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.

Jul 262011
Chinese on American Dad

 In the episode “Every Which Way But Lose” of the cartoon American Dad, Steve’s football team includes a Chinese boy (in the audio commentary to the episode, one of the show’s creators says that the look of the character was based on an old friend of his.). Normally Steve’s Japanese friend, Toshi, is the only character who doesn’t speak English, so having a Chinese speaker around causes some tension. Here’s what I believe he’s saying: 就象熊猫在竹林里,我们 就象熊貓在竹林里,我們 jiù xiàng xióngmāo zài zhúlín lǐ, wǒmen Note: this approx. 6-second clip is presented for educational purposes. If you are the copyright holder and object to this usage, please contact me. The episode “Every Which Way But Lose” is available on  and iTunes.

May 132011

Recently I got to hear a student sing her own translation of “Friday” by Rebecca Black into ancient Greek. Only slightly less impressive is the Chinese version by dawen (@_dawen_) on YouTube, which I learned about the same day (thanks to a retweet by @MandarinSx of a tweet by @EastAsiaStudent). The video is subtitled in tradtional characters, but the artist has added simplified and pinyin lyrics to the description. Apart from all the days of the week, a good thing for beginning students of Chinese to listen for is all the “location” expressions with 在. There’s 在前面,在后面,在右边,and the question 在哪儿. More advanced students can listen for the places where the lyrics are not a literal translation of the English.

Feb 252011

In the movie Red, Bruce Willis speaks a line of Chinese, but I couldn’t figure out what it was (the subtitles in the YouTube clip below don’t seem to match with what he’s saying and the DVD I watched didn’t include anything for this line in the subtitles). After listening a bunch of times, I thought he might be saying 几年前我住 / 幾年前我住 … If that’s right the rest should be 在 somewhere, but it doesn’t sound like 在 and the place doesn’t sound like anything obvious like 中国 / 中國 or 香港. The line comes in the context of a surprising reference to the Harvard Yenching Classification System (for cataloging library books). I was sorry that the characters did not actually go to the Harvard Yenching Library, but I do not believe filming is allowed there in any case. Update: 谢谢 to commenter Tima for clarifying that the place where Bruce Willis’ character said he lived was 武汉 / 武漢 … [read more]

Feb 072011
"Bad Project"

This is a very entertaining parody of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” made by the Hui Zheng lab. They actually sing a few lines of Chinese in the video (at about the 3:50 mark). The lines (which are a translation of the previous few English lines in the song) are: 我要工作。wǒ yào gōngzuò. 我也要自由。wǒ yě yào zìyóu. 我要工作。wǒ yào gōngzuò. 但我没有学位。/ 但我沒有學位。dàn wǒ méiyǒu xuéwèi.  Thanks to a good friend who does medical research for sending me the link to this video. Warning: some mild profanity. You probably saw the test tubes labeled with Chinese characters at about the 2:35 mark. Look more closely at those in the image below. Can you read what they say?

Jan 262011

A big problem I’ve had in learning Chinese is that after a couple of years of study, it’s still really hard to read anything outside of textbooks. So I was really happy to find the “Chinese Breeze” series of little illustrated novellas with audio CDs. What makes these great for people in the relatively early stages of study is that the books use a limited amount of vocabulary and define in footnotes any words not in that set of vocabulary. The easiest books in the series assume a knowledge of 300 common words. The next level assumes 500. This seems to me to correspond roughly to what one would get in the first and second semesters of a college course. I tried a few of the 500-word ones and could read them pretty easily with my 1.5 semesters of continuing education study; sometimes I also knew the words defined in … [read more]