Tag Archives: Zhongwen

One Hundred!

4 Mar

I have come a long way since my post titled “Zhōng wén” as I can now write ONE HUNDRED Chinese characters!!! Yes, I can! This means more than one hundred words as each character is a word of course, but combining characters make other words.

At the time I wrote the “Zhōng wén” post (November 2011), I was seriously discouraged about being able to write Chinese. Soon after, I decided to persevere and took a more methodical approach. I bought the special Hànzi (Chinese characters) gridded pads and started with the basics: I, you, he/she, it, we, you, they, to be, to have, father, mother. Then I learned characters that would enable to make sentences, in order to write more intelligible stuff and remember characters more easily. My first sentences were: “My father and mother do not live in China”, “Hello/How are you?” (same thing in Chinese “Nǐ hǎo”, literally “you good”), “Very good and you?”. Over time, it got a bit more elaborate: “Are you hungry? I’ve got an apple and a banana.”, “Are you thirsty? Would you like to drink tea?” or “His older brother is a teacher.”, “Too expensive!”, etc.

As you write and write and repeat and repeat characters – it takes an awful lot of time and I think by now I can cover the walls of our bedroom with all of my writing sheets, you start developing a relationship with each character. For an inexplicable reason, I like the characters “I”, “tea”, “méi” (i.e. negation for the verb to have or negation for the past), “to be” and “this”. For equally elusive reasons, it took me ages to finally memorise “banana”, “can”, “study” and “Chinese”. Not a trivial combination regarding the latter three…

When I browse through my books to pick on the next characters to learn, I become very choosy. No not you, you look very unsympathetic, not you either you’re too complicated. You’re not too bad, but not very inspiring. I don’t need to know you now, you don’t fit with my sentences. You sound exactly like the other one I know, you’re going to confuse me. Ah, you look alright, likeable and useable. You too and you too!

Although a hundred is not much and I have to pace the learning because I need to do repeat sessions before getting on with new words, it has become slightly obsessive. On the streets, I keep trying to decipher shop fronts, advertising boards, etc. and get very excited when I can.

Aì Lì Yà

18 Nov

I now have a Chinese name and it is Aì Lì Yà! Aì being for my surname and, unsurprisingly, Lì Yà for my first name. In Chinese culture, everything goes from the general or wider context to the particular. So you always put your family name first and you introduce yourself this way as well. The same goes for giving or writing dates, the year first, followed by the month and day.

Back to my name, I did know, thanks to a Google search a few months back now, that my first name would most probably be Li Ya. But I didn’t know what it could mean and let alone all the intonations. My friend Clo, who has been studying Chinese since she’s 16, told me then that it could mean beautiful (Li) duck (Ya). We cracked a few jokes about it but I did like it very much and that’s how my blog was named Joli Canard.

When H. said I should have a Chinese name and named me Aì Lì Yà, I immediately asked her about the meaning to see if I would be officially baptised Beautiful Duck. So Aì means to love (except that the character above is only a phonetic one indicating the surname) and Lì does mean beautiful. I anxiously asked if Yà meant duck but H. looked at me, frowned slightly but unconvincingly and ignored my question outright. She said Yà means the second one. Sorely disappointed, I told her the beautiful second does not mean anything! She said: “Why? Do you want to be the first one?” Almost insulted by this remark, I said that I just wanted my name to mean something a little more meaningful! She calmly raised her eyes to the ceiling, thought for a moment and then said: “It could also mean Asia.”

So here we are, I am called she who loves beautiful Asia.

(I still love duck though…)

First Mandarin lesson and homework

15 Nov

I’ve started Mandarin lessons yesterday. After a lot of researching of schools, I decided to go with a private teacher at least until Christmas. Many reasons for this, the primary one being that if I register with a school now, I will be missing too many classes while I’ll be away for Christmas and New Year’s and, given the tuition and the intensity of the course (4 hours everyday from Monday to Friday), it would be a pity to waste so much money and time.

My teacher’s name is H. Tiffany from the relocation agency recommended her to me. She’s very nice and incredibly patient. The first lesson was mostly spent re-learning how to read pinyin (for those who don’t know, pinyin is the phonetic transcription of Mandarin) and work on the four intonations. I had such a hard time with this and we did it so many times that at the end of it I couldn’t pronounce my name correctly anymore and after two hours, I was glad the lesson was over.

This afternoon, after a bit of procrastination, I finally started my homework which consisted of the whole five chapters of pinyin from the book and mp3 that H. gave me. Basically, I have to repeat and read simultaneously each chapter twice. I cringed when I saw that each mp3 was between 6 and 9 minutes. I did not enjoy it yesterday, what will make me enjoy it this time round? Plus there’s no one to correct me… I started nonetheless, reluctantly repeating after my computer each sound and syllable…

An hour and 15 minutes later, I had done the first, second and third chapter. Quite satisfied, I pursued with the fourth chapter. As I was starting to enjoy the exercise and feeling more confident in my pronunciation of tones 2 and 3, I heard a knock on my door. It started slow but became more and more persistent. I walked to the door and was about to open it but then realised that the door is not equipped with a hole and because the knocking became more aggressive (even though it wasn’t really banging) and I could hear two voices from outside, I decided not to. I waited for a second, then heard a door slamming… I’ve clearly been bothering my neighbours. Concerned, I started testing all the walls and it turned out that most of them are made of bond stone.

Although I could understand that anyone could be annoyed by my monosyllabic repetitions and voice strangulations, I was really upset that all I was able to achieve with my first efforts to learn Chinese was to antagonise my neighbours… :-(


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