Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Learning Chinese R/W way - Lesson 1

I made the point that Chinese is easy to learn (link) and I am going to back it up by teaching YOU Chinese. So let's experiment to see if this claim can be proven.

My native language is Cantonese and I used traditional Chinese since I started school. However, I have been living in Australia for the last 13 years and hence my Chinese is now rusty. I was not very good at natural Language anyway. But I will give it a try. More experienced Chinese Language teachers are welcome to comment, suggest or criticize.

I will try to post at least once a week (more if I have time) and I hope within one year, you will be able to read National Chinese Newspapers such as those listed in here. I also hope that by then, you will be able to communicate in Chinese too. Note: this is a big claim and this is the first time I teach Chinese. (I was a Physics teacher, not language teacher!) If this experiment fails, so be it. In any case, do not sue me if I cannot deliver!

Before we begin, here is another disclaimer. I believe Chinese is a graphical language (contrast to most Western language which is phonetically based). This distinction makes learning to read and write Chinese MUCH easier than learning to speak and listen to Chinese especially when there are so many different dialects within China. So R/W in my title of this post (course) refers to "READ" and "WRITE".

One more thing before we actually start, you need to be able to write (OK, type). For those using Windows, make sure you go to [Control Panel], open [Regional and Language Options], in the [Languages] tab, add Chinese(Taiwan) and input method ChangJie. Do NOT add the Pingyin input method.

OK, Lesson one, let's start with numbers.

一 (one horizontal stroke) is the number one.
二 (two horizontal strokes) is the number two.
三 (three horizontal strokes) is the number three.

If you have installed ChangJie input method, you can try to input these three Chinese characters. Activate your Chinese Input method (the default is [ctrl] [Shift]). To input 一, type the character M on your keyboard and follow by the [space]. 二 is two M's followed by the [space] and ....

Yes, 三 is 3 M's followed by [space].

Well, number four is NOT 4 M's. It is actually quite different.

Here is the Chinese characters from one to ten.
I'll discussion the input method for these characters in a later post. Let's learn how numbers are expressed in Chinese first.

Note the character ten (十) is also a place indicator. In English, numbers are advanced every three places. Hence we have ten, hundred and thousand. After thousand, it is ten thousand.

In Chinese, there are four place holders: 十, 百, 千, 萬. This will require a little switching in thinking. So instead of ten thousand, we have 萬.

Now, exercise for you. Translate the following Chinese numbers back to English. (To cheat, highlight the rest of the post.)

一十二 twelve
四十五 forty five
六千七百八十九 six thousand seven hundred eighty nine
三萬七千八百五十六 thirty seven thousand eight hundred fifty six

So far, I have missed out another important number - zero. It is written like this:零. So 2007 is 二千零七. Note, we don't need to use two 零 because a place holder 千 has been used making it perfectly clear that we mean two thousand and seven.

零 is a bit difficult to write, so some Chinese use the Arabic zero instead. However, if you are using Arabic it should be written like this: 二00七.

Now, you can read numbers in Chinese, keep tuned. Next time, we shall talk about how Chinese express date and time.

In this lesson, you have learnt these words:
and how numbers are written in Chinese

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