Mandarin 101.

10 Sep

Welcome to the new Blog! I’m glad you’re all here!

Dave and I have been back from our Europe trip for a good couple of weeks and we’re slowly getting back into the Ningbo swing of NIngbo things. The weather is surprisingly bearable and it’s exciting being back here again. Lots more restaurants and shops have opened up in our apartment complex’s shopping street  and with university staff and students back again there’s a bit of a buzz in the neighborhood air.

Yesterday I had my first Chinese lesson and after 2 hours my head was spinning. First of all, it’s been a VERY long time since I sat down in a classroom and had to learn something theoretical and second of all, it’s Chinese for goodness sake!

But I’m feeling very optimistic even though it’s going to be a very long journey!

We’re starting with the pinyin alphabet first (pinyin being the Romanisation of Chinese characters) so we get to grips with the pronunciation of all the letters and simultaneously we’re learning all the various tones of each letter.

Yesterday we learned the first 6 “vowels” a, o, e, i, u and ü and the first 4 “consonants” b, p, m, f. Sound easy? It’s not.  A pinyin “a” is similar to the “a” sound in bar if you were to grotesquely pull back your lips and bare your teeth which, if you are doing it now, you will realize is very different to the English “a” as in bay. So there was a lot of mouth action going on while we were trying to contort our lips into the right shapes to get the right sounds.

And the “a” sound is definitely the easiest one of them. There’s the “e” which is not like in bee, no no, it’s more like the “eugh” sound you might make if you find something very revolting. In Chinese , coincidently, this sound (pronounced with the descending tone) means “hungry”. For demonstration our teacher was rubbing her tummy going “Eugh! Hungry!” while we were all thinking “Eugh! Tummy bug!”  The “u” and “ü” sounds I didn’t have any problems with because they are the same as in German but my English friends really struggled.

Then came the tones. There are 5 tones in the Chinese language: flat (ē), ascending (é), slightly descending then ascending (ě), descending (è) and natural (e) – lost you yet? – and we practiced the 6 vowels with all the different tones: aah, aah, aah, aah; ohh, ohh, ohh, ohh; eugh, eugh, eugh, eugh. Over and over again until we KINDA got it. The outbursts of giggling and expressions of complete perplexity got in the way sometimes.

Lastly we did the 4 consonants: on their own pronounced something like boh, poh, moh, foh though when combined with a vowel the “oh” sound falls away and something something… I shall no longer bore you. And don’t worry, it’ll be the last time I’ll be writing about my lessons in such detail! A comedic highlight though was when our teacher went to each of us and demonstrated the difference between the “b” and “p” sound by saying these consonants into the palms of our hands so that we could feel the different air blows a mouth makes when saying them.

But you get the general idea of the class: it went back to the real basics of the language and it was very repetitive. It’s going to take about five 2-hour classes to get the whole alphabet down, which in turn is just the beginning of conversational Chinese so I doubt I’ll be fluent anytime soon, haha! I’m doing this course with 3 other girls that work at Nottingham Uni and at the end of the class two of them felt that it was a bit TOO technical… and repetitive. Incidentally these two girls are English language teachers and for them this way of learning is very dated. They would rather start with conversational phrases that we can use in our everyday life and learn the pinyin and tones along the way. For me Chinese is SO alien I quite like the idea of starting with the very, very basics and building up. I think in the long run it will be easier and it provides a bit of logic to something I can otherwise make no sense out of. We’d like to continue doing it as a group because it was good fun (and could you imagine doing the above in a one-to-one class? my head would melt) so we’re going to ask if we can do an hour of pinyin and then an hour of conversational phrases just to keep everyone happy.

I hope you’ll all sign up for automatic posts. Just press on……………………….

I’m off to practice: bí  pā  bò mě  pù  mī  … etc.

I want this book though I think it might be lying


4 Responses to “Mandarin 101.”

  1. thalienc September 10, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    hahaaa good stuff! can’t wait to hear u speak mandarin some day 🙂 miss you xx

    • miravakily September 10, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

      Ming bai ma? (Do you understand?)
      – Ming bai. (understand) – Bu ming bai. (do not understand)

      guess which one i use more!?!

  2. Merle Patchett September 11, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    Hey Mira,

    love your new blog! So you’re learning madarin – good on you… but then you speak just about every other language so it was only a matter of time before you got to the Chinese ones.

    You will be a pro in no time…

    Say hi to Dave and love to you,


    • miravakily September 12, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

      Heya, thanks for signing up!! I’m thinking of doing an intensive Mandarin course instead of just 2hrs a week but then on the other hand, i’m thinking of doing a lot of things! It would be so ace to be fluent tho!! sigh…

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