Archive for Second language

A revolution in Sinitic language conceptualization and learning

[The following is a guest post by Georgi Mladenov]

I am another student who seems to have hit a brick wall in learning Mandarin, and I would like to ask you for advice. I have thoroughly read most of your forum posts and I totally share your opinions on language learning, especially as expressed in this post.

Your post captures my situation in its entirety. "The first year of learning Mandarin was pure torture in the classroom" – it feels as if I had written that! In short, I have been studying Chinese in Taiwan for more than a year. I am fluent in English, German, Russian and Bulgarian, I have a B2 level in Polish, Spanish and Serbian, my French is quite good, my Latin is quite decent, and I also know some Hungarian.

However, my disappointment with Chinese teaching methods has been growing daily. No matter what language I learned, the main focus of any beginner's course has always been on pronunciation and mastering any peculiar "tricky" sounds. Not here, though. I personally know quite a few people who have passed TOCFL Level 3 and 4 (reading and listening) and still have no tones! Or students who still say "zh" instead of "z", or "s" instead of "sh", not to mention that many students do not differentiate between "zh" and "j", "sh" and "x", "ch" and "q". And most teachers still try to persuade us how bad Pinyin is.

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English as a prestige language in Taiwan

The focus of this post is the expression lào yīngwén, where the yīngwén part is written 英文 in characters and means "English".  The lào part is much more complicated, as is typical when it comes to writing Taiwanese morphemes with Chinese characters.  The Taiwanese verb "làu" means to master something.  When used with reference to a language, it signifies speaking fluently.  In current discourse, it often indicates that one speaks English in an ostentatious manner to show off.  For example, if a Mandarin speaker chooses to speak English on an occasion where everyone in the audience also also speaks Mandarin, then this person's behavior may be considered lào yīngwén. It carries a slight negative tone.

There is no standard Sinographic form for this Taiwanese morpheme.  In written Taiwan Mandarin, it may be written with the following characters:  lào 烙, liào 撂, luò 落.  Since these three characters respectively mean "burn; bake; sear", "put down; leave", and "fall; descend", they are obviously being used to approximate the sound of the Taiwanese verb and have nothing to do with its meaning.  The same is true of the traditional Sinographic representation of this Taiwanese morpheme, viz., lǎo 老 ("old").

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"I am a Taiwanese" in Czech transcription

The speaker of the Czech senate addresses Taiwan's parliament alluding to JFK's ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ — and finishes by saying "Wǒ shì Táiwān rén 我是台湾人" ("I am Taiwanese") in (an attempt at) Mandarin.

The video is in Czech but it's easy to spot where this happens — right before the ovation — at 1:12.

The video is embedded here: 

"Vystrčil na Tchaj-wanu připomněl slavná slova Kennedyho. Dočkal se potlesku ve stoje", Zahraničí

You may have to watch through several ads in Czech.  It's fun to listen to them.

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Manchu "princess" speaking English

"Is your English better than that of this Qing dynasty ‘princess’?" (YouTube 1:01)

(Source)

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Graduation speech by a West African student at National Taiwan University

Stunning speech (7:49) by Achille, a graduating student from Burkina Faso at the NTU commencement on June 6:

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"Hello" sung by a Kazakh

Here is Dimash Kudaibergen singing "Hello":

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"Amarillo by Morning" sung by a Mongolian

Mongolian gets 97 points for singing "Amarillo by Morning" on US TV show but didn't understand a word he was singing. His pronunciation was perfect.

[VHM:  The YouTube video linked to here is currently unavailable, but our resourceful Language Log readers have elsewhere found this song sung by Enkh Erdene and others by him as well, some of them captioned.  See the comments below.]

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"Chinese light"

In the comments to "The ethnopolitics of National Language in China" (7/2/18), "Uyghur basketball player" (6/24/18), and other posts, there has been a vigorous debate on the relationship between national language on the one hand and local and "minority" / ethnic languages on the other hand.

In the course of the debate, many interesting political, linguistic, and cultural issues have been raised, but in the last paragraph of his latest comment, Bathrobe said something that really caught my attention:

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Your English is not bad

Thought-provoking observations by a native speaker:

"Racism in Hong Kong: why ‘your English is very good’ is not a compliment, it’s actually very insulting:  An Australian of Chinese descent reveals why she is offended every time she is praised for her excellent English-language skills", by Charmaine Chan, SCMP Magazine (5/19/18)

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#nobullshit bank

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Native fluency

The hundred or so scholars at the conference on narrative factuality I'm attending here in Freiburg, Germany come from all over Europe and North America, plus a few other countries.  All proceedings are in English, and every single person here, both young and old, speaks English like a native (except for one person who came to Europe from China as an adult, another individual who has lived in Israel her whole life, and a professor from Francophone Switzerland — the latter three all in their sixties and seventies, and all three speaking English quite well, though not like a native).  No matter what types of literature or philosophy we're discussing, it's all done in English, except for names, titles, and technical terms.

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Beyond fluff

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Difficult languages and easy languages

People often ask me questions like these:

What's the easiest / hardest language you ever learned?

Isn't Chinese really difficult?

Which is harder, Chinese or Japanese?  Sanskrit or German?

Without a moment's hesitation, I always reply that Mandarin is the easiest spoken language I have learned and that Chinese is the most difficult written language I have learned.  I learned to speak Mandarin fluently within about a year, but I've been studying written Chinese for half a century and it's still an enormous challenge.  I'm sure that I'll never master it even if I live to be as old as Zhou Youguang.

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