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Mandarin is fun - Frances Bea
Mandarin is fun
Well, I'm on lesson 21 of Pimsleur's Mandarin Chinese I. I could theoretically have conversations now on a few distinct subjects. I can say,

"Would you like to have something to drink? I have tea, beer and water."
"Mr. Chen and his wife have two sons. Their older son is grown, but the younger one is very small."
"65 dollars is two expensive. How about 40?"
"Would you like to have dinner with me at the Beijing Restaurant tomorrow night? Is seven o'clock okay?"
"I can speak a little Mandarin, but do you speak English?"

Pimsleur recommends finishing the audio program before beginning to study the written language. I have cheated a little, and recently started studying Read Chinese, Book One by Fang-yu Wang. It's a very well reviewed classic text that teaches both the traditional characters still in use in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the simplified characters now used by government decree in Mainland China. Most characters are unchanged, but some of the more complex ones were simplified in the interest of improving general literacy and writing efficiency. I found a good illustration of some of the differences (see right). The effort has met only limited success because the adoption of the new characters has been limited and one must learn the traditional characters to read most materials written before 1950. As a result, knowing one set and not the other can be a problem these days.

Critics of the simplified characters also argue that the new versions discard the logic of characters originally built from component parts and may be perversely harder to learn. I'm not expert enough to agree or disagree, but I can relate to the argument. For instance, if we shorten the word "pyromaniac" to "pyro", then someone encountering the word for the first time would no longer be able to guess at the meaning from the roots "fire - crazy". The simplified Chinese characters I've seen often seem to operate in a similar way - dropping some components of characters and preserving others.

"Read Chinese" seems like an excellent program so far. The lessons each have a large number of sentences to translate which use the characters in interesting and sometimes idiomatic ways. After struggling though all fifty of these examples in lesson one I found I had a good command of the approximately 25 characters that were introduced. The difficulty is that the author is introducing words in a different order than Pimsleur. In lesson one I learned several characters for words I didn't yet know how to say. This is problematic because the pronunciation clues are never going to be quite good enough. Each character is labeled with a Yale romanization and a Pinyin romanization. For one character these were "syà" and "xià" respectively. I have a pretty good idea how to pronounce this, but when it finally is introduced in the Pimsleur audio program I may discover that my pronunciation is not quite right. In the interest of avoiding learning any bad pronunciation habits, I think I should try to complete at least three audio lessons for every written lesson I attempt.

Current Music: http://pics.livejournal.com/frances_bea/pic/0000cxxd

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