First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chinese for Dumb Dumb Stupidheads

That's the book I need. I've been using Chinese for Dummies and found it to be quite advanced. The author says things like "It's so easy! There's no need to conjugate verbs for tense or gender! Instead, you merely have to listen for contextual clues as to when things happened or add a particulate that indicates the sentence is a present perfect, and that the action indicated started at some indeterminate time in the past and is ongoing! What could be simpler?"

Then there are the tones. Four of them in Mandarin, to be exact. Except that there's also a neutral tone. So five. Five tones. And I swear that's it. But don't worry about it. Just let it come naturally. Just know that if your voice drops while you're saying a syllable instead of rising, you may be saying a completely different word.

An overview of the four tones:

1st TONE: High and level, like you're singing a note above your normal range
2nd TONE: Rising, as if you're asking a question
3rd TONE: Falling then rising, like you're Mr. Drysdale and you don't believe something
4th TONE: You must belch and try to swallow your tongue while saying this
NEUTRAL: A sound a thousand times more beautiful than the most beautiful sound you can imagine, but if you don't pronounce it JUST RIGHT it turns whatever you were saying into an unspeakable insult

Here is how the four tones impact the meaning of the syllable 'da.'

At least, this is what I've been able to gather from repeated viewings of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

So as you can see, once you have the basics, it's just a matter of learning thousands of unfamiliar sounds and stringing them together into unintelligible sentences. Which is why, about 15 minutes after I land in Beijing, an angry mob will set me on fire.