July 28, 2010

注音符號 - Part II

The second set of 注音符號 is by far the most challenging to both speak and hear in my view. I often struggle to hear the difference in these pronunciations and my own pronunciation sounds mostly like Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z.

Hearing these pronunciations clearly in the course of daily conversations is really just a matter of time and exposure. Eventually the language will slow down and you will be able to catch the nuances and small variations. Speaking these clearly is a matter of practice, practice, practice... and a really patient teacher, friend or spouse.

Just a couple of quick notes:
  • The mechanics of producing these pronunciations are a little hazy to me and I advise not to obsess over them too much. The key is producing the sound. I offer the advice I received below but I think the best way to get a handle on these pronunciations is to practice with native Chinese speakers and then try to replicate the sound. You are likely to get a lot of advice. Take the advice, if it works you are set. If not, move on to some other method. You (and your mouth) will eventually figure it out.
  • This is the advice I received on pronounciation. The first pronounciations of this set (ㄓ) is produced by pressing the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth just behind your front teeth. As you attempt to pronounce the sound your tongue will pull away from the roof of your mouth and the corners of your mouth will pull down and back (slightly). The next three pronunciations (ㄔ, ㄕ, ㄖ) are produced simlarly by curling your tongue further away from your teeth (but still against the roof of your mouth). As you pronounce, your tongue will pull away from the roof and the corners of your mouth will pull down and back (a little more with each pronounciation. The last of the four pronunciations (ㄖ) should feel and sounding as though it is coming from the very back of your throat. To my ears the last pronunciation has the distinct sound of "r".
  • I have also noticed that the muscles at the back of throat become strained quite easily when trying to produce these sounds.
  • The next three pronunciation (ㄗ, ㄘ, ㄙ) are a bit more straightforward and to my ears they sound like "zi" (short I sound), "ci" (soft c with short I sound) and "si" (short I sound).
Next Post: "Vowels"

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July 26, 2010

注音符號 - Part 1

注音符號 - Zhu (4) Yin(1) Fu(2) Hao(4) 注音符號 is a phonetic system (not an alphabet) consisting of 37 symbols representing specific sounds. Each symbol is used in combination with 1 of 4 tones to produce all of the possible sounds in the Chinese language. Posted by Picasa

Like most people, I relied heavily on the Hanyu Pin Yin romanization of Chinese characters when I first started to "study" Chinese. It was familiar and easy but it quickly became a crutch that limited my ability to actually learn the characters. I would strongly suggest using 注音符號 as the basis of your Chinese language studies. It may be more difficult at first but after you become familiar with the symbols (which will be quicker than you think) you will learn and remember the characters more reliably, and understand their meaning more thoroughly than if you rely on the pin yin romanization systems.
These are the first 14 symbols and the pronunciation/sound of each. I included the Hanyu Pin Yin romanizations only because they are so prevalent in textbooks and translated literature that they cannot be ignored. The pronunciations in this set are fairly straightforward and familiar to western ears so I am not going to get into any additional explanations of the linguistic technicalities. Next Post: ZZZZZZZ.

July 16, 2010

The Trip Begins

On A Path I Cannot See, To Place I Do Not Know, For A Reason I Do Not Understand
So, here we go. I am not sure where we are going, or how or why but I think it will be an interesting trip. I once heard or read somewhere that you really don't understand something unless and until you can explain it to another person. So that is going to be the trick here. I've got 3-plus years' worth of lessons in my head and I think I have a fairly good grasp on most of it. I guess we will now find out how much I grasp and how well I grasp it. In any event, it should be fun.