Fun Facts About Chinese
People are often intimidated by the thought of learning Chinese. This is in part because of the writing system. Chinese is the oldest written language in the world with roughly 6,000 years of history. There are over 20,000 Chinese characters, though only 3,000-4,000 or so are necessary to read a newspaper. And whereas languages such as English use alphabets as building blocks to form words, the Chinese writing system has no such alphabet. However, for the beginner student of Chinese, this is largely irrelevant. As with a native language, a person typically speaks before he or she reads and writes. It's fair to say that any attempt to master Chinese characters should accompany a basic proficiency in spoken Chinese. Fortunately, a Romanized form of Chinese called pinyin has been developed to assist Westerners in reading and writing Chinese. It is based on the Roman alphabet, and its pronunciation in most cases, mirrors the English pronunciation very closely. For this reason, we use the Chinese pinyin, in all of our basic level materials. For example, the pinyin representation for "Hello" is "ni hao".
In terms of the spoken language, Chinese grammar is relatively simple compared to languages with Latin and Greek origins. There are no verb conjugations. Furthermore, verbs are not modified as a result of tense. Adverbs such as "before, yesterday, previously" are used to denote the past tense, and "in the future, tomorrow" are used to denote the future tense. Furthermore, nouns are not assigned gender. As the word "they" denotes both genders, the Chinese word "ta" also denotes both "he" and "she".
What most do find challenging is the fact that Chinese is a tonal language. Mandarin Chinese has 4 basic tones. Therefore, a word that in the Chinese Romanized pinyin is spelled "ma" can be pronounced in four different ways and have four vastly different meanings. But one shouldn't be frightened by this. There is always a context to a word – words are seldom spoken alone and out of context. For this reason, we teach kids learning Chinese commonly and constantly used phrases, and we repeat them until they become second nature. As an aside, there is a rarely known benefit to speaking a tonal language. According to a recent study by University of California at San Diego, speakers of tonal languages have perfect pitch at an amazingly higher rate than those who do not speak tonal languages! This skill comes in handy for the budding musician.
Check out some more fun facts about China for kids on our aha!Chinese blog!