Monthly Archives: August 2011


29

Aug 2011

The Four Great Ugly Women of China

Recently ChinesePod was preparing to do a podcast on some of the “Four Greats” (四大) of China [more info in Chinese]. If you’re not familiar with any of these, you might want to listen to the podcast (it’s free). Otherwise, a quick sum-up of some of the most famous ones will suffice:

The funny thing is that in addition to the “Four Great Beauties” (of ancient China), there are also “Four Great Ugly Women” (who don’t seem to have their own Wikipedia page):

  • 四大丑女 (the Four Great Ugly Women)
    1. 嫫母 (Mo Mu)
    2. 钟离春 (Zhong Lichun)
    3. 孟光 (Meng Guang)
    4. 阮氏 (Ruan Shi)

I talked to a ChinesePod co-worker about these famous ugly women. The conversation went something like this:

> Me: So these women were so ugly that they went down in the history books just for that? Isn’t that kind of mean?

> Her: Well, they weren’t just ugly. They also had great talent.

> Me: Well, why not just call them “the four great women of talent” then?

> Her: Well, they were also ugly.

Point taken. Cultural lesson learned!


26

Aug 2011

Shanghai Internships for Learning Chinese

Today marks the end of the summer internships at AllSet Learning. We had our first intern, Donna, last summer. That was when the company was just starting out. Since we now have quite a few more clients and a whole team of teachers, there were a lot more interesting tasks for this summer’s interns, Lucas and Hugh. And their internships were pretty cool, directly related to learning Chinese.

Some of the things the AllSet Learning interns got to do:

Lucas and Hugh

– Take demo lessons to help evaluate different teachers’ teaching methods
– Play with “Chinese character building blocks” (a children’s educational toy set), experimenting with Chinese character constructions
– Provide feedback on various types of learning materials, from comics to Communist Party doctrine to iPad apps
– Help research and compile Chinese grammar information
– Test the effect of regular tone pair drills
– Participate in game-like components of teacher training sessions
– Play Settlers of Catan (and explain it in Chinese)
– Eat 东北菜 (pictured above)

One of the things I personally gained from having the interns around the office was a reminder of the very specific early challenges learners of Chinese face. But I also saw firsthand how the new generation of learners is coming to China much better prepared and knowledgeable. One of my interns, Hugh, even has an excellent blog on learning Chinese called East Asia Student. I’ve mentioned it before, but the days of coming to China clueless and expecting to have opportunities thrown at you really are winding down (or at least moving to China’s smaller cities).

Anyway, if you’re a bright young mind looking for an internship that offers the opportunity to learn Chinese, we’ve got them at AllSet Learning.

And finally, a sincere thank you to Lucas and Hugh for their hard work this summer. You guys were great!


23

Aug 2011

The Rare Chinese Font

You know “the Chinese font“? The one that just screams Oriental, because it looks like it’s made out of bamboo pieces (?), mystically arranged by a wispy-bearded kung fu master?

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me remind you:

The Pagoda

Chop Suey

Long Wong's

Well, the above font is one that, in my experience, you’ll be hard-pressed to find in mainland China, especially in Chinese. (Anyone out there have a different experience?) Most typed Chinese here is in one of about 4 fonts, and “Oriental” isn’t one of them. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, I suppose; the Chinese just have no reason to parody themselves.

There’s a place on the way to the AllSet office in Shanghai that actually uses the “Oriental” font, though, in Chinese. This is a rare find. Here it is:

The Rare "Chinese" Font

That’s a dry cleaner’s window. The “Oriental font” is in the middle. It says, 八折价, which means “80% of the original price.”

Mystical indeed.


19

Aug 2011

Word Tracer Apps for Sinosplice Readers

iPad Apps for Writing

A while back when I wrote my Learning to Write Chinese Characters on the iPad post, I reviewed an iPad app called Word Tracer. Word Tracer is going strong, and now comes in both iPad and iPhone flavors. In addition, the developer has added some additional functionality to the app in a recent update, allowing for Chinese writing practice that isn’t strictly “tracing.”

Anyway, to thank me for the review, the developer has offered me a number of free copies of the app (iPad or iPhone) to distribute to Sinosplice readers. If you’re interested in getting a free copy of this app, simply leave a comment here (with your real email) or send me an email explaining why you think that the iPad (or iPhone) makes the most sense to you as a way to practice writing Chinese. I’ll award the best ones in the first 48 hours with a free copy of Word Tracer. (Be serious in your replies; I’m very interested in learning something from this!)


Update: Thanks to all of you who commented and emailed me! The response was really pretty good, and I regret that there are too many of you for everyone to get a free copy of the app. I do appreciate the responses, though, and those selected will receive an email shortly. I’m closing comments on this blog post now.


16

Aug 2011

The Three De Song

Learners of Chinese confront the “de triple threat” of Chinese structural particles pretty early on. You see, there are three different characters to write what sounds exactly the same to the ear. The three characters are 的, 得, and 地, each pronounced “de” (neutral tone) when serving as a structural particle.

If you’re just trying to improve your listening and speaking, you don’t really need to worry about this issue. If you’re working on your writing, however, you’re going to want to get it straight. I found the following (simplified) approach helpful:

  1. …的 + Noun
  2. Verb + 得…
  3. …地 + Verb

OK, yes, it leaves out a lot of special cases, and the aforementioned “Verb” in “Verb + 得” can also be an adjective. But they’re nice rules of thumb if you’re looking for something a bit simpler.

But here’s the interesting thing: because the issue of the three de’s is one concerning writing and not speaking, Chinese native speakers themselves have to learn these rules, and can sometimes get tripped up. Some people who don’t need to write for a living might even just “opt out” of the whole issue and use 的 exclusively.

But because Chinese children have to learn to use the proper “de” in school, there is actually a children’s song about the three de’s! [source]

> 《的地得》 儿歌

> 左边白,右边勺,名词跟在后面跑。
美丽的花儿绽笑脸,青青的草儿弯下腰,
清清的河水向东流,蓝蓝的天上白云飘,
暖暖的风儿轻轻吹,绿绿的树叶把头摇,
小小的鱼儿水中游,红红的太阳当空照,

> 左边土,右边也,地字站在动词前,
认真地做操不马虎,专心地上课不大意,

大声地朗读不害羞,从容地走路不着急,
痛快地玩耍来放松,用心地思考解难题,
勤奋地学习要积极,辛勤地劳动花力气,

> 左边两人就使得,形容词前要用得,
兔子兔子跑得快,乌龟乌龟爬得慢,
青青竹子长得快,参天大树长得慢,
清晨锻炼起得早,加班加点睡得晚,
欢乐时光过得快,考试题目出得难。

I find the explanation of 得 a bit suspect. It “comes before adjectives”? Kinda misleading (but then again, so is “after verbs”).

I tried to find an online video of this song, and instead found a very similar but different song also about the three de’s:

The amusing thing about this video is that in at least one place, the subtitles get the “de” wrong. (Can you find it?)


05

Aug 2011

Continent Names and Region Names in Chinese

Although not actually very complicated, the names of continents and world regions can trip up a student of Chinese. It’s not the continent names that are hard, it’s that knowing the continent names can lead one to incorrect inferences about the names of various world regions. An AllSet Learning client (this is for you, Stavros!) recently reminded me of this fact. I struggled with this myself not so long ago. Because no one ever took the time to lay it out for me, it took me forever to piece it together on my own.

Basically, the way it works in Chinese is like this:

1. If it’s a continent, it ends with the suffix –. (You can think of as representing the meaning “the continent of….”)
2. If it’s not a whole continent you’re talking about, drop the .

So that means, for example, that “Western Europe” is not ×西欧洲, because it wouldn’t make sense to say “the continent of Western Europe.” Drop the , and you get 西欧, the correct way to say “Western Europe.” It’s as easy as that. (I say “easy,” but I know I said ×西欧洲 quite a few times before anyone ever told me, “we never say that; just say 西欧.”)

These examples below should help drive the point home:

  • 亚洲 – Asia
    • 东亚 – East Asia
    • 东南亚 – Southeast Asia
    • 中东 – the Middle East
  • 欧洲 – Europe
    • 北欧 – Northern Europe
    • 西欧 – Western Europe
    • 东欧 – Eastern Europe
  • 非洲 – Africa
    • 北非 – Northern Africa
    • 南非 – South Africa (the country)
    • 西非 – West Africa
    • 东非 – East Africa
  • 澳洲 – Australia
  • 南极洲 – Antarctica (literally, “South Pole Continent”)
  • 北美洲 – North America
  • 南美洲 – South America

A couple final complications…

1. You don’t often divide either Antarctica or Australia into regions in Chinese
2. You can also say 美洲, which means something like “the Americas”
3. Because 北美洲 and 南美洲 already have cardinal directions built into their names, it’s awkward to try to use the short form (like ×东北美 or something).

So the world region names are actually pretty simple, no ke…


03

Aug 2011

What can save this country?

In the wake of China’s recent bullet train disaster, I came across this poll on 开心网 (kaixin001.com):

What can save this country?

Transcription:

拿什么来拯救我们的国家? (最多可选5项)

  • 自由
  • 关爱
  • 文化
  • 勤勉
  • 责任
  • 法制
  • 经济
  • 信仰
  • 信任
  • 教育
  • 改革
  • 武器
  • 科技
  • 公平
  • 秩序
  • 第七感
  • 正义
  • 资源环境
  • 生命
  • 没希望 不想救了

Translation:

What can save our country? (choose no more than 5)

  • freedom
  • love
  • culture
  • diligence
  • responsibility
  • law
  • economics
  • faith
  • education
  • reform
  • weapons
  • technology
  • fairness
  • order
  • the 7th sense
  • justice
  • natural resources
  • life
  • there’s no hope; don’t want to save it

In case you missed it in the original image, 73% of respondents (over 5000 in total), most of whom are young people, chose the final answer.

It’s not an easy time to be Chinese.