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

Start your Chinese learning with nursery rhymes

Nursery rhymes are easy to remember, short to sing and have fun actions! So, in preparation for New Zealand Chinese Language Week (16-22 October) why not start your Chinese learning with Chinese nursery rhymes? Here are some easy Chinese nursery rhymes you can try. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about the different tones in Chinese. Try to match the tune.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are

小星星
xiǎo xīng xīng
一闪一闪亮晶晶
yì shǎn yì shǎn liàng jīng jīng
满天都是小星星
mǎn tiān dōu shì xiǎo xīng xīng
挂在天空放光明
guà zài tiān kōng fàng guāng míng
好像許多小眼睛
hǎo xiàng xǔ duō xiǎo yǎn jīng
一闪一闪亮晶晶
yì shǎn yì shǎn liàng jīng jīng
满天都是小星星
mǎn tiān dōu shì xiǎo xīng xīng

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Head, shoulders, knees and toes,
Knees and toes, knees and toes,
Head, shoulders, knees and toes,
Eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

頭兒,肩膀,膝,腳趾
tóu ér jiān bǎng xī jiǎo zhǐ
膝,腳趾 膝,腳趾
xī jiǎo zhǐ, xī jiǎo zhǐ
頭兒,肩膀,膝,腳趾
tóu ér jiān bǎng xī jiǎo zhǐ
眼,耳,鼻和口
yǎn,ěr,bí hé kǒu

Numbers

1, 2, 3
yī èr sān
4, 5, 6
sì wǔ liù
7, 8, 9
qī bā jiǔ
10
shí
(repeat backwards)

Christchurch City Libraries have a good range of Chinese learning materials as well as the eResources Mango Languages and Rosetta Stone.

Come join our New Zealand Chinese Language Week Celebration in the libraries from October 15th to 22nd.

If you would like to learn more Chinese nursery rhymes, do check out the Bilingual Babytimes every Tuesday at 11am in Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre.

Bilingual storytime with Anita
Bilingual storytime with Anita, New Zealand Chinese Language Week 2016, Flickr File Reference: 2016-09-Bilingual_storytime-Anita.jpg

Anita
Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

Celebrating New Zealand Chinese Language Week 2016 新西兰中文周

The Chinese language has a reputation for being one of the most difficult languages in the world to master. If you have learned Chinese, you can literally talk to nearly 1.2 billion people, which is around 16% of the world’s population.

To prepare you for New Zealand Chinese Language Week 2016 next week (12-18 September), I thought these words and phrases might guide you into the wonderful and rather complex world of Mandarin Chinese.

About the Chinese language

Cover of My first Mandarin Chinese phrasesPinyin is the official phonetic system for transcribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet.

Four tones of Mandarin Chinese – each Pinyin has four tones and each tone often represents one or more characters, this is probably one of the hardest parts of learning Mandarin Chinese.

Basic words and phrases

English Character Pinyin Tones
Hello 你好 nǐ hǎo Both 3rd  – falling then rising
Thank you 谢谢 xiè xiè Both 4th tone – falling
Goodbye 再见 zài jiàn Both 4th tone- falling
Free (no charge) 免费 miǎn fèi 3rd+4th – Falling rising + falling
One 1st tone – high & level
Two èr 4th tone – falling
Three sān 1st tone – high & level
Okay 好的 hǎo de 3rd + no tone – falling then rising + no tone (short sound)
Christchurch 基督城 jī dū chéng 1st+1st+2nd – high & level + high & level + rising
Library/Libraries 图书馆 tú shū guǎn 2nd +1st+3rd – rising + high & level + falling then rising
Useful phrases
Hen gao xing ren shi ni!    很高兴认识你!  Nice to meet/know you!
Xin nian kuai le!         新年快乐!     Happy New Year!
Wo hen xi huan!         我很喜欢!     I really like it!
Yi lu ping an!            一路平安!     Have a safe journey!
Shen ti jian kang!        身体健康!            Wish you good health!
Wan shi ru yi!           万事如意!     Everything goes well as your wish!

Traditional and Simplified Chinese

Traditional and Simplified Chinese refer to the written text of Chinese characters. Traditional characters, as the name suggests, had traditionally been used for many years since ancient China. Nowadays they are most commonly used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Simplified characters evolved and were adopted after the establishment of today’s P. R. China in 1949, so you could call it a relatively “modern form”.  They are mainly used in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. Here is a quick comparisons of both forms:

Traditional Simplified
  (happy)
  (horse)
 (grandpa)

The debate on the use of traditional and simplified Chinese characters is ongoing. Supporters from both sides would argue over the political and cultural implications, as well as practicality and personal preferences.

Chinese language resources at Christchurch City Libraries:

New Zealand Chinese Language Week events at Christchurch City Libraries

Tai chi
Head along to a Tai Chi demonstration at Papanui Library during NZ Chinese Language Week

There are a number of Chinese-themed events taking place at our libraries during New Zealand Chinese Language Week, including bilingual storytimes, a tai chi demonstration and fun craft activities.

See our online calendar for New Zealand Chinese Language Week events

读书破万卷, 下笔如有神 (Ample reading produces fluent writing)杜甫

Yang Song
Māori and Cultural Services

NZ Chinese Language Week – The Wu Xing (five-element theory) of Chinese characters

Kia ora koutou, da jia hao 大家好 !

This week (7 to 13 September 2015) is New Zealand Chinese Language Week. To celebrate this occasion, I would like to share some information about the Wu Xing (five-element theory) of Chinese characters.

The Wu Xing refers to the five natural elements – Wood ( ), Fire ( huǒ), Earth ( ), Metal ( jīn), and Water ( shuǐ). This philosophical concept has been used to provide explanation for phenomena across many different fields, such as Chinese astrology, Feng Shui, health and medicine. The dynamic relationships among the five elements are essential, known as “mutual generation 相生” and “mutual overcoming 相克”.

Chinese calligraphy - Chinese Lunar New Year festivities at Upper Riccarton Library, Flickr P1040956.JPG
Chinese calligraphy – Chinese Lunar New Year festivities at Upper Riccarton Library, Flickr, P1040956.JPG

Without trying to explain the whole complexity of Wu Xing, let’s use the Wu Xing application in the Chinese language as an example. Each Chinese character belongs to one of the five elements, determined by how it is written and its origin.

I still remember how hard it was to try to find a good name combination for my kids. Firstly I had to identify their preferred element by searching in the Lunar Calendar using their time and date of birth. Of course their having been born in the southern hemisphere made it even more complicated as the Chinese Lunar Calendar is based on the northern hemisphere climate.

Then I had to find the characters to go with my surname to have the “mutual generation” effect. After intensive research I had a pool of characters I could use to form the name and then it was time to put them together and look at the visual and sound effect. There are normally a few things to consider from here: simplicity of writing, pleasant intonation, homophonic sounds, meaning of each character and combined meaning, plus characters’ gender differences.Mango!

If you are interested in learning some Mandarin Chinese, you can access Mango Languages via our website (use at a library or enter your library card & password/PIN) or download the Android / iOS app to your mobile device – this would a good place to start your journey.

“书山有路勤为径, 学海无涯苦作舟” – 韩愈 (from a Chinese poem)

Diligence is the path to the mountain of knowledge; hard-work is the boat to the endless sea of learning.