February 25, 2008

Wo bu zhidao zenme shuo ...

The language lessons continue. Daily. Hourly. I love it.

At my last tutoring session on Saturday, my tutor spent most of the time speaking, while I translated into English. It's tough! A lot of it was contextual. Moreso than I would have like. What I mean is, I was able to recognize a couple words and then figure out what she was saying/asking. A couple times I got mixed up, like hearing xi when she said qiu and so on. I learned a bunch of new words, too. Like "baseball" and "Tokyo" and "convenient" and "buy" and "there" and "here". From the subway, I also know how to say "We have arrived" which helps with the taxis, although now I can also say "Stop here" or "Stop there" while pointing to a place. Very helpful. And this morning at work I was able to put together a sentence - Xin qi liu wo zai Jialefu mai chi de. (I think that's right, anyway.)

Notice (if you can) the placement of the prepositional phrase there -- zai Jialefu. It is stuck in the middle of the sentence, where in English the prep. phrase usually is at the end of the sentence. But I guess in Chinese it's different - which is just one of the many things I'm having trouble with. I also have heard different opinions about adjective/noun placement. For example in English I would say "the black cat" - but in Spanish I would say el gato negro. I think Chinese might be a mixture of the two, which -- well, damn, more confusion to be had :-)

Oh, and there are no articles - "the" or "a" or "an" do not exist in Chinese. It's actually quite refreshing to not have to worry about those words. It's like, I'm saving my breath, haha. Even though it takes an extra second to realize "Hey, I'm not going to sound like a moron if I leave out the article." Hahaha.

Another thing is this seemingly random placement of de. I've figured out le - it indicates that something has changed. So, Mei you means "I don't have [it]", while Mei you le means "I do not have [it] anymore," or put more simply, "[it's] gone." Your state of having-ness has changed. (If you're speaking this at home, phonetically this would be pronounced "may yo luh" although not quite.) The subject [it] is omitted if you can figure what "it" is out from the context.

Another example: dao means "arrive", but dao le means " to have arrived." (The subject is implied by the context) See how that works? I think dao is 4th tone and you'd pronounce it similar to "dow".

But I still haven't figured out de (pronounced "duh"). In one sense it indicates possession, so, for example, wo de means "my" or "mine", ni de means "your" or "yours", and so on. But in other sentences and other contexts it seems to just appear randomly. I'll have to inquire further about usage. It's also one of the few words that are toneless.

Other fun stuff. Today my coworkers and I were walking to lunch, and Mark said something that translates word-for-word as "Your back has a car." Um ... wtf? What that means, though, is "A car is coming from behind you." Hahaha. I am starting to see how Chinglish comes about so easily :-)

I learned "most" is split into two words - duo for countable objects (for example, the number of pieces of candy I ate at work today) and cui for un-countable objects, like, the degree to which someone is a jerk, haha. I would also say wo ren cui gao le, or "I am the tallest person"! Haha. See, now that's an example of something that's confusing me - I can't figure out how le indicates change in that sentence. Maybe it's just another random placement, like wo e le ("I am hungry"). If you say just wo e, that's apparently not a complete sentence. And wo shi e is not proper, either. So yes -- confusing you see this is.

Today at the cafeteria I needed an extra chair for my table, so I found an empty one, pointed to it, and said to the guys at its table, Ni men yao zhe ge? They kind of stared at me funny, and so I repeated myself. Then one of them acknowledged me with a wave of his hand, that said I could take it.

You astute Chinese speakers will realize my mistake here, and it's one I still make from time to time -- I left out the ma in the above sentence. So what I said to them was not a question, but a statement: "You [collectively] want this." No wonder I got a stare :-)

Speaking of zhe ge - zhe means "this" and ge is a generic measurement word. Chinese has tons of measurement words, for example, yi zhang piao means "one ticket". Yi is "one" and piao means "paper" (but refers to tickets usually). Zhang in this case is a measurement word associated with piao. As you can imagine (or read on that link), measurement words are different for all sorts of things. But ge can apply to just about anything - the only problem is that it's generic, so you have to be sure you're being specific by using other means (usually by pointing at what you're talking about, haha).


And tonight at the gym, I was getting some water when one of the staff asked me for help with a word. He's got a little book that he's using to teach himself English at home. One word turned into twenty, though, as I walked him through words like "captain," "harbor," "sail", "confident," "large", "treasure", and so on. (He was apparently on the nautical chapter.) I was having a lot of fun. On words like "large", I could hear him adding an extra "uh" on the end. So the word became "lar-juh". Again, this is typical if you hear a native Chinese speaker say words in English for the first time. But, you know, I've never heard someone actually go through and learn it, so that was really neat.

He also had a problem with "throw". I exaggerated the degree to which I stuck my tongue between my teeth to make the "th" sound, but he still couldn't get it. It kept coming out like "srow", which, again, is a stereotypical thing to hear I suppose. When I am learning, I have found it helps to watch the person's mouth and, if they speak English, inquire about proper tongue placement. (I'm really resisting the temptation to make a foul joke or two here, haha.) These tactics helped me with sh, ch, and zh, which still give me trouble but which I think I'm still getting better at. And doing this requires you both to share a common language, which wasn't really the case here.

But also, doing this really helped me see how much I want to learn proper Chinese pronunciations, not just the words themselves. I want to sound, like, good. Hahaha. I suppose anyone would. But I feel a strong desire to speak (and understand) proper Chinese. Appropriately enough, I bet that "language" is the most common tag on this here bloggity-blog.

I think I'm doing well. At least I'm able to enumerate some of the problems I'm having and some of the areas where I could use more work. I try out my Chinese all the time. Primarily on my co-workers, but I also want second opinions, because my co-workers are highly educated and trained in English, so they are used to hearing it spoken to them. I want to talk to, for example, the taxi driver, or the woman selling oranges in People's Square, and see if they understand me.

So I do and, usually, I think I get my point across :-)

1 comment:

shambhala said...

So he's on the nautical chapter, and you didn't use the opportunity to convince him that Americans address each other as "matey" and end sentences with "arrr?" I'm disappointed.