of Chinese, along with the grammar, as they are with any modern language.

Once you get your foot in the door, then you can add whatever will maintain or increase your motivation and whatever will complement and enhance what you are already learning. This is where the characters probably are an obvious choice. If your study materials are integrated and a few characters come very early, this is really no big deal, as long as it is motivating to you.

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Harpoon

But again with learning the characters, like this whole thread is about, you don't get concrete meanings with a lot of them when they are alone.

I mean, look 说 (traditional 說), 19th most common character. The definitions are "explain, scold, refer to, speak, say". So which one is it? If someone asked you what that character means, do you list out 4 or 5 things? And this is without even going to double-character combinations.

I'm still at a loss as per why even individual characters have several meanings that are often quite different. It creates so many chances for failure or misunderstanding: First you must hear the syllable's tone correctly. Then you must distinguish through context which of the words pronounced with that same tone it is. THEN on top of that you must finally narrow it down to one of the meanings in the meaning-group. [this is from a learner's perspective]

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beirne
I'm still at a loss as per why even individual characters have several meanings that are often quite different. It creates so many chances for failure or misunderstanding: First you must hear the syllable's tone correctly. Then you must distinguish through context which of the words pronounced with that same tone it is. THEN on top of that you must finally narrow it down to one of the meanings in the meaning-group. [this is from a learner's perspective]

I ride a unicycle. It looks impossible and it is hard to explain all of the physics of how it works, but it is not necessary to understand all of the physics to start riding. If someone wants to learn to ride they just need to see that other people can ride unicycles and then start learning themselves. In the same way you should see that people really do learn how to speak Chinese and start studying it yourself, preferably with a teacher. All of the "rational" reasons why Chinese can't be learned do not hold up to the fact that a lot of people actually do learn it.

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skylee
I mean, look 说 (traditional 說), 19th most common character. The definitions are "explain, scold, refer to, speak, say". So which one is it? If someone asked you what that character means, do you list out 4 or 5 things? And this is without even going to double-character combinations.

Is it not the same with English? Aren't there multiple and different meanings for simple words like "arm", "bay", "lie" etc? If I just say "lie", would you be able to give me the exact meaning of it without the context?

Why don't you just start learning the language and the multiple meanings of the commonly-used characters? I think Quest's earlier reply #10 does have a point.

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Harpoon

I understand what you mean, yeah, but you must admit that Chinese has more homophones than even English.

the dictionary definitions are also misleading. "ma3" has relatively few definitions if you check it in the dictionary. One of them is horse 馬 (ma3). Another is ant 螞 (ma3)... you can imagine how confusing it would be to have two nouns pronounced the same, let alone both being animals as well. So I found out that there is no confusion, I am told that only "ma3" for "horse" can be said alone, "ant" is 螞+蟻 (ma3yi3), [both of which characters mean "ant"]. Why do dictionaries show words that can't be used on their own? Is it only reliable for written Chinese? Do people use the individual characters 螞 or 蟻 for writing, or do they write 螞蟻?

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nipponman

Harpoon, I don't mean to jump on the bandwagon here, but you have to actually start learning chinese. Now your just arguing the same point over and over again.

nipponman

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Altair

The reality is that characters have no simple analogy in English. They are not the equivalent of words in Modern Chinese, although they were pretty close in Classical Chinese. Characters are really more analogous to an alphabet or syllabary, except that the development of the language has left over a tremendous amount of semantic content to aid the memory and ease word recognition. The essential thing to note, however, is that meaning has actually become a secondary feature of characters within their true rule in the script.

Because of the holdover from Classical Chinese, Chinese society still gives characters a role that is frankly unwarranted on a linguistic basis. Even the concept of word is a relatively modern one in China and has little hold on public consciousness. Remember that within the script, there is no indication of word boundaries, and really little need to indicate them. (By the way, many world scripts have worked this way, including the way Ancient Greek was originally written, I believe.)

If you are interested in vocabulary meanings, you must refer to a ci2 dian3 词典 (word dictionary) to get useful results. Using a zi4 dian3 字典 (character dictionary) is really a waste of time for the average learner, unless he or she is analyzing Classical Chinese material. The situation is different for native speakers, who have different practical needs, and was quite different in pre-modern China. In traditional China, lexicography arose from the need for determining how to recite and interpret classical texts correctly. Since people were interested only in the classical language, they could safely concern themselves only with character usage and meaning and had no need for developing any separate concept of "words."

One issue that can confuse is that good word dictionaries attempt to incorporate the content of character dictionaries and give extensive information on isolated characters. This information is very helpful to the memory and to understanding why certain characters are used in certain combinations, but it is not at all helpful in directly building up a useable voculary. You should also note that this approach in effect requires them to incorporate linguistic material that is leterally 2000 years older than is customary in English dictionaries and explains somewhat why there may seem to be so many more "definitions" of characters than there are for the average English word.

Of what use to the average learner of English would it be to learn definitions of the "dom" in "dominate," "domino," "domicile," and "domenical." He or she would get something like "control," "power," "house," and "lord" and puzzle over which meaning to pick in "domestic affairs." If he or she also considered the "dom" in "wisdom" and "kingdom," there would be even more confusion, because this "dom" has a different origin from the previous one. If English used characters, it would be a different character.

You might wonder why to bother with character meanings at all. The reason is that there is still tremendous overlap between Chinese characters and Chinese words in the modern language. Combining their study to some degree makes lots of sense, as long as one does not confuse their respective roles. Even where characters cannot be used on their own, understanding something about their "meanings" can greatly help understanding how they can be used in combination and what nuance they may add because of their inheritance from Classical Chinese.

In the same way, it might be helpful for a learner of English to understand that "domestic" refers to things of the house and home, whether political affairs or a servant, that "dominate" comes from "heading up the house," and that "domenical" means "related to the Lord" because lords were viewed as the heads of large households.

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gougou

About which characters can be used on their own or only in combinations, check out this post by beirne, he recommends a dictionary that shows which characters can only used in their "bound form". In a thread you started, by the way.

Then you must distinguish through context which of the words pronounced with that same tone it is. THEN on top of that you must finally narrow it down to one of the meanings in the meaning-group. [this is from a learner's perspective]

I disagree. If you found the word through context, chances are you know which meaning it is already. It is really simpler than you assume, context is used in many other languages as well, even if not as exposed as in Chinese.

While the Chinese language is harder on a beginner than another, most of the problems you have will be due to your limited vocabulary, not to the difficulty of the Chinese language.

I find that sentences in which I know every word, I seldom misunderstand, while a sentence that holds even one unknown word can throw me off completely.

So, try to spend less time on debating the theoretical difficulty of Chinese, and more on learning vocab... :wink:

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jakiestar
I've seen a lot of dictionaries give multiple meanings' date=' not all of them related, to one character... ie

进(F進) [jìn'] enter, go forward, recieve, drink, eat, submit

which one is it? what meaning do you get from it when you see this character by itself?

明 [míng] bright, clear, distinct, next (day or year), ; 明白 míngbai clear, understand; 明天 míngtiān tomorrow

Another example... somehow because 白 means "clear, understand" and 天 means "tomorrow", by itself means both "clear" AND "next day"? Why?

if we see only 进,we first think it means "enter",

in china some people use 明儿(tomorrow) for short.

明 hava lots means, sometimes must be join with 白 or 天 ... ,to express other means

“进”在中国 当我们看到这个字的时候,首先会想到 进入 的意思。因为这种使用方式很普遍

“明”有许多意思,但“明天”“明白”并不是明的意思,这些词语是特定的组合 表达特定的意思。

you can add me in msn messager jakiestar@msn.com 

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Dennis
I've seen a lot of dictionaries give multiple meanings' date=' not all of them related, to one character... ie

进(F進) [jìn'] enter, go forward, recieve, drink, eat, submit

which one is it? what meaning do you get from it when you see this character by itself?

明 [míng] bright, clear, distinct, next (day or year), ; 明白 míngbai clear, understand; 明天 míngtiān tomorrow

Another example... somehow because 白 means "clear, understand" and 天 means "tomorrow", by itself means both "clear" AND "next day"? Why?

A dictionary with simplified characters will always show the traditional and printing form characters in brackets behind it so the first character jin in your example is the simplified one and second jin is the traditional one.

As for the ming character in Classical Chinese nearly all Characters are Free Form so whether ming means tomorrow or to understand depended on the context of the story.

In modern chinese most characters are Bound Form characters that cannot stand by themself in a text .

You must put another Character with it to show the correct meaning so ming tomorrow +tian day =mingtian tommorrow and ming clear +bai understand = mingbai to understand .

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