The Challenges Faced By English-Speaking Learners
Chinese language is an unfamiliar territory for many whose first language use an alphabetic system such as English. Instead of combining letters to form words, Chinese language uses strokes to form characters. The commonly used Chinese characters alone contain 3000 words. Not only that, Chinese is also a tonal language with four different tones, commonly marked with accent marks, and when unmarked represents the neutral tone. The accent marks are only available when using PinYin to represent the pronunciation. The word shì for instance, can have different meanings depending on its tone. The first tone shì can mean poetry or wet or teacher. The second tone shí can mean ten or time or true. The third tone shí can mean history or to start or to cause. The fourth 買日本樓 tone shì can mean yes or room or matter. In essence, there are many similar sounds with different meanings. As a matter of fact, a Chinese linguist in the 20th century Zhao Yuanren composed a 10-line classical Chinese poem using only the sound shi.
Next, it is not always possible to guess the pronunciation of a character. The character for wood, for instance, is pronounced mu. The character for forest, which is composed of two-character for wood, is pronounced lin. Although in this example the pronunciation cannot be related, the meaning of the characters can. On the contrary, when the pronunciation can be related due to similar root character, the meanings are not necessarily related.
PinYin itself, although alphabetized, is not pronounced the same way as the alphabetic sounds. There are unfamiliar sounds such as u with an umlaut (ü) that sounds like a combination of I and u. Like all things unfamiliar, it can cause uncertainty and fear. Thus, knowing the challenges learners face is the first step in devising effective learning strategies that directly affect their language achievement.
The Strategies Used To Learn Chinese Characters
Prof Ko-Yin Sung of Chinese Language Study from Utah State University conducted a research amongst non-heritage, non-Asian Chinese language learners and uncovered interesting results that may help future learners in forming an effective study plan. Her study revolves around the most frequently used Chinese character learning strategies and how those strategies affect the learners’ ability in understanding and producing the sound and the writing of the Chinese characters.