Listening and speaking

The “Listening and speaking” category features media with Chinese audio and posts related to tones, transliteration systems, etc.
Since it is impossible to know for sure how to pronounce a character just by looking at it, there are a number of ways to represent the pronunciation. The most popular transliteration system now for non-native learners is 汉语 hànyǔ pīnyīn, or pinyin, for short, although zhuyin is common among heritage learners.

Oct 292011
Free iOS apps for Chinese radio

  Some apps (with English interfaces) that allow you to listen to Chinese language radio broadcasts are Radio Chinese Plus, Tandora, and Radio China. Popular music and talk shows can be found on both. All apps can continue playing in the background while you do other things on your device and are Airplay-enabled. Radio Chinese Plus offers six stations broadcast from the US, half in Mandarin and half in Cantonese (the app makes clear which are which). A separate iPad version is available. Tandora offers a selection of stations from China and Hong Kong. Very little information is given about the stations, although one features classical Chinese music. Tandora has a couple of nice features: it tells you the current song (although not for all the stations; I suspect it is up to the station to provide that info) and has a sleep timer. Some stations are unavailable at times … [read more]

Oct 072011
Tidbits: Broken Trail

Broken Trail is an award-winning, made-for-TV Western about two men on a horse drive who rescue five young Chinese women who are being sold by human traffickers. Chinese is spoken at several points in the film. One scene (clip below) of particular interest is when Robert Duvall’s character decides to number the young women (communication between the parties is not yet good enough for him to get their names), going from one to five. The eldest realizes what he is doing and explains to the others (“他在给我们号码 / 他在給我們號碼 / tā zài gěi wǒmen hàomǎ”), one of whom vehemently objects to being “four.”  ”Four” is generally considered to be an unlucky number in Chinese because 四 sì is a near homophone of 死 sǐ “to die” (see Wikipedia on Numbers in Chinese Culture). It’s kind of interesting that the closed captions include a translation of the proposed number four saying … [read more]

Sep 122011
Mid-autumn Festival 中秋节

中秋节快乐 / 中秋節快樂 Zhōngqiū Jié kuàilè! Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! The holiday is also known as the Moon Festival. Rather than giving you details of its history (which you can read about, of course, on Wikipedia), here are a few animated videos in Chinese for beginner to intermediate students. The first two are about the moon and mooncakes (月饼 / 月餅 yuè bĭng).  The first is the easiest in terms of language, but has no English subtitles. The next is a little harder, but has English subtitles. Finally, we have a video that tells one version of the story of the great archer 后羿 Hòu Yì, his wife 嫦娥 Cháng’é, and the Moon Rabbit (literally 月兔 yuè tù, aka 玉兔 yù tù “Jade Rabbit”). The title is 嫦娥奔月 Cháng’é bēn yuè “Chang’e Rushes/Flies to the Moon”. This video picks up after Hòu Yì has shot down the suns, which were in the form of three-legged birds and described as 三只脚的鸟 … [read more]

Sep 032011

Classes started at my institution of higher learning last week so this post is the first in a series for everyone just beginning to study Chinese (esp. my friend Robin and the folks in Extension E1). These are free, lite, or low-cost apps. If cost is no object, or if you are already committed to continuing with Chinese, you’ll find lots of other iOS resources on this site (just choose the “iOS” tag from the tag list). Recognizing sounds and tones and learning how they are represented with pinyin Pinyin Chart is pretty much exactly that: a big table, similar to the ones found in just about every intro textbook, with initials along the vertical axis and finals on the horizontal. You can click on any syllable and hear it pronounced with the various tones. Pinyin Trainer by trainchinese provides a useful guide that describes the pinyin system and tones … [read more]

Aug 042011
Chinese text-to-speech in Mac OS 10.7 Lion

Apple has long had text-to-speech built into Mac OS X. With OS 10.7, they’ve added voices for Chinese. The voices aren’t pre-installed on US systems, at least, but they are free downloads. Go to System Preferences>Speech. Pull down the “System Voice” menu and choose “Customize.” (Note that in the image below, I have already installed two Chinese voices; go to “Customize” at the bottom to install voices). Select the voice(s) you wish (China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are available for Chinese). Click the checkbox to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed.” (You can customize the keyboard shortcut for this if you wish.) Optionally, adjust the speed of the voice. A cool thing to do with this is to make audio files of texts (e.g., readings or dialogues from a textbook). The text-to-speech isn’t completely natural, of course, and nowadays most textbooks include audio in some format, but if you … [read more]