New Chinese grammar wiki

John Pasden of Sinosplice has a Shanghai-based company called AllSet Learning that focuses on helping foreigners learn Chinese.  He discovered that since people have different learning needs, especially when it comes to learning grammar, it would be a good idea to have an overall framework available to learners.  Since the only things that presently exist like this are textbooks, and there is nothing really like this on the web, he decided to make an online source.

And since the best kinds of online sources are those that keep up to date and can be corrected, he made it a wiki.

And since he’s an open-source kind of guy, interested in making things that are beneficial to all, he put it under a Creative Commons license.  Check it out here. Continue…

Hyperpolyglot help

One of the things that I’ve become increasingly more fascinated with (and have been fascinated with since as long as I can remember) is the question of how fastest (and most efficiently) to learn a language to a basic level.  By basic level I mean well enough so that your next step would be to study intermediate language learning material in that language: you’ve mastered the alphabet, the phonemes (but not all of the conversation speed phonetic change “rules”), all but infrequently used (or especially formal) syntactic patterns, and a vocabulary of at least 500-1000 of the most common words.  You should be able to pick up a newspaper article in that language and say what it’s about (and not be too far off).  You should be able to complete simple everyday tasks that require speaking and listening in that language.

When I was fresh out of grad school (mid ’90s), I remember discovering a company that specialized in quick language learning through reading.  They had a neat program that had translated mouse-overs for words, and ways to save vocabulary lists — something that we take for granted now, but was quite revolutionary back then.  The other day I was wondering if they were still around.


Colour words and SLA

I’ve written about colour a bunch before. really. a bunch. But I’ve recently come upon an interesting argument. If it were just one person who I’d heard it from, I’d not be bothered, but since it’s come up on three separate occasions in the past month, I feel it’s at least worth addressing.

It’s essentially this:

[Language X] is inherently more difficult to learn, all other things being equal, because of the number of colour words it has.


Advice to the Mandarin Newbies

There are a few things that I think I understand about Mandarin, or at least about speaking it as a non-native, that I didn’t understand back when it would have been most helpful. The following are things that I wish someone had told me three years ago when I was learning this stuff.

1. In pinyin, ü is not a u. It’s an i. I know, I know. It’s /y/. Well people don’t tell you that. They tell you, indirectly of course, that it’s related to u. That’s why it’s a u with ¨ on top. Well it’s not. It’s an i. Stop thinking of it as a u. Go “eeeeeeee” and then round your lips. i.

2. Also in pinyin, r is not r. It’s voiced sh¹. Get it out of your head that it has anything to do with r as you know it. Minimal pairs are your friend.


Discounts on Second Sinitic Languages

Since I don’t know the answer, I’d like to forward a question left on an unrelated post. “Deany” asks:

How much “discount” can someone gets if she/he is already able to speak cantonese and want to learn mandarin (pu tong hua)?I’ve noticed that a friend of mine who is able to speak cantonese (raised in a family who is able to speak cantonese), he has a higher speed in learning mandarin. Is it true that mandarin is easy to master when you already fluent in one of chinese dialects? Continue…

Learning Mandarin to remedy your English

I have a Beijing business associate whose interests seem to lie squarely within the two dimensions of Chinese history and Mandarin wordplay, e.g. he gets excited about retelling 鸿门宴, he’s a cross-talk (相声) aficionado, and he writes Mandarin lyrics for his rock band friends. But he majored in English in college. Also, he teaches Mandarin to foreigners, part-time. Since the English thing didn’t jibe, I asked him why he does so much with a foreign language.

To improve my Chinese! Sometimes I think I didn’t really know Chinese until I tried learning English. Continue…

Phelps on Grammatical Gender in Mandarin

Wait — you haven’t heard of his ground-breaking research? With credit to Street-Smart Language Learning for the Fox News link and some fun analysis, along with a generous hat tip to MandarinMnemonics for linking to it with the best headline on this meme: “Michael Phelps, Rosetta Stoned?“, I’m pleased to introduce you to a side of Michael Phelps you probably have not been exposed to. Fast forward to 0:50 for the crux of the analysis. Continue…

Finger painting characters, dressed as a Qing eunuch

Deerawn, who more often does translation of fiction, discusses learning Chinese:

I thought doing the foreigner-in-China study program would be some straight bullshit. I pictured myself finger painting characters, dressed as a Qing eunuch, learning to write my new Chinese name. I thought it would be like that unless I did the HSK and started regular undergraduate Chinese courses, but, I was already done two years of an undergraduate degree and my image of studying Chinese literature at a Chinese university wasn’t exactly flattering.