Monday, April 21, 2008

Learning Chinese my way - Method and Resources

This post documents how I have planned to learn Chinese and gives two internet websites that I have found to be useful to me.
First Step (19 April 2008)
Learning must be fun and I want to learn Chinese the fun way. My method is to learn Chinese through the lyrics of the songs of my favourite singers. I started my journey by engaging a tutor to explain the selected song to me. I am not starting from scratch as I can converse in simple Mandarin and I can read Hanyu Pinyin well enough.
As I cannot read and write Mandarin, the tutor's role would be that of a guide to help me to understand how the language works and to help me build up my vocabulary through the words in the songs. In the first session with her, we played the song 在爱我吧on my laptop.
She explained the words that I did not understand, wrote them down to show me how the characters were written correctly. She also explained some of the meanings in depth. At the end of the session, she marked out 15 words that I had to practise writing and she would give me a 'spelling' test. We ended by singing the song together. That was fun!
Second Step (Sun 20 Apr - Fri 25 Apr 2008)
I took to copying the lyrics of the song over and over again and paying attention to the difficult words. If there is one thing that I can do surprisingly to some people is that I am able to write Chinese characters using the correct strokes and steps about 90 of the time even though I have no clue what the character means.
This is the result of the years in primary school spent writing Chinese characters repeatedly through the numerous 'spelling and dictation' exercises and tests Even though I dropped the language in favour of learning Malay in Primary 5, the ability to write correctly has not left me, thank goodness.
Technically, I may be competent but not understanding the words that I write does take away the ability to appreciate them meaningfully.
Third Step
Initially I copied the lyrics writing with a pen or a pencil and filled several pages of my notebook with this song. Then I realised that as I was writing I was not sure of some of the characters. I turned to internet resources and found two very help websites that match my needs exactly using Google to do a keyword search on 'Chinese online dictionary'.
I like about this website for two main reasons:
1 It enables me to key in the character I wish to know more about by simply keying in the character in Hanyu Pinyin producing the following results:
  • SimplifiedChinese
  • Mandarin Pinyin
  • English Definition
  • Traditional variant

2 It has a tool that enables me to type Chinese characters using Hanyu Pinyin as the input. Unlike what can be done with windows currently, this tool not only allows me to see a list of characters with the same pinyin but also the individual meanings as well.

This is really cool for me because I can now 'write' Chinese because I can choose the character that has the meaning that I want instead of being confronted with a string of characters that make no sense to me.

Writing Chinese for me is a breeze here. I had to fumble a little to get the method right. I finally realised that there are three basic steps ivolved:

  • Key in the pinyin character eg. bao and a list of characters will show up in a window simultaneously.
  • Choose the character you want by typing the number associated with the character.
  • Press spacebar and the Chinese character will appear as if by magic.

Here's another typing tool from a site called Purple culture.

The Chinese Character Dictionary

Another great site I found is the Chinese Character Dictionary. It is not really complete as some characters listed do not have any entries. What I like about it is that the characters are clear and well defined - important for me as I want to make sure that I get the strokes right.

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