Translations of Butterfly (Linguistic Differences)

Via John Biesnecker:

Linguistic Differences (butterfly)

Sorry, I can’t credit the original author because I don’t know it. I added the Chinese translation into the mix (蝴蝶).

This is especially hilarious to me personally because I know very little German, but I actually learned the German word “schmetterling” long ago by chance, and found the word enormously amusing. Guess I’m not the only one!

Speaking a Foreign Language without Translating

Friends of mine have asked me many times: can you really speak Chinese without translating it first in your head? And when I answer yes, the follow-up question is: but how can you get to that point? I have to translate everything!

There’s both an implied lie and a rather direct lie in that follow-up question.

“But how can you get to that point?”

The problem is that it’s not a “point.” There’s no instant when you can suddenly stop translating completely. Rather, you stop translating longer and longer stretches of language. Over time, what was once long stretches of language which needed to be translated, interspersed with only occasional words you understood, eventually becomes long stretches of language which don’t need to be translated, interrupted only by the occasional need for translation.

“I have to translate everything!”

Do you? Do you have to translate 你好 (“hi”)? Do you have to translate 谢谢 (“thank you”)? To tell someone you don’t want something, do you have to consciously translate “I don’t want it” into 不要? Or do you just blurt them out?

Sure, when you first start out, you have to learn these expressions, and then you do have to translate them when you first start using them. But especially if you’re in the target language environment, their usage starts to become automatic quite quickly. I observed 你好 and 谢谢 becoming automatic for my parents during their recent two-week visit. They don’t speak a lot of Chinese, but even they were “speaking without translating” relatively quickly.

With enough practice, more and more words and phrases become automatic. You don’t feel your brain shirking its translation duties; it just happens so naturally. When you finally realize it’s happening, that you’re starting to understand and process not just individual words and short phrases, but whole sentences without even translating them, it feels a little surreal. It’s kind of like one of those Escher works. You really can’t pinpoint at what point the bird became a fish.

But the truth is, if you’ve been not just “studying,” but using your language skills for any length of time, the ebbing of conscious translation has already begun. If you try, you can sort of feel it. It’s this weird sensation called “fluency” creeping up on you, ever so subtly.

Ideas for Moms’ Trips to Shanghai

I’ve been away from blogging recently as my parents were here visiting their new granddaughter. It was only their second trip to Shanghai, and before they got here I spent some time wracking my brains for good things to do. There are tons of things to do in this city, but so very few of them are obvious. The best ideas always seem to occur to me too late.

Mary Ann, an AllSet Learning client of mine who is a mother herself, had recently compiled a list of mom-friendly activities for her own mother-in-law’s visit, and she kindly shared it with me, along with her comments. I thought some readers might find it useful, so here it is, with her persmission:

  • Urban Planning Museum. I find it interesting, and I think most people who like cities are usually into it. The top floor now shows a short movie which shows a 360 panoramic view of Shanghai from Hongqiao to Pudong. I haven’t seen it but my kids and visitors have and everyone has liked it!
  • Ghost Market.” That Antique market on early mornings on Saturdays and Sundays near Yuan gardens. I find it fascinating that so many people come to Shanghai from the countryside to sell ceramic shards. I like to watch the background social scene but picking through some of the stuff is fun too.
  • Old China Reading Room on Shaoxing Lu. Restful place to browse books and drink tea (nice Austrian cakes at Vienna Cafe nearby)
  • Glasses Market above the Railway Station. Since your parents aren’t shoppers, the one market that they might be able to get something at and take part in Shanghai commerce madness is the Glasses Market. They should bring a prescription with them from the U.S. and get some glasses made. People with glasses can always use a spare and much much cheaper than in Europe, I’m assuming the same in the U.S. My friend’s ophthalmologist sends all her patients to Bright Eyes Optical (stall 4056). I have taken people to get glasses done there and they were all were happy afterwards. Speak to Linda; she speaks English (in case your parents go on their own).
  • Historic houses on/around Sinan Lu. Visit the ones converted into museums.
  • Walking Tour. Yes, I’m insisting on this! And no, you can’t walk them around with an app instead! All parents like this sort of thing. Of course skip the cheesy ones but do go for the historian-led ones, or at least the ones led by guides with more street cred. The highly recommended guy who does the tours of the Jewish Heritage sites is an Israeli journalist/historian who runs shanghai-jews.com.
  • Hang out at a Tea House. You probably know of a good one. [Actually, not really!]
  • Foot Massage or other treatment at Xiao Nan Guo (Hongmei Lu). Have you been here? I’ve only eaten there a few times. The spa part of it has all spa typical treatments available PLUS there’s entertainment, which I think is daily. I think it would be great to take them to a foot massage while watching a show of russian dancers. Why, they may ask? Well… why not? Sounds kooky but that’s the point. Anyway, supposed to be pretty affordable so it could be something to do.
  • Propaganda Poster Museum.
  • I accidentally came across a place in the Old town where they sell books by weight… quite amusing. Have you seen this? Isn’t one of your parents a librarian? Might be worth a bit of a hoot if in the area…
  • Spin Ceramics on Kangding Lu. Something for themselves or for a gift. Do you know this place? Fab stuff at great prices.

Sadly, my parents only got to do the first thing on this awesome list, but they did have a great time (despite Shanghai’s inhospitable winter weather). Hopefully someone else will find it useful.

Another client recommended Shanghai Pathways for tours, but we ended up just not having time for so many activities.

If you’ve done any of these things or have anything else to add, please leave a comment!


Related Posts:

Three Simple Uses of the Other “Ma” on a Bag

I recently wrote about my personal experience with the particle (not ), and how a dictionary entry helped me get a feel for how the particle is used. That dictionary entry, again, is from the Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (blog post here):

Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (2nd Ed.)

: ma (助) 1 [used at the end of a sentence to show what precedes it is obvious]: 这样做是不对~! Of course it was acting improperly! 孩子总是孩子~! Children are children! 2 [used within a sentence to mark a pause]: 你~,就不用亲自去了。 As for you, I don’t think you have to go in person.

Not too long ago, I encountered this little coin purse/bag, which offers three very concise uses of our particle :

Money is for spending

The text is as follows (broken into three lines to make it easier to discuss):

1:

2:

3:

OK, now clearly, this is the same particle. But what does this actually mean??

First, “” means something like, “it’s money,” as in, “we all know what money is, and what it’s for.” This could also have been expressed more verbosely by: “” or even as: “就是” (“isn’t it just money”??).

Second, “” quite simply means, “it’s (made out of) paper (as we all know).” Duh. “It’s just paper.” This usage is basically the same as the first.

Last, we have “,” which is slightly different because it’s a verb. Still the idea is quite similar. It’s for spending. You might translate this into English as, “so just spend it!” Another way to put it in Chinese would be, “” (if you feel like spending it, just spend it).

The words on this bag strike me as a Shanghainese, female way of looking at money. But maybe that’s because the bag belonged to a girl I know…


Related Grammar Links:

Personal Experience with the Other Particle “ma”

I remember quite distinctly the way I learned the sentence-final particle . I had only been studying Chinese for a little over a year, and thus was quite familiar with the yes/no question particle , but not this new , which seemed a bit more complex. I might have studied it before and just ignored it, but once I was on the streets of Hangzhou and hearing it all the time, I knew it was time to start figuring out what this was all about.

So I broke out my trusty old Oxford dictionary (we still learned Chinese from actual books in those days), and looked up . Here’s what I found:

Oxford Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (2nd Ed.)

: ma (助) 1 [used at the end of a sentence to show what precedes it is obvious]: 这样做是不对~! Of course it was acting improperly! 孩子总是孩子~! Children are children! 2 [used within a sentence to mark a pause]: 你~,就不用亲自去了。 As for you, I don’t think you have to go in person.

I know some people hate learning from dictionaries, and grammatical concepts especially can be difficult to learn that way, but for me this explanation was a revelation: used at the end of a sentence to show what precedes it is obvious.

I think a lot of us have personal experiences in which we acquire a new word, and the memory of those specific vocabulary acquisition experiences stay with us long after we internalize the words themselves (one of my own personal examples is my attempt to buy a bug zapper light). This is quite natural, and it’s also one of my key misgivings about SRS. The way we naturally acquire language stays with us and reinforces the entire process, tightly binding words, meaning, and real-world experience. SRS (or simple word lists in general) can’t really offer this deep of a connection.

But back to my dictionary example… How is this any different from an SRS learning method, divorced from a real-world connection? Logically, I feel like looking up a word in a dictionary isn’t much different from being presented a word electronically. Sure, there’s the tactile interaction with the book, and the effort involved in getting out the book in the first place, and the act of physically flipping to the appropriate page, then locating the appropriate headword with my finger. How much “momentum” do these behaviors actually amount to, in a learning context?

Although I can’t think of many compelling instances besides my example, I definitely feel that there are words which I learned (and not just “learned,” but developed a strong connection to) largely due to a dictionary. This leads me to two important questions:

  • How many of you out there have clear memories of really learning a word or expression through a dictionary? What was it that made it so memorable?
  • How many of you out there have clear memories of really learning a word or expression through SRS? What was it that made it so memorable?

For me, I think the dictionary’s explanation struck me so poignantly because I had actually already expended a significant amount of mental energy on the use of but I had not yet been able to express the ideas concisely, and the entry did just that, right when I needed it.

Please share some of your own personal learning experiences in the comments. I’m very interested to hear what you have to say.


Related Grammar Links:

A New Resource for Chinese Grammar

It’s hard to believe I’ve been working on this project for a whole year, and also thinking about it, in some form or another, ever since founding AllSet Learning. Today, I’m quite happy to finally release the AllSet Learning Grammar Wiki.

What is it? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a mini-Wikipedia devoted entirely to Chinese grammar. Think comprehensive, think interlinked, think referenced. I’ve felt for a while that Chinese grammar has needed its own champion online, and since forming AllSet Learning, I’ve finally got both the need and the means to make it happen and keep it going.

I won’t say too much here; there’s a blog post on the AllSet Learning blog introducing the features and concepts behind the Grammar Wiki. Obviously, you can also just go straight to the wiki and check it out.

There’s not yet any public forum on the AllSet Learning websites, so if you’ve got feedback, feel free to leave it in the comments here. Please do read the AllSet Learning blog post first, though, as it may answer some of your questions. I’d also like to reiterate that the Grammar Wiki is not finished, and I’m not sure it ever will be, but with 500 articles and a good juicy set of grammar points it’s now at a point where it’s clearly useful to learners, so it’s time for it to emerge from its cave and be exposed to the rest of the world.

Finally, I’d like to thank the AllSet Learning interns who, over the past year, have helped make the Chinese Grammar Wiki a reality: Lucas, Greg, Hugh, and Jonathan. You guys were an immense help. Thank you also to all bloggers and friends who help spread the word by linking to the Chinese Grammar Wiki. Please help spread the word!

That’s all for now… Happy Chinese New Year!

2012, Year of the Dragon

Well, it’s almost Chinese New Year, and this new one is the year of the dragon. It didn’t escape too many Chinese designers’ notice that it’s pretty easy to turn a “2” into a dragon, so lately we’re seeing a lot of designs like these:

2012-year-of-the-dragon-02

2012, Year of the Dragon

2012-year-of-the-dragon-04

Here’s one that’s a little different:

2012-year-of-the-dragon-01

Not as fun as last year, though! I’m still not a huge fan of this holiday, and it’s getting harder and harder for this country’s residents to go home to it celebrate it properly, but it’s still an interesting time of year.

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年好! (The new year starts Monday.)

Shanghai’s “Fake Collars”

I’ve been living in Shanghai a while now, but it wasn’t until just recently that I ever heard of Shanghai’s “fake collar” shirts (假领子). Technically, the collar is not fake at all; the collar helps to create the illusion that the wearer has on a full shirt under a sweater, when in fact he/she does not. They even have little straps on the sides to keep them in place!

Naturally, this calls for pictures:

fake-collar-2 fake-collar-1 fake-collar-3

According to this website, these “fake collars” are a Shanghai creation. My mother-in-law (a Shanghai native) proudly explained to me that they were invented to preserve a well-dressed appearance in a truly Communist age when neither clothing nor fabric were cheap. “We all wore them,” she said. “We could buy quite a few jia lingzi for the same price as one shirt.” When worn under a sweater, they create the impression of full, proper attire. Quite innovative! (Reminds me of all the ways I used to fake having taken a shower when I was little.)

These things were common from the 60’s through to the 80’s, but have long since fallen from favor, now that ordinary people actually have a little bit of money. Apparently you can still buy them in Shanghai, somewhere on Sichuan Road. I’ve gotta get my hands on one of these. (They also just might make for an interesting souvenir!)

Dashan on Why Foreigners Hate Dashan

anti-Dashan

After reading this post on Quora, I’m now quite convinced that no one has given the question of “why (western) foreigners hate Dashan so much” as much thought as Mark Rowswell, the man behind Dashan (大山).

I should warn you: the entire answer is quite long, but it’s worth a read. Mark breaks it down into these parts:

  1. Overuse – People are sick and tired of hearing the name “Dashan”;
  2. Resentment (Part A) – Dashan’s not the only Westerner who speaks Chinese fluently;
  3. Resentment (Part B) – Being a foreign resident in China is not easy and Dashan gets all the breaks;
  4. Political/Cultural – People wish Dashan had more of an edge; [I found Mark's reasons for Dashan's lack of an edge especially interesting, since they relate to a Chinese tendency toward sensitivity to foreign criticism]
  5. Stereotyping – The assumption that Dashan is a performing monkey.

Looks to me like people can quit asking this question. That’s the answer. But I also feel like we’re getting this definitive answer at a time when all the hubbub about Dashan has finally started to die down.

Punning in the New Year

My friend Andy (the guy who did the WordPress Sinosplice Tooltips plugin) wished me a happy New Year in the following way recently:

Happy New 一二!

At the risk of spoiling the joke, allow me to explain…

  1. Pinyin “yī èr” sounds remarkably like “year.”
  2. This is 2012, so the characters for “1 2″ are singularly appropriate.

Good job, Andy! You only get to use this pun once every 100 years, everybody, so get on it!


Last year, the punny wish was:

Happy Chinese New Year you!

  1. Pinyin “tù” sounds nearly identical to “to.”
  2. 兔子, sometimes abbreviated to , is the Chinese word for “rabbit.”

This year (year of the dragon), friend and ex-co-worker Jason made the following punny wish:

Wishing you a and prosperous New Year!

  1. Pinyin “lóng” sounds reasonably similar to the English word “long.”
  2. (simplified: ) is the Chinese word for “dragon.”

Jason also added the following variation for Star Trek fans:

Live and prosper this New Year!


Finally, I’d like to give props to my dad, who always liked the following pun. It wasn’t until recent years that I could actually verify that this pun really does work in Chinese:

How Long is a Chinese name.

The pun doesn’t work so well when written. The joke is to say it in such a way that it’s perceived as a question, when in fact, it’s a statement:

郝龙 (Hao Long) is a Chinese name.

(This “joke” doesn’t work nearly as well in China, where everyone knows that Chinese names are typically 2-3 characters/syllables, and as many as 4 on rare occasion, and everyone would easily recognize 郝龙 as a Chinese name anyway.)

OK, I better shut up now before I lose all my readers.

Happy New Year!

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