Archive for Language teaching and learning

Phonetic annotations as a welcome aid for learning how to read and write Sinographs

In several recent posts, we've been discussing the most efficient, least painful way to acquire facility with hanzi / kanji / hanja 漢字 ("Sinographs; Chinese characters").  Lord knows there are endless numbers of them and they are so intricately constructed that it is an arduous task to master the two thousand or so that are necessary for basic literacy.

It would be so much easier to learn the Sinographs if language pedagogues would provide phonetic annotations for each character.  Better yet, the phonetic annotations should be divided into words with spaces between them according to the official orthographic rules.

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How to maintain first and second language skills

In the comments to "Cantonese as a Second Language" (4/22/19), there's an interesting discussion going on about how to maintain and / or acquire competency in more than one language.  This post started out as a comment to that thread, but it soon grew too long, so I've separated it off here.

My son was born in Taiwan and spent the first two years of his life in Taipei in an all-Mandarin household with lots of members (father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and two aunts), and plenty of other relatives in the Taipei area (more uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.) — all mainlanders.  They all spoke Mandarin with him.

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Cantonese as a Second Language

That's the title of a new book from Routledge:

John C. Wakefield, ed., Cantonese as a Second Language:  Issues, Experiences and Suggestions for Teaching and Learning

Readers of Language Log know that I'm an ardent advocate of this vibrant language and will understand why I consider the publication of Cantonese as a Second Language a cause for celebration.

Two caveats:

1. It's a full-fledged language, not a mere "dialect".

2. You don't have to worry about the Sinographs when you learn it.

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The politics of "Maria" in Taiwan

During the last few days, there has been a huge furor over this sentence spoken publicly by the Mayor of Kaohsiung City, Han Kuo-yu (Daniel Han):

"Mǎlìyà yīxiàzi zuò wǒmen Yīngwén lǎoshī 瑪莉亞一下子做我們英文老師" ("Maria suddenly becomes our English teacher")

Newspaper articles describing the incident, which is now being referred to as the "'Mǎlìyà' shìjiàn「瑪麗亞」事件" ("'Maria' Affair"), may be found here (in Chinese, with video clip) and here (in English).

Mayor Han is notorious for his errant, flippant manner of speaking, but this instance — which he later claimed was a "joke" — quickly came back to haunt him.  To understand why this is so, we need to take into account a number of factors.

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Pinyin for phonetic annotation

One more reason for me to love Wikipedia.

I just noticed in this article on Chinese honorifics that some example sentences are phonetically annotated with Pinyin.  Not only that, it observes properly spaced word division, which must be technically difficult to achieve.  Furthermore, the Pinyin annotations are appropriately small, yet clear.

I don't know how widespread this usage has become in Wikipedia or elsewhere, but I can tell you that learning about it this morning brought me great joy.

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How to learn Mandarin

In "Pinyin story" (7/16/18), we became acquainted with the language teaching theory called CI (Comprehensible Input) and the language learning method referred to as TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling).  If you read through the post and the comments, plus look at some of the embedded links, it becomes apparent that, using CI and TPRS, students can learn to write interesting little tales in Mandarin after only an hour or two of instruction.

Now, in conventional "Chinese" language classes, students spend most of their time memorizing how to write characters, and they also devote a lot of effort to mastering grammatical rules and syntactic paradigms.  Even after months of hard labor, students who follow the traditional way will have difficulty expressing themselves in a lively, imaginative manner.  What a breath of fresh air to learn that there are actually enthusiastic, smart teachers out there who offer a more humane and effective way to learn languages, including Mandarin!

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Pinyin story

Tweet by Lori Belinsky:

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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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No dictation

The boy in the photos below is Alexander Aurelius Wang.  He is one of our youngest fans in Shenzhen.  He doesn't like writing characters from dictation (tīngxiě 听写 / 聽寫):

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Webster’s Second and Webster’s Third: Editors going against stereotype

One of the most well-known pieces of lexicographic history is the controversy that greeted the publication of Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. Whereas the predecessor of W3, Webster’s Second New etc., had been regarded as authoritatively prescriptive, W3 was condemned in the popular media for its descriptive approach, the widespread perception of which can be boiled down to “anything goes.” (For the details, see The Story of Webster’s Third by Herbert Morton and The Story of Ain’t by David Skinner.)

I recently came across two articles that seem to be largely unknown but deserve wider attention— one by the General Editor of W2 (Thomas Knott), and the other by the Editor-in-Chief of W3 (Philip Gove). Each article is notable by itself because it fleshes out the author’s attitude toward usage and correctness, and does so in a way that undermines the stereotype that is associated with the dictionary each one worked on. And when the two articles are considered together, they suggest that despite the very different reputation of the two dictionaries, the authors’ attitudes toward usage and correctness probably weren’t far apart.

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The end of the line for Mandarin Phonetic Symbols?

Just as all school children in the PRC learn to read and write through Hanyu Pinyin ("Sinitic spelling"), the official romanization on the mainland, so do all school children in Taiwan learn to read and write with the aid of what is commonly referred to as "Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ "), after the first four letters of this semisyllabary.  The system has many other names, including "Zhùyīn fúhào 注音符號" ("[Mandarin] Phonetic Symbols"), its current formal designation, as well as earlier names such as Guóyīn Zìmǔ 國音字母 ("Phonetic Alphabet of the National Language") and Zhùyīn Zìmǔ 註音字母 ( "Phonetic Alphabet" or "Annotated Phonetic Letters").  From the plethora of names, you can get an idea of what sort of system it is.  I usually think of it as a cross between an alphabet and a syllabary.

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Characterless future

Browser extensions sometimes can cause unexpected problems, e.g.:

"The Time of Shedding and Cold Rocks" (3/7/18).

Often, however, they can be very helpful if they do what you want them to do.

Jonathan Smith writes:

Do you use the web browser Chrome? If so try adding the extension "Convert Chinese to Pinyin (Mand)". It does a decent job converting Chinese-language web pages to word-spaced pinyin (with tone marks if desired) so one can pretend one lives in a characterless future :D

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The language impact of the Confucius Institutes

The China Daily, which is owned by the CCP, is China's largest circulation English-language newspaper.  It ran the following article in today's issue:

"Chinese increasingly heard around the world", by Yang Zhuang (2/24/18).

What with the flood of Chinese tourists, business people, officials, students, and so forth who are travelling to all corners of the globe, there is little doubt that Chinese languages are indeed being heard outside China nowadays more than at any time in the past.  But that's a very different matter than the claim made in the CD article that non-Chinese are borrowing more words from Chinese languages than before.

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