07/1/15

Mission: Make My Husband Fall In Love With Finland

After dating for 2.5 years, being married for 1.5 years and having a baby on the way, finally I’m taking Alan to visit my home in Finland! I’ve been experiencing China for more than 5 years, but my husband’s Finland experience has been restricted to me, meeting my family once and an occasional meet-up with a Finn here in Guangzhou.

As moving to Finland might be in the cards in our future, this very first visit to Finland will be crucial. My whole family is plotting a plan to make my husband fall in love with our country! Alan only has one week in Finland (I’m gonna stay two weeks), so the mission is not easy.

First of all we are going to experience the Summer in Heinola, a small city in Southern Finland I call my hometown. I hope the temperatures will be enough for dipping in the river and exploring the woods as nature is something I want Alan to fully experience. If I wasn’t pregnant, I would take Alan horse riding!

Our week will also include two other destinations, the capital Helsinki and Tampere, a city where I used to live for years and where most of my friends live. We’ll start with Helsinki that very well might be our new home someday in the future (but not in the near future probably). Lets see if our capital is big enough for a local Guangzhounese.

Next destination is perhaps the best city in Finland, Tampere. The city where I moved from home, started my history degree (never finished though) and kind of grew up. I’m going to take Alan to the Spy Museum where I used to work because he translated the Chinese guidebook there. Alan also want’s to visit a Finnish university, so I’m giving him a tour at Tampere University. Might feel a bit small though after these huge campuses in China.

Meeting friends and family is of course big part of our tour as well. Until now Alan has only met with my mother, little sister and her boyfriend and one of my little brothers. I’m sure he’ll get along well with my dad and his wife, my other little brother and relatives that we meet along the way. I’m especially looking for a big feast at my aunt’s place as she is an amazing cook! Alan has been laughing at me how my stories of Finland always include food!

When you are in a multicultural marriage like me and Alan, it’s important to understand each other’s background. A week is of course not a enough, but it’s a start for Alan to see the world from my point of view. Perhaps he’ll realize that I’m not weird, I’m just a Finn!

I’ll be sharing more after our Finnish holiday and I’ll let you know if our plan to make my husband fall in love with Finland worked or not. Our mission starts this Sunday!

06/25/15

No matter how hard it might feel, you can learn to speak Chinese

情 Character

How is it like to learn a second language as an adult is a question I encounter with on a daily basis when teaching my students Chinese. I started learning Chinese when I was 20, but before that I already had experience in learning a foreign language. I started English at 9 years old, German at 11 and Swedish when I was 13. But how is it like for adults who start their very first foreign language and it happens to be Chinese?

First an article on Hacking Chinese came to my mind: You might be too lazy to learn Chinese, but you’re not too old. Olle reminds as that even though it’s easier for children to master the pronunciation of a new language , we adults are much smarter and thus are much better at learning. What we should learn from kids though is that they don’t give up and they aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

We adults often expect results way too quickly and get frustrated when we don’t learn a new skill right away. Remember that learning anything new takes time and effort, so does Chinese, and don’t be afraid to make lots of mistakes along the way.

Speaking of confidence, a blog post from Sinoplice, Confidence and Tones, reminds us how important it is to be confident in your studies. The perfect balance is with having the correct information (knowing the correct pronunciation) and being confident enough to open your mouth and say those words out loud. Children aren’t afraid to speak up so we should definitely learn from them!

I didn’t learn the Chinese pronunciation well when I started. Our teacher just made us listen and repeat after a CD recoding for hours and hours, without explaining why we were learning this way. She didn’t explain where and how all these new sounds should be pronounced in our mouths. She didn’t correct our tones enough and let us get away with bad pronunciation.

When I came to China I noticed that it could take me 5 minutes to try to order yì bēi shŭi one glass of water just because my pronunciation was so terrible. During the years I’ve noticed plenty of foreigners complaining how the Chinese don’t understand their Chinese, I felt the same way at first. But then I realized that it’s my fault, my pronunciation just wasn’t good enough to allow the listener to easily understand me.

Learning Chinese pronunciation is tricky, it takes lots of time and effort, but the good news are, that after you master it (or become good enough), learning Chinese becomes much easier. At first it may seem like that you never learn those difficult initials like j, q, x or zh, ch, sh, but that’s not true. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, study hard and you will notice how native speakers start to understand you.

It may take a while to get that first feeling of accomplishment, but trust me, it feels great! One day you realize the taxi drive understood where you were going, the waitress got your order right and you just said your very first spontaneous Chinese sentence without translating it first in your head.

John from Sinoplice describes learning Chinese in 5 stages, starting from “Ching-chong-ching”. At this first stage Chinese seems something completely alien to you. How could these sounds be learned? And how is it even possible to recognize the different tones, do they even matter? After learning Chinese for a while, with a good teacher, a learner will gradually realize that Chinese is a language just like any other language (Stage 2). You start to understand that for the Chinese the difference between mā with a first tone and mà with a fourth tone is as big as the difference between A and B letters is for us.

I wish that my students don’t make the same mistakes as I did and think the tones or correct pronunciation doesn’t matter. Yes, Chinese will understand you Xièxie (thank you) and fāpiào (incoive) no matter how poorly you utter them, just  because these are the two words they are used to hearing from a foreigner’s mouth. But try something else and you find yourself having communication trouble.

We also have difficulties with non-native speakers of our own languages if their pronunciation is way off, it’s the same with Chinese. English and Chinese just happen to be quite different languages so it takes a bit more effort to nail the pronunciation. So let’s make it easier for us and for the listener and learn those new sounds. Just like a kid, don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

Now after learning Chinese for 6+ years I finally understand how valuable it is to listen to the advice or advanced learners like Olle from Hacking Chinese and John from Sinoplice. They have gone through the journey, made the mistakes and are sharing their wisdom on how to avoid those mistakes our selves.

As a final word for this not so coherent blog post, I would like to say that don’t give up. No matter how hard it might seem in the beginning, you can learn to speak Chinese. No matter if it’s your first or fifth foreign language, you are never too old to learn new things. Advance on your own speed, but take an advantage of the tips of other learners.

Good luck! Study hard!

06/16/15

Getting used to a trilingual home

Our home here in Guangzhou has been mainly surrounded by Mandarin Chinese as that’s the love language between me and my husband. We met in Mandarin, fell in love in Mandarin and also got married in a Mandarin wedding ceremony. Of course we throw in a few phrases of English every now and then, especially when we have guests or when hubby wants to practice his English.

But as we are getting ready to welcome a new family member at the end of the year, we are also getting ready to become a trilingual family. According to what I’ve read, in a multilingual home it’s best that each of the parents speak their native language to their children, helping the kid to grow up bilingual. In our case I will be speaking Finnish and my husband Cantonese to our baby girl or boy.

Now that our baby has already started to make herself/himself known by kicking inside my tummy, we are also trying to form a habit of talking to the baby in a daily basis. But what has surprised us, is how strange it feels to be speaking our native languages in our home.

For years I’ve been used to speaking Chinese even with my cats, now I’ve been trying to change and talk to our cats in Finnish instead, creating more opportunities for our baby to hear Finnish. I also try to talk to my tummy in Finnish when I feel the little kicks, but often it feels pretty strange.

At the same time my husband feels odd speaking Cantonese to the baby in front of me, he is so used to speaking Mandarin in my presence that changing to his own dialect doesn’t come naturally. I try to remind him of speaking Cantonese to my tummy, even though that means I can hardly figure out what he is saying.

Mandarin will of course continue to be an important part of our life, as it’s the main language of communication between us. Our kid will then be hearing a lot of Mandarin as well, which I hope won’t get him or her too confused!

Getting our child to understand and speak Cantonese is not going to be a problem, as my husband’s whole family will be speaking it, but what about Finnish then? I have a feeling, that I really need to make an effort to bring more Finnish to my baby’s life by taking to her, watching Moomin cartoon together and actively finding other Finns to interact with.

I would love to hear about your experiences of raising bilingual or multilingual kids! Please share your story in the comments.

05/31/15

Prenatal check-ups in China

After an exciting announcement it’s time to get started with pregnancy blogging with a Chinese twist! Since we’ve known about the pregnancy I’ve done bunch of paperwork, chosen the hospital and the doctor for check-ups (but no idea where to give birth!) and had three ultrasounds already.

As I’m married to a local guy, I surprisingly found out that I’m eligible for some free check-ups just like any other Chinese woman in this city! Getting these required quite a lot of paper work, but all was done within a few kilometers from our house. Because we live in the Huangpu district, I also had to choose a local hospital for having prenatal check-ups in order to enjoy the benefits. Luckily my sister-in-law is a nurse and had her baby just few days ago, so she recommended her own hospital and doctor for me.

My first impression of Doctor Xiong wasn’t that pleasant as she was busy and ignored me completely and asked questions about me through my sister-in-law. Luckily I found her to be a nice person during my first official prenatal visit earlier this week. I was a bit afraid that the topic of weight would come up, as she had scolded my sister-in-law for putting up so much extra weight during her pregnancy, but for now she just reminded me to eat as I had lost some weight during my first trimester.

Funny things about seeing the doctor in China is that you are in charge of filing your paperwork and all your test results. You get a A4 booklet where all the information will be written and all the test slips will be glued on during the 9 months of pregnancy. This means that in the end you have a huge bunch of paper to carry around!

Chinese hospitals can seem like a maze sometimes, often requiring running around the hospital and asking nurses where you need to go every step of the way. Getting my self registered for prenatal care would have been almost impossible without my knowledgeable sister-in-law that held my hand through the process. After registering things got much easier as I can just schedule my appointments directly with my doctor through WeChat.

This is all for now, but what aspects of being pregnant in China would you like to read on my blog? Are you interested in the practical things like finding a good doctor or how much it actually costs? Or perhaps you want to know about the cultural differences between being pregnant in China vs. Finland? Let me know your thoughts and wishes in the comments!

05/18/15

How to make your character learning more efficient

Chinese characters are so difficult to learn! That’s what all of us Chinese learners have heard multiple times during our journey to master Chinese. So we turn to books, websites and apps to help us learn those tricky but fascinating hanzi. Today I’m very excited to have guest post from the Outlier Linguistic Solutions team and their answer to learning characters in a more efficient way. Enjoy!

The problem

Most of us are learning Chinese as adults. We have jobs, families, social lives, busy schedules. We’re lucky if we get an hour per day to study, but we still want to progress as quickly as possible.

Native speakers, on the other hand, have nothing else going on because they start learning as infants. The get massive amounts of exposure to the language on a daily basis, they’re already fluent speakers when they begin to learn to read and write, and they have around two decades to reach the level of an “educated native speaker.”

So if an adult wants to become fluent in Chinese — or any language — more efficient methods must be used than what works for a native speaker.

Nowhere is that more apparent than with learning Chinese characters. A non-native adult learner usually only has a few years in which to master the most common characters needed for literacy!

The solution

The first principle of effective memorization is understanding. You must understand what you’re trying to learn. So one of the best ways to increase the efficiency of your character learning is to increase your understanding of how Chinese characters work as a system, rather than as a bunch of disconnected single characters to be individually mastered.

To do that, you need to know what functional components are and how they function.

What are functional components?

Functional components are the parts of a character form which express sound or meaning. They can also serve as a replacement for an earlier form, which I’ll get to in a moment.

There are four types of functional components: form components, meaning components, sound components, and empty components.

Form components

A form component depicts something. In the example below, we have a picture of a hand 又 taking an ear 耳.

component_explanation__form_component__v2-01
Meaning components

A meaning component adds its meaning to the character’s meaning. In the example below, we have “small” over “big,” which expresses the meaning “sharp” or “pointed.” Note that we’re using the meaning of 大 here (big), not the form (a person).

component_explanation__meaning_component__v2-01
Meaning and form components are often grouped together and called “semantic components” or simply “meaning components,” but it’s useful to make the distinction between them.

For example, the form of 大 is “the front view of an adult.” Its meaning is, of course, “big.” So as a form component, 大 depicts a person (as in 美, “a person wearing a headdress” = “beautiful”). But as a meaning component, it expresses the meaning “big” (as in 尖, “small” over “big” = “sharp”) Quite different, right?

 

Sound components

A meaning component gives a hint about the pronunciation of the character. In the example below, 相 xiāng serves as the sound component for 想 xiǎng.

component_explanation__sound_component__v2-01

Sometimes the connection between the character’s pronunciation and its sound component isn’t very obvious. One example is 各 gè, which is the sound component in 路 lù. The dictionary we’re working on will have explanations and simple formulas which explain these relationships.

 

Empty components

An empty component gives neither sound nor meaning. Some empty components serve as substitutions for sound, meaning, or form component in an older form of the character, while some serve merely to distinguish two characters from each other.

In the example below, 羊 yáng, meaning “sheep,” is a substitution for an earlier form — a headdress. So we have a person (大) wearing a headdress (羊, a substitution for an earlier form — a headdress). It’s important to note that 羊 is not adding meaning (sheep) or sound (yáng) to the character, nor is it depicting anything (the form of 羊 is a sheep). This is why we call it an empty component.

component_explanation__empty_component__v2-01
Conclusion

And there you have it: how Chinese characters really work. I bet you’re probably familiar with sound and meaning components, and you might have a vague notion about form components, but there’s really nothing out there which teaches about empty components. And like I mentioned earlier, a correct understanding of how the characters work as a system is one of the best ways to increase the efficiency of your learning.

The dictionary we’re developing is the only resource available for learners which:

  • Explains characters in an etymologically accurate way: what are the character’s functional components
  • Distinguishes between two types of semantic components: form components and meaning components
  • Tells you when a component is an “empty component.” That is, it doesn’t express a sound or a meaning. Most other systems try to force a meaning onto these components when there isn’t one.
  • Explains how sound components work. The sound formulas which will appear in the official release are simple, easy to understand, and explain some of the weird variations you get in pronunciation between characters sharing the same sound component. For instance, how is it that 客 kè and 路 lù share the same sound component (各 gè) when they seem completely unrelated?

This is information that simply isn’t available in English. And even in Chinese, you have to read some pretty heavy academic books to find it all, so this will be the first time all this information has been brought together anywhere.

Not only that, but our dictionary will be released through Pleco, so it will be available on your phone or tablet and integrated into all the other great features that Pleco already offers, making it much easier to fit character learning into your busy schedule.

So check out our Kickstarter and help us spread the word by clicking “Share this project.”

I’ve already supported the project on Kickstarter and can’t wait to get my hands on their dictionary next year!