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Part 1 - Introduction

Part 2 - The Chinese Dictionary

Part 3 - Stroke Order and Radicals

Learning to See Chinese Characters Part 4*

Welcome back. 

Yoda Speak

One of the most charming things about Chinese is the structure of the sentences.  If you are a fan of "Star Wars",  you are familiar with the fuzzy little Jedi knight,  Yoda,  and his strange way of arranging words.   That is how Chinese is structured.  I call it Yoda-speak,  though of course it pre-dates Yoda by quite a few centuries.   Here's an example:

There's a saying in China when somebody's behavior is not honourable.  It means "You let a dog eat your conscience."  But the word order is:

你良心让狗吃了 (Nǐ  ling xīn  rng gǒu chī le.)

which translates as "You conscience let dog eat."  Now isn't that Yoda talking? 

Chinese is much more structured than English.  For example,  the time always comes first.  So where we can say: 

English structure:  What time do you want to go.
Chinese structure:  You what time want to go.

English:  The bottle on the table.
Chinese:  The bottle at table on.

English:  How long have you been in China?
Chinese:  You in China how much time?

English:  When did you come to China?
Chinese:  You to China when came?

English:  We're going downtown to go shopping this afternoon.
Chinese: This afternoon we at downtown shopping go.

Puns and Mnemonics for Learning Chinese

Every once in a while I come up with a pun that really helps me remember Chinese words.  This is my latest.  The word yā can be represented with two different characters - 鸭 (yā - duck) or 压 (yā - press).  The latter is the first word in 压路机 (yā l jī - literally "press road machine",  a steam roller or road roller.)  So,  here's my 鸭路机 (yā l jī - duck road machine).

yā l jī  - a pun on a Chinese homophone

The 鸭路机 (yā l jī - duck road machine).

Okay,   Howard Tayler doesn't need to worry about competition from me.  But I will remember these four Chinese words,  and that's worth something.

The 举猪机 (jǔ zhū jī- "Lift pig machine")

A construction crane is called a 起重机 ( qǐ zhng jī ) or a 举重机 (jǔ zhng jī ) both of which mean  "lift heavy machine".  We have recently read that fully one half of all the construction cranes in the world are at work in China.

For my English readers: an outboard motor in Chinese is a 发动机    (fā dng jī - "deliver move machine").   But jī with the character above means "chicken".  Hence my latest mnemonic pun.

Extremely similar characters:

 jĭ "self"     yĭ  "always"  

 si "sixth of twelve earthly branches" 

bā "hope"  s "colour"

When you coral these critters,  it's really easy to see their distinctive differences.  But when you are running into them in the wild,  without clearly identifying them first,  they can be very confusing.

dāo "knife"     l "power" or "strength"  

wan "ten thousand"

Numbers,  Days of the Week,  Months of the Year

I've grouped days of the week,  months of the year,  and Chinese numbers together because once you know the Chinese numbers your know days of the week and months of the year too.   Days of the week are simply numbered on through six,  with a special name for Sunday.  And months of the year are numbered one through twelve.  So learning the numbers,  at least the ones from one through twelve, is actually learning a lot of useful stuff.  The first three are VERY easy to remember.  Here they are:

一 二 三   yi (pronounced like ee),  er (pronounced like are),  san

The number four is a square box with two lines inside (2 squared?)   si (pronounced suh)

Five is wu  (pronounced woo)

Six is   liu (pronounced leeoo)

Seven looks like an upside down seven chi (rhymes with tea)

Eight is ba (like ba ba black sheep)

Nine is jiu (pronounced like Joe)

Ten   shi (pronouned like shuh)  

This page is still under construction.  Hopefully I will get around to listing the days of the week and months of the year soon.

For my Chinese students,  and others who can actually read Chinese characters,  if you found anything you consider a mistake,  or anything that needs to be discussed,  please also send me an email.  david@themaninchina.com 

Thanks for reading. 

*I have several reference books from which I have learned the little I know about reading Chinese characters.  Anytime I am quoting one of them directly,  I'll try to give credit where credit is due.  The one I use most often is actually software installed on this computer.  It's amazing,  and allows me to have instant translations of English into Chinese with both the character and the pinyin pronunciation guide.  In addition I can use it to look up characters I don't know by searching the radicals ,  find combinations of characters that form words (listed by most common), and get historical information about character origins and evolution.  It's fabulous software folks,  and if you can find it someplace it's worth whatever you pay for it.

Wenlin Software for Learning Chinese version 3.0 Copyright [c] 1997 - 2002 the Wenlin Institute
ABC Chinese - English dictionary edited by John DeFrancis Copyright [c] 1996 - 2002 the University of Hawai'i.

In addition I have a stack of books for learning Chinese:

The one that I get much of my background information from is "A Key to Chinese Speech and Writing" by Jol Ballassen (University of Paris 7) with the Collaboration of  Zhang Pengpeng (Beijing Language and Culture University) and Christian Artuso (Translator) published by Sinolingua,  Beijing  ISBN 7-80052-507-4

I'm also regularly dipping into "The New Age Concise Chinese - English Dictionary" published by The Commercial Press.  Chief Editor,  Pan Shaozhong ISBN 7 -100-03448-5/H-878

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