Correcting my Chinese!

I’ve just finished my first week of being a student again. And I have to say, so far I’m glad I decided to study Chinese. At the moment we are studying the phonetics of the words and their tones. Basic stuff. But, so far, I’ve noticed an improvement in my tones, but I’ve also realised that some words I am pronouncing wrong. Subtle differences in the sounds of words, such as ‘zai’ and ‘cai’ can make the whole sentence you say wrong. It’s not so much that the tones are important, which they are, but a lot of it has to do with the pronunciation. I may say something to something and my tones are all correct, but its the way I”m saying the words that gets Chinese people confused. In English, if someone says, while we are at the beach ‘I see a sheep’, we know that that person meant ‘ship’. In China, if you say one thing wrong, they wont understand you. It’s very annoying and I’m sure everyone in China has experienced this before.

I was in a shop once, and I asked the lady in Chinese ‘Do you speak English?’. My tones were perfect, and I thought I did a great job, but she replied ‘what?’ in Chinese. I know my tones were correct, as I’ve studied how to say the sentence, but now thinking back, I’m sure a big part of why she couldn’t understand me was because of my pronunciation.

So it’s great being able to actually pronounce the words correctly now. We have 2 books that we use. The first book we have for the basic phonetics, and we hope to have that book done in a month. Then it’s starting the characters, which I’m quite excited about!

And with our level dilema, as you’v probably realised, we’re going to start at level 1. Level 2, although we understood the teacher, that group know a couple of hundred characters, whereas I know about 10. The teacher put a sentence on the board (all in characters) and all the students started reading it aloud. I was just sitting there having no idea what to do or say. Although we could have stayed at level 2, that means catching up on maybe 1 years worth of reading and writing. So that would be far too stressful.

What I’ve realised though is how much you catch onto while just being in China, not even studying. I’ve been in China 1 year and a half, I’ve realised that a lot of the pronoun cation of words you pick up naturally. Like the difference between ‘c’ and ‘ch’ , or ‘z’ and ‘c’ are things that came naturally to me. However ‘feng’, I realised I was saying it wrong. I was pronouncing the ‘e’ like ‘elephant’, whereas it should be said as ‘fung’ .

So this week was good. In level 2, I was shocked when the lady said we must pick a partner and do a role play about an appointment. I was like ‘oh god!, how will I manage that! ‘ Thankfully it went ok though!

So I’ve surprised myself by the amount of Chinese I’ve picked up while in China. It just goes to show how much you can pick up while just living in China and by listening to people. Hopefully now when I get my phonics and pronunciation right the Chinese will understand me much more.

Aisling.

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