Hard to put words to this trip, but I’ll offer the following summary and let the pictures do the talking.
In short, I got an opportunity to come to China to participate in this year’s 汉语大会. It’s an annual Chinese proficiency contest that’s put together through Hanban, the people behind the Confucius Institute, and CCTV4, the international branch of Chinese Central Television. I would only commit to the trip if I could bring my son– thankfully, they obliged my request and he’s here with me.
I went looking for a Mandarin font that showed up with the stroke order included as part of the characters. I went in thinking “Yes, I know this is a bit special, but surely someone must have already done this”.
Unfortunately, I came up empty handed. Having said that, I did find a Japanese version of what I was after. I gave it a try and it works as advertised– if you have Japanese text in your document, you can simply highlight and change the font to this one and ‘voila’, it shows up with stroke numbers. You can then increase the font size and print it out.
The reality is that, once you’ve mastered the general patterns of stroke orders (i.e. for left-right split characters, start on the top left and finish the left side first), you can largely ‘figure out’ most characters without a tool like this, but it doesn’t take much to make you question your judgement for characters that aren’t totally predictable.
It’s graduation season at my university, and I’ve recently been having conversations with friends and colleagues about our career aspirations and motivations. As a result, Ardent Lee’s post, which he called Job Hunting: An Endless Cycle, came at an interesting time, and made me think back to my original plans when I was a student. I wonder what ‘university-me’ would make of the mid-career life I’m currently living, and my original decision to study Japanese?
I recently borrowed The Martian(Matt Damon as Mark Watney, stranded on Mars)from my local library; having only seen a fragment of a trailer for the movie at some point, I didn’t know much more than the basic plot line–it’s always nice when you can see a movie without having seen too many spoilers!
Apologies if I’m spoiling the movie for anyone here, but it was a pleasant and totally unexpected surprise to see a scene shot with Mandarin dialogue. I’m sure many students of the language shared my delight in following along with the dialogue.
There were a couple of words that I couldn’t catch, so I hit rewind and then ended up trying to search online to see how words like ‘orbit’ and (rocket) ‘booster’ are written (i.e. in Chinese characters). To my surprise, I wasn’t able to find the whole dialogue in one place, so I thought I would transcribe and capture it in one document and share it here.
Surely I can’t be the only language enthusiast who wanted to stop and soak up this dialogue? If you’re looking for the Mandarin spoken between Guo Ming (played by Eddy Ko) and Zhu Tao (played by Chen Shu) in the CNSA offices, I hope this pdf (click here or on image above) is useful for you!
The English you see in the movie subtitles is very accurate, save the small edits made for brevity. For example: “Their astronaut is going to die” (movie) vs. “Their astronaut is going to starve to death” (see above). I remember once hearing that subtitle translation for movies is a subtle art— because the human eye can only comfortably read so much dialogue as it flashes across the screen, translators need to be concise; in other words, we can’t read as fast as we can listen so sometimes the ‘correct’ translation isn’t the best one.
I simply had to share this video–‘Skwerl’. The Youtube title is “How English sounds to non-English speakers”. For me, the experience of trying to follow the dialogue perfectly captured the deliciously frustrating feeling that all language learners get when we feel like we should have the skillz to be able to understand native speakers speaking everyday language, but it’s just not happening. During these moments, the goal of understanding spontaneous conversation seems so very…… far…… away…….. yet…… somehow… tantalizingly within reach? You find yourself wanting to laugh along with jokes, even though you don’t really understand what’s happening……. suddenly, the mood of the room changes and you’re wondering why everyone is upset, and you’re still clueless…. wait….pineapple sparklers?…. what just happened?
“What to do?” to progress from this point is where many language learners get stuck. More grammar? More vocabulary? More listening? Ask ten people how to get through this stage and you’ll get ten answers, but I think we can all relate to this feeling.
Having said that, I should note the fact that there is nothing quite like the euphoria that comes when this phase begins to fade, and you finally get to ‘surface’ into feeling like an ‘intermediate’ speaker of the language; things start to come together, and you feel like you can begin to connect with people and expand the topics you can talk about…. you still end up experiencing moments that feel like this video, but the scope starts to narrow, and then you’re able to focus your study of specific vocabulary, cultural reference points, etc.
I was talking to someone about learning proverbs/idioms/expressions in other languages the other day, and the person’s principal comment was that they wanted to study modern metaphors and culture, as opposed to stuffy old literary references, etc.
I understood what they meant, especially when you look at it from a perspective of the modern media culture that is so pervasive in the West; however, the neat thing about Chinese is just how often these kinds of devices are still used in modern language–and how universally understood they are. I still find it surprising just how often Chinese people use these kinds of proverbs/expressions as a kind of metaphoric shorthand for summing up a situation (as a learner, it can actually be frustrating because if you don’t know the reference because you can be perfectly in tune with a conversation and then suddenly become unsure of yourself because someone has dropped a four-syllable idiomatic reference to make their point).
“Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”
If you’re a Pink Floyd fan, I think “Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?” captures the essence of 宁做鸡头，不做凤尾. But not everyone is a Pink Floyd fan, are they? If the song “Wish you Were here” isn’t familiar to you, the reference may not speak to you in the same way. Perhaps you are (like me), the kind of person who only knows a few Pink Floyd songs, and knows the words to even fewer. Even if you know the song, you may be not be the kind of fan that really gets into all of the lyrics, and you just hum until the chorus comes.
Like many folks these days, I don’t have cable– the media that I do watch comes from borrowing from my public library or streaming online content to my TV. As a result, I don’t see as many commercials anymore.
Having said that, seeing this Japanese commercial took me back to memories of just how much cinematic awesomeness is often packed into commercials in Japan— they’re so catchy and play with words in a fun way; when I was a student, I learned a TON of Japanese from watching commercials and talking about them with Japanese people. If you think about it though, companies spend an extraordinary amount of money to design messaging that grabs your attention and sticks in your head. As a language learner, sometimes this kind of stuff is gold.
When I completed the written section of the French DELF exam a few years ago, one of the things that struck me was how rarely I even did that much handwriting in one sitting, even in English (i.e. an in-class written essay). My hand/wrist ended up feeling sore, and I left thinking that the next time I prepared to write the test, I should take some time beforehand to simply practice writing by hand more often. Around the same time, I heard a story about Hunter S. Thompson who, early in his career, sat down and re-typed one of the great American novels, The Great Gatsby; supposedly, he did it because he wanted to experience what it would be like to have the words of a classic novel flow through his fingertips….
After posting about bilingual households, I came across a post about strategies for raising a bilingual child that really resonated with me. I liked the dad’s honesty about how he originally had plans of being able to talk about his effortlessly bilingual son who could possibly have been starting to learn a third language at some point. When my son was born I had the very same thought, and I definitely remember relatives fully expecting me to pour all of my language skills into my son’s little noggin. It’s hard to argue with the idea of teaching a child to speak more than one language; however, as someone who grew up in a monolingual household, I was left to ponder the not-so-small question of “how do you actually go about doing that?”.
My wife and I were confident from the beginning that we wanted to raise our son to be bilingual. We quickly settled into a pattern of her speaking to him in Mandarin, and me speaking to him in English. Surely, we thought, he would ‘naturally’ pick up both languages and would soon be speaking both languages with fluid ease.
As it turns out, my son had some opinions of his own:) It quickly became apparent that he wasn’t quite that excited about speaking Chinese. Mom would speak to him in Mandarin, but he would respond to in English– if she pretended not to understand, he quickly figured out that he could come to me and say “tell mommy that …….” or some other ploy to get me to interpret for him.