Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The tones

I'm going to make a bold statement. I don't think Chinese is really all that hard. Sure, it can be hard to pronounce, and the characters just look like chicken scratching, but there are other aspects that make it quite easy to learn. I mean grammatically speaking it doesn't get much easier - there is no conjugation of verbs, no articles. And things just make sense here. Like when I was looking for a treadmill, which I didn't know how to say, so I asked for, "The machine you can run on," and they replied, "Oh, run machine." Literally, treadmill in Chinese is "run machine." So often while searching for a word you don't know, you'll actually say it.

But the tones. Ah, the tones. The tones can bring a man to his knees. My first summer here, I was talking with a friend in Chinese and she said, "They should teach you to use the tones." Uh, yeah, they do. Many painful minutes were spent in Chinese class listening to the teacher drill a tone into someone's head (sometimes my own).

It is my responsibility these days to help my kids review Chinese between classes. This primarily consists of helping them memorize the characters (because their teacher says they are lousy at reading. Personally, I think they're stellar - I know a lot of adults who can't read a lick), and pronouncing things correcting. To their credit, they are trying to make the words have tones, and often they are correct. But if they don't know, especially when there are two characters together, they say the first word as 1st tone, and the 2nd word as 2nd tone. So I have to correct them. Sometimes more than once. And then I tell them that I know it's frustrating, because I've been there. We ALL have. (and when I say ALL I'm referring to the people I know who've tackled studying this language). But it will get easier. And once they've conquered the tones and the characters, everything else should be a breeze!

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