After spending six hours every week in Chinese lectures for the past twelve weeks, today the course has – sadly – come to an end. I was fortunate to have both a lovely teacher, Ms. Lin Chiung Yao, and awesome classmates. I definitely learned a lot from both Lin Laoshi (Laoshi is Chinese for “teacher”) and from my classmates. Throughout the term we learned approximately 180 chinese characters and 150 phrases to communicate in simple daily situations. Will try to practice whenever I can!
Learning Chinese is an eye opener for me in many ways. Besides the obvious intent of learning Chinese for the purpose of communicating with Chinese people, there are some insights that I can see. Let me give you some examples:
Being both an Arabic and an English speaker, the concept of tones was very new, and very strange, when it was first introduced to me. It turns out that the pitch in which you pronounce a syllable determines the word that you intend to say. To see what I mean, listen to the audio clips in the table below. The four rows in this table refer to the four tones/pitches that are found in Mandarin Chinese. They are all pronouncing the same syllable, but the pitch in which it’s pronounced determines which of the four words below you mean.
2. Culture and Society
In case you didn’t know, Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet. It is, more or less, a set of characters, the majority of which are based off of pictures. Consider the Chinese character for the word “home” (pronounced “Jiā”) and how it evolved over time:
Current Chinese Character In 259 B.C. In 1046 B.C.
Looking at the origin of the character, it is a picture of a house with a pig inside. This gives an insight in what the Chinese consider to be a home (shelter, roof and live stock) at least at the time the character began to be used.
Another example is 外婆 (pronounced “wàipó”), which means grandmother on mother’s side. This word consists of two characters. The first character (“wài”) means outside, indicating that the grandmother is considered an “outsider” in the Chinese family.
In Arabic we have the saying “من تعلم لغة قوم أمن مكرهم”, which roughly translates to “He who has learned the language of people is safe from their mischief”. Looking back, I couldn’t agree more with this statement. When you learn a language you are not just learning how people communicate with each other, but also how they think.