Best Way To Learn Chinese

http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=538361 is a thread I started about an opportunity I am taking advantage of next May. I’ll be going to for two weeks as part of a study abroad program. I’ve decided to pick China for a variety of reasons, and appreciate the feedback in the thread. I’m really jazzed about it and looking forward to it immensely.

However, before I travel, I’d like to get at least some rudimentary understanding of the language. What’s the best program for learning some basic Chinese between now and May of '10? Is the Rosetta Stone stuff worth the admission price? Or Berlitz? Or a program I’ve never heard of?

Thanks.

Is there a way to audit a Chinese 101 class at your university?

Hands down, the best way to learn Chinese is to be born in China and live there through your primary language acquisition phase.

It’s almost foolproof.

If you have no prior knowledge of the language, I’d strongly recommend taking an introductory Chinese course in the classroom. Getting a good handle on basic pronunciation, grammar, and some simple vocabulary will serve you well, and you really need a decent teacher to guide you through those things initially. In particular, Chinese is a tonal language so accurate pronunciation is very important. Plus, a classroom setting forces you to interact with others in the language you’re studying, something you don’t get by sitting at home in a front of a computer program or by mimicking recordings. After you go through that, sure, you can continue your study with some other learning methods. I used the Pimsleur CDs when I was studying Mandarin; they were nothing special but they expanded my vocabulary somewhat and I picked up on a few useful sentence structures.

If possible, talk about your learning experiences with someone who is fluent in Chinese. Often, there are important differences between what is taught formally and what is actually used in daily life. And getting acquainted with someone who knows Chinese is always helpful for those “how do you say <this> in Chinese?” questions.

Not sure how you learn on your own. I would try to find a really practical beginning book that covers pleasantries and how to order stuff in a restaurant. I mean really basic like “I want chicken”, “I am American, unmarried, and 26 years old.”

If you can learn pinyin that would be really helpful for being understood when you try to pronounce something. You probably won’t be able to understand much since you’ll be dealing with several different accents over a 2 week period.

I think I have some links on my work PC

If you have a smart device, I would recommend the cheapest http://www.pleco.com/store/product.php?productid=9&cat=0&page=1&featured english-chinese dictionary. It’s the best program I have found so far. Otherwise, but the Concise Enlish-Chinese, Chinese-English dictionary. It costs maybe $5 in China and is pretty easy to carry. The key for any dictionary is that you need both the character and the pinyin.

I took 2 years of college-level Chinese. The first 2 semesters were 4 or 5 hour courses that met 5 days a week and the last 2 were the standard 3 hour courses. Chinese, at least for me, was different from any other language that I have studied (Spanish, German, French, Russian, Czech, Swedish, Portuguese). I found it to be an easy language, grammatically, but slower to learn as there are no cognates/linguistic shift rules. That being said, due to the tonal nature of the language, it is VERY difficult to learn without a teacher (preferably a native speaker). There are some sounds that are not used in english that took some getting used to … Chi, Shi, Zhi, Ri. It is odd to work in a language where you know how to say something, but not write it, and read (understand the meaning) something and not know how to say it. I would say that I got to the point (10 years ago) where I needed time in China to really progress. Never happened. Probably never will, but I can greet our Chinese overlords when they take over the US.

Thanks. This is the sort of advice I was looking for. I don’t have time to take an extra class between working full-time and my regular grad school classes, esp. as the university doesn’t have classes in Chinese of which I’m aware. I’m mostly just looking for the basic pleasantries and how to say a few simple things, and perhaps learn a bit about China before going.

Be careful when you say “I want chicken” because “chicken” is slang for “prostitute.” Make sure you say 鸡肉 jirou or 鸡肉菜 jiroucai, as “rou” specifies chicken meat and “cai” means dish.

You may think this is just trivial, but a buddy of mine went into a small hole in the wall joint and said “I want chicken.” He got a girl instead of food. It took a while to clear that up.

Coming from someone whose first language is Chinese, the biggest problem I see others with the language is the speaking. The MBDG dictionary has a built-in voices for each chinese character.

Also, bear in mind that Chinese (or at least Mandarin here) sounds really different when spoken by people from different provinces. I have a hard time understanding the Beijing accent, for instance.

Ohhhhhh yeah. Madarin as spoken by Sichuan Chinese? Listen really closely. As spoken by Hunan Chinese? Listen VERRRRRYYYY closely. As spoken by Xinjiang Chinese or people from another minority area? Good luck!

I call BS on this one. The slang for prostitute is “wild chicken” (野鸡) and your friend either said “chicken” in a whorehouse (or whorehouse masquerading as a restaurant) or he’s wildly exaggerating.

But you do highlight that in Chinese, one should di-syllabicize the words. Eg, say the compound word instead of single syllable so as to avoid confusion. In other words, you would say “eat a meal” instead of just “eat.”

And, almost everywhere you go in China, you will hear non broadcast Mandarin. And that’s only when the locals are speaking Mandarin instead of dialect. It was a rude shock to have taken 4 years of University Chinese, lived in Taiwan, HK and China for over a decade, and then taking my first trip to Beijing. It was painful trying to understand what the hell people were saying. This being after I spent 3 years traveling around SW China in the 1980’s.

You might want to double check your slang terms, or at least the popular usage of them. I’m fairly confident that “ji” is more widely-used (at least in my part of China) as slang for “prostitute” than “yeji” is. Apparently it’s even in some dictionaries: http://school.changsha.cn/rmht/200608/t20060817_508707.htm

As for the story: if it aint true, it oughta be.

“Apparently it’s even in some dictionaries”

Or, I should say, after reading to the end of that article, it’s in at least one dictionary.

Here’s a decent link to learning how to pronounce Chinese and pinyin on your own.

Actually, just ji will do. “Calling for chicken” or jiao ji is known as “getting a prostitue”

Ok, as you can see, I don’t have intimate knowledge of prostitute slang. That said, it does go back to that double syllable thing. “ji” is open to misinterpretation, whereas “jiaoji” or “jirou” shouldn’t be.

Rather than sign up for classes, I got married to a Tawanese woman. You may not want to take it that far, though. :wink:

Hey bud, what are you implying there, huh? :smiley:

And did in Japan, just to emphasize the polyglot, multicultural angle. :slight_smile:

Well, marrying someone is a counterpoint to others in the thread that imply that prostitutes can teach more than just body language. :o

The OP may want to be careful. He wouldn’t be the first one to visit China on a study trip and came away married.

Does your wife speak Mandarin or Taiwanese to the little sprout? That’s a dilema for any of the Chinese groups that speak a local dialect but live outside that environment.