Jump to content
  • Sign Up

Mandarin for the infrequent China visitor


Recommended Posts

(long time listener, first time poster)

I have a job that is based in the United States, but requires me to travel to either Taiwan or South China for quarterly one-week stints. At the South China facility, only _1_ person out of 300 speaks English.

So to address this, I recently went through all three Pimsleur Mandarin courses. I felt relatively confident going over there last time. Here are some things that I kind of picked up:

1) Since I only listened to the Pimsleur CDs, I never had proper feedback on my pronounciation. I quickly found out that I was not disciplined enough with my tones when I was practicing.

2) The local dialect had odd word pronounciations that caught me off guard (like, xi-fan, instead of xi-huan), and some word order anomalies (they insisted that I say "wan shang zuo tian" instead of "zuo tian wan shang").

3) The speed and "slurring" of the conversation made it extremely difficult to understand any conversation. I had a set of people who knew I was just learning the language, and when they slowed it down and enunciated, I was surprised at how much I was able to understand.

4) I perhaps didn't drill enough, but I didn't feel prepared to construct complex sentences. I couldn't express "can you make sure that no one touches this computer?", though I probably knew the words.

Anyway, I had a few questions for the experts on the board:

a) For someone who does not live in China full time, what would be a good follow up to the Pimsleur courses? (I live in a academically deficient and ethnically undiverse city; I'm not keen on learning from the local colleges).

B) Is it not realistic to have a fluent knowledge of Mandarin without living there?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For listening, a while ago someone posted a link here to a site with videos, called something like "watch me speak chinese". I can't find it right now, but it looked quite good.

For speaking, orally constructing complex sentences is about the hardest thing you can do in a language, so don't feel too bad about that! Ideally you'd practice with a native speaker, but practicing on your own with really strong willpower would do. Try finding or writing appropriate sentences in English, then translating them orally as accurately as you can. Then check them with a grammar book and dictionary, noting where and why you went wrong. Hopefully the more you do it, the faster and more accurate you'll be. Since vocabulary doesn't seem to be your problem, I think that it's skill-building through practice rather than learning content through a course which you need.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

June 30, 2005

Dear MrKurtz:

I don't think that this post will actually help you to arrive at "THE SOLUTION" to your problem of "mis-pronounciation or mis-understanding" of spoken Chinese.

Please keep in mind that Chinese like any other language is "live" and "evolves" with time and place. Especially, spoken Chinese, since it has only been recently (maybe the past 80-100 years) when an effort was made to "unify" spoken Chinese (others with more understanding might clarify the history of "White Talk Literature Movement" of 5/4 or even trace it further back). Historically, Chinese have developed many dialects, some which are completely uncomprehensible to people of other dialects. The only thing holding everything together was the "written word" (discussed in detail on this webpage).

Mao, Chaing, Deng all spoke with very thick Hu-nan, Ningbo or Szchuan accents respectively, which were "difficult" if not "impossible" for people whose mother tongue was some other Chinese dialect to understand. All three of these gentlemen mentioned above, belonged to the educated classs. Consider the difficulty by multiplying by a factor of at least 2 of understanding or being understood when you get into the hinterlands.

IMHO, you should focus on getting the "flavor" or "melody" of spoken Chinese correct. If you can achieve this (which is, by the way, no mean achievement), and assuming that you don't completely massacre the majority of Chinese words coming out of your mouth, most Chinese will not find it difficult to follow your conversation by picking up on the majority of correct pronuciations you make and by the "correct flow/rhythm" of your speach.

Depending on how your define "correct", even the majority of Chinese don't speak "correct" Chinese. Even though I grew up speaking "Normal Chinese aka Bu Tong Hwa", people who speak "correct" Chinese look in askance whenever I open my mouth. However, the point is, very few people misunderstand me, which is the main goal of speaking.

Good luck with your efforts. "Have Ambition Person, Business Eventually Succeeds" (old Chinese saying).


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...