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wushijiao

Some advice for beginners

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wushijiao

I pretty much agree with what anonymoose and other have said above. To solve the problem of not being able to quite catch the local dialect, I suggest (as have others):

1) Doing massive amounts of listening practice, and just improving your Mandarin in general.

2) Increasing vocabulary. (If you can catch 90% or more of the words of a sentence, you can probably focus on how the pronunciation is different, but if you understand less, pronunciation that differs from the "standard" will probably throw you off).

3) Talking with people whenever possible.

4) Learning some dialect words.

5) Do listening drills for tones (tones vary much less in regional forms compared to the pronunciation of the pinyin, so to speak).

6) Watch TV series that use the regional standard that you want to practice. I, for example, watched 80 or so episodes of 东北一家人, which uses Dongbeihua. At first it was hard, but my listening got better over time.

7) Realize that it will get easier over time.

8 ) Psychologically speaking, don't blame locals for speaking the way they do (and I only add this point because at certain points I've somewhat blamed locals for speaking non-standardly. I think this can be very destructive towards your learning mentality- which might be the most important thing in language acquisition).

But anyway, as far as the whole "where to study thing" goes, I think being in a place like Shenyang might actually have its advantages. For a few years, my problem was that I had a easy time understanding people who spoke extremely standard Putonghua (as you find in tapes/CDs/CCTV/radio), but I found it much harder to understand the people who don't speak standard (from a foreigner's point of view). Basically, with the exceptions of some rare cities like Harbin, I'd say that just about every place in the Mandarin-speaking areas of China puts some degree of local dialect/accent into their Putonghua, with the variation in degree being based on age, education level, and so on.

So, in other words, living/studying in a place that is slightly off from standard Putonghua could be seen as a blessing in disguise. If you only learn CCTV-style Putonghua, it's a bit like having a radio that can only receive one frequency. Exposing yourself to other regional pronunciations, over time, is a bit like a radio that able to receive lots of frequencies and stations.

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LanLiBei

Thanks for the advice, even after a year at uni i sometimes feel a lot like hunxueer's students, happy to read and write but completely deer in the headlights when it comes to conversation... determined to remedy this before going to guangzhou next year, time for a dinner party with my chinese friends i think,

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Wicked

I found the most important thing for getting to speak at the beginning was living with a Chinese only speaking family - being forced to speak Chinese, with English just not being available. I think it would have taken me a lot longer otherwise to start speaking.

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Madelynne

wushijiao-THANK YOU! what a wonderful post(s) well written and inspirational

:clap

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SirAndy

Hello all. I've just signed up to the site. Some interesting points were noted whilst reading through the previous posts.

Having always heard that chinese was a hard language to learn I've taken the plunge. Surprisingly within a week of really focussing i picked up quite a lot.

I know a few phrases and can write some albeit limited.

I'm not sure whether I'll be able to become fluent but it's always nice to at least know the basics.

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Wang2014

Biggest advice for Beginners: don't quit. In the early early stages we feel like we are learning loads, making massive progress because the beginning grammar is easy, and so on. Eventually we will hit "the great wall of china". It will feel like there is way too much too learn and no way you could ever learn it all. Just take it step by step. Every day make consistent effort and progress.

 

Also, it is never too early to start speaking to natives. Get all your ni hao's to sound like a native. then move on.

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Rae

This isn´t just for beginners but I would like to recommend a website called Conversation Exchange. You can use this website to find language partners who are learning your language in exchange for theirs. It´s a global exchange site and have used it many times. On the site I have made many friends and improved with my oral skills because of language partners so there´s no harm in giving it a try!

 

www.conversationexchange.com

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Cici Burger

From my experience, I have two points here:

1. Don't just learn how to answer questions but also learn how to ask questions. I see many beginners can not ask people's nationality in Chinese, but they can answer it, that's is because usually the way we study is by answering our teacher's questions.

2. Don't be lazy and answer the questions in simple words. Try always answer questions in w whole/full sentence.

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Guest Mira Price

One thing that's really helped improve my listening comprehension was when asked a question, repeating it back to the person before answering.

 

That way, you check to see that you've heard every Mandarin syllable correctly. If you haven't, the person you're talking to would immediately correct you.

 

It sounds silly, but I think it's really helped me improve both my pronunciation and listening! :)

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ParkeNYU

The very first step that a learner of any new language should take, without exception, is mastering the phonology. Don't even learn how to say 'hello' or 'thank you' until all of the sounds feel comfortable and natural in your mouth. Play the long game and don't look for a get-fluent-quick scheme. Once you've got the sounds down, build your arsenal of vocabulary into a formidable lexicon slowly but thoroughly, and the best way to do this is live and breathe the characters, since there's nearly always a 1:1 morpheme-to-character ratio (if you hear someone say 'this character is meaningless alone—it needs to be paired with this character', don't believe it; more often than not, the isolated character's meaning is just obscure, archaic, esoteric, etc, and the person doesn't want to get into the finer details). Understand how and why they operate; although it's a complex journey, it will ultimately be worthwhile. Start with basic grammar to connect your words and work up from there.

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roddy
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The very first step that a learner of any new language should take, without exception, is mastering the phonology. 

While that might be true (doubt it, but...) in some ideal language learning environment, it's not so much use in the real world. The first bit of Chinese learning I recall clearly is desperately flicking through a phrase book trying to learn how to say "to the city centre, please" while the minibus hurtled down the hill towards me. While I don't advocate it as a long term strategy, if necessary you can get a lot done with dodgy pronunciation. Just go back regularly and make incremental improvements. 

 

Regardless, if you had to take that approach 95% of learners would lose interest before they even got to doing anything interesting. 

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ZC
33 minutes ago, roddy said:

Regardless, if you had to take that approach 95% of learners would lose interest before they even got to doing anything interesting

 

For me that’s the most important thing! As far as I’ve seen, people have the ability to put a near infinite amount of effort into something if it’s truly fun. But the opposite is true too, at least for me if I just hate learning something usually I just stop or don’t put any effort in. I think the best way to start learning has to consider pronunciation, but if that’s all there is I promise most people would get sick of it and quit. For me it’s mostly about balancing drilling vocab and fluency and letting myself have fun with Chinese. 

 

(Not to mention that for adult learners getting rid of an accent might take several years even after they already speak the language.)

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ParkeNYU
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if you had to take that approach 95% of learners would lose interest before they even got to doing anything interesting.

 

I see that as a good thing, since it weeds out the people who aren't really that dedicated to learning the language. People with fleeting interest limited to basic utilitarian needs can pick up a phrase book with 'knee? how. mah' and other ad hoc approximations. If you truly love the language, mastering the phonology shouldn't be boring at all. What's boring about laying the foundation for your lifelong embodiment of the language? I understand that, after a certain age, some degree of a foreign accent will be present, and of course I do not fault people for this. However, many people who don't become intimate with the phonology right off the bat don't just speak with accents—they speak incorrectly. Foreigners who just want to 'have a chill time picking up' Mandarin passively don't just have terrible accents but they often speak incorrectly. I know because I have to reteach them! Common problems include pronouncing /y/ as /ju/, <bo> as <bou>, <yan> as /jan/, and sometimes even completely ignoring tones (or getting them very wrong). Teachers often give up and let them slide with these mistakes if they keep making them without explaining to them how to make the sounds correctly. It's like these teachers don't even have a basic understanding of linguistics!
 

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It's like these teachers don't even have a basic understanding of linguistics!

Good point! All language teachers should have a basic understanding of linguistics as a prerequisite for language instruction. I cannot stress this enough.

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Shelley
10 minutes ago, ParkeNYU said:

since it weeds out the people who aren't really that dedicated to learning the language.

 

I don't think we should be trying to weed anyone out, the attrition rate is high enough without putting more hoops to jump through.

 

Just because not everyone dedicates themselves to learning Chinese to the detriment of all other things in their lives doesn't mean they are not passionate and want to learn.

Everyone learns in different ways.

 

I agree that it is important to learn things correctly first time and not to have to unlearn things ( this is harder than just learning things almost) but how we learn is important, using words like phonology is unnecessary and puts off first time language learners, Teaching the correct pronunciation is easier to swallow.

 

I want to encourage people to learn Chinese and other languages, in the UK language learning is way down on the list of subjects for schools. When I went to school in Montreal, we had to learn French and there was a greater expectation you learnt other languages too.

 

I admire your dedication but remember not everyone has the same way of thinking as you do. Make way for other methods too, as long as they teach things in a straight forward way without too much unnecessary embellishments and with good explanations and plenty of teacher/student interaction, the student has a fair chance to come away with the knowledge they need, just because they might not make a lifetime study of it and only want to get by in Beijing on holiday, they all deserve equal opportunities.

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ParkeNYU

Sure, 'correct pronunciation', if that's a more approachable phrase. Semantics aside, I truly don't think it's that boring or complex to familiarise one's self with the sound repertoire of a language. I've seen many a Mandarin teacher begin the very first lesson with 'nǐhǎo' and 'xièxie', written in pinyin and characters, without explaining how pinyin even works first. Students inevitably ask why 'nǐ' is pronounced as 'ní', why the third tone often fails to rise again, and why the hell 'x' sounds like 'sh', or 'q' like 'ch', or any number of pinyin quirks. 'Don't worry about those yet, just repeat after me' is a bad policy, in my opinion; students deserve to understand how these mechanics work from the start. Pinyin (or preferably zhuyin) should be the very first thing taught in Mandarin, since it kills two birds (spelling and pronunciation) with one stone (the phonetic script). The first lesson should be a big chart of pinyin/zhuyin and how they're pronounced, including different combinations thereof. Once the student knows pinyin/zhuyin and the sounds well, learning phrases like 'hello' and 'thanks' will come far more quickly and naturally, rather than sounding like arbitrary strings of unfamiliar noises that the students are forced to approximate and reproduce.

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Shelley

I agree, I suppose I just assumed (I know .. wrong) that everyone was taught pinyin and pronunciation and how tones work before starting in on 你好, 谢谢 and so on.

 

I suppose there are all sorts of teachers out there, perhaps the message should be , if your teacher dosen't do it in this order ask why and then even insist on it or change teacher.

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roddy

So would you say it's acceptable for students to start talking before they have perfect pronunciation?

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ZC

It may just be my viewpoint, but the insistence that pronunciation be airtight before even survival phrases are taught seems like it misses a bit of the nature of language. Of course it would be ridiculous for a teacher to move past the basics if the student can’t pronounce most sounds, but neglecting someone’s ability to convey a little meaning almost seems to forget that language in general is a tool. You wouldn’t teach a woodworking class and not touch a saw until year two! I’m not saying pronunciation isn’t really important but I think that once it’s servicable moving on to conveying meaning is valuable. I think the disagreement is one of scale more than anything, I bet you would find few who would say pronunciation is not important!

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Shelley
1 hour ago, roddy said:

So would you say it's acceptable for students to start talking before they have perfect pronunciation?

Yes, they need to start talking to perfect their pronunciation. You can't learn to ride a bike without falling off a few times, but you need to actually start riding it.

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Lu

Keeping the students enthousiastic and interested is, in my view, an important part of language teaching. Drilling pinyin (or zhuyin) and pronunciation first is not a bad idea, but at the same time some students want to learn something to take home. 'You've already had three hours of Chinese class and you still can't even say hello?' is not very motivating for the casual learner. And I thoroughly disagree with the idea that only hardcore learners should try and learn Chinese. Not everyone will succeed, but everyone can get started and make an attempt. Just as running is not just for people who want to train for a marathon, but also for people who just want to get off their couch once in a while.

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