Chinese Resources

Monday, May 28, 2012

A wealth of English phrases (in Chinese)

I'm a huge fan of idiomatic phrases, a topic I've covered quite extensively on the Skritter blog last year, I find they are such a rich way to express your ideas, especially in Chinese; a language that has thousands of years of history. And yet, familiarizing yourself with all of these phrases is never easy. Yet, growing up as a native English speaker, there are already hundreds of idiomatic phrases that I do know and understand. Phrases like: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," or "early bird gets the worm." 

I would love to use these expressions in Chinese, but I'm not a translator. Although I can usually explain my way around these phrase, my lack of confidence has left these linguistic gems out of my speeches and reports... at least until I came across THIS website. The blogger, who goes by the net-handle 阿靖 (ajing), has complied a list of hundreds of English idiomatic phrases complete with their Chinese counterparts; some of them are pretty literal, while others are simply Chinese phrases that hold very a very similar meaning.   

The key, however, is that instead of using Chinese to figure out the English phrase, we can attack the problem the other way around, using our background knowledge of English to learn similar Chinese expressions. Let's take the above expressions as an example:

Don't put all your eggs in one basket- 別把雞蛋擺在同一籃子裡。不要孤注一擲。
Early bird gets the worm- 早起的鳥兒有蟲吃。

Awesome right!

The site is great for intermediate and advanced learners who have a good feel for how these types of phrases can be used in reports or speeches, and I would highly recommend that everyone add it to their Chinese idioms bookmark folder (surely I'm not the only one who has one of these.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Some other characteristics of 著(着)

Today our Modern Chinese Grammar and Syntax class started talking about Case Grammar Patters (格語法), but our teacher is fond of going off topic today and decide to further look at three functions of 著 (or 着 for you Mainland students), and I thought I would throw that part of the lecture up on the blog (or at least what I understood of it), since using English to work out what my teacher said in Chinese always seems to help me better understand the material. Anyway, lets take a look at 著!

Grammatically, we often think of 著 as a durative, or as representing a continued state... as expressed in the following explanation:


The focus here is on the continued state of an action or condition. However, from what I gathered in my lecture today, that is only one of its several functions. I don't pretent to be an expert on the patter (so take the follow with a grain of salt) but this is what I understand.

著 can be used as a "manner adverb" expression, for example: 他慢慢地吃著 (nibble at food). Here the state of being slow and nibbling is being modified by 著 and thus serving as sort of adverb.

For like a million other examples of this occurring check out the link.

著 can also represent a period of time. Let us take the example 紅臉, or the English to be red in the face (with a blushing face w/e). Here the added 著 is serving as a time marker to indicate that (當下時間) during this present time, so-and-so has a red face. This is not a continuous state, but only a time marker.

Lets look at another example: 忙著讀書 (to be busy reading). Here again, 著 is being used as representing a current period of time, not indicating a continued stated of being busy.

Finally, 著 on a third level can serve as a focal point marker (in an abstract way). Take the example above again 忙著讀書, the focal point (焦點) is on reading (讀書), and since this example phrase is incomplete, one might imagine that you would use this to describe someone perhaps busily reading before going to take a test... or leaving for the day, or something...

It should be noted that 著 is not simply "-ing" in English... it is a little more complicated than that. Again, going back to the 忙著讀書 sentence, if we just wanted to say that someone is reading, we would just say 在讀書, because we cannot say 忙讀書.

I don't know if this helps anyone better understand 著, but if it does please leave your comments below. I hope that from now on, you have a little better grasp of this characters functionality when you see it in the wild.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Visiting Taiwan's ICLP

As part of my Teaching Practicum class my classmates and I had an opportunity to check out Taiwan's International Chinese Language Program, better know around these parts simply as ICLP. ICLP is an amazing program (perhaps the only one in the world) that takes language learners from zero to oral competence in one year. Many students of ICLP go on to do graduate work here in Taiwan, or enter the work force, so how do they do it?

ICLP's program certainly isn't a walk in the park. Students have four hours of Chinese class a day, split into three hours of small group classes (with a maximum of 4 students) and one hour of one-on-one lessons. While in the program, students participate in a language contract. If students are found speaking any language other than Chinese during classes or anywhere in the language learning center they will not receive a certificate of completion at the end of the program.

What really blew me away about the program was how well the students spoke Mandarin after just a year or two of study. Their tones, vocabulary, and sentence patterns were equal of someone who might have been studying for years and years in another program. However, I was most impressed with how naturally they were able to respond to our questions in Chinese, that to me, showed a real display of understanding.

After talking to some of the teachings I think that part of the success of this program is the strong emphasis on oral proficiency. From day one students are made brutally aware of their tone issues and pronunciation mistakes. While it may hurt at first, once they overcome that huge hurtle it gives them a great confidence in their language skill, helping to get them to the next level even quicker. Many of the staff strongly believe that many teachers of Mandarin are simply too soft when it comes to fixing these mistakes, and if these few students are any indication that being strict is the right way to fix this issue then I whole-heatedly agree with their approach.

To be honest, the whole experience made me regret my decision to study at Shida back in 2006-07. But I suppose looking forward is really the only way to progress... who knows, maybe I could be one of those teachers someday.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Reflecting on Taiwan's TOCFL Exam

On Saturday, May 5th 2012, after a grueling week of midterm exams, reports and 15 hours of regular classes, I went in to take Taiwan's TOCFL Exam, formerly known as the TOP. I was registered for the Master Level, also know as the fluency level.

I went into the exam with little hope of passing, but since I have to take (and pass) the exam before I graduate from my Master's program here in Taiwan, I wanted to see what this exam was all about so that I could better prepare myself for next time. I had bought a test booklet to prepare, but the prep booklet doesn't do much good in my opinion, since the material presented always feels about a step or two down from the actual level of material presented on the exam.

The exam is done on the computer, with your results processed instantaneously. Sure enough, after two hours of testing, split into listening and reading, I pressed send only to find those dreaded words "no pass" appear across the screen. However, much to my surprise I was only one point shy of grabbing the master level score, so where did I go wrong?

I would say that my largest problem was that I was simply not prepared for the scope of questions that appeared on the exam. The content was a mixture of news broadcasts, advertisements, business meeting conversations etc., and I simply didn't have enough background to fill in the gaps between the words I didn't know and what they were looking for in the questions provided. I fared a lot better on the reading section of the exam, but the speed at which I read was simply too slow for the allotted time given. With only one minute left in the test I had 10 questions left unanswered, that I hurriedly guess at without even reading the essay provided.

If I only had a little more time, or my reading ability was a little faster, I'm sure I could have made up that last final point and passed the exam, albeit with a poor score. However, instead of getting myself down about the results, I've taken it as a valuable lesson on the areas in which my Chinese needs to improve. Rather than sulk over that one point, I went out for a massive dinner of sushi and devised a plan for how I was going to gain 10 points before I take the exam again in June (just one month away)... and hear it is.

Step 1: Listening.
 My listening comprehension is lacking, there is no other way to put it. Put me on the street with strangers, put me in a classroom with lectures on Chinese syntax, grammar, or the origin of Chinese characters, and I'm perfectly fine. My problem isn't that I don't understand what is being said when I understand the context, my problem lies in my degree of listening comprehension. Quite simply, I need to spend a lot more time listening to things that I simply have know knowledge of. This means spending more time listing to radio broadcasts, news broadcasts, and TV programs that I have absolutely no interest in what-so-ever. So that is exactly what I'll do, I'm not going to like it, and I don't really know if I have the time to really make it happen over the next month, but I've got my radio adjusted to Chinese news, and whenever my TV is on, it is set to the local news... if this doesn't work, I'll adjust again after next month. 

Step 2: Reading:
I've got to read faster, so that is exactly what I'm going to do. Rather than look up words that I don't understand, or focus on blogs and news reports that catch my interest, I'm just going to open the newspaper and read whatever I can. Basically, I just need to make time in my day to read, something that might be easier said that done with 5 classes, 10 hours of teaching, and part-time work every week, but I'll do my best over the next month and see what happens.

Pretty boring post, but this is where I stand, and I'm just going to do what I can to do better next time. Since I don't really have time to "study" Chinese at this point, I'll just do my best over the next month and see what happens. If I don't pass it in June, then I get another year to prepare, and trust me, by that time I'll be ready!

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