A few observations
on the study of Mandarin Chinese


Learning Chinese takes time and patience, but after a while, the student begins to notice that certain parts of Chinese characters can be found in a number of other characters as well. Called radicals, and since there are "only" about 400 of them, Chinese acquisition becomes more systematic.

In the two words indicated here, the rectangles with the vertical line cutting through them form the character zhong (sort of pronounced "jong"), meaning "middle". T'he first is the Chinese word for China, Zhong Guo, or "Middle Kingdom." The second zhong wen, is Middle (Kingdom) language, Chinese.

I had the pleasure of studying Chinese first under Li Di at our local high school's evening school program, then for a semester at the College of Lake County under George Liu. In 18 weeks we studied some 300 characters (not all of which we mastered!), practiced the four TONES (this is the most challenging part of studying Chinese, since applying the wrong tone changes the meaning of the word. For instance "nar", pronounced with a falling-rising tone, means "where?". With a falling tone, it means "there"), did some role-playing, undertook a great deal of speaking and listening practice, and then completed the class with a wonderful Chinese dinner.

A couple of interesting points concerning Chinese: --> to find a character in a Chinese dictionary, one refers to the number of strokes in that character, then to the character's name. Note as well that the strokes in any given character are written in a certain order, starting from top and left side. Examining a written character (zhong, referred to above, for instance) it becomes obvious whether it was written with the strokes in the correct order. An analogy would be someone trying to write a sentence in English by writing the letters from right to left instead of left to right. There's a right way and a wrong way!

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