Chinese Idiom: 开门见山


My general philosophy is that mnemonics are a very personal thing, so it’s often better if you come up with your own mnemonics; having said that, Cornelious continues to come up with fantastic logical images that certainly seem to ‘stick’ for me.

Cornelius– to your point about Chinese idioms not using modern grammar or vocabulary, I would counter that idioms are used much much more widely in Putonghua than they are in English, so a good portfolio of 4-character idioms that you recognize is a core skill that all learners should work on (I could improve in this area for sure).

Another visual idiom I can think of is 水落石出; if you’re taking requests, I’d definitely offer this one up for consideration!

Originally posted on Things Beyond Z:

Daily updates this week! Back to Mo/Wed/Fri next week.

kāi mén jiàn shān
kai1 men2 jian4 shan1
to open the door and see the mountain
to get right to the point

I was thinking about doing a whole bunch of illustrations of idioms. But then I didn’t actually manage to find many that were suitable for my purposes. Still, I did two (will post the other one tomorrow) and I like how they turned out so maybe I will come back to that idea at some point.

Regardless, I do want to point out that for a beginner like me there are some issues with using idioms and/or proverbs for learning purposes. For one thing, they do not necessarily use standard modern grammar or vocabulary.

Also, using them appropriately can be tricky. When you look up a word…

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Chinese Character: 歹 (evil)


As far as mnemonics for Chinese characters go, this is an amazing example worth remembering, complete with a tidy sum-up of places where you’re likely to run into this radical.

Originally posted on Things Beyond Z:


  • 歹徒 — dai3tu2 / dǎitú — evil-doer/gangster
  • 歹意 — dai3yi4 / dǎiyì — malice

Characters containing this radical are likely to refer to death/dying etc.


  • 死 — si3 / sǐ — to die
  • 歼 [殲] — jian1 / jiān — to annihilate
  • 殃 — yang1 / yāng — calamity
  • 殡 [殯] — bin4 / bìn — funeral

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Language Learning with your children

I was reading a blog article the other day about encouraging your child’s language learning through active encouragement of their progress, and the post definitely struck a chord with me. When I thought back to the children’s language school where I worked in China, you could definitely tell a difference in the enthusiasm and proficiency on the faces of the children who had parents who also liked to make English small talk with the teachers and staff.

As most working adults can sympathize, there never seems to be enough time to do everything you want (or need!) to do.  With limited time to spend on language learning, it’s always great when you can combine it with other passions—- for me, spending time with my son watching Chinese cartoons has been a fantastic experience that enriches both of us. On that note, we’ve been working on singing the theme song to 熊出没 (Boonie Bears) and this video shows where we’re at now, including our practice writing out the lyrics.

I’m very proud of the progress that my son has made with Mandarin– it wasn’t something he was really interested in until we discovered this cartoon.  It’s not our intention to ‘force’ him to learn Chinese, but watching this show has been solid source of inspiration on which to build.

Vocabulary: Amnesty 大赦 dàshè

The word came up in coversation about children of illegal immigrants in the U.S., and the challenges they face in going to university (I don’t know if this is still an issue but I remember hearing about it at one time in the past). Anyway, the Chinese person (speaking in English) was saying that they thought the U.S. Government should give these children “…….?…..”.

All of a sudden the person was at a loss for the right word; however, in the context of our topic and the tone of the speakers voice, the message was extremely clear–my very first guess was “amnesty”, which after we double checked with the dictionary, turned out to be correct.

Admittedly, it’s not a word that comes up very often in conversation—indeed, I doubt that I’ll be able to recall the word the next time I need it, but I hope noting it today will make it seem just a little bit more familiar the next time our paths cross.

Learning new words in context like this  is one of my favourite ways to get new vocabulary.  This is especially true these days because I spend substantially more time speaking English with Chinese people than I would if I were living in a Mandarin speaking community.


The Hardest Part


Bonne Bon,

Me le, me la, me les..Te le, te la, te les…..
I feel your pain on this one…

My most nagging French ‘hard part’ was (and continues to be) grammar errors. I remember getting stuck on “Je faut….(faire, etc)” and completely ignoring the subjonctif to produce “Il faut que je (fasse, etc.)”.

I’ve probably still managed to make an error in recreating this here….

Originally posted on Est ce que tu kidding me?:

We know that learning a second language in adulthood is difficult. Even though I started learning as a child, I didn’t get enough input to get to be fluent by most standards – and I’ll be the first to say it. There are a lot of factors that make language learning difficult. What is the hardest part of learning another language?

I think “the hardest part” may be different for everyone. In my job, I see students with very different skill profiles. Everyone excels in some things and needs more time to improve other things. There are people who struggle more with writing; others who struggle with listening (or understanding spoken language); others who have difficulty with pronunciation and being understood. It’s amazing to work with people every day and be reminded just how different and unique we each are.

So here we have it, in no particular order, three…

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Lost in another world


Oh my—this brought back so many memories of watching DVD copies of “24” in northeastern China.

My roommates and I had just bought a cheap toaster oven, real cheddar cheese (a real treasure in a third-tier Chinese city at that time) and imported canned spicy tuna from Korea. We used to make plates of tuna melts and watch marathon sessions of 24. We finished the whole series over the span of a few days during the spring festival holiday of 2003.

My roommates and I didn’t get lost in the trap of watching tv in the same way that I saw some expats do, but spells of getting caught up on television from home were one of the ways that we cocooned, recouped and refreshed for new experiences in our everyday lives in a corner of China that wasn’t a typical destination for foreigners.

I met my wife two months after this ‘episode’ of my overseas life.

Wow… Home run with this one ken. We are also ‘non cable’ ‘non satellite’ people. Most of what we watch comes from online sources, supplemented with regular trips to our local library, which is well stocked with children’s TV and movies.


Originally posted on kenthinksaloud:

I don’t normally rave about TV programmes; in fact I rarely (if ever) watch any TV other than with my family and even then only very select programmes.

I try not to be judgemental about this. I have to remember that everyone is different and everyone’s lifestyle choices are their own. But I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to sit around watching TV! I simply don’t have the time and on the very, very few occasions I do decide to turn the telly on and see what’s on the box I am disappointed every single time! There’s never anything on worth watching!

I didn’t want to get TV at all when we returned to the country but Wifey insisted that we needed to have satellite TV for the kids if nothing else. Now, our kids don’t watch much TV either. They’ve grown up with it pretty much

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Language Blunders Part 1


Great story— it reminded me of a temporary look of horror that my Japanese host mother had flash across her face when we were talking one day when I was just starting out with Japanese. “Can you say that part again?”, she gently asked. When I repeated myself, she was visibly relieved and the conversation resumed.

I had an inkling as to what had happened, but I never did figure out what the offending word was. At the time, it was obvious that asking her (there was a group of people at the table) what she thought I had said, would have made for an awkward moment.

Anyway, I liked this blogger’s takeaway from the incident. We give toddlers the benefit of the doubt all the time, we should be kind to adult learners!

Originally posted on spahrknotes:

In an instant, my reputation as a mother shattered in the eyes of our ayi.

I’ve finally begun Mandarin lessons. This past week, I learned the word for juice. I sat at the kitchen table with my tutor and made a mental note that it sounded similar to the English word for juice.

Fast-forward one hour. I took the leftover apple cider out of the fridge to give to my kids and thought it might be fun for ayi to try some. I poured a small glass and offered it to her, saying in my slowly deliberate Mandarin, “This is apple juice,” which I hoped would be close enough to “cider” and she could figure it out from there.

And here begins our conversation, in which I became a terrible mother.

Note: This all happened in Mandarin, aside from my thoughts, and ayi’s Mandarin has been paraphrased for the reader’s…

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