Learning Chinese in Context 功夫在字外

Chinese is one of the most spoken languages in the world. It was created and developed in a rich social, cultural and historical context. For people growing up in a different environment like Christchurch, learning Chinese can be challenging. Fortunately there are resources and strategies that can help.

Combining learning resources 整合学习资源

In Christchurch, there are diverse Chinese learning resources available, thanks to online resources and international migration. Some examples are as follows.

Local Chinese language schools 中文学校

Free Chinese Learning resources at Christchurch City Libraries 免费图书馆资源

Mango languages logo Rosetta Stone logo Dragonsource logo

Cultural Events

The combination of the three types of learning resources will create an ideal environment for learners to immerse in the social and cultural context of Chinese learning. Especially, Mango Language and Rosetta Stone Library Solution are good complements to class learning and enable learners to be independent in the learning process

Learning Chinese characters with stories 通过故事学中文字

Unlike English, Chinese writing is a logographic system with each character simultaneously encoding sounds and meaning at the level of the syllable. For example, the Chinese character “word”, 字, is explained as follows.

字: 篆体: , 乳也。从子在宀下,子亦聲

The seal script of the Chinese character “word” is  , referring to bringing up a son in a house so that he can become well-educated and literate (be able to read and understand words). The semantic part宀 represents the house, and the sound of 字 (zì) encodes that of the phonetic part 子 (zǐ).

Cang Jie’s creating Chinese characters ,仓颉造字, is a widely accepted explanation of the legendary origin of Chinese language. It is believed that Chinese writing was invented by a legendary figure Cang Jie, 仓颉,a court historian of the powerful Yellow Emperor. Inspired by the patterns of the tracks left behind by the feet of birds and other animals, he created Chinese writing with basic strokes as follows.

8 Strokes of Han Characters
8 Strokes of Han Characters, Wikimedia Commons.

Xu Shen 许慎,a scholar of Han dynasty (206BCE-220CE), compiled a dictionary entitled “On graphs and composite graphs”, 《说文解字》. It explains the meaning, the sound and the composition of Chinese characters. Publications based on the dictionary, such as “Pictograph of Chinese Characters”, 《画说汉字》, are also useful resources for learners to understand the composition of Chinese characters and familiarise themselves with the historical origin of these characters.

When Lu You, 陆游, a poet of Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279) taught his son to write poems, he suggested, “if you want to learn how to write a good poem, you must go beyond gaining techniques on poetry writing”, 汝果欲学诗, 功夫在诗外. The idea can be applied to learning Chinese; that is, 功夫在字外. We should not only focus on gaining linguistic skills but also put an effort in broadening our knowledge on the social, cultural and historical context of the origin and development of Chinese language. Then, learning Chinese can become effective and fun.

Find out more

Hong Wang
Network Library Assistant

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