Posts Tagged ‘Language; Words


Add oil

During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese spectators were urged to encourage the competitors from all nations by chanting jiāyóu jiāyóu (lit. Add Oil = refuel, make more effort, come on!, go, go GO!).

I have had my very own encourager on my last few morning runs as one of the gardeners has taking to yelling jiāyóu jiāyóu every time I jog past the patch of garden where he is working!


En…(rhymes with ng)

Mandarin 101 coming up… Why don’t any of the textbooks teach you that “saying less is saying more”?

This all important word is left out of every textbook that I have seen – maybe they hide it in the Advanced series?

嗯 “En” (rhymes with ng) can be used in any one of the 5 tones, depending on the context, mood of the speaker, audience and any other factor you would like to add.

  • 1st tone: high-level, flat tone: eeeeennnnn. Translation = Satisfied grunt / Whatever / (a groaning sound)
  • 2nd tone: rising tone: eeeeeN. Translation = What? Huh? So? Why? How? Really? etc.
  • 3rd tone: falling and rising tone. EeeeeennnnnN. Translation = I’m not really sure / I need to think about that / Well….
  • 4th tone: sharp, falling tone. En! Translation = Enough! No! Not interested! Get lost! / (nonverbal grunt as interjection) / OK, yeah what?
  • 5th tone: neutral tone.  en. Translation = interjection indicating approval, appreciation or agreement

Why bother with hundreds of phrases when this one word can get you through most conversations with incredible ease????


The road is long

Learning a language is a journey… a long, long, very long journey.

Starting out it’s all new and exciting and the beginner lessons are easy and fun. And then the road begins to slope upwards. And it gets harder to maintain momentum and to make progress. Just when I think that I might have made a bit of headway, I look up and see how much further I have to go, and my progress grinds to a halt as I stumble over my own feet and feelings of inadequacy.

Maybe it’s easier if you are able to study on a full-time basis, but trying to juggle a full-time job and the rest of one’s life and fitting language study in the bits of time that remain, means that it is difficult to commit to it 100%. I am a bit of a perfectionist and it frustrates me beyond measure that I haven’t got this language thing sorted out.

My brain leans towards problem solving and numbers and trying to memorise vocabulary and tones just does not compute! I like digging into the meanings of words and the grammar constructs that one uses to put them together, but all this is a bit useless if you can’t just splat it into a conversation at moment’s notice. I’m trying to learn the language so that I can converse and communicate, not just know all the theory.

When I start feeling that I am slipping backwards I tend to want to go back to Chapter 1 so that I can reassure myself that I haven’t missed anything out; so that I can at least tick a few mental boxes. I hate the fact that there’s a possibility that I haven’t mastered ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. And it is so depressing to realise that there are still some words in Chapter 5 that I can’t remember, even though I’ve been along this bit of the road so many times before. It’s enough to make you sit down and cry…

I keep trying to find new ways of learning – different strategies, new software aids, online podcasts. I have got into the habit of collecting new textbooks – my existing ones get so boring after Chapter 1 has been re-visited for the 50th time.

In the Hithchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote about the babelfish that you could put into your ear as a translation device. I need someone to hurry up and invent one of those. Maybe I’m just lazy and these are all just excuses!

I guess that in the end it all boils down to the fact that I just have to put in the time and effort and walk up the hills – and there are quite a few – one step at a time. Right now it feels as though I am walking along the N1 somewhere in the middle of the Groot Karoo. The road stretches relentlessly towards the horizon and there’s no hint of a signpost marking the next milestone. I think I’ll just sit here for a while and take a little rest.


Youthful beans

At an office meeting this week, we were reminding our team of the need to make the product delivery process as smooth as possible. My husband tried to emphasise this by referring to the importance of removing all the “pimples and warts” in order to make it the project a success.

This statement was met by blank stares and silence so we had to deviate into finding the correct Chinese translation for “pimple”. After explaining that “pimple” had nothing to do with “pimp” and “pump” and other possible similar-sounding words, we managed to communicate that we referring to the skin condition.

Oh, they said, we call those 青春豆 – qīngchūn dòu which literally translated means: youthful beans – so named because they are most often experienced by young people!

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July 2018
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