Vivian's Chinese lesson

Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

春江花月夜

In Food on February 12, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Two years ago, I started to learn Chinese Zheng (筝musical instrument) just because I found its tone color could best represent the Chinese classical music, but eventually I found myself falling in love with the beauty of this unique musical world. Chinese art usually goes with the enchantment of nature, and nature always echoes with human feelings, the personal feelings are, in reverse, reflected on the work of art. Here is an example of the Chinese Zheng筝 performance.

The piece is known as A Moonlit Night On The Spring River (春江花月夜). It is famous for the beautiful scenery it evokes and for its feelings about passing human existence. The moon rises with the tide, the river sparkles in the moonlight. The poet is said to seek the meaning of life. He recognizes human frailty and transience by comparing the limits of human life with the eternity and constant renewal of nature.

Artist: 童丽 (Tong, Li)

春江花月夜 (Poem)
春江潮水连海平, 海上明月共潮生。 
滟滟随波千万里, 何处春江无月明。 
江流宛转绕芳甸, 月照花林皆似霰。 
空里流霜不觉飞, 汀上白沙看不见。 
江天一色无纤尘, 皎皎空中孤月轮。 
江畔何人初见月, 江月何年初照人? 
人生代代无穷已, 江月年年只相似。 
不知江月待何人, 但见长江送流水。 
白云一片去悠悠, 青枫浦上不胜愁。 
谁家今夜扁舟子, 何处相思明月楼? 
可怜楼上月徘徊, 应照离人妆镜台。 
玉户帘中卷不去, 捣衣砧上复还来。 
此时相望不相闻, 愿逐月华流照君。 
鸿雁长飞光不渡, 鱼龙潜跃水成文。 
昨夜闲潭梦落花, 可怜春半不还家。 
江水流春去欲尽, 江潭落月复西斜。 
斜月沉沉藏海雾, 碣石潇湘无限路。 
不知乘月几人归, 落月摇情满江树。 

(English translation)
A Moonlit Night On The Spring River
In spring the river rises as high as the sea,
And with the river’s rise the moon uprises bright.
She follows the rolling waves for ten thousand li,
And where the river flows, there overflows her light.
The river winds around the fragrant islet where
The blooming flowers in her light all look like snow.
You cannot tell her beams from hoar frost in the air,
Nor from white sand upon Farewell Beach below.
No dust has stained the water blending with the skies;
A lonely wheel like moon shines brilliant far and wide.
Who by the riverside first saw the moon arise?
When did the moon first see a man by riverside?
Ah, generations have come and pasted away;
From year to year the moons look alike, old and new.
We do not know tonight for whom she sheds her ray,
But hear the river say to its water adieu.
Away, away is sailing a single cloud white;
On Farewell Beach pine away maples green.
Where is the wanderer sailing his boat tonight?
Who, pining away, on the moonlit rails would learn?
Alas! The moon is lingering over the tower;
It should have seen the dressing table of the fair.
She rolls the curtain up and light comes in her bower;
She washes but can’t wash away the moonbeams there.
She sees the moon, but her beloved is out of sight;
She’d follow it to shine on her beloved one’s face.
But message-bearing swans can’t fly out of moonlight,
Nor can letter-sending fish leap out of their place.
Last night he dreamed that falling flowers would not stay.
Alas! He can’t go home, although half spring has gone.
The running water bearing spring will pass away;
The moon declining over the pool will sink anon.
The moon declining sinks into a heavy mist;
It’s a long way between southern rivers and eastern seas.
How many can go home by moonlight who are missed?
The sinking moon sheds yearning o’er riverside trees.

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Chinese v.s. Japanese

In Food on February 12, 2011 at 7:46 am

Written by John Pasden

I’ve been asked many times: Which is harder to learn, Chinese or Japanese? Well, the latest time finally inspired me to make this graphic. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but some notes will follow anyway.

In case you couldn’t figure out from the graph, both are difficult, but in different ways. Both have insane writing systems and lots of cultural background to learn, so those basically cancel each other out. Any language requires lots of vocabulary memorization. Japanese has loads of loanwords from English, but really learning to use the loanwords like a native speaker instead of a crutch is not so easy to do, so I left that factor out as well. For me, the major points of comparison come down to just pronunciation and grammar.

Japanese pronunciation is quite easy at first. Some people have problems with the “tsu” sound, or difficulty pronouncing vowels in succession, as in “mae.” Honestly, though, Japanese pronunciation poses little challenge to the English speaker. The absolute beginner can memorize a few sentences, try to use them 20 minutes later, and be understood. The real difficulty with Japanese is in trying to sound like a native speaker. Getting pitch accent and sentence intonation to a native-like level is no easy task (and I have not done it yet!).

Chinese pronunciation, is, of course, maddeningly difficult from the get-go. It can be so hard to make yourself understood when your sentence is only three syllables long. Yes, I know. I’ve been there. If you keep at it, though, things get waaayyy easier. And in the later stages, accent isn’t as big a deal in Chinese. There are so many wildly different accents in China alone that once you get your tones under control and can string a coherent sentence together, Chinese people will often assume you’re a native speaker in telephone conversations.

Chinese grammar starts out fairly simple for English speakers. Some find it so simplistic that they say things like, “Chinese has no grammar.” This is not true, of course, and there are a few difficult points to master (like 了, which probably occupies a good chunk of the red area in the middle of the grammar graph), but overall, the grammar is not too rough. If you want true mastery of the language, however, you will also eventually have to study 古文 (ancient Chinese), and that’s quite a bit more work.

Japanese grammar starts out seeming like some bizarre alien code. However, through hard work and determination, the persistent can eventually crack it. Once you get over the grammar hump, and verb conjugations, causative-passive, は and が, and keigo are no longer a big deal, you’re in a pretty comfortable place. But it sure is rough at first.

Just to be clear, this is all based on my personal experiences as a very acquisition-conscious language learner, not on scientific research. Please feel free to add your own experiences with these two languages in the comments.

Chinese translation by Vivian

经常有人问我这样的问题:中文和日文,哪个更难学?最终我还是打算用图表来说明问题。答案显而易见,但有些地方还是值得一提。 

中日文学习都令人挠头,但难点却各不相同。两者的文字系统和浩如烟海的文化都会令学习者们抓狂,就这一点说它们算是扯平了。当然学习任何一门语言都需要记忆大量单词。日语中就有很多英语的外来词,但注意,这并不意味着你就可以轻松得像日本人那样使用它,所以,这个优势几乎不存在。对我来说,两者的对比最终还是归结于两点:发音和语法。

对于初学者,日语的发音颇为简单。有些人发“tsu”音或者元音连读时有些困难,如“mae”。不过实事求是地说,日语发音对英语使用者来说并不难。零起点的学习者都可以背下几个句子,20分钟后就可以拿它跟人顺利交流。而发音的真正困难在于使自己听起来像日本人。如何在发音中加入轻重拿捏到位的“日本味儿”,却不是一朝一夕就能练就的。

当然,中文发音一开始就难如上青天。有时即便你的句子只有三个音节,别人也未必能清楚理解你的意思。我就经历过那样的阶段。但是如果你能坚持下来,学习就会容易多了。而且,中国有那么多地方都说各自的方言,所以学习越往后,你会越发现口音并不是问题。只要你控制好音调,把一句话意思理顺,在电话中经常会有人把你当作中国人哦!

对英语使用者而言,中文语法在学习初始阶段还是很简单的。有的人甚至谑称,“中文没有语法”。事实并非如此,有一些语法难点还是需要细心掌握(比如动态助词“了”,这在语法书里可是长篇累牍的。)不过总体来说,中文语法并不太难。但如果你要真正精通中文,最终还得学习古文,当然那可得多费些心思。

相反,日语语法却有些像令人匪夷所思的外星人密码。不过只要你有“愚公移山”的精神,最终还是可以成功“搬倒”它。只要你经受住了动词连体形,使役受身形等等等等的折磨,熬过了这一难关,は和が,敬语什么的都会成一片浮云,而那时候学习就会从容许多。

最后重申一下,这篇文章并不是什么科学研究,我只是根据我多年的语言学习经验有感而作。