When you sing you begin with ‘Do re mi’

When you’re learning a language it’s important to remain motivated and one way to do this is to find materials that you enjoy using and learning from. Although I am no great vocalist I do enjoy singing, especially when it means I can be worshiping God in Chinese.

You’ll find very quickly that you often need to start building up from the basics before moving onto harder material. That’s why I’ve linked you to the YouTube video of a well-known Sunday school song, I have decided to follow Jesus. I don’t know if children actually sing this in Chinese churches nor have I ever heard children worship in Mandarin (though I wish that will be possible for me one day) but I can read it and I will praise the Lord all the same!


FIFA World Cup Vocab

So I know the world cup has already ended but I still wanted to share a helpful resource that made me consciously link my Chinese learning whilst I watched the soccer.

This website provides a list of useful vocab that is used during soccer. http://b.writtenchinese.com/world-cup-chinese-words/ You don’t have to learn them all but if you ever decide to attempt watching a soccer match in Chinese, this can provide you with a starting reference on words to listen out for.

I just love it when I can relate other aspects of my life back to Chinese! 😀 I hope you learn to know that feeling too 🙂

*There was another post on this blog that used a play on Chinese pronunciation and characters to predict who would win the world cup. I found it quite amusing and its prediction was surprisingly accurate so you can go check that out too!

Tongue Twisters


I’ve been pretty busy lately so sorry for my irregular posts.

This is just a short post about Chinese tongue twisters which are a fun resource to use when you’re trying to improve your Chinese pronunciation. According to what I’ve heard, tongue twisters like the one above are used as a pronunciation drill across Chinese but only Beijing-ers have the ability to pronounce Hanzi in the perfect accent. With enough practice, many students (and their teachers) can recite tongue twisters like the one above in 10 seconds or less. Pretty crazy right? o.o

Here’s the translation if you want a try:

sì shì sì , shí shì shí ,
四 是 四 , 十 是 十,

shí sì shì shí sì , sì shí shì sì shí ,
十 四 是 十 四, 四 十 是 四 十,

bú yào bǎ sì dàng chéng shí ,
不 要 把 四 当 成 十,

yě bú yào bǎ shí sì dàng chéng sì shí 。
也 不 要 把 十 四 当 成 四 十。

4 is 4, 10 is 10
14 is 14, 40 is 40
Don’t mistake 4 as 10
Also don’t mistake 14 as 40

Pinyin problems

I have no punny title or long post today, just some musings as I go through my old Chinese notes from 1st year.

From what I can tell, I spent the majority of lectures and tutorials writing in pinyin (romanisation of Chinese characters for ease of pronunciation). I think the only times when I actually wrote in Hanzi was when I had to take a vocab quiz or hand in my homework. This brings to mind a question for me as a pre-service Chinese teacher: when do I start introducing Hanzi into the classroom?

I haven’t actually figured out an answer but here are some thoughts:
– the NSW syllabus requires students to be able to read/write in Hanzi to an extent
– it took me over a year to move from writing the majority of my notes in pinyin to Hanzi. Do I just expect students to write in Hanzi during quizzes/writing tasks like I did?
– reading is an input activity where information has already been given to you to absorb. This makes it easier than writing which requires you to produce something
– students learn better without negative pressure (like how a young child only moves at their desired pace). Should I allow my students to transition to Hanzi when they’re comfortable but risk them only excelling in listening/speaking?
– handwriting can be seen as an added barrier to encouraging students to succeed in Mandarin
– students need to reach a point where they stop relying on pinyin as a safety net or it will inhibit their progress in other learning areas. When and how do I transition?

Lost at first write (excuse the grammar) – a radical solution

Many people may have told you that Mandarin Chinese is a difficult language to learn and I agree that it has been difficult even for me who comes from a Cantonese-speaking family. I not only have to consider tones but also the character system, the latter which I’ll be writing about today.

When my friends ask how my Chinese learning is going I find it quite difficult to provide them with a simple and succinct answer. Usually I say my writing and reading are alright but my listening and speaking still needs a lot of improvement but it’s difficult to say because writing can be broken down into 2 aspects. These are: writing as in typing on the computer – which I am perfectly capable of doing – and being able to recall and write out a character on a sheet of paper – which is where I get lost.

If you’ve learned Chinese at some point in your life you’ve probably come across this same feeling of being lost amongst the characters and stroke orders. I remember one time when I thought I had learned to recognise the different types of possible strokes in Hanzi (name for Chinese characters) only to discover that there were still very strange forms like 专 and 牌 (though these are pretty tame in comparison to other characters you might come across), that I hadn’t encountered. I remember asking myself, ‘Why does that stroke have to bend/curve that way? It’s so odd!’ Today I’m not so concerned about stroke order (though this does help), instead I want to look at the bigger picture of radicals.

I’d sort of known there were radicals (components that form a character; they’re the building blocks) when I first began studying Mandarin and I was familiar with simple ones like 女, 日, 口, etc. I also knew that when they were combined together they formed a vast number of possible characters that created the Chinese writing system. But I hadn’t really understood how crucial they were to my learning. Fortunately, I can now pass this advice to others learning Mandarin: make learning radicals a priority because they will be foundational to writing characters in the long-term.

These are my reasons for doing so:
1. Radicals help break a character down so that you can guess at its pronunciation
With characters, you’ll often find that one of the radicals hints at how the (unfamiliar) character is pronounced so if you know a similar character or the radical you can take a guess.
For example: 羊 (yáng) and 样 (yàng). I know how to pronounce these two characters but what about 养? My guess is that it is also pronounced like ‘yang’ with a different tone.
The correct pronunciation is: yǎng

2. Radicals help break a character down so that you can guess at its definition
Whilst one radical hints at how a character is pronounced, the other might provide a hint at what it means.
For example: 心 (heart) and 想 (to think; to want). I know these two characters are related to the heart so when I look at 感, I might guess that it also has to do with the matters of the heart.
The correct definition: to be moved; to be touched (by sth.)

3. Radicals help break a character down so that you can recall how to write it
If you’ve never heard of or use mnemonics then I think you might have a problem with your language learning journey. Mnemonics are devices that help you recall a certain piece of information. Whether you’ve heard of the term or not, the majority of people implement them when they want to remember something. These devices can be in the form of a jingle, a story, picture, etc. When it comes to learning Hanzi, the keen learners often use stories built up around their knowledge of radicals to help jog their memory.
Let’s work with 教 (to teach) since I’m studying to become a teacher 😛
耂(old), 子(child), 夂(go) are the radicals that form 教 when they are combined. If I wanted to remember how to write this character during my exam, the story I create for 教 might be: To teach, the older person goes and passes on their knowledge to the child.

Not taking the time to learn radicals during my 1st year of studying Mandarin was one of the biggest regrets I have in my language learning journey. It would have certainly saved me time and I can assure you it will definitely help you navigate through the maze that is the Hanzi system. In some cases you may find there are no radicals to help you understand or recall the character but like most things you encounter, these are exceptions.

Here’s a helpful link to give you an overall view of radicals and the categories they’re found under. If you’re a visual and logical learner you’ll love it and even if you’re not I think it’s still great! 🙂


Hint: you can interact with the chart by clicking on certain characters. Aim to remember the meanings of the top 100 radicals (at least); I don’t think it is necessarily to remember the pronunciations. This will take time but it’s worth it. I used www.memrise.com to do so.

Have fun learning!