For the past year or so, the number of U. The Confucius Institutes are vehicles for promoting Chinese culture, and serve as Mandarin learning centers, a la the British Council with its English programs. Horn tooting follows As an American who speaks, reads, and writes fluent Mandarin, I always encourage people who want to learn Mandarin to remain dedicated to the task. Some language learners DO learn to speak and write Mandarin fluently.
The spoken language, in contrast, is relatively easy to acquire. A good teacher who employs benign pedagogical methods can have students conversing quite fluently within a year or two. Unfortunately, all too many Chinese language teachers crush the enthusiasm and the confidence of beginning and intermediate students by requiring that — almost from the start — they arbitrarily learn dozens or scores of characters every month.
From the very beginning of my own Chinese language learning experience nearly forty years ago, I have staunchly opposed this over-emphasis on brute force memorization of characters. Namely, let students naturally become familiar and comfortable with the basic expressions, structures, and intonations of the language.
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After acquiring this solid foundation, then gradually introduce characters in a systematic fashion, one that is directly linked to words and expressions, not as isolated morphosyllables.
Unfortunately, most of us are adults or teenagers post-puberty, at any rate before we embark on our Chinese language learning quest. In the first stage of learning Chinese, use romanization only.
The big problem, then, is how to make the jump from reading and writing romanized texts to reading and writing character texts. There is a reasonable, effective way out of the romanization-character dilemma, viz. Phonetic annotation of characters is the bridge that crosses the divide between romanization and characters.
It just so happened that I found myself in Taiwan for an extended stay two years at the moment when I needed to cross the gulf between spoken fluency in Mandarin and literacy in written Chinese.
By assimilating massive amounts of publications from the Guoyu Ribao people, before long I was able to read texts without phonetic annotation.
Slowly, with practice, I also became capable of writing in characters as well. I should note that I used a similar method in learning Japanese by relying on texts with furigana phonetic annotation.
My motto is to avoid masochism whenever possible, particularly when learning languages written in Chinese characters. What prompted me to write this post is the wonderful news that we now have a publication in North America that aims to be the pinyin counterpart of Guoyu Ribao.
I am both proud and surprised to discover that the first serious — and I hope sustained — venture in this direction has taken place right in my own backyard. One of our staunchest Mandarin teachers at Penn, Grace Wu who also teaches Taiwanese and whose father was a distinguished teacher of Taiwaneseis one of the guiding lights behind Huayu Xuebao.
I shall actively support this noble enterprise and will refrain from suggesting that the editors consider the possibility of indicating word segmentation joining syllables into words and putting spaces between words until this fledgling publication is securely established. As a closing footnote, I wish to mention that all students in China begin to read and write through pinyin.
The ZT experiment as it is called after the first two letters of its constituent clauses encouraged students to read and write in pinyin for longer periods than was stipulated by the conventional curriculum.
The well-documented results of the experiment demonstrate that students enrolled in the ZT curriculum actually learned to read and write characters better and faster than students enrolled in the standard curriculum.Learn Mandarin Chinese with BBC Languages.
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